Does 2cm Of Reach Make a Critical Difference? (bike fitting tips)

A reach discrepancy of 2 centimeters is not critical enough to make a bicycle completely unusable, but it can make a difference, especially when covering long distances.

Whether the fit will work depends on the rider’s flexibility and goals. If you can get the reach closer to the ideal number you need, it’s recommended to do so.

Note: If you’re not familiar with the definition of the term reach, I recommend reading this post.

The Bike Fit Doesn’t Matter…When The Distance Is Short

If you plan on covering short distances (e.g., going to the local store that’s 500 meters away), the bike that you use is almost irrelevant.

Even a dirt jumper or a BMX will serve you fairly well in a similar situation despite being undersized for seated pedaling.

If you are in a similar situation, a reach that’s +/-2cm away from what would be ideal for your height and anthropometry wouldn’t make a difference.

So, when does a trip transform from short to long?

It depends on the individual’s riding capacity, but in general, a ride approaching 25 minutes with medium to high RPM is getting on the longer side.

25 minutes may not sound like a lot of time, but in that time frame, many cyclists can easily cover close to 10km (the total distance depends on the terrain).

And if we’re talking about a roundabout trip which is usually the case, we get 50 minutes or more of cycling per day.

However, if your ride usually lasts about 10-15 minutes or less, it’s on the shorter side and you can get away with a less-than-ideal bike fit.

What Can I Do If My Reach Is 2cm (20mm) Too Short?

The reach doesn’t offer a lot of room for adjustability once the frame is built because it is dependent primarily on the downtube’s length.

That said, the following mods could help with a reach that’s 2cm/20mm too short:

  • Get a longer Stem

A longer stem will increase the distance between the rider’s hands and the seat tube and will therefore compensate for the short reach.

The downside of this approach is that the extra length added to the stem would also result in “input lag”.

The longer the stem is, the less “technical the bike becomes”. For that reason, you never see a BMX or a freestyle MTB with a very long stem.

However, if you care primarily about moving from point A to point B, the additional stem length isn’t critical.

In fact, adding a longer stem has a positive side too – it makes the bike more stable at high speeds because the rider’s input results in smaller steering responses. For that reason, road bikes have much longer stems than what we find on MTBs.

  • Different handlebars

The handlebars have an impact on the effective reach too. For example, if you replace a set of flat bars with bullhorns (if the bike type permits such a change), you will increase the reach dramatically when riding in the horns.

By the way, if you have flat bars and don’t want to bother with different handlebars, you can always install a set of bar ends.

FAQ: Will sliding my saddle backward increase my reach too?

No. Sliding the saddle backward will increase the effective top tube, but it has no impact on the reach.

The reach is there to determine how the bike will feel when pedaling outside of the saddle and is therefore independent of the saddle’s position.

What Can I Do If My Reach Is 2cm (20mm) Too Long?

In this case, we have to follow a reverse process. The options are:

  • Get a shorter stem

A shorter stem will get the handlebars closer to your body. The downside is that you will lose some stability at high speeds, but in some cases that may not even matter. It really depends on how the bike is used.

  • New Bars

The other option is to get more user-friendly handlebars. In this case, the options are:

  1. Sweptback back handlebars
  2. Mustache handlebars
  3. Butterfly Bars
  4. Others (there are other alternative models that reduce the cockpit)

The shortcoming of this approach is that you may have to change your bike style. For example, if you have a road bike and intend to use it as such, putting sweptback back handlebars defeats the purpose.

Similar bars put you in a more upright position and increase the drag created by the torso.

The pedaling stroke will become more quad-dominant and some of the input from the glutes will be reduced.

What If I Do Nothing?

Truth be told, many people are unknowingly but successfully riding bikes that technically have the wrong reach.

I purposefully chose a 17″ MTB frame even though I can fit on a 19″.

Why? I wanted a smaller bike because it’s lighter and more maneuverable. I have many kilometers on it and at the time of the purchase I didn’t even know what the term reach means.

So, I’m my opinion, the rider’s body can adapt to a 2cm discrepancy in most cases. However, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a good fit. And if optimal performance is needed, two centimeters can be important.

If discomfort appears, you can always make some adjustments and take it from there. Personally, I wouldn’t disregard a frame or a bike for 2cm of reach provided that the rest of the properties are good.

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