02 November 2015

How I Learned That Size Matters

Youth is a time of transgressions.  Maturity is about discretion.  And one's, shall we say, august years are right for confessions.

I am going to confess something to you now.  No, I am not going to tell you about some crime I committed--though some might argue that the other party involved in this story is guilty of at least a misdemeanor--at least by the laws of civilized society, whatever that is..

Steve's comment to the post I wrote a few days ago moved me to disclose my past misdeed.  No, I am not talking about a sexual indiscretion (though I committed, uh, one, or maybe two or three, in my day).   I am talking about the sort of mistake that I prevented more than a few customers from making when I was working in bike shops.

You see, I bought a bike that was too big for me.  Way too big, in fact.  Now, I want to emphasize that I bought the bike and paid for it with some of the very first money I earned.  Previously, I had one other bike that was too big for me when I got it.  But at least my well-meaning, if misguided, grandfather gave it to me with the idea that I would "grow into it."  He didn't live to see me ride it.

On the other hand, I lived through a couple of periods of development in my life while riding the too-big bike I bought.   I was beating other kids in impromptu races and, at the age I was, I could ride bikes and wear clothes that didn't fit, and eat just about anything, and be none the worse (or so it seemed) or wiser for it.

The bike in question was the Schwinn Continental I mentioned in previous posts. In the peak months of the bike boom, dealers of popular brands like Schwinn, Peugeot and Raleigh were taking orders for basic ten-speed bikes months in advance.  In all of my local shops, bikes from those brands--and others--sold out before they even left the factories.  It wasn't unusual for every ten-speed in a dealer's stock, or that a dealer had on order, to be reserved for someone.  When I was ready to buy my Continental, there was an five-month waiting list--until Michael's Bicycle Co, on Route 35 in Hazlet, NJ, got a shipment in earlier than expected.  The bikes sold out almost immediately--except for one.  "As long as you don't mind the color," the shop's owner said, a bit condescendingly.

This Schwinn Sports Tourer, from the same era as my Continental, has a 26 inch frame.

So, instead of living through five months--an eternity when you haven't yet turned fourteen--I only had to sit tight for six weeks--the time it would take for the shop to assemble the bikes that had been ordered first--for my 26-inch (66 cm) frame.

Mind you, all of the road racing and touring frames I've had since were in the 54 to 57 cm (21.25-22.5 in) range.  A 66cm/26 inch frame is commonly recommended  for a rider with a 97cm/38 inch inseam; such a rider is likely to be anywhere from 194 to 201 cm (6'4"-6'7") tall.  In contrast, at the time I bought the bike, I was 173 cm (5'8") tall and had a 79 cm/31 in inseam.  (Now I am 178 cm/5'10" tall with am 81 cm/32 in inseam.)

No one  in the shop made any effort to convince me I shouldn't buy the 26-inch frame.  Perhaps they thought that, even at the peak of the '70's Bike Boom, the shop might find itself "stuck" with such an odd-sized bike.  They needn't have worried:  Even after the Boom died down a bit, a couple of years later, I sold the bike for as much as I paid for it.  And I don't think it fit the person who bought it any better than it fit me!


  1. I have a 25 inch frame, at the time I had been riding a 24 and it seemed a little small for my 6' 2'. I have now shrunk an inch or so and it might be less than ideal. I do envy you getting made to measure frames...

    I like the frame colour you were lumbered with...

  2. Coline--I wonder whether my old bike would have fit you.

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