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bike stack and reach

Bike Stack and Reach: Why It’s Important in Choosing a Bike

Ill-fitting clothes and shoes usually result in discomfort and pain. The same goes for bikes. Buying a new bike is paramount to picking the correct size. The proper bike ratio will improve your riding performance. It will also save you from many nights of body pains and injuries.

Knowing two critical points on your bike (the reach and the stack) will tell you which bike will fit you. Except that it wouldn’t be that easy if you don’t even know what stack and reach are.

We gathered the most trusted information from professional bikers and bike researchers. This will enlighten you about the stack and reach ratio, how to choose the right bike and many more!

Stack and Reach Ratio

Biking is one sport where you’re in the same statistical bent position most of the time. If you get the reach wrong, it may add up to discomfort, pain, and injuries.

What are bike stack and reach, and how does it affect your riding experience? Stack and reach are used to give you a pretty accurate perspective on whether your bike’s going to fit you or not. These are calculated using the bottom bracket as the base point.

The reach is how far from the bottom bracket the head tube is. The stack is how high the bottom bracket is from the head tube. Reach is the horizontal distance; the stack is the vertical distance from the bracket to the head tube.

Why They’re So Important

Whenever you ride on a bike dynamically, whether it’s jumping or dropping, you’ll be in an attack position. If you have the perfect bike fit, you’ll be completely comfortable on the bike. You won’t over-stretch your body, and you’ll be able to take your hands off the bars avoiding a fall forward or back. In short, the perfect bike size gives you better balance.

Stack and reach aren’t just valuable for making your riding experience better. Every bike manufacturers have their take in sizing. Some bike manufacturers use terms such as S, M, L, 52s, 56, etc. Having your stack and reach measurement can help you compare two frames and decide which works for you. This is especially helpful for riders who are in between two sizes like medium to large.

Forget About Top and Seat Tube Length

Top tube length and seat tube length have been the go-to metric to get bike size estimates. These measurements will give you a good idea of whether you can get your saddle or handlebars in the right place or not.

The only problem with using this metric is it won’t give you an exact bike fit. For instance, comparing bikes with the same top and seat tube length may vary in their stack and reach measurements.

Measuring Stack and Reach

Now that we know what and why it’s essential, it’s time to figure out how to measure it. We’ll describe how you can measure stack and reach and how you can make some adjustments.

You can find your bike’s stack and reach measurement by looking it up online. Or let’s measure it together manually.

To start, measure the center of the bottom bracket axle back to the door. Then measure from the bottom bracket axle down to the ground. This will give you the origin of the bike’s reach and stack measurements.

Get the stack by measuring the top of the head tube down to the floor and subtracting the bottom bracket height.

how to measure stack

Measure the reach from the frame’s bottom bracket extending vertically up from there through where it meets with the head tube at its center point.

how to measure reach

Actual Stack and Reach Measurement

Do you ride a bike holding on to the top of the head tube? I don’t know about you, but most bikers don’t. Earlier, we referenced the standard measurement of the reach and stack from the center of the head tube. But we’ll give you what we call “the actual” stack and reach sizes.

We’ll adjust the actual stack and reach measurements on the bottom bracket to the middle of the grip. Knowing your actual reach and stack measurement will help you customize your bike and allow you to compare different bike dimensions, stacks, bars, and stems.

Preparing your Bike

First, make sure your bike wheels are straight to get the correct measurements. Next, get a tape and draw a straight line across the middle, then carefully place it from end to end of your grips. The line will serve as your reference point for the measurement. You can now measure your actual bike stack and reach.

Actual Stack

Measure the center of the grip down to the floor, then subtract the bottom bracket measurement that we’ve gained earlier.

Actual Reach

Measure the point from the line on the tape to the saddle to get the reach measurement.

How do Stack and Reach Affect Speed and Comfort?

While the stack measurement increases, you get a more upright and relaxed position. Bikes designed for comfort and longer biking hours usually have a higher stack distance. Higher reach positively correlates to a more aerodynamic and aggressive position. Higher stacks are common on bikes designed for faster rides like road bikes. 

Stack and Reach Limitations

Bike geometry isn’t restricted to stack and reach. The stack and reach measurements disregard other essential factors like the bike’s seat angle in terms of fit. For this reason, it’s necessary to understand the different measures of a bike that will contribute to the riding experience. Knowing just the bike stack and reach ratio may be helpful but limited. Here are additional limitations of the stack and reach:

  • Stack and reach fail to look at the shape of the handlebar, spacers and stem length and angle. 
  • Stack and reach ratio disregard headset. Add the headset to the listed stack dimension if you intend to use a frame with an external bearing headset.
  • Fails to deal with frame’s seat-angle limitations. 

Get Help from a Professional

It’s overwhelming to understand all these concepts at first. We recommend you get a professional fit before you decide on buying a bike. This guarantees that you won’t be guessing when investing in a new bike. Also, experienced fitters can help you figure out your positioning coordinates while exploring other essential factors, including cost, durability, and ride qualities.

How To Change Your Bike To Fit You

What if you don’t like the way your current bike feels but can’t buy another bike? The good news is you can modify some of your bike’s dimensions by changing the following:

Spacers above and below the stem

  1. Change the stem to be shorter or longer.
  2. Choose a stem that has a rise. 
  3. Shift to flat bars or increase bar’s rise
  4. Increase the sweep if you want to be pushed a little back on the bike
  5. Decrease the sweep to be pulled a little forward.

You can consider many factors that alter the reach (forward and back) and your stack height (up and down). There’s no right and wrong bike stack and reach measurement. It would highly depend on the rider’s comfortability and riding preference—experiment on how you want your ride to feel. Are you new to biking? Check out our article on the biking basics to kick-start your journey in the cycling world!

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