Road Bike Frames – All You Need to Know

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What should I know to make sure the frame of a new bicycle is right for me?
The frame is the basis of both the strength and the beauty of the bicycle. Nothing besides its paint job is superficial, and when you’re buying a new bike, you want to pay particular attention to the frame.You will want to know enough about size, symmetry, and materials to get a frame that fits you and your riding style and purpose.

Ritte road bike frame

photo credit wielerjargon.nl

The design of the bicycle frame has not changed much over the years, but the materials have. The original “bike” way back in 1817, was a hobbyhorse you propelled with your feet on the ground and was made from wood. Obviously, bikes have improved!

Beginning in the mid-1800s and throughout the next century, bicycle frames were manufactured of steel. You can still find steel frame bikes around, but they are nothing in weight compared to earlier models!

The first frames were extremely heavy, with laid back angles and with a long wheel base, making for more comfortable riding on the rough roads of the time.

These frames would go nowhere, and slowly, on today’s fast roads and race conditions. Even steel bicycle frames got progressively lighter over the decades by making the tubes thinner and joining them without using lugs.

The next revolution in the manufacture of bicycle frames came when alloy tubes could be joined to each other strongly and safely to make responsive and very light frames.

The tubes had to be bigger, but they could be made in aerodynamic shapes. Alloy bicycle frames are now most people’s choice, often combined with carbon forks and in some cases carbon chain and seat stays at the back.If you don’t want to spend a couple of thousand dollars on a bike, an alloy frame is a good option.

Titanium and Carbon

If you have the money, a titanium or carbon frame would probably be your choice today. Frames made of these materials are much more expensive but if well-made will last a lifetime.

Bikes made of titanium feel almost weightless but offer you a nice, tight ride.

firefly-titanium-bike-frame

image credit fireflybicycles.tumblr.com

Mixing titanium main tubes with carbon forks and back end gives the best combination for handling and for comfort. At the moment, an all-carbon frame seems to be what everyone wants, but few can afford.

All the main frame manufacturers make bikes of these different compositions, some with lugs (Colnago, Cervelo), some without (Scott, De Rosa, Battaglin), and even some of monocoque, or single mould, construction (Giant, Trek).

Basically, you will buy the best bicycle frame you can afford. With the right components added, even the most basic frame out there today, made by a reputable manufacturer, can serve you well and happily for many years, IF it fits you well.Fit is where any frame can be all wrong for the rider, or all right.

Frame Sizes

Below is a table giving you some of the elements of buying a bike frame that fits you.The most basic element of sizing a bike frame is commonly referred to as its height; what is usually meant by this measurement is the length of the frame from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the top tube.

Professionals most often talk about measurements in centimeters because of the European history of the sport and also because of the precision it allows.For those of you who need to translate this into inches, a conversion table is also given below.

To use this chart, you will first need to get an accurate measurement of your inseam.The easiest way to get a good measurement is to hold a book between your thighs, with its spine snugly against your crotch in the same way a bike seat will be, then have a friend make a mark on a wall at the top of the (horizontally straight) spine.

Stepping away from the wall, measure the distance to the floor.This is your inseam length.A road bike frame’s “height” is generally thought to be ideal if it is 67 percent of your inseam length.A mountain bike is ridden on a much smaller frame: as a guideline, use your road bike size and subtract 10-12 cm.

Exact size of a mountain bike is most affected by the amount of downhill riding you do.All frame sizes are affected by the unique configuration of your body, which can be accommodated by differences in frame geometry, top tube length, seat post height and/or saddle angle, handlebar width and slant, and even crank length.
The following chart is just enough to get you going.Once you have the right basic size, the best thing you can do is to test ride different bike frames to see what feels best.

Remember to apply these measurements with some leeway to take into account the factors cited above and your unique body form.If you are shorter or taller than the heights in this chart, you will have special considerations of frame size, so talk to a specialist.

Finally, check out the beauty of the frame.The paint job is perhaps the last thing you should take into consideration, but definitely the first thing you, and everyone else, is going to notice.Enjoy!!

Keep reading about Bike Frame Sizes, Geometry, Angles and All That!

Road Bike Frames Size Chart

YOUR INSEAM(inches)FRAME SIZE(in inches, approx.)FRAME SIZE(in cm.)TOP TUBE  (cm)(Approximate)YOUR HEIGHT(feet & inches)
28.519.349515′ 3″
2919.750515′ 4″
29.52051525′ 4.5″
3020.552535′ 5″
30.7520.953545′ 6″
31.2521.35454.55′ 7″
3221.755555′ 8″
32.522.15655.55′ 8.75″
3322.557565′  9.5″
33.7522.95856.55 ‘ 11″
34.2523.259576′

conversion:
1 inch = 2,54 cm
1 centimeter = .394 inch

frame-sizes-table_1.gif

Bicycle Frames Table

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Comments

  1. trevor silvera sr. says

    From reading some of the above posts i can see that some people are confusing the wheel size with the frame size. Some say a 24″ bike or a 26″ bike. One should not use wheel size to discribe frame size. For example i am 5′ 6″ tall and i use a 47 cm compact frame size. I can also use a 50 or 52 cm size frame but with the larget size frame the top tube is straight or parrallel to the ground, while the compact frame have a sloping top tube, slopes down toward the seat tube. Both bike uses 700cc rims. Most widely use cranks are the 170 cm lenghts. riders who are 6ft. and above often use a 172.5 cm cranks.

  2. Confused says

    I thought I had really short Asian legs, but I measured 5 times to make sure, with the book in crotch against a wall method, and my inseam came out between 32 and 33, which seems to be either a 54 or 56cm. I’m barely 5’4″ though, should I be worried about the top tube length more? And what if I just want to ride the bike casually once in a while? Would it be life-threatening if the bike was a tad big?

    • Samuel says

      I believe you’ve calculated correctly the frame size. It must be 56/57. If I were 5,4″, then I’d go for the lower number and test it before, If I could. And do not worry much about the top tube whether you get the bike for pleasure, you can tune up handlebar stem and saddle later to fit better.

  3. Art says

    I am 5feet 10 inches tall, I have a long torsal and short legs, My inseam is size 30. Im also a big bodyed guy. Im looking for a road bike, what size bike should I get?

    • Samuel says

      what really matters when choosing your bike frame is YOUR INSEAM. 30 corresponds to 53. if you have long torsal then you can adapt and setup a longer handlebar stem to fit better and more confortable.

  4. MKay says

    Just bought a Trek Madone 5.2… The bike shop owner said choose frame first, then wheels, then components. I tried two bikes, Giant and Trek. Liked the feel of the Giant’s solid feel, comfort, and responsiveness better and said so, The Trek frame felt a little spongy and I said so. Then, the owner talked me into the Trek because of the triple gearing on the Trek. It took me overnight to realize why I felt so strange about this. I’m not the expert on bikes. What just happened?! Any thoughts?

    • Samuel says

      This is easy, every person needs a specific bike. Sometimes because slopping, sometimes the carbon quality, geometry, etc. You should buy one that fits better, have you tried different sizes? this may be an answer.

  5. Mel says

    I’m a little confused. I did the measurement three times. My inseam is approximately 31, but I am only 5’2″. I do have long legs, but this seems off. What would be the right size and what is “top tube”?

    Thanks!

  6. Tracey Carlisle says

    I am 6’9″ and 280 lbs….As a beginner cyclist & someone who doesn’t want to spend a fortune on a bicycle yet, is there even a bike out there for someone my size??? Thanks

    • Paul F. says

      To Tracey Carlisle –
      There is a bike for everyone, you just may need to take advantage of the custom frame option. I am 6’5″ and choose a Seven custom frame. There are many other custom frame providers with great products. My Seven is ten years old and I ride it from 75 to 100 miles every week and it has not failed or deformed and still looks fresh when clean.
      Yes you will pay more for custom but it is well worth the investment when your biometrics lie off the bell curve.

  7. rapid4me says

    I really appreciate the work you do for filling the site with good content, pleasant design and good friendly attitude to your readers! Keep on going and good luck!

  8. carter yeatman says

    there’s measurements and there’s measurements. i ride 2-3 times a week maybe 25 mi each ride. so i’m not a racer, but our roads are hilly and challenging enough. in my experience, there are two key measurements to determine good “rideability”. the first is the length of the seat post. some bikes are measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of where the top horizontal tube intersects the seat tube. that’s called c-c. or c-t-c (center to center). this basically determines two things… how “tall” the bike will be, ie the “standover” height, and sort of the minimum distance from your butt to the pedals. you really need to be able to stand over your bike with both feet flat or nearly so on the ground. and if the seat tube is too tall or too short, you could have issues pedaling.
    the other key measurement is the length of the top tube from the center of the seat tube to the center of the head tube. this will really influence how far you have to lean forward to reach the handlebars, or whether you can sit up more straight. most of the other distances in bike geometry can be adjusted via fiddling with the various components on the bike, eg you can raise the handlebar with a different stem , etc.
    now there is no standard among manufacturers for these measurements, so one makers seat tube length is c-t-c and another says it’s the same size, but they measure the distance from the center to, say, the top of the seat post. you have to pay attention.
    i have personally found that it’s better to get a larger size rather than the smaller size when there’s a choice just for riding comfort. but i have also noticed that some bike shops will recommend going to the smaller size…. not sure why. i also think that the geometry chart in the article above could lead to too small a bike for enthusiastic riding. as they say, try different sizes out…

  9. Scott says

    Hello everyone, thought I better add my two bits of advice so to speak. I’m 6’2 and like many of the tall rider problems I have just read it’s not all doom and gloom. It can be very confusing with all the different sizes, shapes, types of bikes out there and you don’t know until you ride a bike for a while if you feel comfortable on it. It’s alright to say go ride a bike to see if you like it, but how many just go for a quick ride up the road and back to the shop. If you are going to buy a bike just on a quick ride then your setting yourself up for finding out the hard way as I have on occassion. If you want to buy a bike just based on a ride take it for a good ride, now I talking at least 10kms. It’s the only way your going to work it out for yourself. You have different size bikes, but you also have different size seats, different size seat posts, forward and back seat positions & tilt, different height handle bar risers, different size cranks, all of which can be changed to give you your best ride. My advice to you is if you are going to spend over $1500 on a bike then pay an extra $150 – $200 at a good shop with a bike fit system and have a bike fitted to your ideal riding position. I just brought a $2500.00 bike and the fitting was the best investiment I made.

  10. Sarah says

    Hi! I’m 5’2′ female at the young age of 54. I’m looking for a bike that I can ride on a (smooth surface) sidewalk or a rough dirt trail. I need something lightweight in order to pick it up when I need to. What would be a good bike to look at?

    • says

      Hi Sarah.
      A Hybrid (not Hybird!) bike is a cross between a mountain bike and a road bike. The wheels are the size of a road bike, but will usually be fitted with off-road tires. The handle bars will be straight and flat like a mountain bike with the gears on the brake levers and have a large spread of lower gears than a road bike. It may or may not have suspension forks.

      Hybrid bikes are perfect for on road and rough tracks and paths, but not for full off-road mountain courses. Most good bike shops should sell or be able to get hold of a Hybrid bike for you as all the top bike manufacturers make Hybrid bikes.

      For your inseam I would suggest you go for the smaller sized frame, if you are considering a bike with a cross bar (man’s style) one with stand over height of less than your 29 inches, probably around a 15 inch frame. If you want a woman’s style frame then the step over isn’t as important.

      Good luck Sarah, see if you can get a test ride before you buy.

  11. John says

    When Companies Advertise a bike being a 24″ or 26″ bike, they are commenly talking about the wheel sizes. Mountainbike frame sizes commonly come in 15″,17″ and 19″ sizes,( And and incriments in between and slightly above) best way to Fit yourself on a bike is to go to a shop and Sit on one. Bikes all have different geometry, even if measurements are similar.

  12. Justin says

    Hi I just ordered the 49cm frame size because my old bike (an SE) was a 48cm I believe. I am 5’6”. Is this right, and if I screwed up, can I change my order?

  13. Lusha says

    Hi I am a little confused about bike sizes, because I got a 24” bike before, and it fit me fine (I am 5’3”) so I am not really sure what the 24” was measuring. Here it says I should get a 49 cm frame size bike, so I am a little confused. I was just wondering if you could clarify what the standard 24” and 26” stand for?

  14. Travis says

    ive never bought a road bike before and i am going to within the next few days…some of the sites i go too just list the frame size(22inches) is this enough information for me to buy the bike because according to the size chart i think its a go?

  15. Dan says

    Hi, I’m 6’3″ and I am looking at two used bikes, one is the frame is 58cm and the other is 27in. Both in my estimation are out of my size range, is that an accurate estimation? Or can anyone over 6′ ride anything 59cm’s or more?

  16. corey says

    my son is 5′ 1″. I would like to buy him a 49cm which it states is for 5′ 3″. He is 13 and not yet through growing,and I want some growing room. What do you think?

  17. Angela says

    I am 5 feet 1 inch and looking to buy a new bike. I was looking at a 28″ Schwinn Trailway hybrid but if I remember correctly, I think my old bike was 26″. Do you think this bike will be too tall for me?

  18. Phil says

    Frame size is a measurement to the top tube.You will need a 58cm or 60cm bike and adjust the saddle accordingly. I’m 5,11 and ride a 56cm with the saddle up. Hope this helps.

  19. Dale says

    I am 6’5 and looking for a road bike I was looking at the chart and I see it stops at 59cm frame for 6foot. Does that mean 59cm is for 6 feet and over?

  20. rick says

    recently i went to look at a bike for sale that was listed as “26 inch”. i found a bike that probably was meant for someone who is 5’8″. i am 6’3. my belief has been that the higher the numeric frame size the taller the bike. not so? what size should i be looking for? thanks for your time.

  21. Fred says

    I am 5’10” but have short legs in proportion to my torso. In seam measurement would suggest a 50 cm frame but would my height effect my general feeling on the bike (being a small size bike)?

  22. Brian says

    I’m 6’4″ and I ride a 63cm bike frame (frames over 62cm can be hard to find). Saw some tall guys posted asking about fit, so I thought I would contribute. You should definitely get fitted at a bike shop though, even if you are planning on buying used. Just go in to a shop, ask to ride a few bikes, have them size you up, ask what size frame would fit you best, write down the measurement, and then go surf craigslist for an appropriately sized bike. That’s my two sense.

  23. Miriam Galaviz says

    I am five foot one inch tall and I just purchase a Trek Navigator.It is 13.5 ” bike, I do not know what that means but I need to know what size bike is best for me. How do I measure?I also take spin classes, that feels different than my new bike is that suppose to be a different fit?thank you,mg

  24. jim z says

    HAS ANYONE BOUGHT ONE OF THESE CARBON BIKE FRAMES SELLING ON EBAY FROM A MANUFACTURE IN ASIA. THEY SELL FOR ABOUT 300 DOLLARS AND LOOK GREAT IN THE PICTURES.I WOULD LIKE SOME FEEDBACK FROM SOMEONE WHO HAS USED ONE IN A BUILD. THANK YOU JIM

  25. dude says

    are these people mentally retarded? can you read? there is a chart right there that tells you what size for what height. measure your inseam and find out for yourself!!!

  26. Carl says

    I have a citizen folding bike and would like to change the handle bar to a Townie handle bar style, is that possible; I am 58 yrs and my riding style is cruising in comfort while site seeing; if this is possible where can I find one as I can retrofit it myself;ThanksCarl

  27. Bert says

    Some bikes are described as standover height. When you stand with the bike frame below your crotch, how much clearance should there be for a road bike? Thank you.

  28. paul webster says

    anyone got the same problem i am looking for a new frame but i am finding that all the frames out there have too long top tubes an example is i currently ride a size 56 madone but feel that the 56 top tube is too long and the frame is on the limit of being too small ie if i went to a 58 i would not need to stack the stem up but the top tube would be miles to long, just go to my images on google and view riders pictures of 5k cervelos and look how many of them have there seats rammed forward in a testing position looks terrible i even know guys that have had to use straight stlye mountain bike seat pins with no lay back on there treks anyone got an idea of a good bike with a 55 ctoc top tube

  29. veronique says

    im a little confuse im 5.9 and i saw a nice bike on craig list it doesn’t say the measurements. i emailed the guy he didn’t answer yet however the frame size saying it is small you think . i can buyi it or no it is too small for my size . what they mean by small what measurement is small anyway thank u

  30. Mike says

    Hello, I am looking for a frame that is closest to 51.5 cm with a 54.7 cm top tube? Can you recommend any off the peck makes that are close to these dimensions please? Thanks

  31. Java teh Hut says

    @ 5’8″ with 32″ inseam, table says 22″/55cm frame is right.So, if only 20″ or 23″ available, better to go bigger or smaller?A 23″ frame + 9″ for crank/to-ground means seat will have to be at very bottom, and when stopping, crotch w

  32. Dude #2 says

    though phrasing things harshly, yeah dudes, read the chart. That will give a starting point and then from there you need to go down to a bike shop and try things out–everyone’s legs are different lengths (even if you’re the same height as someone else) so there are no hardfast rules. bikes can also be adjusted seat/handlebar level, so just try stuff out and see what can work.

  33. paul says

    im 6’3 and im looking from a rigth road bike frame for me.. im from cagayan de oro, philippines and i cnt find any bikeshop here that sells 59cm and above road bike frames.

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