4 simple steps to set up your mountain bike

Get the basics nailed for more comfort and speed

Bike set up is important. So important in fact that getting the right position can make the difference between riding faster and harder without buying loads of upgrades and suffering on with discomfort that can lead to aches, pains and injuries. Happily, it’s quick and easy to get your basic set up right. 


Many mountain bikers are focussed on speed. You may find yourself asking, can I get fitter to get faster? Can I eat better to lose weight and go faster? Should I get a better bike to burn off my mates?

However, the first thing to look at is your bike, Most of us don’t spend enough time setting up our bikes correctly to get the optimum position for speed and with a little time and understanding, you may be able to go faster without any hard training sessions or extra cost.

The most important factor is saddle position. If the saddle is too low, you won’t be able to make full use of the power in your legs and if the saddle is too high you’ll feel your hips roll from side to side as your legs stretch too far at the bottom of each pedal stroke.

The fore and aft position of the saddle is also very important to ensure effective use of your quadriceps and prevent any knee injuries.

Another common problem for riders is a stiff neck or shoulders. So check your posture throughout your rides to make sure your neck and shoulders are relaxed to prevent unnecessary aches and pains, and keep yourself in the right position to unleash your speed potential.

1. Saddle height

Comfort and performance are all tied into the fit of the mountain bike
Russell Burton

 Sit on the bike with one of the pedals at 6 o’clock. Position your foot so it’s parallel to the floor. In this position, your leg should be almost straight.

2. Set the fore and aft position of your saddle

Sitting on the bike, position one foot forwards so the crank is parallel to the floor at 3 o’clock. Hold a length of string with a weight on the end at the front of your knee. The string should drop down in line with the pedal axle. Adjust if necessary.

The saddle fore and aft position is easily adjustable
Russell Burton

3. Set your handlebar height

The correct height for your handlebars depends on a number of factors, such as suspension travel and the type of terrain. The higher the bars are, the more comfortable you’ll feel, but you’ll lose that sense of being in a race position. You may also find that you feel like you have less control and stability on technical terrain. 

Tweaks to your fit should be your first port of call if you want to improve your on-bike performance
Russell Burton

4. Find your handlebar reach 

Make sure you can reach the bars with your arms slightly bent. If the bars are too close your back will not be in neutral and will become rounded. If the bars are too far away, you’ll have to work your core muscles to stay in position, which can lead to lower back pain. The reach can be adjusted using different stem lengths. 

Getting the right reach for your handlebars will increase comfort and control
Russell Burton
Looking for a more detailed guide to mountain bike setup? Read our perfect mountain bike fit article for the lowdown on what to look out for when setting your bike up.