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Choosing a Bicycle that is the Correct Size

By: Rachel Newcombe - Updated: 17 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Bike Bicycle Cycling Mountain Bike

If you’re in need of a new bike, or you’re buying one for the first time, you can be forgiven for wondering what size you’ll need. There is an art to choosing the correct size and fit of bicycle – we reveal all!

A bicycle is a great form of transport and cycling has the added benefit of being environmentally friendly and of keeping you fit and healthy. Learning to ride a bike as a child can give a child confidence in themselves and it’s a really useful skill to take on into later life.

Children’s Bicycles

In the case of bikes for children, bicycle sizes are worked out by wheel diameter, rather than by frame size and seat height as adult bicycles are. As children grow so quickly, it’s helpful if you can buy a bike that will last a while, even when they grow, but not be too big or out of their league when they’re first riding it.

For safety reasons they should be able to reach the handlebars easily, operate the brakes, touch the floor with at least the tips of their toes and feel comfortable and able to ride the bike.

Each bike manufacturer has their own guide to the suitability of bikes for children, but as a rough guide the following wheel diameter sizes are most appropriate for the following ages of children:

  • 12” wheel – suitable for ages 3 to 5.
  • 14” wheel – suitable for ages 4 to 6.
  • 16” wheel – suitable for ages 5 to 8.
  • 18” wheel – suitable for ages 6 to 9.
  • 20” wheel – suitable for ages 7 to 10.
  • 24” wheel – suitable for ages 9 to 12.
  • 26” wheel – suitable for ages 11+.

Of course, there’s isn’t set in stone and some children who are proficient in riding may prefer a larger size than is aimed at their age group. Likewise, a slightly larger child may need a bigger wheel size. The main thing is that a child feels confident and in control of their bike at all times.

Adult Bicycles

The size of bicycle needed for an adult is worked out according to the size of the bike frame. The frame is generally measured from the top, where the seat is, to the bottom bracket, where the pedals are and the resulting measurement is provided in inches. Some manufacturers do use slightly different measuring points, which can cause confusion, so always double check when you’re looking for a bike.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re buying an all-purpose or road bike, you should always ensure there’s good clearance between the top bar and your crotch when you straddle the frame. A distance of about 1 to 2 inches is recommended. With mountain bikes, which don’t have a top bar, a slightly larger distance of about 1.5 to 4 inches is recommended.

It’s good to try out as many different bikes and models as you can, as trying offers the best insight into how it will feel as you ride the bike. All good bicycle shops should allow you the chance to try out the bike. Adjusting the seat height or handlebars can sometimes improve comfort, but on the whole it’s better to go for a bike that’s instantly the right size and fit, rather than try and do minor adjustments to make it right for you.

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