Chainstay Length Discussion

Inspired by this digression (cc @sunshine.fab), I thought it’d be interesting to start a topic on everyone’s favorite frame dimension - chainstay length :partying_face:


After building and riding enough personal bikes I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on how it impacts the handling/feel of a bike frame. For the record, here’s what I currently ride:

  • Road bike - 405mm
  • CX bike - 420mm
  • Hardtail MTB - 420mm
  • All-Road/Commuter - 450mm
  • Mountain touring bike - 515mm

The biggest impact of chainstay length is its impact on the front-center:rear-center ratio and the overall bike wheelbase which affects the handling performance of the bike. All else being equal, longer stays means more weight on the front wheel and a longer wheelbase, which is more stable. Additionally, longer chainstays tend to flex a bit more given similar material and shape.

Through my experiences, I’ve found that bikes with longer stays tend to favor seated climbing (sit & spin) while shorter stays play nicer with standing to pedal (mash). I’ve also found shorter and stiffer stays to feel much more responsive sprinting at a higher cadence, but longer stay bikes feel more comfortable torquing up hills at a lower cadence.

I do think that size-specific chainstay lengths should be more common. Quite often, the rear-center of a frame design will stay constant while the front-center increases dramatically over the size range. This leads to smaller riders getting a more front-biased weight distribution and taller riders getting a bit more rear-biased. As a broad generalization, having more weight over the front leads to a more stable ride so this could dramatically impact the handling experience.

I’d love to hear other folks’ experinces with chainstay length on their personal frames and what trends you’re seeing in the industry!

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I am absolutely not able to tell a difference on road/gravel… maybe if I lived around long winding climbs and descents I could. My bikes have sliding dropouts and you could put them in any location and send me down the road, I would never know.

I almost exclusively ride single speed MTB and I believe my 419 CS is the biggest single improvement. I ride very rocky Midwest trails. This means steep short up and down.

Low speed, high torque moves are totally transformed with short CS. In some odd way, I don’t pedal strike as much during these moves. I think it is because my wheel gets higher, faster relative to the location of the BB.

This is so noticeable that I struggle to ride tech on friends bikes/old bikes because I cannot get my rear wheel up onto rocks when climbing.

Edit- short CS are hard are rear wheels. I used to never ding rims…

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Are you serious or is this a typo? 515 would be HUUUUGE!!

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I don’t have too much to add other than my preferences and evolution in road bikes.

  • I chased short stays for quite a while thinking that it would help my road racing performance. Let’s say 2003-2019 or so. I thought it would help with being nimble in crits and with climbing/descending. Now, after listening to a lot of Josh Poertner, I realized things felt faster but probably, definitely weren’t.

  • At some point I started to move to wider tires (hanging out with motorcycle people does that I guess). 24mm → 27mm → 28mm. With that my CS length grew: 400 → 412. It’s really hard to isolate from everything else but I found that I was able to descend significantly faster – I think some of the road vibration went away and that meant that I’d have to go faster before I got spooked. The additional benefit during crits on crappy roads was that I could stay planted and confident. (Not like any of this ever led to standing on the podium).

  • On the climbing side of things I appreciate the longer stays – but mostly because I tend to climb seated these days.

  • The bikes I was contracted to design all started at 435mm CS length and maxed out at 450. Part of this was needing to accommodate kickstand plates + OEM fenders and 700x35 tires but it was also to make the bike feel comfy – I really leaned into that. Aesthetically, stuff over 435 that doesn’t have a tire to fill up the gap looks really wonky to me.

  • 100% on size specific chain stays. I start looking at extending chain stays for anyone that’s 6’ (183cm) or taller. I just don’t like how the hips get so close to the rear axle’s Y axis. The fact that there are “flagship” models from the Big 5 that use the same CS dims + rear triangles absolutely astounds me.

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I think you meant to write the opposite. It’s the taller riders that are on more rear-biased frames since the chain stays don’t grow as the frames get larger. :+1:

I’m all for longer chain stays in general and always attempt to lengthen the chain stays as the front center increases. But we tend to want what we’re used to, so we usually end up using slightly longer stays than your average Spesh/Trek for hardtails and gravel bikes. This is mostly a marketing challenge. :shushing_face:

The only realm where customers give me free rein is with bikepacking bikes. I haven’t gone as long as @liberationfab at 515mm but I’d love to try it out on a personal bike first.

For giggles, I mocked up a size run of 130mm travel hardtails where the front/rear ratio remained constant at 1.82. The largest size ended up with 460mm chain stays and the smallest size 412mm.

Since the larger riders are used to riding a 1.9-2 ratio frame, it’s a hard sell to get them to commit to stays longer than 430-435 even if I try to convince them of the benefits.

Once chain stays get shorter than 420mm, you run into the limits of what 12s drivetrains are designed for. Shimano says 420mm and Sram 425mm for the shortest stays allowable for their MTB drivetrains.

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Serious!!

With a shorter CS, your “breakover angle” decreases which is great for riding over techy features.

Ah yep! I got that backwards.

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I reckon chainstay length is one of those dimensions where I honestly cant tell the difference in 10mm of change here or there. Most of my bikes are 29” and sit between 425 to 455 and they all feel “normal”. One anomaly is my longtail BFD which has CS length out to 875 and rides like a boat. But yeah I really feel like you have to get a long way outside of standard lengths before you really notice things.

I would love to try a mid-tail design (550-600) on something built for off-road riding/touring. Rick Hunter has built a few of these over the years and they always look super comfortably and capable.

I would also agree with @manzanitacycles that chainstay length really needs to be considered with front centre in terms of rider balance. And you also need to factor in STA and saddle offset there too. If you look at those latest Riv offerings they have long stays but also very slack STA’s and very upright bars. I imagine the effective position of the rider would still be quite normal in terms of balance between the front and rear wheels. In essence they’re just chasing the same off-road stability you get with the longer wheelbase of a “forward geometry” MTB. I always wondered why they don’t use the term “backward geometry” to describe this approach haha. Would be very Riv.

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Keeping in mind, my only experience is the handful of hardtail MTB’s I’ve built. But they’ve all had the same goal, keep the rear-center as short as possible.
On Valkyrie (my latest one, it’s a 408 RC, 415 CS), this became really apparent how advantageous that is. It makes the bike so darn fun to ride. Drops & hucks are effortless, popping the front over roots to kick it with the rear feels natural. I must also note, I don’t race. My riding philosophy is “any trail is tech if you ride it wrong enough”.

Nice thing about mountain bikes like this is the seat simply doesn’t matter (going downhill). The dropper gets slammed, and we have a crazy amount of room to shift our CG drastically by moving our torso around. A lot of downhill bikes I’ve ridden are really meant for a somewhat ‘static’ body position, where you can just send it without really changing stance at all. That probably wins races, but I’ve loved how rewarding it is to lean into the front of this bike and have it ask for more. Totally different tools for different applications.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CYtZr44IQJ8/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=ODhhZWM5NmIwOQ==

With all that being said though, I’ve been debating this for my next bike. It’s intent will be quite different. What that means I’m not totally decided yet. So I’ll definitely be following along this thread.

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I’ve played around a bit with chainstay lengths and tend to prefer longer.

Notable experiments:

420mm CS on a fat bike with a long front center, sporting 27.5x3.8 tires.

  • it is a hoot to ride, but the front end loves to lift up on climbs.
    – I wish it was more like 450mm.
    — Fitting the crankset was a pain.

420mm CS on a 27.5x2.8 hardtail, 160mm fork, long front center.

  • the bike is really whippy. Almost feels like a bmx.
    – dislike how it climbs, and disallows the user to be lazy. Your rear tire will slip on a root if you’re in the saddle.
    — gonna go with 430 or 435 on the next one.

450-470mm CS on a 700x42mm touring bike, 70°HTA, 75°STA.

  • great climber, extremely planted.
    – has a touch of self steer when unloaded.
    — very comfortable and easy to do long days on.

I toured the austrian / slovenian / italian alps a few months ago on the touring bike and had several days where we’d climb a total of five hours and thirty minutes throughout the day. It was so stable and tracked so well I felt like I could climb forever. We climb a lot where we live and find on gravel / road / long days where you don’t want to get beaten up, that longer CS is better. We’re not speed demons, we go for 17-19km/h averages / 1,500-2,000m climbing, and comfort.

Our mtbing stuff is very rocky, sometimes slow tech, or rocky downhill stuff.

The chainstay is set to 470mm in the photo.

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Finally, a civil discussion about chainstay lengths on the internet. We have come so far!

As many people expressed, CSL cannot be talked about without front center, or a more generalizable variable: Rear Front Ratio (RFR):

From this thread: What are your driving dimensions and why? - #15 by Daniel_Y

rear-front ratio (RFR).

RFR = L2/L1

A quick derivation:

Rear wheel force: F1 = L2/(L1+L2) * Mg
Front wheel force: F2 = L1/(L1+L2) * Mg

The rear/front ratio is really easy to calculate because most of the terms cancel themselves out:

rear-front ratio: RFR = F1/F2 = L2/L1

I agree with a lot of the subjective and objective feelings that people have with chainstay length:

Agreed. I think there are some weird effects here too:

  • longer chain = more chain stretch under load
  • more weight on the back tire = more direct feeling with the power transfer

Rocky, techy, punchy climbs do really well with short chainstays IMO. You get more rear wheel grip and can loft the wheel easily. This is why Steve at Hardtail Party likes super short chainstays in Sedona

I think one of the funnier Poertner podcasts was about the Placebo effect. If you feel faster and go faster, it is faster!

Yup, 460mm stays are a hard sell when there is 10 years of “shortest chainstay possible” marketing to overcome! However, we are leading the charge!

Backward geometry for upduro racing!

Agreed. I think the super short chainstays makes sense with the PVD system: very long front center, super steep STA. That pulls your CG forward more than the CSL is shortened. Hardtail party Steve also sets up his very moderate Hummingbird like that:

  • saddle slammed forward
  • sized up a frame
  • Mid-foot position

2000m of loaded climbing, no thanks! :rofl:

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This makes sense to me, primarily because of your free body diagram. But I really only have experience riding short CS mtbs, so I can’t make an anecdotal comparison to how longer CS feel.

Enter the Esker Hayduke LVS. John Watson isn’t the most technical or hype-proof guy out there but he has ridden a lot of bikes and he claims that one of the remarkable things about the LVS (with 600mm CS) is the increase in rear wheel traction:

“The Hayduke LVS crawled up these tight turns. With ease. Again, the tires on this demo bike were not my choice for the terrain—with a lug pattern more like a gravel bike tire than mountain bike tread—but I never lost traction and was able to swing the rear end around with ease. It left me wondering: Does a longer wheelbase increase its traction?

This seems counterintuitive. The reasoning from the FBD would lead me to believe that an increase in rear center/decrease in F1 would result in less traction, not more. This has me wondering if the actual traction given by the rear tire is nonlinear with respect to the rear center/F1. Something like this super high tech graph:

Does this match anyone else’s experience? Or is J.W. experiencing placebo? Or something else?

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In my experience, with long-stay bikes you get extremely good traction climbing… until you shift your body weight forward. I love spinning up steep forest roads in the granny gear of my touring bike, but it’s very challenging to do any “techy” style climbs as you can’t stand up and torque without having to be very mindful of keeping your butt back toward the rear of the bike.

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Yeah this is my experience with longer stays too. Great for seated climbing, but you can break traction pretty quick if you stand up and put in a hard stroke. I find running a more agressive than usual rear tyre helps in this regard.

@Daniel_Y totally agree that RFR is better than considering CS length alone but it still falls down in that it doesn’t really consider STA/rider position which is 80% of the mass of the system.

If you look at what’s happening with geo it seems pretty much set that shorter CS bikes have steeper STA’s and longer ones have slacker ones. It would be interesting to know the actually CoM for a bike set up in each configuration to figure out the true F1 and F2 values.

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I think we should all be aiming for this:

:smiley:
I love me some moto hill climbs.

Seriously though, I’d love to find out more about the math/physics behind this type of geo. Maybe there’s a used copy of “Hill Climbing Motos for Dummies” somewhere.

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The steeper the hill, the shorter (read: more normal) the effective CS length will be. The rider’s weight will, on the horizontal axis, get closer and closer to the contact patch of the tyre.

It creeps rougly 11mm closer to the axle for each degree of incline (based on my setup numbers) according to the completely pointless modeling I just did based on this discussion. :smile:

I have also a feeling that the bigger purpose for the long stays on these extreme hill climb machines is to keep the bike from flipping over rather than to solely provide traction.

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I have very steep and short gravel hills where I sometimes train. My hardtail has 442 chainstays with xr2 tire. I dont have to stand up, but it gets slightly slippy on the steepest parts. My gravel bike has very short stays and 40 mm panaracer slicks, but I can smash it up there when standing(smooth pedalig). So Id say short stays give better traction while climbing. But there comes a point when you can,t get up with comfortable body position when the chainstays are too short. So all the geometry numbers are important.

Stoked to see all the science!

I went down this theoretical rabbit hole last winter and the TL;DR is that FC/RC ratio depends on intended used case, like that moto bike, but is based on the intended Center of Mass for the system, like the moto bike.

In my study, and borrowing @Daniel_Y’s freebody diagram, I assumed the center of mass for the rider/bike system was NOT located at the BB. This is against common assumption, but would provide more accuracy across different disciplines.

I played around with angles of bike slope, like @JMY’s graph, and determined that it is very possible to create a size range based around a common weight distribution value, like @manzanitacycles mentioned. The proportions of the bike would vary significantly based on intended handling characteristics (Front center driving dimensions) and intended slope gradient (XC,DH,…road?)

My focus is mountain bikes, so the saddle position is negligible. With a rigid seatpost, static CoM position between axle locations could be accounted for depending on intended riding angle, just like @JMY’s graph

My planned project for this spring is testing out a size range with a few different riders to see if there is validity to this approach.

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Ahh you beat me to it. Was thinking about this all day today and CoM is defo the cirtical piece of information that’s missing. The diagram you drew there reminds me od the one PVD did on his Forward Geometry blog post years ago. He also assumes the CoM to be slightly forward of the bottom bracket as show below. I would say on an offroad bike in a standing position this would probably be the case.

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And to add to this a little study on two bikes I had drawn in BikeCAD. The first is a Large Norco Torrent which is a pretty agreassive hardtail. I own one so the setup here is fairly accurate. It has short CS’s for a bike that clears a 2.6" tyre at 425mm and a steep STA at 77.5 degrees (sagged). I’ve arbitrarily chosen a CoM at 50mm forward of the BB which gives a CoM-R of 471mm and a CoM-F of 758mm. That’s a ratio of 1.6.

Next I’ve shown a Rivendell Wolbis/Suzie frame in 59cm which would be my size if I owned one. I’m actually very curious about the geo of these bikes for relaxed off-road riding. It has very long CS’s at 560mm and a relaxed 71.5 degree STA. I imagine this bike setup with swept bars would put your CoM behind the bottom bracket. Arbitrarily I’ve chosen 50mm. That gives a CoM-R of 506mm and a CoM-F of 808mm. Again a ratio of 1.6.

I’m not saying that this proves these bike would handle simiarly. More that the CS length of each might be considered approriate for the design intent of the bike. And that discussing CS without knowing the full setup including rider position is kinda pointless.

Oh, and back to your original post Eva (@liberationfab), I noticed you were running Bosco’s on ya mountain touring bike. Obviously this is a very Riv inspired setup. I’d be interested to know if you were able to find a way to measure your front/rear weight distribution on that bike compared to the others? Might be some interesting info to have!

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If you all haven’t read of heard of it yet, “Motorcycle Handling And Chassis Design” by Tony Foale is definitely some required reading. Yes, it’s motorcycles, but the physics behind two-wheeled things still carries over.

Screenshot 2023-12-13 073406
The book goes into a lot of these principles, this illustration is intended for fast acceleration, but the same concept applies for climbing a hill on a mtb. Commonly referred to as the ‘looping angle’. That’s why the hill climb bikes (and drag bikes) have the stretched rear end.

PVD also did a post a while back about getting the actual CG/COM.

I’ve been wanting to setup an experiment for a while to quantify just how much the COM changes based on rider position. Some way of taking live weight measurements at the contact patches while the rider shifts around. Maybe one day I’ll get around to setting that up. Even just the horizontal measurement of COM would be interesting. I suspect it’s a much larger difference than most folks realize.

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