GUIDES

Bicycle Frame and Fork Buying Guide

Gone are the days when there was just a single type of bicycle frame and the bicycle fork was just a piece of metal that held the wheel in place.

There are now numerous types of frames and forks in different sizes and made from different materials, which can make choosing the correct one daunting. There are various factors to take in consideration when buying a bicycle frame and fork, including the material that is used and the style and size of the frame.

Overview of Bicycle Frames and Forks

The history of the bicycle dates back to 1817 when Baron von Drais designed a "walking machine with wheels." The frame was made of wood as were the wheels. The first metal-frame bicycle was made in 1870. The pedals were directly attached to the wheel, and it was made from a very heavy steel and alloy metal. Modern day bike frames are made from carbon, especially those used for racing, as it is a light yet strong material.

The choice of bike frame and fork greatly depends on the type of terrain where the bike will generally be ridden. Many people want a bicycle that can get them places without worrying about fuel and harming the environment. Others require a road bike with thin wheels that allows the rider to reach much higher speeds. A road bike allows the rider to sit aerodynamically on the seat. Mountain bikes and dirt bikes have a front suspension fork that absorbs shocks when going over rough terrain.

Types of Bicycle Frames

The bicycle frame is the main part of the bike onto which the wheels and other parts of the bicycle are fitted. The most common shape of bicycle frame is the diamond frame, which looks like two triangles put together. There are a range of bicycle frames available. Each frame offers a different type of riding experience, and the frames are designed to accommodate different riding styles and the personal preferences of the rider.

Road Bike Frames

Road bike frames are designed for maximum speed with minimum weight and drag. The angle of the seat tube on the frame is usually much steeper, which allows the rider’s position to be much more aerodynamic. This however does make riding a road bike more uncomfortable. The frames are made from one of four materials: steel, titanium, carbon fiber, or aluminium, all of which are light and strong. Road bikes have drop handlebars attached to the frame, which ensure the rider stays low to increase aerodynamics and speed.

Road Bike Framing Guide

When purchasing road bikes, it is important to ensure that the frame is the correct size for the person who is riding it. Below is a chart that shows the correct frame size as it relates to the rider’s height and inside leg measurements. Both height and inside leg measurement can determine frame size, but inside leg measurement is more accurate. However, most people know their height measurement as opposed to their inside leg measurement.

Height

Inside Leg

Correct Frame Size

5’1"-5’3"

27"-29"

48 cm

5’3"-5’5"

28"-30"

50cm

5’5"-5’7"

29"-31"

52cm

5’7"-5’9"

30"-32"

54cm

5’9"-5’11"

31"-33"

56cm

5’11"-6’1"

32"-34"

58cm

6’1"-6’3"

33"-35"

60cm

6’3"-6’5"

34"-36"

62cm

Mountain Bike Frames

Mountain bicycle frames were designed more for comfort than speed, and they often have shock absorbers attached to the frame for off road riding. The shock absorbers can either be attached to the front of the frame or to the back and front. The frames on mountain bicycles are not round but rectangular and higher than they are wide. This gives the frame of the bicycle more strength, which can be especially important when riding off road.

Mountain Bike Framing Guide

The guide below allows the bicycle rider to buy the correct size frame when choosing a mountain bicycle. Both the rider’s height and inside leg measurement can be used to determine the correct frame size, but the inside leg measurement is more relevant than height, but if the inside leg measurement is not known then the height measurement can be used instead.

Height

Inside Leg

Frame Size

4’11"-5’3"

25"-27"

13-15"

5’3"-5’7"

27"-29"

15-17"

5’7"-5’11"

29"-31"

17-19"

5’11-6’2"

31"-33"

19"-21"

6’2"-6’4"

33"-35"

21"-23"

6’4" and over

35" and over

23"-25"

Roadster/Hybrid Bike Frames

Roadster or hybrid bicycles are practical bikes that have increased in popularity. The frame of a roadster bicycle is made from steel, which means they are on the heavier side. The seating tube allows the rider to ride with a fairly straight back, which is more comfortable, and the handlebars are also upright in style. The ladies version of the bike has a step-through frame to make mounting the bicycle easier, especially when wearing a skirt or dress.

Roadster/Hybrid Bike Framing Guide

The guide below shows how to select the right frame size based on the rider’s height and inside leg measurement. If height and inside leg measurement indicate two different frame sizes, riders should go with the size indicated by inside leg measurement, as it is more accurate.

Height

Inside Leg

Frame Size

4’10"-5’

26-28"

13"-14"

5’-5’2"

27"-29"

15"

5’2"-5’4"

27"-29"

16"

5’4"-5’6"

28-30"

17"

5’6"-5’8"

28"-30"

18"

5’8"-5’10"

29"-31"

19"

5’10"-6’

30"-32"

21"

6’ and over

32"-34"

22"

Folding Bikes

Folding bicycles allow the rider to fold the bike, making transportation easy. They are made from a lightweight material, such as aluminium. Folding bikes usually have a hinge halfway along the frame or a triple hinge that folds at the back wheel and near the front of the frame. Wheels on a folding bike are also often small to save space when the bike is folded. Folding bike frames are usually one size and can fit people who are between 4’10 and 6’4" in height.

Types of Bicycle Forks

The bicycle fork is the part of the bicycle that connects the frame to the front wheel. It also helps the rider to steer the bike, so it must be fitted correctly. The bicycle fork is made from two fork ends that attach to the front wheel of the bicycle. It is important to ensure that the fork is the correct size to fit the bike wheel, as if it is too loose, there is a danger of warping the wheel or the wheel falling off during a ride. The most popular material for bicycle forks is carbon fiber because it is strong, durable, lightweight, and has some natural shock-absorbing properties.

Off Road Bicycle Forks

Off road forks fall into the mountain bike and rugged terrain category. On a mountain bike, the fork often has shock absorbers inside, which are tubes designed to reduce the impact of any shocks that occur when riding on rough terrains, making for a smoother ride with fewer bone rattling bumps. Some mountain bike forks are also equipped with dual fork suspension, which involves two tubes, one inside the other, with a spring inside. The spring allows for a small bouncing motion, decreasing the impact of rough terrain.

The disadvantage of a fork with shock absorbers or dual fork suspension is that in seeking a smoother ride, some control is lost. It is for this reason that many serious and professional mountain bike riders and off road cyclists prefer a rigid fork with no suspension, because, although the ride is rougher and the cyclist will feel every lump, stone, and tree root, the rigid fork offers considerably greater control, particularly on steep gradients.

Road Racing Bicycle Forks

Road racing bicycle forks do not generally offer suspension and shock absorbers. They are usually much slimmer in design than other fork types, which provides added aerodynamics. The lighter the weight of the fork, the greater the achievable speed. The lightest, most durable forks available are carbon compound forks. These forks are incredibly rigid and very lightweight, which gives cyclists the maximum possible control, allowing for greater speed and reducing the risk of accidents. Carbon compound forks are also the most expensive of all bike forks, but many serious and professional cyclists believe that they are worth the investment.

Folding Bicycle Forks

Folding bicycle forks are generally quite expensive. They tend to be slimline and compact. Folding bike forks are generally purchased as a replacement rather than an upgrade, because folding bikes are normally used for commuting rather than recreational riding or competition riding. Usually folding bicycle forks are made from lightweight material such as aluminium because the bicycle as a whole is designed to be lightweight and easily transportable.

Hybrid Bicycle Forks

Hybrid bicycle forks are very similar to mountain bike forks and are usually in the same price range. Hybrid bike forks are available with dual fork suspension, shock absorbers, or as rigid models. Those made from carbon fiber are popular because they are lightweight, and they also absorb and reduce vibration. Other materials are available, such as titanium, steel, aluminium, or a compound of carbon and a metal. Titanium and aluminium forks are lightweight but do not offer the same vibration reduction, which can make a difference on long rides. A steel fork is often the heaviest and least expensive option, but it corrodes quicker than other types if not properly maintained and does not offer any vibration reduction.

Buying Secondhand Bicycle Forks

When buying secondhand or used bicycle forks, it is important to carefully examine the fork or get as much information as possible from the seller. There should be no serious rust or wear, particularly at the ends of the fork, the parts that connect to the wheel. The fork blades and the neck should be perfectly aligned and show no sign of warping or damage. If the fork and the neck are not in line, the bike will not steer accurately which could result in injury.

Conclusion

There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration when considering which bicycle frame or fork to buy. Buyers should think carefully about what frame will suit their needs, and they should ensure they purchase the correct frame size for their body type. A bicycle fork should match the rest of the frame of the bicycle, as a road racing fork is not compatible with a mountain bicycle frame. With the right combination of frame and fork, cyclists can get a custom ride that suits their needs and preferences.