Getting your position correct on a road bike is essential: a well set-up bike is a joy to ride, will help avoid any cycling injuries in the long run and will make you faster.
Road bike frames are typically sized by their height in centimetres, measured at the down tube. As critical as the height of the bike is the length (measured at the top tube), as this affects how far forward you need to reach to the handlebars.
The top tube length is sometimes referred to as effective top tube, as sometimes the top tube itself is sloping, and the dimension that matters is the horizontal distance between the seat tube (which runs straight down from the seatpost under the seat) and the head tube (which is parallel to the seat tube at the front of the bike).
Nearly all bike companies have sizing charts on their websites to get you in the right ballpark for frame, based on your height.
From there, you can adjust the height of your saddle with the seatpost (see Seat Height below), and adjust the height, reach and angle of the handlebar with the stem (see Handlebar Height below).
A correctly fitting, well set up bike should give good handling in all circumstances. Although the reach to the bars on a road bike is both forwards and down, a correctly set up bike will enable you to reach all parts of the bars without any stress. You should reach the top of the bars with your arms not quite straight and your back at an angle of around 45 degrees.
The reach to the hoods (the shifter/brake lever covers) will put your torso lower, but this should still be comfortable for extended periods. The position on the drops should also be maintainable for long periods and comfortable on fast downhill sections to afford you the strongest grip on the brakes.
A common error is to have the bars too long and too low. If your neck or shoulders are sore after riding, try raising your handlebars. You can do this by raising the stem with spacers underneath and/or by flipping the handlebar stem so that it points upwards.
If you feel you are stretching out too far, put on a shorter stem, which will bring the handlebars closer to you.
A quick fix is to move the saddle forward to make up for a long reach, but this could compromise your pedaling power.
Getting your seat height right is an important aspect of road bike positioning. The rule of thumb is that your knee should have a slight bend in it when you're at the bottom of the pedal stroke. You can normally achieve this by having a straight leg when you put your heel on the pedal in the six o'clock position.
For a more detailed guide, see our How to get your seat height right article.
Fitting pedals and cleats alignment
Lastly, sort out your pedal and cleat position. Poorly positioned feet can lead to problems ranging from hot spots – where the pedal or cleat digs into your foot cutting off the circulation – to knee and leg strains.
To align your cleats correctly, follow the steps below:
- You need to angle your cleats to match the angle of your feet: are you slightly pigeon toed or splay footed? Get the angles wrong and you could hurt your knees. Both feet are not necessarily angled to the same extent either. A good way of checking these angles is to sit on a table with your legs dangling off the side, then note which way and by how much your feet splay or turn in. Outline the positions of your feet using a piece of A4 paper.
- Put the shoe on, find the ball of the foot by feeling for the bony protrusion on the inside of your foot, now mark the spot on the side of the shoe.
- Position the cleats on the bottom of the shoe using the screws supplied and to the approximate angle indicated in step 1, but don't tighten them firmly yet.
- Place the shoe on your foot and clip into the pedal, then waggle the shoe fore or aft until the mark aligns with axis of the pedal axle when viewed from above. At this stage make any corrections for the angle of your dangled feet in step one.
- Get a helper to mark the cleat and the sole of the shoe both at the front and the side, then unclip, check that the marks you made on the sole and the cleat are still aligned and then tighten the screws very firmly.