May I use an old frame (pre 1990) of same size as a modern road frame? For example by using a long stem and long seatpost. Or would I have to size up a lot?

Concrete example: I ride a 56 cm Merida CX frame (2017 Merida CX600) and am 190 cm tall. I found a nice 56 cm Motobecane steel frame (about 1985) on an online auction site.

  • Long seatposts on old frames tend to bend easier, cos they're only 1" Modern seatposts are larger diameter and survive being long levers better.
    – Criggie
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 19:32
  • You can make a smaller bike fit but whether it fits is another question.
    – Carel
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 16:50
  • 1
    A small off-topic warning (depending on what your plans towards this Motobecane are) - Motobecane used proprietary threading for bottom bracket which was neither BSC nor Campagnolo. And in the '80s they were delivered with cottered cranks. This may limit your restoration/modification possibilities unless you are ready for tinkering like described in this question: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/54262/…
    – Mike
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 14:29
  • Thanks. I found out they didn't bother at all to thread the BB shell of the frame I bought. I wrote it off, the frame is lying in my cellar now. I shall bring it as a gift to a bike shop that specializes in old French touring bikes.
    – gschenk
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 19:52
  • This blog post is informative about the change in philosophy/style that has occurred in recent decades, describing how classic vs newer frame geometries achieve the flat back position. Basically older frames had longer top tubes, while newer ones have more drop to accomplish the same position while putting the rider's hands on the hoods to use brifters Commented Sep 4, 2020 at 15:51

3 Answers 3


Historically manufacturers have used different reference points in specifying frame measurements. For example, some manufacturers use the length of the top tube while others use the length of the seat tube. If the frame is 'square', then the two measurements will be roughly the same, but this is not always the case.

The endpoints of the tube measurement may vary, especially with regards to the seat tube. Typically the lower reference is the center of the bottom bracket. The top reference, however, may be the center of the top tube (where it intersects the seat tube, aka 'center-to-center' or C-C), or it may be the top of the top tube (C-T), or it may be the top of the seat tube itself (C-TTT). Sloping top tubes complicate this measurement in that the reference is typically relative to an imaginary, horizontal top tube and where it would intersect the seat tube.

The length of such an imaginary, horizontal top tube is sometimes specified as 'effective top tube length', or 'ETT'.

To reduce manufacturing costs and ease the sales process, manufacturers also have moved away from numeric sizing to 'XS', 'S', 'M', 'L', 'XL', sizing and nomenclature. The numeric measurements of a given size vary between manufacturers and even between bikes from one manufacturer, depending on the style of bike - 'race', 'endurance', 'gravel', 'adventure', 'touring', etc.

Fortunately there seems to be some convergence around a common set of measurements, including effective TT length, ST length (C-C), head tube length, bottom bracket (BB) drop or height, seat tube angle, head tube angle, and chainstay length. Perhaps most important are two measurements known as 'stack' and 'reach', these being the vertical distance from the BB center to the stop of the head tube (typically exclusive of headset, but not always), and the horizontal distance from the BB center to the top of the head tube. These measurements have a strong influence on the position of your torso, head, and arms, because they establish a baseline for the position of the handlebars and their relation to the saddle (including the saddle-to-handlebar vertical distance, or drop).

A modern geometry chart will put a picture to all this.

I think your basic question is 'Will a 56cm Motobecane fit like a 56cm Merida CX frame?' Perhaps a better question is 'Can I make a 56cm Motobecane fit like my 56cm Merida CX?' This assumes you are happy with the fit of your Merida, of course. While you don't state your proportions (inseam, sleeve length, etc.), at 190cm a 56cm bike may be marginally too small for you.

To answer your question, one thing to do would be to compare the numeric geometry of the two frames. A simple pass / fail test would be to measure the distance from the saddle nose to the handlebars, and the saddle-to-handlebar drop. If you think you can make those measurements the same, or close to the same, then all other things being equal then the Motobecane may work for you. Note that any difference in BB drop will be offset by an change in saddle height to achieve the same leg extension, which in turn will affect the saddle-to-bar drop and the reach.

Cheap, used bikes are plentiful, at least where I am, so if the Motobecane cannot be made to work (via seatpost and/or stem and/or handlebar adjustment or replacement) then you should keep looking.

  • " 'Can I make a 56cm Motobecane fit like my 56cm Merida CX?'" that is indeed very much the question. It's not so much if they are the same fit, but are those old and new frame measurements worlds apart. At a second tier: Are long seat posts possible in old steel frames. TT length seemed to be longer, typically.
    – gschenk
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 16:25
  • You may use a longer seatpost as long as you respect the minimum insertion limit.
    – Carel
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 16:55

Modern road bikes tend to have sloping top tubes, but the 'traditional' seat-tube measurement is often made to a point level with where the top-tube meets the head-tube.

Check your Merida to see if this is the case. If it is you can make a comparison between it and the Motobecane.

I'd try to find out other geometry specs, especially the top tube length, which again you can compare to your Merida.


While frame sizes have not had much difference, the design has improved, and the weight v/s the strength of materials used in frame construction had improved vastly. Alloys (or carbon fiber) used currently, are vastly superior in strength to the ones used 3 decades ago.

Also, component sizes have had some revisions, like using metric sized stems, steerer tubes, axles, etc.

Yes, if you can procure a fork with a steerer tube of the length and diameter that your frame requires, then that's a good starting point. Wheels and tires are pretty much standard with fewer revisions. Next in line would be the brakes, BB and drive train. Seat post and saddle would come after.

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