Whether you’re planning to get your very first bike or you used to ride one as a child and would like to get back in the saddle, there’s one thing that may be highly important to check: a mountain bike size chart. Such a chart could help you get the right frame size so that you can pedal effectively and enjoy your rides without getting sores in all the wrong places.
But then again, choosing the right bike doesn’t just refer to the frame size, but also to the wheel diameter. In the following article, you’ll learn about some indicators for the right frame size, as well as about wheel size standards and which one to go for in order to enjoy cycling to the max.
A bit about mountain bike wheel sizes
Before we get to the frame size, you need to understand that there are several different wheel sizes. Why is this important? Because most mountain bike frames can only take one size of wheels, so, for example, if you pick a frame that’s built for 26-inch wheels, you won’t be able to mount 27.5-inch wheels on it.
If you pick a larger wheel size, you’ll likely need to get a smaller frame, to adjust for the standover height (which would be larger because the wheel diameter is larger).
Back to wheel sizes, there are three main ones: 26”, 27.5”, and 29”. There are two newer sizes, namely 27.5+ and 29+, but we won’t talk about them here. Now, the 26-inch wheels, which were the standard back in the old days, are being replaced by the newer 27.5” and 29”.
The good news is that finding parts for 26” bikes isn’t a problem just yet, but it can be tough to find particular components sometimes, and in the following years, things will get even tougher, as many manufacturers move away from the standard. Back to these wheels, they have the smallest diameter, which means that they’re also the slowest of the three.
Their advantage lies in their maneuverability. Since they’re smaller, they’re easier to handle and maneuver around tight corners and narrow paths. They also make an excellent choice for kids and smaller adults. Many people are comfortable riding 26” bikes without a problem.
However, just as with everything in life, as soon as something new enters the market, everyone has to jump aboard and ride the new trend until the old one all but disappears.
Now, bikes with 29-inch wheels, or 29ers, as they’re called, are the latest craze. They have large wheels, and they’re bound to offer quite the advantage in terms of speed. However, they’re much more difficult to handle compared to 26ers, and pedaling, especially uphill can also get tougher. They’re also not a great choice for short people.
If you’re over 6 feet tall or have especially long legs, you might want to go for a 29er. In most cases, however, the better choice might be the 27.5” standard. These wheels are right in the middle between 26” and 29”, so they’re not too slow, not too difficult to maneuver, they’re just in the sweet spot, and that’s one of the main reasons why many professional mountain bikers choose 27.5” over the other two.
Now that we know about the different wheel sizes, let’s go and take a look at frame sizes.
How to choose the right frame size
Before we go into detail, we must warn you that no matter what type of mountain bike size chart or online calculator you use, unless you’re using the chart made by the manufacturer you’re planning to get your bike from, you won’t be able to be 100-percent right.
That’s because each manufacturer has its own way of calculating things, and bikes all come up in different sizes and you could end up more confused than before you started the search. The best way to go about it is to check a particular manufacturer’s size chart, calculate the size you’d need, and order the right bike.
However, you won’t know for sure if the bike is really the right size for you unless you take it for a few rides, so the best thing you can and should do is to make sure that you can return the bike without any additional charges in case the bike is a clear mismatch.
One more mention: if you’re going for women’s mountain bikes, you should check the corresponding size chart, as they tend to differ from men’s.
There are a few main indicators that can help you choose the right bike size, and these are effective top tube length, standover height, reach, and seat height.
Now, some parameters can be modified, such as reach, where you can get a longer/shorter stem to compensate, and the seat height can also be adjusted. However, the other two indicators above are fixed yet they should help you navigate through a size chart and pick the right bike.
The effective top tube length is defined as the horizontal distance between the head tube and the seat tube. This indicator should give you an idea about how you might feel when you’re seated on the bike.
The reach is the distance from the center of the bottom bracket up to the center of the head tube, measured horizontally. This parameter should indicate how high the bike might feel when you’re standing out of the saddle.
The standover height is quite simple: it’s the distance from the ground to the top tube. So if you’re standing off the saddle, with your feet flat on the ground, there should be a clearance of at least 2 inches between your crotch and the top tube. The clearance is important as there are times when you’re forced to stop the bike instantly and you wouldn’t want to hit a sensitive area against the top tube.
The seat height is obvious, and it can be easily adjusted. An easy way to make sure you position it at the right height is to either have a friend hold the bike while you mount it or lean against a wall. While seated comfortably in the saddle, put both heels on your pedals, and push down with one of them. The foot that’s down should be stretched to the maximum, without you overreaching.
Since you won’t be pedaling with your heels but the front part of your feet on the pedals, you’ll notice that once you reposition your feet correctly, your feet will stretch but still maintain a slight angle.
Now that you have the basics, you can go online and check some online charts. You may also find charts that require you to measure your height as well as the height of the inside of your leg: these are easy to do with a tape measure, although don’t be 100 percent sure that they’ll help you get the right bike.
A bit about prices
Now that we know a thing or two about wheel sizes and frame sizing, let’s find out how much a bike could cost. Well, you can get a cheap Chinese-made bike from a retail store for about a hundred bucks, or you can increase the chances of a major fight with your spouse and possibly divorce by spending 4-5 grand on one. It mostly depends on your budget, but also on your needs.
What’s important is that you try to distinguish between want and need. The problem with the cycling bug is that, once you’ve got it, things start to blur, and as time goes by, the ‘need’ will start to transform into ‘want’, while you’d still argue with yourself that it’s the former you’re talking about.
Yes, bikes can get really expensive really fast, especially given all the awesome components that keep flooding the market, where last year’s bike part is now junk, and you really need to get your hands on the new one in order to still be able to enjoy your rides.
Depending on what you want to do with the bike, you could be looking at a price starting from $150-200 and up to $4,000-5,000 (just don’t tell your spouse).
There are lots of offers, and you can choose between a myriad of bikes that are either generalist performers, or just built for one thing (speed, rugged terrain, etc.).
There are also many bike builds which may not have exactly each and every component you desire. In this case, we’ll share a secret with you: you can also have the audacity and try to build a bike yourself. Yes, that’s right: you don’t have to be a veteran mechanic to build a bike.
You may not be able to start from scratch and build the wheels yourself, at least not on your first bike (there will be more, trust us!), but there are tons of online tutorials that teach you how to choose X part and which tool you need to mount Y part and how to do it.
And if all else fails, you can either subscribe to a local bike club and get some help, or go to a bike shop and let the mechanics assemble your ride. Just make sure you ask about labor costs before committing.