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I've been commuting regularly to work during the last four years and I would like to get a road bike to replace my old city bike and enjoy some cycling on the weekends. I've been looking which bike size to get for my height (1.82m) and according to online charts I should get a size L frame.

However, I am very stiff (I'm working on that!) and I am worried I won't be able to clear the frame comfortably to get on/off the bike. I was wondering whether I should instead consider going a size lower to be able to clear the frame more comfortably.

Are there any tips on how to choose a frame in such a situation? Should I go one size lower or pick my "right" size, hoping that it will become more comfortable the more I get used to it and the more I improve my flexibility through stretching?

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  • To lower the bar to entry, consider a used road bike as a starter.
    – Criggie
    Apr 11 at 10:50
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    Have you actually gone to your LBS and tried to get onto an appropriately sized bike? It might not be as difficult as you're imagining. I'm not particularly flexible - if I don't stretch daily, I can't touch my toes. Heck, I can't get close to them! But I've never had an issue getting my leg over a bike.
    – FreeMan
    Apr 11 at 17:52
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    @FreeMan to put it another way, you're reasonably flexible - if you stretch daily you can touch your toes! A lot of people can't say that. But anyway it's a slightly different direction of flexibility to get on a bike. Also I used to risk cramp in my hamstring getting my leg over the saddle with a child seat on, so sometimes, the movement exists but isn't desirable
    – Chris H
    Apr 12 at 7:53
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    @FreeMan: For getting your leg over the top tube sideways mobility (adductor flexibility and abductor strength) is much more important than being able to bend down (hip extensor and spine flexibility).
    – Michael
    Apr 12 at 9:57

5 Answers 5

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Start with the numbers and sizes to get you in the ball park, and move to thinking about how it feels to you. Bike sizing is a personal thing, and like a good pair of boots you need to get used to each other. You WILL need to try bikes in person to get an idea.

Bike sizing numbers assume you're average proportions, but scaled out. In my experience, tall/short wide/narrow light/heavy people are never proportioned the same as Average.
Example1: I have long legs and short arms for 195 cm tall, so I want a high saddle but a comparitively short reach, which I get by having a stupid-long seatpost, which does me no favours when on a climb.
Example2: Someone with short legs and longer trunk/arms would want a larger frame with almost no seatpost, so the top tube is longer, and when combined with a longer stem gives more reach.

You describe yourself as stiff. Regardless of if that's muscular or joint, stretching will help.

If your stiffness stops you bending forward then the drops may be particularly uncomfortable, so raising the bars may be required. There is no shame in having a bike you can ride comfortably; the modern race bikes promote an aggressive position that compromises power for aerodynamics, and the pros have a lot of power to waste. I don't so would accept a less aero-posture to make more power.

Consider that you may spend hours riding, but mere seconds getting on and off. The bike should be comfortable to ride, and that's more important than comfortable to mount/dismount (presuming you can get on/off okay)

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    +100 for that last paragraph!
    – FreeMan
    Apr 11 at 17:54
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    Thanks a lot, your answer was very helpful! I ended up getting a used Triban RC 500. It is a size L and I was surprised by how easy it was for me to get on it compared to my previous city bike. I guess I was mostly scared by the idea of getting a more aggressive bike more than anything. So far I am very happy with it and I haven't had any issues
    – Salmorejo
    Apr 20 at 14:58
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If the stiffness is mainly about getting over the top tube, various designs make that easier. There are plenty of vintage mixte (lowered toptube, aligned to lowered seatstays) road bikes like the old Peugeot below and a few modern ones. Your profile says you're in Paris, so I'd be on the hunt for something like this as a project bike. The downsides of vintage are mainly finding parts and range of gears. Neither should be too bad if you're prepared to modernise and shop around.

Vintage Peugeot mixte
Image from Wikipedia user Rwendland via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Peugeot_Mixte,_PX18.JPG

Modern options include a light tourer built by a company near me (I'd look at them first if replacing my tourer). Plenty of small frame builders could put something together; a DIY option could involve building up a light step-through frame with drop bars as a road bike, but you;d have to pay carefully attention to geometry.

This would also help if standing waiting for junctions is awkward.

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    Thanks a lot! I have a friend who swears by Temple cycles so I had already taken a look at them in the past ;)
    – Salmorejo
    Apr 11 at 21:35
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    The folks at Temple take the retro look seriously, all the way to still being able to procure quill stems in 2022!
    – Sam
    Apr 11 at 23:53
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    @Sam there are a few manufacturers still using them. I've heard good things about Temple - one of the women in my club did PBP on a fixie from them
    – Chris H
    Apr 12 at 7:51
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My flexibility and mobility is extremely bad. I can’t really get my leg over the top tube when standing on the ground.

So I:

  1. Clip in with the left foot.
  2. Push off with the right foot.
  3. While already moving swing the right foot behind me and over the rear wheel onto the right pedal.

If it’s really steep this process doesn’t work (because you can’t get enough speed to balance for step 3). Then I have to somehow work my foot over the bike.

For dismounting I do the same process in reverse i.e. while I’m still moving I swing the right foot over the rear wheel, basically doing a cyclocross dismount.

It generally works nicely, the only danger is if you are wearing loose pants (or a very long jersey/rain jacket) since those can catch on the backside of the saddle. Or if you are transporting something tall on a rear rack (e.g. children). But those things shouldn’t be an issue on a road bike.

I’m 1.8m, with most manufacturers I need a size M frame (~53cm “frame height”). I think since you are barely taller a size M should also work for you, especially with a slightly longer stem.

Fortunately my back flexibility is okay (I can touch my toes with legs straight) and my core strength is good so I’ve never had trouble with aggressive seating positions.

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    OTOH you must have decent balance and some aspects of mobility (balancing a bike standing on 1 pedal seems harder than balancing while riding)
    – Chris H
    Apr 11 at 15:07
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There's always a way to throw a leg over a bike. I've got poor lateral flexibility in my legs, and I need to lean my bike to the side to get my leg over it sometimes. You should get the bike that fits you.

If you've got poor flexibility in your back, you'll want to pay attention to the bike's stack/reach ratio. As road bikes go, a ratio of 1.4 is low (meaning you're very bent-over), a ratio of 1.5 or more is upright. You can make accommodations with stem height and length, but it's probably a bad idea to get a bike that requires you to have a long stovepipe of steerer tube sticking up above the frame. Bear in mind that many people find all road bikes put them in an uncomfortably bent-over position when they start riding them, but you get used to it with time.

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There's one major danger of going one size lower.

Generally, frames vary according to three characteristics, with each measurement increasing as you go up the frame sizes:

  • Seat tube height and therefore standover clearance
  • Top tube length
  • Handlebar height

If you go one size lower, the handlebars will be very low and you may not be able to raise them to a reasonable level. Especially with today's ahead stems, this is a major limitation. Also, in road bikes it's very trendy to have ridiculously low handlebars, so low nobody but a competitive cyclist is able to ride them. If you do purchase a drop bar bike, prefer to buy an endurance road bike, or a touring bike, or a gravel bike. Non-endurance road bikes are from hell.

When I purchase a bike (and I would never purchase a non-endurance road bike, but even then I find that on typical bikes such as gravel bikes or endurance road bikes the handlebars are too low on the stock installation), I usually purchase bit larger frame than what would be ideal to me. Because today's top tubes are not fully level but rather we have "compact" frame geometry, this means that standover clearance will be just barely enough, not too little. Then I swap the stem to a shorter one in order to eliminate the problem of having too long frame, and install it such that all spacers are below the stem and the angled stem is angled up.

I don't know where you are non-flexible. I'm also non-flexible, if I have to ride with a low handlebar every part of my body hurts. I have never found raising my leg over the saddle and top tube to be any limitation for me.

If you absolutely have to buy one size lower to be able to raise your leg over the bike (which I won't believe but then again we all are different), you almost surely need a 35-degree stem that you can angle up to eliminate the effects of too small frame. Here the problem is that the handlebars in the stock installation will be so low you have absolutely no way of raising the handlebars to any reasonable level. Thus, you are unable to estimate what length 35-degree stem you need, because the handlebars are too low and the riding position is therefore so different from your final riding position. Therefore, most likely you need to purchase two new stems: one 35-degree stem which you use as a trial stem, and then when you know if the stem is much too short, or little too short, or correct length, or little too long, or much too long, you buy the correct length 35-degree stem. If you're very lucky (chance maybe 20%) then the first 35-degree stem you buy was the optimal length.

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