You’ve bought a new bike and it’s ready to ride, but you’re unsure how to get the right position for comfortable cycling? In this article, we’ll take you through the key steps to perfect bike fit, from saddle height to stem length and more.
When it comes to cycling, there are few things more important than a correctly fitted bike. You might have the most flash bike in the world but if the ride position isn’t comfortable for you, you’re really not going to have a very pleasant ride experience at all.
There are three main contact points with the bike:
Each can be adjusted independently but every action has a consequence, and you need to look at your overall position and relationship with these key contact points to achieve the perfect fit.
The easiest option is to get a professional to do it for you. Many good bike shops now offer basic bike fit as part of buying a bike too, ensuring you’re not only on the right size frame but sitting comfortably. If you want a professional to do it for you, there are many bike fit businesses that will happily ensure you and your bike fit in perfect harmony.
The cost can seem high but it can be a small price to pay in the long run because a good bike fit will get your position dialled in perfectly and make any adjustments that you might not otherwise see yourself. Good bike fit professionals will often start with a full-body physiotherapy examination to identify your range of movement, highlight any injuries or alignment issues that can be tricky to spot yourself but easily lead to discomfort on the bike.
If you want to do it yourself, there are some easy recommendations to follow. Bike fit isn’t an exact science and it’s worth being prepared to experience trial and error. Riding a bike is a dynamic experience and your fit requirements might even change over time, as your experience and endurance increases on the bike. The famous Eddy Merckx was constantly adjusting his saddle height for example. Never overlook the intuition of feel when it comes to bike fit. If it feels wrong, it often is wrong.
What are the essential areas to focus on?
Let’s start with saddle height. This is important to achieve an efficient pedalling style without causing issues with your knees that a saddle being too high or low can easily cause. A good start point is to set your saddle to a height that gives full leg extension when your heel is placed on the centre of the pedal when the crank arm is parallel with the ground. . When you bring your foot back so the ball of your foot is over the pedal axle, you’ll have a slight bend in your leg. This is the desired saddle height.
The saddle can slide back and forth on the rails and changes your position relative to the pedals. You want to aim for your knee cap to be in-line with the ball of your foot when your pedal is parr. You can do this visually, ask a friend to look at you from the side, or get a piece of string with a weight on the end and hold the other end of the front of your knee. If you need to put your saddle further forward or backwards but your seatpost won’t allow it, you might need a setback or inline seatpost.
Most new road bikes let you adjust the handlebar height. If the front feels too low, consider raising them, and vice versa if they feel too high. Adjusting the handlebar height is easy, once you know-how. You need to first undo the headset preload bolt on top of the stem, then the two side bolts, and shuffle the round spacers around, moving them above or below the stem to raise or lower the height of the bars to suit. Then tighten the bars starting reverse order, using the top bolt to preload the headset bearings to remove play, then line the stem up with the front wheel and tighten the side bolts.
Another option is to rotate the handlebars. If the hoods are too low you can gently rotate the handlebars upwards to bring them a little higher. Simply loosen the stem faceplate bolts and adjust the handlebar to suit.
Next is stem length which alters the reach of the handlebars relative to the saddle. If you are stretched or hunched up, you’ll likely incur neck and back pain. The perfect position will see your handles falling naturally and comfortably onto the hoods of the handlebars. One method that some people swear by to get the right handlebar reach is when the top of the handlebar obscures the view of your front hub. You might need a shorter or longer stem to achieve a more comfortable position.
If you’re using cleats with cycling shoes, getting them dialled in is critical to avoid any knee pain or foot aches. Most clipless pedalling systems provide a range of free movement, called float, which allows your foot to find a natural and comfortable position when pedalling. You want to position the cleat so that the centre is lined up with the centre of the ball of your foot. You can adjust forwards and backwards to suit. Don’t be afraid to experiment. To find the right angle, look at the stance of your feet when standing, or with your when sat on the corner of a desk and your feet dangling in the air. Your feet will naturally point outwards, inwards or neutral. Use this information to set the angle of your cleats correspondingly.
Follow these simple tips and you should be well on your way to the perfect bike fit that will promote a comfortable riding position and happiness no matter how long or fast your ride is.