How To

6 Ways Your Mountain Bike Setup is WRONG!

mountain bike setup

So, you’ve bought a shiny new mountain bike and are raring to go and hit the trails and bag some KOMs/QOMs and find some new riding buddies?

Wait, hold your horses! Before you go shredding, it’s vital to ensure you get your mountain bike set up properly because it’s all-too easy to make some mistakes when setting up a bike if you’re new to it all. And take it from us there’s nothing like a badly set up bike to ruin your ride and take the shine of your new purchase.

Mountain Bike Setup Mistakes – at a glance:

  • Saddle far too high
  • Bike with saddle pointing wildly up or down
  • Brake levers all over the shop
  • Stem with loads of spacers
  • No air in your tyres
  • Bouncing around with poor suspension

Let’s tackle some of the biggest issues with bike setup and get you sitting happy on your new mountain bike and ensure you can shred with the best of them.


Saddle Height

Mountain Bike Setup - Saddle Height

This is the most common mistake people make and it’s thankfully an easy one to get right without any special tools or knowledge. You’ll know if your saddle isn’t the right height as you’ll get knee pain if the saddle is too low or high. While you can pay for a professional bike fit you should be able to get the right saddle height very easily.

Mountain Bike Setup - Saddle height test

The very easiest method is to sit on the saddle and set the saddle height so that with the heel of your foot on the pedal your leg is mostly straight. Then, when you bring your foot backwards so the ball of the foot is over the pedal, you’ll have a small amount of bend in the knee. This commonly works very well and gets you very close to perfect, but feel free to adjust as you need.


Saddle Angle

If the angle of the saddle is extremely nose up or tail down you’re not going to be sitting comfortably at all. Worse still, a badly setup saddle can lead to some very serious pain down below. Most people benefit from a saddle that is level with the ground. A saddle pointing nose down can be a sign that the saddle is too high, but some mountain bikers do prefer a slightly nose down saddle for better climbing, so feel free to experiment.


Brake Lever Angle

Mountain Bike Setup - Brake Lever Position

Getting the angle of the brake levers dialed in on the handlebars not only improves comfort when riding but also maximises control. We’ve seen many people struggling to operate their brakes effectively and it’s usually because the brake levers are angled down towards the ground, which forces you to over rotate your wrists around the handlebar to reach the levers.

While there’s no actual correct lever angle, you want to set the levers to an angle that is roughly in line with an imaginary line running through your arm and hands when sitting on the bike. As a number you’re looking at 20 to 30 degrees.


Handlebar Rotation & Stem Height

Mountain Bike Setup - Handlebar setup

Don’t presume that the rotation of your handlebar and the height of your stem has been perfectly set up for you when you pulled it out of the box or picked it up from your local bike shop. There’s actually a lot of adjustment available with the handlebar and stem that can make a big impact on your control and comfort of the bike on technical trails.

Most new bikes will have several spacers on the steerer tube connected to the fork around which the stem is clamped above the frame. You can move these spacers around to raise or lower the stem height. If you’re finding your weight is being pushed over the front of the bike on steep trails you can raise the stem to put the handlebar into a higher position and push your weight back over the rear of the bike.

handlebar rotation

Handlebar rotation is a tricky but an important setup element that can make a surprising difference to how the bike rides. Mountain bike handlebars have back sweep and upsweep, the amount varies from brand to brand, but don’t be afraid to experiment when you are sitting on the bike to find an angle that feels comfortable. Setting the bars so they are slightly angled upwards can bring your weight forward while rolling them back can push your weight back on steep trails. Don’t be afraid to experiment!


Tyre Pressure

High tyre pressures can turn any mountain bike into one that is difficult to handle on even the easiest trails, and it’s one of the biggest mistakes many new mountain bikers make. But getting the right tyre pressure does require some experimentation as it depends on factors such as rider weight, riding style and how severe the terrain is that you’re tackling.

tyre pressure

That said, there are some good apps now available that let you punch in all your data and a recommended pressure is given which is a really good starting point from which you can further experiment. Another factor that will influence the tyre pressure is the width and construction of the tyres and whether you have inner tubes or are sealant.


Suspension Setup

Suspension setup

Whether you have a hardtail or full suspension you really need to devote some time to getting the pressures in the forks and shocks dialed in. You will need a high pressure shock pump, often provided with a bike but more often you’ll need to buy one separately. Many bikes do, though, come with recommended pressure settings based on rider weight, and some components even put the numbers on the fork legs so you don’t need to thumb through the manual.

These manufacturer recommended settings are often the best place to start and definitely help demystify the whole process. The same applies to the damping and compression settings on the suspension as well but again it’s worth experimenting and see what feels good and works for you.


mountain bike setup - tools

Need some tools to get your mountain bike setup right?

Check out our tool buying guide for all the tools you get your mountain bike setup nailed!

Tom Adams

Tom is a bike enthusiast! Originally a mountain biker, Tom enjoys going fast on two wheels, whether it's on the road or on the gravel, mountain bike or commuting! Tom has been riding bikes for almost 18 years and loves nothing more than getting out on the roads or trails and testing out the newest and most innovative things on the Chain Reaction website!

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