Analyzing The Frame Fit Of The Pros

from Rookie’s keyboard

Hello, friends

Today, I am going to analyze the frame sizes and fits of the pros. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time but didn’t have the opportunity due to my demanding warehouse job.

But I guess, every post has its day.

If you observe the road bikes of professional cyclists, you’ll spot a trend – many pros are riding a frame that’s one or two sizes undersized than what a bike fit expert would recommend to a regular person.

If an ordinary cyclist like you and me is caught on a undersized frame, many experts would state that the person in question is simply ignorant, but when the pros do it, we know there must be a method to the madness.

And there is.

In short, compact frames are more agile, easier to maneuver, and have a shorter wheelbase resulting in more stability when cornering aggressively.

Below is a full list of compact frame benefits:

Large Drop

Undersized frames come with a lower head tube creating a shorter stack height.

Stack height is the vertical distance between the bottom bracket of the bicycle and the top of the head tube.

Image 1

The lower stack height produces a greater drop from the saddle to the bars upon putting the seat post at the setting required for comfortable pedaling (image 2). 

The benefit is a more aerodynamic position reducing drag and making the pedaling effort more efficient. 

Image 2 (An undersized frame set for a tall rider. Notice the long seat post and the position of the drop bars in comparison.)

Shorter Wheelbase(Wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear wheel axle.)

A shorter wheelbase provides more maneuverability. A comparison between a bus and a car illustrates this effect perfectly. Buses have a very long wheelbase whereas cars have a short one allowing them not only to pass through tighter corners but to do so quickly.

Of course, wheelbase difference between a normal size frame and a smaller one isn’t nearly as great.

When a rider goes from a small to a bigger frame, the bicycle’s maneuverability instantly feels limited. Even 20mm can create the feeling that that bike has a better or worse cornering ability.

Longer wheelbase frames are reserved for touring and commuting because the extra length makes the bike more stable and comfortable during long rides.

Road bikes and mountain bikes have a shorter wheelbase because they’re designed to be ridden more aggressively.

Shorter Head Tube

Naturally, smaller bicycles have shorter head tubes too. The short head tube lowers the handlebars and puts the rider into a more aggressive position.

Shorter Top Tube = Longer Stem

To compensate for the shorter top tubes on undersized frames, cyclists use longer stems.

The longer stem creates a larger turning radius and slows down the steering of the bicycle, albeit minimally.

This property would be considered a downside when riding a mountain bike, but road bikes operate differently due to the terrain that they are used on.

The slowed-down steering is less “twitchy” and thus better when riding at high speeds surrounded by other cyclists.

But the primary reason to install a longer stems on a compact bike is to increase the effective reach of the bike.

Some experts say that the effect of long stems on the steering isn’t significant as long as the stem length is within reason. Normally, the cyclist quickly adapts to the new stem length after a couple of practice sessions.

Lower Weight 

The smaller the frame, the less material it requires and the lighter it could be.

But to be honest, this quality doesn’t matter all that much because all pro bikes are light by default…sometimes so light that additional weight is added to satisfy the regulations.

That said, the weight savings could be appreciated in lower cycling divisions where competitors do not have the pleasure of riding ultra-light bicycles.

Another benefit of the weight savings is that the engineers can redistribute the extra weight needed to fit within the rules towards the bottom rack. This practice effectively reduces the bike’s center of mass.

Of course, the longer seat posts and stems combined with compact frames negate some of the weight savings.

Extra Stiffness

Undersized frames come with shorter tubes and are therefore stiffer. This make them more responsive and agile in comparison to the larger sizes.

The loss of energy is minimized too. But to be honest, some people consider this benefit more of a placebo as it’s highly questionable whether cyclists can feel the difference.

Longer Seat post

To compensate for the lack of frame size, the pros use longer seat post which some people deem beneficial for the extra flex and “cushioning” limiting the road vibrations reaching the rider’s sit bones.

More Room For Adjustments

You can make a small frame feel larger, but you can’t make a big one feel small. In other words, compact frame offer adjustment flexibility that the large one don’t.

For instance, professionals have a multitude of stem varying only by a couple of millimeters. The stems are changed according to terrain.

The saddle type and position is also part of the adjustment setting. Pro cyclists have long femurs and thus need room and height to pedal efficiently. To make up for the small frame, some cyclists use a saddle with a great setback allowing them to push the saddle back significantly.

Lower Top Tube = Safer

The lower top tube on compact frames lowers the risk of contact injuries because it’s further away from the body.

Of course, due to the disorganized nature of collisions, it’s difficult to know the degree of injury prevention resulting from this characteristic.


There’s an economic incentive behind the use of undersized frames. It’s often cheaper to produce small, stiffer frames and then balance out the fit with components (saddles, seat posts, stems, handlebars) than to manufacture lots of frames tailored to everyone’s specific needs.

The Frames of Pro Cyclists

Many pros run the tiniest frame that they can fit on. Ordinarily, that amounts to a frame that’s 2-4cm smaller than what the original bike fit instructions say.

Below you will find a table listing the heights of pro cyclists and the frames they ride.

CyclistHeightFrame Size
Peter Sagan184cm/6’0.5″56cm/22inches
Ian Stannard189cm/6’2″57.5cm/22.5inches
Joey Rosskopf187cm/6’254cm/21inches
Julien Vermote179cm/5’11”54cm/21inches
Tom Dumoulin185cm/6’1″56cm/22inches
Julian Alaphilippe173cm/5’8″52cm/20.5inches
Richie Porte172cm/5’8″46.5cm/18inches
Chris Froome186cm/6’1.5″56cm/22inches
Simon Clarke175cm/5’9″52cm/20.5inches
Taylor Phinney1.97m/6’6″58cm/22.8inches
Ryder Hesjedal188cm/6’256cm/22inches
Wout Poels183cm/6′56cm/22inches
Rigoberto Urán173cm/5’8″50cm/19.6inches
Pierre Rolland184cm/6’0.5″54cm/21inches

Conclusion: The table reveals a great deal of variety. Some riders prefer ultra-compact frame while others are closer to the expected size for their stature.

Bicycle Shops Try To Sell Bigger Frames

Over the last few years, I’ve seen bicycle shops aggressively push bigger frames and wheels (29″) on people.

I often see recreational cyclists riding suspiciously massive frames. More often than not those men have purchased whatever the bicycle shop owners had recommended to them.

Why? The logical explanations that I could think of are:

  • Bigger frames with more upright geometry are more beginner-friendly. In consequence, the customer, who in most cases is an untrained beginner, is less likely to return the bicycle due to discomfort.
  • Some shops have many big frames in stock and are trying to get rid of them.

Ditto for mountain bikes. When I was buying mine, the shop owner tried to sell me a 29-er with the biggest frame I could fit on.

But since I was planning do to some tricks (e.g., bunny hops), I went with 27.5-inch wheels and a compact frame. I don’t regret the decision.

Additional Info Nuggets

Undersized frames could be uncomfortable if you don’t have the necessary flexibility, and the position is new for you.

The pros don’t have that problem because they’ve been conditioning their bodies to do this for years. Their muscle and central nervous systems have already adapted to the uncomfortable positionning.

At the end of the day, racing road bikes aren’t designed for leisure and comfort. Their purpose is to be fast and efficient on the road.

Touring (and commuters) bikes are on the other end – they come with a longer wheelbase and a more upright position facilitating prolonged hours of cycling.

In the past, pro cyclist didn’t ride undersized frames due to the conditions of the roads and the greater distances that had to be covered.

The riders didn’t enjoy only smooth asphalt road and had to cover a lot of gravel roads too. For that reason, they were riding large frames with very little of the seat post showing. During the 70s, the trend slowly started to change.

Should You Mimic The Pros?

The pros optimize for performence. This is their highest priority. Ordinary people who aren’t even racing don’t have to sacrifice comfort for performance.

Why put yourself in an unpleasant position if you’re competing against no one?

It’s seems wiser, at least to me, to get a fitting that’s more comfortable. 

A pro setup may look cool, but if you don’t have the flexibility and the time to adapt, the neck and back strain could discourage you from riding as much as you would otherwise.

But if you want to, you can 100% adapt to a tiny frame just like the pros if that’s what you want. 

You just have to be patient.

If you take your cycling seriously, have the money, and trust the local experts, you could also get a pro bike fit.

A good fit can boost your performance while simultaneously lowering the stress on your joints.

If you don’t want to spend the extra money, you could go by online calculators as they produce surprisingly decent results.

Sadly, some bike shops may tell you that you need a certain size just to sell you a frame or a bike that they have in stock even though it’s not the ideal option for you and your style of riding.

Until next time

– Rookie





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