As I wrote in My Decades-Long Quest to Fit my Bike Like the 5′ 8″ Pros I have struggled with finding the correct bike fit since I started riding steel bikes with old-school gearing again around 2015.
“Recently, I completed a two-years quest to properly fit my fleet of vintage road bikes. At least I think I did. After lots of research and trial and error, I’ve raised my saddle 2cm and moved it forward about 1cm. The height is pretty much what I had in 1980s and 1990s. Moving my saddle forward, however, is new. It’s still early, but since putting all my bike saddle heights up to 72cm, including my modern road and cyclocross bikes, I seem to have vastly reduced the amount of back pain I have been experiencing,” I wrote.
Not much has changed on my bikes since then, although I have raised my saddle 5mm more and often consider going to 53 or 54cm—where I ran it in the 1990s. And, I’ve settled into my saddle being farther forward and perfectly level. (Since the 1990s, I had shoved it all the way back and angled it nose slightly up to prevent me from sliding forward.) Esthetically, I don’t like it, but I rarely find myself pushing myself back on the saddle because I’m constantly sliding forward. I’ve also found that a 55 toptube with my preferred 120 stem works just fine. I don’t really notice the extra 5mm.
Oh, and I haven’t had lingering back pain for quite a while.
Since writing that piece, I acquired an early-1970s Flandria frame. It was supposed to be 55×55, but it’s really 56×55. I did a quick test fit with a 120 stem, but it felt long so I settled on a 110. The fit is good, but the frame’s long wheelbase and big fork offset make the bike a little “too stable.” It’s comfy like a Cadillac Eldorado, but it handles like a land yacht, too. It’s just not very exciting to ride.
But here’s the big news, soon, I will be the proud owner of a real 1987 Claude Criquielion Hitachi Rossin—one of the bikes I featured in My Decades-Long Quest to Fit my Bike Like the 5′ 8″ Pros .
The bike I’m getting is likely one of Caludy’s Tour de France SLX bikes, not one of the Ghiblis Criquielion and the team rode through the Spring Classics until July. The bike is truly one of my Holy Grails. Based on their consecutive serial numbers—HH1 and HH2—it’s likely the twin to my friend David Verbeken’s bike. (A Look at David Verbeken’s Claude Criquielion Hitachi Rossin)
I plan to write more about the bike and how it came to me later, when I actually have it in my possession. (David is helping with a few things and will ship it to me soon.) I mention it here because the frame has a 57cm top tube (54 c-c seat tube) and the bike comes with the original 110 Rossin pantographed Cinelli 1A stem. (It’s not Claudy’s usual 130 stem. Although there is a photo of him riding what may be the bike at the Tour of Lombardy.) We believe mine, HH2, was his spare, and possibly a team spare and was fitted with a shorter stem. This is impossible to know without verifying with the team mechanic, who may have no recollection. But, believe me, if I can track him down, I will ask. By the way, if you look closely at the photo at the top of this page, the rider in the foreground has a pantographed stem.) The bike is roughly the same size as my Flandria, but I’m fairly confident that it will ride better. I assume the wheelbase and fork offset are both smaller.
I recently found this enlightening article about frame design by Dave Moulton, The Evolution of Frame Design. Part I: The Wheelbarrow Effect. The three-part article (as well as his other pieces on bike fit) gave me a lot of new insight into how stem length and fork rake/trail/offset affect bike handling.
I confess I haven’t quite figured out how to use his unique method for finding your correct frame size. It’s more comprehensive than many I’ve seen and involves shoe size as well as considers saddle hardness, the width of the rider’s pelvic bones and the width of the saddle.
I’m 5′ 8.25″ (173.3cm) tall with an inseam of 31.065″ (79cm) and I wear a size 42 shoe. Based on my inseam, Moulton would put me on a 51cm frame with a 53cm toptube and a 105 stem. But that’s if my shoe size was 42.5. If I read his instructions correctly, based on my smaller shoe size, I should actually go with my height not my inseam to establish frame size. Doing that would put me on a 53cm frame with a 54.5cm toptube and a 110 stem. That’s almost the same as my LeMond, which is 53×54.5 with a 120 stem. That bike and my other 54.4 toptube bikes—Julien Stevens’ 1973 Gios and Etienne De Wilde’s 1986 Splendor—are, in fact, my favorites.
Moulton’s article about saddle height basically says you can get a good starting point by using this formula: inside leg measurement x 109%. This gets you the measurement from the pedal surface in its lowest position to the top of the saddle. You then subtract the crank length to get the more traditional center-of-the-BB-to-top-of-saddle measurement.
My inside leg is 79cm, so 79 x 109% = 86. When I subtract my 17cm crank length from 86, I get a saddle height of 79cm. Funny that my inside leg length and “recommended” saddle height are the same. (To get Moulton’s full explanation, read his article. I’ve barely scratched the surface of it here.)
A saddle height of 79cm, however, is far above the 74cm height I rode at in the 1990s and farther still above the 72.5 I’m at now. I can’t even imagine riding at 79cm on a 53cm frame. The amount of seatpost showing would be extreme.
To be fair, Moulton stresses that this is a good place to start. And with my “small” feet, I imagine, he’d agree that 79cm is too high. Still, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around his recommendation of a 53cm frame with a saddle height of 79 or even 75+cm. It seems to me, a 54 or even 55 would be better.
What I find interesting here is that at 79cm or even my old 74cm, I’d have a lot more toe point at the low point of my pedal stroke than I do now. I’ve often wondered how much toe point is correct. I’ve noticed that a lot of pros seem to have more than I do. (I had more back in the 1990s.) This is something I want to explore more.
I know, I know, I could get all or many of my questions answered by getting a “pro fit.” I had a pro fit, once. It was underwhelming. He changed nothing on my bike. I also had a custom Seven built. While Seven’s system certainly isn’t a “pro fit”, it did help me realize that my bike was pretty damn close to what I apparently need. The only thing Seven changed was my top tube length, which went to 54.8 (from 54.5). But that was based on the shorter 110 stem I was running at the time when I was on a Trek 5900 with a 55.3 top tube. So… (I’ll note here that I deeply regret not having Ugo De Rosa do a fitting when I had the chance in the late-1990s. It would have required I also bought a custom frame, which would have been a financial stretch.)
Although I am certainly very curious about what I’d learn from a pro fit, I can’t justify the $150-200+ cost of one. Not to mention, I’d probably like to get two or three opinions just to be sure. That isn’t to say there isn’t value in that investment, which, to be fair, is small in comparisons to some bike parts. A proper fitting also has the potential to lead to much bigger performance improvements. I feel like I’m close to where I need to be, so I’m not sure I need to pay for the help.
But generally, what I really, really want to understand is how other 5′ 8″ riders like Criquielion, Bernard Hinault and Davis Phinney (none of whom look like they have huge feet) successfully rode bikes with 55.5, 56.5 or 57cm top tubes with up to 130 stems and fairly moderate saddle heights of 73.5ish (Hinault with an 8cm saddle setback) and an estimated 74 -74.5cm for Criquielion. (I really need to track down and contact the Splendor/Hitachi mechanics.)
Anyway, despite what Moutlon says and my experience with the similarly sized Flandria bike, I very much look forward getting the Claudy bike, setting it up and riding it. I’m optimistic it will be a bit quicker in the handling department than the Flandria. If all goes well, I’ll be riding it by mid-March.