One of the most common questions I get, when selling a vintage bicycle on-line, is "Will it fit me?".  And, I do not blame people for wanting to be assured of this critical factor.

It was not all that long ago, that my youngest grandson expressed interest in a bicycle, that I had recently acquired.  It did not occur to him, for the briefest moment, that the 60cm Cambio Rino was too  big for him.  All he saw, was a bicycle that he liked.  I know that this sounds ridiculous but it has happened to me, more than once.

The first vintage road bicycle, I ever attempted to Street Restore, was much to big for me.  I spent a lot of time, and a fair amount of money, restoring a mid seventies Sekine SHC-270, only to find out that it was too big for me.  I frequently encounter people who seek guidance, when attempting to determine if a bicycle is too big, or too small, for them.

If a bicycle is too big for you, the top tube will rub and/or bang up against your crotch when standing over the bicycle.  This is dangerous and might well result in injury if you were to slip off of the saddle while riding.  The result, of course, would be a solid impact between the top tube and parts of your anatomy.  I am not sure how this affects ladies but I DO NOT LIKE IT! when it happens to me!  So why not just buy a smaller bicycle, one that fits properly, to avoid this potential danger?  However...

If you buy a bicycle that is too small, you will be unable to achieve any kind of fit adjustment opportunity, no matter what you do.  It is unlikely that you will be able to raise the seat post sufficiently to allow for proper leg extension when riding.  You will be risking damage to your knees while significantly reducing your opportunity for optimal performance.  If you do manage to lift the seat post to an acceptable height, then you will likely need to do the same with the steering stem.  Assuming, of course, that it can raised enough.  If it won't allow for adequate adjustment, your only option would be to purchase a steering stem with, not only a longer stem but also with a longer reach.  Of course when you do that, you might significantly move your center of gravity too far forward on the bicycle…  The long and short of it is, start by ensuring that the bicycle will fit you properly.

When it comes to buying on-line and estimating fit you can never be sure of your best guess.  Never!  However, there are ways to get a pretty good idea of what will fit best and feel right.

Start estimating potential fit, by measuring your inseam.  With your riding shoes on, your heels a few inches apart (pretty much directly under your shoulders, if that is any help) and legs straight, have a friend measure your inseam.

Depending on how well you know and like your friend, will help to determine who holds which end of the tape measure.  Actually, it is best if you hold the end of the tape measure that is closest to your crotch.  Ensure that your assistant holds the other end of the tape measure directly underneath you, splitting the distance between your heels.  Now, you pull gently up on the other end of the tape measure, until you feel snug pressure on your crotch.  The distance, from the floor to the snug touch point of your crotch, is the inseam measurement that I work with when buying or selling a bicycle on-line.  Either remember or, if you’re my age, record this measurement.  You will need to know this measurement for every potential on-line bicycle purchase.

Once the inseam measurement is determined, hold two adjacent fingers together and measure the width at the middle knuckles.  Remember/record this measurement.  Repeat this measuring effort, only this time hold three adjacent fingers together.  These two measurements will offer what I will call your Top Tube Clearance Safety Margin Range.

When standing over a proper fitting vintage road bicycle, you will want to have between two and three finger widths clearance between you and the top tube of the bicycle.  The measurement, from the floor to the top of the top tube is a vintage road bicycle’s Stand Over Height (SOH) and, if this information is not listed in a potential on-line purchase, make sure that you ask the seller for the SOH.  As also, what wheel set was mounted when the SOH measurement was taken (700c or 27" - there will be a difference with the 27" offering the greater SOH of the two).

Once you know the bicycle’s SOH, you can compare that measurement to your inseam measurement.  If the SOH is two to three finger widths (one to two inches) lower than your inseam, then the bicycle will probably fit you well.  But how can you be sure?

Well, since you will not get a chance to test this method with your potential, unseen, unfelt bicycle, you can do the next best thing.  Visit a local bicycle shop and test your fit against real bicycles.  Stand over the bicycle and use your fingers to gauge clearance.  When you find one that offers the range of clearance required (two or three fingers clearance) by the Top Tube Clearance Safety Factor, ask what size the bicycle frame is. The Bike Shop Person will suggest the bicycle is a 54, 56 or some other number.  The range offered will most likely be between 50cm and 62cm.  Few bicycles fall outside of those limits.  And this bicycle size designation is determined by the length of the Seat Tube, which is a center to center measurement.

One of my most cherished bicycles was a 1958 Carlton Flyer that was given to me for free.  And I mean free.  Though the Carlton had to cross hundreds of miles to reach me, I did not even have to cover shipping costs.  The story of my Carlton Flyer is the best "How I Got the Bike" story that I have to tell.  But that wonderful old bicycle turned out to be too big.  It was a 58cm and I ride a 54-56.  The extra two centimetres put the bicycle fit just out of my range.  Understanding these number is very important when shopping on-line for a bicycle.  What do these numbers mean?

A vintage road bicycle's frame size is usually defined by the distance from the center of the Bottom Bracket spindle, measured along the Seat Tube, to the center of the Top Tube.  Once you know what size bicycle fits you, shopping on-line will be much less risky.  When I look for a proper fit, I look for a bike in the 54cm - 56cm range.  I don't just look for one or the other.  Either size, with seat post and steering stem adjustments, will fit me reasonably well but I do lean more to the 54cm, when it is available.

That is just about the best that one can do, when trying to determine (guess) if an on-line purchased bicycle will actually meet personal fit needs.  I am not an expert in the area of fit.  I have only used my common sense to determine fit.  I hope that this method works as well for you, as it seems to work for me.  I can add that not one of my customers has ever complained about poor fit.

The next big risk factor deals with trust.  Can you trust the stranger that you are about to send a wad of cash to?  Be realistic when you consider the question.  Because, when you buy on-line, you are placing your trust with a stranger.  A stranger that you might never see or hear from again.