Last week I addressed how to tell if your bike is too small. But what if you think you have the opposite problem? How do you tell if your bike is actually too big?
Your bike might be too big if steering and turning are a challenge, you notice pain or discomfort every time you ride, or you have difficulty doing basic tricks and getting your bike in the air. And of course, if you stand over your bike and your feet can’t reach the ground, your bike is definitely too big!
If you have any of these issues, let’s take a look at how you can tell if your giant bike is to blame, as well as some circumstances in which you might actually want to choose a bike on the larger side of the spectrum.
5 Signs Your Bike is Too Big
1. Not Enough Standover Clearance
Let’s get the easiest one out of the way first. Your bike’s standover height is measured from the ground to the point on the top tube where it intersects with the bottom bracket. When you’re standing over top of your bike with your feet on the ground (without sitting on the saddle), you want about an inch or two of clearance between yourself and the top tube.
If you can’t stand over your bike without making contact with the top tube, your bike frame is simply too big. It should be obvious why this is a bad thing: aside from allowing you to put your feet down on the ground and catch yourself from falling if your feet slip off the pedals, an appropriately sized bike frame will prevent you from landing groin-first on the top tube.
If you’ve ever done this, I’m sure once was plenty…
2. Difficulty Weighting the Front Wheel
If your front wheel likes to lift off the ground frequently on climbs, your bike frame might be too large for you. The larger the frame, the greater the reach, which is the horizontal distance measured from the bottom bracket to the head tube (or roughly from the center of the seat to the center of the handlebars).
A greater reach will force you to lean further forward to grab the handlebars. In this stretched out position, you’ll find it a lot more difficult to shift enough of your body weight over the front wheel to keep it in contact with the ground, especially on climbs. A wheel off the ground can’t provide any grip, making climbing even more difficult.
If you often find yourself doing a wheelie on climbs, you might as well just get a unicycle: it would be a lot lighter!
3. Difficulty Steering and Making Turns
If making small steering corrections and getting your bike pointed where you want it is a challenge, your bike frame might be too big.
A longer reach doesn’t just affect your ability to keep your front wheel planted; it also makes steering more difficult. Without enough body weight over the front wheel, your tire won’t offer the traction needed to dig into corners and make flat turns. Steering will feel sluggish and unresponsive.
If you’re too stretched out over your bike, it’s also going to be physically harder to turn your handlebars. With your shoulders and elbows fully extended out in front of you, you won’t be able to make precise steering adjustments.
Picture a motorcycle with “ape hanger” handlebars: they might look cool, but they aren’t very responsive, especially in an emergency when you need to make a quick reaction and expect your bike to respond to your input immediately.
Rather than being in control, you’ll feel like a passenger on your bike as you desperately hang onto the handlebars trying to get your bike where you want it to go.
4. Pain or Discomfort While Riding
If your bike is too big, it’s going to affect your body position while you ride.
When you’re on your bike, take note of how much you have to lean forward to reach your handlebars. If you have to crane your neck excessively to see in front of you because your upper body is almost parallel with the ground, this is a clear sign you would benefit from a smaller bike frame.
When you have to lean forward this much just to reach the handlebars, it can cause significant discomfort in your lower back, shoulders and neck. This pain will be compounded the longer your rides last. If you only ride once a week, this discomfort will be annoying, but if you ride a few times a week it can lead to chronic pain.
In addition to discomfort, you might notice a negative impact on your posture. Bad posture can lead to a host of other problems with your spine, shoulders, hips and knees. As we get older, our joints deteriorate anyway, so there’s no need to give them a helping hand along the way!
5. Difficult to Do Tricks
If you like doing manuals, wheelies, bunny hops, hitting big jumps, or just getting your bike in the air any chance you get, it’s going to be much easier to do these tricks with the right size bike.
Because a bigger bike will have a bigger wheelbase.
Wheelbase is the length measured from the front wheel axle to the rear wheel axle. To get your front wheel in the air for a manual or wheelie or to set up for a bunny hop, you need to shift your body weight behind your bike’s rear axle. A longer wheelbase will require you to shift your weight much further rearward to do this.
If you’re a smaller or lighter rider, you’re already going to find it more difficult to get enough weight far enough over your rear axle to lift your front wheel up. On a bike that’s too big for you, this will be a lot harder than it needs to be.
Even if you don’t care about doing tricks or hitting jumps, there will be other times when you’ll need to lift your front wheel up.
Imagine you’re riding fast on the road or trail, and a tree branch or similarly sized object suddenly appears in front of you. Hitting it with your front wheel could send you over the bars. It’s much safer to elevate your front wheel over the object and let your rear wheel take the impact, or bunny hop over it entirely.
If you have trouble doing so when the need arises, you could find yourself hurtling face first toward the pavement, swerving into traffic, or flying off into the woods.
Why You Might WANT to Choose a Bigger Bike
So it sounds like having a bike that’s too big is a bad thing, right?
Well in most cases, yes.
Frame sizes are based on your height. Each frame size will fit a small range of heights, but for many people, they find themselves right on the border of two different frame sizes. It’s like being in between pants sizes…but way more expensive if you make the wrong choice.
If you’re in this situation, should you size up, or size down? I provided some examples of when you might want to size down in our previous article 3 Signs Your Bike is Too Small (*link to article when published*), but here’s when you might want to size up.
You Have a Long Torso for Your Height
If you have trouble finding shirts long enough to cover your belly button, this probably applies to you. With a longer torso, you’re going to be much more comfortable sizing up. A larger bike will have a longer reach. This means you’ll have more room in the cockpit and won’t feel so cramped in the saddle.
Reach measurements can vary quite a bit between sizes, so you’re probably better off going with the larger frame size to accommodate your longer torso.
You Like to Ride Fast In Wide Open Terrain
No doubt about it; a larger bike will be more stable when going fast. This is due in part to the longer wheelbase I described above. More distance between the tires creates a smoother, more stable platform that won’t feel as squirrely when you’re really pushing your legs to the red line or bombing down a steep descent.
While it will make jumping and doing tricks a little more difficult, if your goal is flat out speed, you’ll want to get the biggest bike you comfortably fit on.
Additionally, if you’re a road cyclist or mostly ride wide open mountain bike trails or bike parks, a bigger bike is the way to go. If you frequently maneuver through tight trees and narrow trails, it would be a different story. But out in the open, the bigger bike reigns supreme.
You’re a Younger Rider Who is Still Growing
Let’s be honest…biking is an expensive sport. Even if you’re in the market for your first beginner road or mountain bike, it’s not uncommon to drop at least $500 for something decent that’s going to hold up to frequent riding.
But if you’re a younger rider who’s still got a little growing to do, buying a bigger bike just makes better practical and financial sense.
A bigger bike will allow you to continue progressing and honing your skills for a longer period of time…hopefully until you stop growing and are ready to upgrade your bike because you want more advanced components, not because you outgrew it!
And since good bikes are so expensive, the thought of spending that much money on a larger bike in a year’s time is hard to justify. A slightly larger bike will be a perfectly fine platform to learn on, and will save you a lot of money in the long run…which you’ll need for new riding gear, bike park lift tickets, or when certain parts inevitably wear out.
Did I mention biking was expensive?