The best mountain bike for me is not necessarily going to be the best mountain bike for you, because there are several things that you have to pay attention to when making such a purchase. These details are what really make the difference between a mountain bike that you’ll be pleased with and one that you’re thinking of returning.
Bikes can, unfortunately, also be the wrong size, not just shoes and clothes, so you must be careful to pick one that fits you the best. The bad news is that you can’t really go by nominal frame size, like in the old days, not even by the advice of a bike shops’ assistant, as mountain bike frame sizes tend to be all over the place now.
With no consistency and standard that manufacturers follow, the Medium/17in bike from one company is going to have the same size as the Large/19in from another. As you can tell, that is not how things should be going, as you don’t have a frame size to go by anymore, not from brand to brand, not even from model to model.
As a result, this makes looking for a bike and trying to buy one even more difficult, not only online, but even in the flesh. Don’t rely on filters that select the frame size, as you may be surprised to find out you are getting results that don’t fit you. Fortunately, we are here to give you some helpful advice about how to deal with this best.
The problem seems to come from the fact that bicycles have been sized, for the longest time, by the length of the seat tube. That is a long story in itself, and we won’t bore you with it, but we’ll tell you that if you want to point a finger at somebody, then it’s the roadies. But that’s not going to help the situation anyway, so let’s continue.
This makes it a problem for all of us, though. But, even if the seat tube length is important, fortunately, it is not the most important one, when it comes to the measurements you can take for a bicycle frame. The idea of listing the frame sizes in inches represents a big improvement.
We can also add that using “Large”, “Medium”, and “Small”, instead of, say, “19 inches”, “17 inches”, “16 inches” is also a great idea! So, in this case, what measurements should you be looking for? The two you should keep an eye on to get the best results are reach and standover.
Reach represents the distance that you can see between the bottom bracket axle and the top of the head tube. This distance is not really easy to measure by yourself live unless you plan on carrying some tape measures and plumb lines along with you when you go to the bicycle shop. Fortunately, any decent brand features such numbers on their bikes.
But why is reach the most important thing? Simply put, the reach is going to show you how the bicycle is really going to fit you. This is the way from which you’ll find out if the bike is too big or too small for you, if it’s too stretched or too cramped for your body. But there is more to this, of course.
You can’t adjust the reach, while you can adjust the seat tube length. You can adjust the height of the saddle, moving it up or down, following the length of the seat tube, but you won’t be able to adjust the reach. This is a good thing, as you’ll see, since it means a short bike will always remain a short bike.
What about the standover?
We are glad you asked. The standover can be considered as a much more helpful version of the sizing that relies on the seat tube length. This shows how high the top tube is at the moment in which you are astride the bike and straddling it. Basically, this is when you are around 70 mm in front of the bottom bracket.
As you can imagine, this isn’t the easiest thing to measure by yourself in the bike shop, but, online, you should be able to find the relevant info in the instructions, technical aspects, the geometry chart, etc. The thing that you need to measure is the inside of your leg so you’ll find out if the bike has enough standover for you.
For example, in the case that the inside of your leg measures 28 inches, there is no reason whatsoever for you to buy a bike that has a 30 inches standover – unless you plan on feeling a lot of pain while you are on the bicycle, of course. But, we assume you’re not really going for that, though.
So what’s the size?
You’ll easily find tables that present to you the rider height and the corresponding frame size in two columns, but, as we previously mentioned, that’s not really how things work. It can be a slight hint toward the size that you need to buy, but it’s by all means not a definitive number, as you are led to believe.
Yes, you will find that every bicycle brand has its own height/frame size chart and that every website that sells mountain bikes has another size chart – they may sometimes have the same sizes, but not always, so that should give you something to think about. If the size charts are so good, why aren’t they all the same?
So, what is our recommendation, then? Simply, as we mentioned, just check out the reach. Ok, we also have a sort-of size chart for you, but, at least, in this case, we can guarantee that it’s one that actually works, and there is probably not a chance that you will be able to mess this up.
The actual numbers
Based on your height, the numbers go as follows: between a height of 5’2” to 5’6”, you’ll need a reach between 410 – 450 mm. For heights between 5’6” and 5’10”, the reach you’ll need will be of 430 to 470 mm. In the case you are between 5’10” and 6’2”, you’ll require a reach of 450 – 490 mm, while for 6’2” to 6’6”, you’ll use a reach of 470 – 510 mm.
These numbers are probably helpful for newcomers to the riding game, but also a bit confusing for people who are pretty used to the classical advice that used to be given – and it still is, in some cases. At the same time, there will be people who think that even longer numbers for the reach could work, based on your height.
This is still because there is not really a standard across all bikes in this country, let alone the continent or world. Generally speaking, we’d say that you should get the largest frame size that still offers you enough space for the standover. Try this method and you are not going to regret it.
By following this advice, there is a chance that, if you are looking to buy a new bike, you may buy one that is not the same size as the one you rode before. After riding a Large, you’ll surely be taken aback when you find out that now you have to search for a bicycle size XL or XXL. But it’s ok, trust us, this will work much better for you.
Times change, things change with them and, if you think about it, the frame sizing thing could be considered as having always been incorrect. Because the errors weren’t always that big, we got used to riding bikes that are slightly incorrect for us, and only demanded a refund if they were completely off.
But, in this case, following the advice presented here, you will basically discover a whole new world of bikes and how to ride them. It’s not going to be the same, it’s actually going to be better, even if getting used to the new size of your bike will take a bit of time – at least you’ll know you’re riding the correct size.
If you don’t believe us, ask any expert you know about this procedure and see what they’ll say – we highly doubt they are not going to agree that this version is one that you should seriously follow.