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Why the Long Stays? (Chainstay Length)

This was an article Grant wrote in June 2015 explaining our shift to longer chainstays.


If they’re not longer, they’re wronger

The “they” is chainstays, and what follows is not a physicist’s analysis. It would be a boat-captain’s, but I’m not one of those, either. I have a kayak, I’ve been in a few boats, and I’ve ridden octillion bikes, so it’s mostly from that point of view that I like long chainstays.

I really don’t feel like organizing this or outlining it. I’m not in the mood right now, so let me just throw out some thoughts, etc., and you can organize them as you like. Thanks.

Normal chainstays are:

Road bikes: 40.5 to 41.5cm…less than 16 ½ inches.

Touring bikes: 42 to 43.5cm…less than 17 ½ inches, or an inch longer.

Some 29ers go a little longer, but in the mainstream market (and including 99 percent of all artisanal customy bikes), it is rare to impossible to find chainstays as long as they should be. Our Roadeo’s chainstays are 42 to 43-something, but it’s our answer to the modern roadbike. Our other bikes start at 44.5cm—17 ½ inches—and go up to 56cm, which is a universe-shocking 22inches.

We had to have custom chainstays made to get them that long. Anybody can do that. Other makers have more volume/clout than we do. I argue and make a case and bite the bullet and spend the money for the tooling and wait 6 months, but all TREK would have to do is blink in that direction, and they’d have ‘em in a week.

I feel like I’m digressing, so I’ll get right to it. Actually, I doubt that, but..

Let’s say you’re rowing an 8-foot dinghy in choppy seas, and in the same choppy seas your friend and a bunch of others are in a 30-foot schooner. Do they still call ‘em schooners?

When a wave smacks small boat, it wobbles and redirects, but when it hits the big one, it wobbles and redirects a lot less. It’s toothpicks versus giant logs.

A more vehicular analogy is a short-wheelbase sports car and a 1963 station wagon. The sports car turns like the toothpick, so it’s better for U-turns, but the wagon’s better for stability in tumultuous conditions. There must be millions more analogies, but we’re at the point of diminishing returns, analogies-wise.

Longer wheelbases make a bike more stable, smoother riding, less apt to get redirected by wind and bumps. Safer, I’d say. Easier to control at high speeds. So you can’t ride as small of a circle—who cares? You can still do a U-turn, you can still ride the bike anywhere you ought to be riding a bike. It’s just better when the chainstays are longer.

Probably—and here is where my lack of physics education fails me, but intuitively it makes sense—that as you get taller on the bike, the wheelbase should get longer. Among my other shortcomings is that I’m no architect, but listen: If you saw a 60-story skyscraper with a 15-foot x 15-foot footprint, you wouldn’t want to be on top of it in a wind or earthquake, would you?

But as riders get taller and bikes get bigger in the seat tube (which is the frame size), the wheelbase hardly grows at all. The vertical growth in rider and bike is not matched by a wheelbase growth, and you’d be wrong to not wonder why not.


It is probably a combination of these things:

• modern road bike design is rooted in 1940s-1950s style road and touring bikes ridden by Europeans who usually topped out at 5-9.

• we’re still guided by the ghosts of racing, even when we don’t do that thing

• when “successful, popular” bikes have had short chainstays for 70+ years, it’s easy to accept that the cream rose to the top and that a radical variance is bound to be driven by ego or insanity.

• misinterpretation of the riding experience: A bike that feels like a Mexican jumping bean beneath you, as short-wheelbase bikes tend to feel, also falsely seeeeem to accelerate faster. It doesn’t, though. That’s the misinterpretation.

Stretching out the wheelbase is totally cool and has no drawbacks unless you’re trying to get the whole bike into a UPS-friendly sized box for shipping. That’s when all hell breaks loose. Other than that, it is truly all good.

The bike feels great, smooth, fantastic. You can let ‘er rip on rough descents and the bike tracks way noticeably better. Since the rear wheel is way more back there, you’re more between the wheels and you don’t feel the bumps as much. You still feel them, by god, but not sitting so nearly on top of the rear wheel has to smooth them out. This is especially important for tall bikes and/or shallowish seat tube angles, both of which scoot the saddle rearward.

On any ride, you seem to plow through forces hidden (wind), unseen (potholes at night) and everpresent (rough patches?) that are trying to knock you offa your bike.

The danger in me talking about this with such conviction and enthusiasm and specificity is that it’s easy to sound like I’m making mountains out of molehills, and just because I’m aware of that doesn’t mean I’m totally innocent. Listen, man: If you have a bumpy descent, still be careful. It’s still gonna be bumpy. But a longer wheelbase is noticeably better. A pothole can still maim you if you’re one-handing it when you hit it. No-handing the bike is always dumb; even a LW bike doesn’t drive itself. But overall—other than the UPS shipping thing already noted—there are zero drawbacks to stretching the wheelbase out, and long chainstays are the best way to do that.

There is no doubt that others will follow, and I think it will be following, because in the world of non-cargo bikes, I think we’re the only ones with super long chainstays. It’s not innovation or bold or any other good accolade-type thing. It’s an incremental shift to longer chainstays, using the current shorties as a launching pad. We don’t own long chainstays in a possessive sense or a weird sense. It just makes sense, and if this BLUG circulates enough, there will be long-chainstay detractors, but consider that the detractors probably have not ridden bikes with long chainstays, because right now nobody else has ‘em. And if they’ve ridden one of ours and doesn’t like it, then they’re just coming from a different place in the bicycle universe than we are, and that’s fine, too.