Knowledge Level: Beginner
Riding a bike should be an enjoyable and comfortable experience but many people find it unnecessarily uncomfortable and are put off. However, by following a few simple steps, you can easily find your perfect position on the bike and guarantee comfort. For a more performance orientated bike fit, look at this DIY road and mountain bike fit article.
A good starting point for determining if a bike is roughly the right size for you and safe to ride is to assess stand-over height. Simply straddle the bike with your feet flat on the ground and the top tube should be approximately an inch beneath your groin. On some bikes the top tube is sloping and this distance may be greater but if you’re unable to straddle the bike in this way, it’s definitely too big for you.
Setting the correct saddle height is probably the most important aspect of bike setup for ensuring comfortable and efficient cycling.
Too low and you’ll feel cramped and put excessive strain on your knees. Too high and your hips will rock from side to side and potentially put strain on your lower back.
With a friend holding the bike, sit on the saddle and place the balls of your feet on the pedals. With the pedal at the bottom of the pedal stroke (six o’clock), there should be a slight bend in your knee. You shouldn’t feel as though you are having to stretch but your leg should feel extended and not cramped.
If you need to adjust the height you will need to loosen the seat post clamp. There will either be a quick release lever which operates using a simple cam mechanism or a bolt that will require an Allen key. Once you’ve got the height correct, retighten the clamp, taking care not to over-tighten. If you’re unsure or the seat-post won’t move, take the bike to your local bike shop.
Saddle fore and aft
It’s also possible to move the saddle forwards and backwards. This will require an Allen key. This adjustment is made to ensure optimal pedalling efficiency and not to adjust reach to the handlebars.
Again, with a friend holding the bike, bring the pedals round until they’re in a horizontal position (three and nine o’clock). With the balls of your feet on the pedals, the knee of your front leg should be directly above the pedal.
When on the saddle, if the bars are the correct height, your torso should be leaning forwards and, with your hands on top of the bars, there should be a bend in your elbows. A common mistake many people make is, if they suffer from a sore back on the bike, they’ll raise their handlebars higher to give them a more upright position. In most cases, this will only compound the situation as it’ll will increase the compressional load on your back. With many modern bikes, handlebar height adjustment will be limited to a couple of inches and is achieved by repositioning spacers under and above the stem. Because adjustment is limited, correct bar height should be a priority when buying a bike.
Once your saddle and handlebar height are correct, check your reach to the handlebars. Again, look for that forwards lean and bend in the arms. You should not feel stretched out or cramped up. If the reach isn’t quite right, don’t use the saddle fore and aft adjustment to alter it. If the positioning isn’t quite right it can be adjusted by fitting a shorter or longer stem.
Especially on mountain bikes and hybrids with flat handlebars, adjusting the brake levers so that they are in the correct position is important to avoid sore wrists and to ensure optimal braking performance. Your wrists should be straight when using the brakes and the levers should be positioned so that they are in the correct position for your fingers. Some brands of brake also allow you to adjust the reach of the levers.
You should cycle with the balls of your feet on the pedals and with your feet facing straight forwards. Avoid splaying your feet outwards or rotating them inwards and try to drive your legs up and down in a straight line. Wear suitable shoes that allow you to maintain a fixed and stable position on the pedals.