Weekend Fit Discoveries

This weekend we went out bike investigating. K wanted to check out two sizes of the Santa Cruz Tallboy mountain bike.

Santa Cruz Tallboy
Photo Courtesy of http://www.kevin-yui.com, via flickr

He’s 5’10”, which is the classic “in-between” bicycle size for most mountain bike manufacturers. They give a breakdown something like “Medium: 5’6″ to 5’10”. Large: 5’10” to 6’2″.” The fitters actually gave him some grief over trying the Medium. “Oh, you’re the large!” (My take: Santa Cruz is trying a little too hard to make that Medium bike seem like a small, since they don’t make one.) When he did try the smaller size, he loved it. So much so, in fact, that he’s rearranging what we call “The Bicycle Progression” in order to buy this bike next.

On the way home, we discussed why the bike fit him so well, when the fitters were so skeptical. First, his height is entirely in his legs. Thanks to the seat angle, extending the saddle also extends the reach from saddle to handlebars. Also, he’s the the thin, wiry type. As we talked about it, I suggested that a person of his height, but of a stockier build, would probably have felt cramped, thanks to inadequate room to maneuver their arms and legs. That is, a larger person would occupy more of the available room between the saddle and the handlebars, even if the center-line of his/her body were in the same place.

I made my own bicycle discovery this weekend, as well. I’ve been looking, in a very casual way, for a mountain bike. I am not, nor will I probably ever be, a “real” mountain biker. Real mountain bikers say things like “Oh, I hit a tree, but it was no big.” K really wants me to learn, and I like the idea of, say, toodling along down a nice, wide, obstacle free trail. Who knows, maybe I’ll even love it. For reasons too tedious to list, I’ve been quite enchanted with the Salsa El Mariachi mountain bike.

El Mariachi
Image courtesy of salsacycles.com

This bike has 29″ wheels. While there is fierce debate about the pros/cons of riding what the guys call a “29er,” I can say, with some certainty, that it is easier to have as few tires sizes in one house as possible. K is dedicated to his 29″ wheels, so, barring fit obstacles, it’s just easier for me to ride them too. The problem is the size. Think about road bikes. Until somewhat recently, many bikes for small women were 650c. A smaller tire is easier to geometrically integrate with a smaller frame, and it took changes in both geometry and riding style for women’s bikes to be mostly 700c. Many custom/handmade frames still use the smaller wheel size. Similarly, classic 26″ wheeled mountain bikes come in significantly smaller sizes than their 29er brethren. I am at the very bottom end of what most manufacturers suggest for their 29er.

Being the smallest size is fine. Somebody needs to ride them. On the other hand, nobody seems to stock them. Finding a size small mountain bike to test ride that isn’t absolutely bottom-end is hard enough even before you add the “niche market” that is the 29er.

Which is why I was so excited yesterday to see the elusive size small El Mariachi in a store yesterday. It was the display bike, hanging from the ceiling over the cash register. I was a little hesitant to make them get it down, since I wasn’t buying, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. The fit was, aside from a handlebar the size of a boat oar, completely perfect. I’m 5’3,” which is a smidge shorter than Salsa recommends, but I didn’t have any trouble. (If you’re a leggy 5’3,” you may struggle with the reach.) I could even, gasp, ride fairly comfortably with the stock 90mm stem.

After a month of us agonizing over who buys what bike next, it was really nice to have had such good opportunities to sort things out.

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