Fit, Sizing, Position (our thoughts)
Fit is the most important thing about your bike.
(A few more articles about fit and sizing live here in the LEARN area)
Don't buy any bike because of its parts or price or looks or anything like that. Think of a bike the same way you'd think of a pair of shoes. A pair of Keds that don't fit is no bargain even at a nickel.
Of course, you know when shoes fit, because you've worn them since you were one and a half, or maybe even one (if you were advanced). A half size too small or big is obvious; no shoe-fitting PhD can tell you cramped toes or loose heels is A-OK.
But riding a bike and trying on shoes are not the same thing. When you sit on a bike, your body can lean, fold, bend, compress, extend, and stretch to meet the bike. If the bike fit is off significantly, you can still sit on the saddle, reach the pedals, and hold onto the handlebar. When you aren't really used to sitting on bikes, you don't know what constitutes a good fit, and you tend to believe the sales associate who tells youyeah, you look good now.
A keen-eyed salesperson can make a decent assessment of your position, but (1) not all salespeople have the skills to do that; (2) most are loathe to admit ignorance even when they have it in abundance; and (3) if a salesperson is accustomed to fitting people poorly and thinking "yeah, that's good!" then you're likely to get the same treatment. Sometimes he's been misfitting riders most of his adult life.
Sometimes a bike feels funny or uncomfortable, but the salesperson tells you that you're just not used to it, or you're using muscles you haven't used before, and it takes a few weeks to adapt.
Don't believe it. There's always some getting used to it, but right off the bat, sitting on a new bike that fits you and is set up right so that it gives you a good position should feel about as natural as sitting in a chair. Your hands on the bars should feel like hands on a table in front of you. There is something to be said for breaking in your bottom or whatever, but it should feel at least reasonable right off the bat. You shouldn't have to adapt to or tolerate discomfort even a little, not even when the bike is new.
Over time, you may find that you want the bars higher or lower, closer or nearer, and there may be some other minor adjustments that fine-tune your position as you start to form your own opinions based on your experience. There isn't a cycler alive who hasn't wanted to change stems or handlebars at some point or other. But when you buy a bike from us, we minimize and often eliminate the need to fine-tune. But you may want to do it sometime, because the need to monkey is deep in our genes.
To achieve that bar height, it helps to start with a bike that's the largest practical size you can ride. We suggest you get the size that allows you to put the handlebar at least 2cm higher than the saddle. That works great for most people. You can always lower the bar if you find it's too high, but it's rare when that happens.
How much crotch clearance do you need?
The bike's standover height is how high the top tube is, at the point where you'd straddle it (roughly the middle. If you know that and your pubic bone height (PBH), you'll know how much clearance you'll have. PBH is a huge deal with us, and everything related to sizing flows from it, so know yours. Here's how to measure it.
How to make a PBH-measuring device
How To Measure PBH
If you repeat this a hundred times (you don't have to, but if you do), go by the largest number you get, not the average. It's impossible to pull the stick past your pubic bone, and so the largest number is the most accurate.
Just so you know you're in the ballpark: If you're 5 feet 5 inches tall, your PBH will probably be between 78 and 81. If you're 6 feet, it'll probably be between 87 and 91.
Us versus Them
When you come to us for a bike, we'll ask what size you ride now, and invariably put you on a bike that's two to five centimeters bigger. You'll still have crotch clearance, but your bar will be higher, you'll lean over less, and you'll be a lot more comfortable.
You don't need a Rivendell to get this position. Our bikes are designed to make it easy and to not require extreme measures to achieve it. So they look good while feeling good. But let's say you have a bike you like already, but you want to like it more; or you don't like it, but a new one's not going to happen for you, not right now. You aren't stuck, unless your bike is way too small and has a threadless headset and it's companion, the non-raisable clamp-on stem. Then, truly, you're stuck.
But if your bike has a quill stem, you have options up the wazoo:
Get a new stem with a longer quill, an up-angle, or both. We have them coming out of our ears, and your local shop may, too.