How To

Set Up Your Mountain Bike

Maximise the first ride on your new mountain bike by setting it up perfectly and get ready to hit the trails.

Set Up Your Mountain Bike

You’ve bought a new bike mountain bike. Whether it’s your first or your third, in this article we’ll take you through the basic steps of setting up your new MTB so that you’re ready to hit the trails and make the most out of your ride. 

Saddle adjustments

The first step to take with your new mountain bike is to set up your saddle correctly. This ensures you have a comfortable ride and avoids unnecessary aches and pains as you rack up the miles. Saddle height is important, having it too low or high can lead to sore knees or worse, and the right height will let you pedal efficiently and comfortably. To do this, sit on the bike with your heel on the pedal and set the saddle to a height that results in a straight leg. When riding you’ll pedal with the ball of your foot which will create a natural slight bend in your leg.

Saddle angle is important. Generally, it’s best to set the saddle horizontal with the ground. This is a neutral position that most will find comfortable. Tilting the saddle nose up can put undue pressure on your sensitive area and lead to you sliding backwards, while nose down can result in you sliding forwards. That said there is a trend to angle the nose down on full suspension bikes to enhance climbing ability. Our advice would be to experiment and see what works best for you.

You also have fore-and-aft adjustment by sliding the saddle on the rails. If your position feels too stretched you can slide the saddle forward, and vice-versa if you’re feeling too cramped, you can push the saddle backwards on the rails. Start with the saddle in the middle of the rails and adjust from there until you feel comfortable on the bike.

Handlebar adjustments

Moving to the front of the bike, you have a range of adjustments with the stem and handlebars. Most bikes will have a stack of spacers above and below the stem. You can use these to raise or lower the height of the handlebar to suit your preference. Raising the handlebars will rotate your weight back and this can be an advantage on steep trails as there is less weight on the front of the bike. If you’re struggling to weight the front wheel in corners, the handlebars might be too high.

The handlebars offer a range of adjustment too. Firstly there’s handlebar width, which varies from about 720 to 800mm width. Some prefer it wider, some prefer it narrower, which suits you comes down to personal preference and also the sort of riding you’re doing. Downhillers prefer very wide bars; XC riders prefer narrow. Most wider bars can be cut down if they are too wide, but experiment with hand placement by moving your hands to different points on the handlebars and see how that feels on the trail before getting the hacksaw.

The handlebars also have upward and rearward sweep so they angle back to you. By rolling your handlebar back you can improve your weight balance on technical trails while rolling forward pulls your weight over the front of the bike. These adjustments can be made by rolling the handlebars forwards or backwards in the stem. As with most adjustments, experiment until you feel happiest.

You may also want to adjust the positioning and angle of your brake levers. Whilst sitting on the bike in your riding position, adjust the angle of the levers to a position where your braking finger falls naturally and comfortably onto the lever blade. If your levers are angled down or up too much, you’ll strain your fingers, hands and wrists which will lead to discomfort. Once the lever position is set up, you may want to adjust the lever reach based on your hand size.

Setting your tyres up

Moving onto the tyre pressure, which is critical to get the best performance out of your bike. To do this accurately, you’ll need a pump with a pressure gauge. Deciding your personal preference for tyre pressure requires some experimentation. A common starting point for pressure is 20-25 psi but it depends on the size of the tyres, rider weight and the type of riding and terrain as well.

Setting your Suspension Sag

Now you’re ready to set up your suspension sag which is how much your suspension compresses when you are sat on your bike. Setting up the sag correctly will make sure you get the best performance, comfort, control and traction out on the trails. For riding downhill trails you’ll want more sag, for cross-country riding and racing where efficiency matters you can run less sag. Your bike will have come with a pre-set sag which may not need adjusting. However, if you want to adjust it, you can. When sitting on your bike, alongside a wall or fence, measure the sag to about 25-30% of the suspension travel for the fork and rear shock. When setting up your sag, make sure you’re wearing all your usual riding gear with a helmet and any bags included.

Once you have made all these adjustments you’re bike should be ready to perform out on the trails. Your riding style may change over time and your preferences for how you bike set up may need to change with them, but now you know how to adjust your bike, you should be able to make your bike perfect for every ride!

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