I can't speak for all makes of bikes or those built after the late 70s but there was a tendency for European production models to all use the same wheelbase length within a brand.
This resulted in the smallest frames having a steep seat tube and relaxed head tube which produced bikes that handled like a wheelbarrow.
At the other extreme, the largest frame usually had the opposite, a relaxed seat tube angle and a steep head tube. This resulted in the riders weight being concentrated over the rear axle (with the seat up high) and either sluggish or twitchy handling if the fork rake wasn't adjusted to fit the frame size.
Until after the mid 70s, many Japanese bikes didn't handle that well for a number of reasons. For starters, there wasn't a strong sporting road bike tradition in Japan. Most bikes were 50 Lb single or 3 speed family transportation models. Kierin track bike racing is a sport is the same sense as thoroughbred horse racing and didn't spread over to amateurs or off track riding.
Another consideration was that very few Japanese people could ride bikes with frames over 56cm.
The biggest reason for poor handling Japanese bikes is that many of them were made to the US importer's specs! Having lived in Japan, if you ask someone to make something "just like this" you'll likely be surprised by the results and not necessarily in a happy way!
I recall a brand new mid 70s Centurion that someone brought by our shop. It was about a 60-62cm size with all of the top Japanese alloy components and a frame made of 4130 alloy steel. The bike weighed 32 Lbs. because they used gas pipe thickness alloy steel tubes!
Many larger size Japanese bikes had very short top tubes too. Again, they didn't have much of a customer base for sporting road bikes plus very few taller riders.
We designed some larger sized frames and had them made for us by several European companies. Reynolds 531 in 66cm and Straight gage tubing with Durifort forks and stays in 68, 70 and 72 cm sizes. They were too big for any of the folks at our shop to ride but our customers were satisfied.
Chas. Colerich Oakland, CA USA
Tom Sanders wrote:
> I know it was pointed out a few years ago that some makers made some changes
> to geometry with small bikes to reduce toe/front wheel overlap. I have
> found that larger Masi bikes ride a bit better than smaller ones, but it may
> be all in my head because all other things being equal a larger bike is, for
> me, a bit more comfortable. Few things are more subjective or variable
> than how a bike rides. By the time things beside frames like tire
> variables, wheels, spokes, high or low flange rims, saddle, fit ( perhaps
> peddles and bar wrap?) and all are factored in, one really should just ride
> what they darn well like.
> Thanks all,
> Tom Sanders
> Lansing, MI USA