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.
The dominant dimension on a road bike is the reach to the bars. The reference measurement is a horizontal line from the centre of the top of the head tube to the centre of the seat tube.
An average top tube is 55cm. If you’re 5ft 3in to 5ft 6in you need a frame with a 52 or 53cm top tube. Riders in the 5ft 8in to 5ft 11in range need 54 to 56cm top tubes; riders from 6ft to 6ft 4in need 56 to 58cm.
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.
You should be able to reach the top of your handlebars without over-stretching. Your back should be at around 45 degrees, and your arms should be not quite straight
The reach to the hoods (the brake lever covers) should be longer and lower but still 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, especially for women with shorter torsos. To remedy this you can flip the handlebar stem or shorten the reach by using a smaller stem.
A quick fix is to move the saddle forward to make up for a long reach, but this forces the rider away from the classic saddle-to-pedal position that gives choice between power or relaxation.
Getting your seat height right is another 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.
Correct pedal position and cleat alignment is essential for a comfortable ride