6 simple tweaks to get the best bike fit

A good fit equals the best on-bike performance and comfort

How to find the right size bike

Whether you’re riding long distances, just getting into racing, or simply want to up the comfort and performance of your bike, making sure your bike fits you is crucial!

Luckily, there are a few adjustments you can make to give you the best experience.

A bike that fits comfortably not only means happy riding, but it also means you’ll be in the optimum position to squeeze every last drop of forward momentum from the energy you put in, and feel confident doing it.

Finding the right size frame

Chances are you already have a good size frame either through research, experience or with the help of local bike shop staff.

If you want to check, or you’re in the process of buying a bike and aren’t sure what size to go for, our video guide will give you a great starting point.

1. Find a good saddle

A good saddle can mean the difference between hours of fun and hours of agony, and if it hurts then it’s time to invest in a new one!

Saddles are, for the most part, gender specific. This means they’re designed to suit anatomy, soft tissue and sit-bone widths of men and women. Some people find a gender-specific saddle helps, while others are fine with unisex saddles. It’s really down to personal preference.

Saddle height will affect the efficiency of your pedalling, and can also contribute to or aggravate injuries

Saddles are usually designed to suit different on-bike body positions too, since this will affect the distribution of weight and pressure on the nether regions.

For example, on a hybrid or commuter bike where the rider is usually sitting upright, the pelvis will also be in an upright position with the pressure point more towards the back of the rider's ‘undercarriage’. On a road bike, when riding on the drops, the pelvis is rotated forward so there’ll be more pressure towards the front.

The type of body position a saddle is designed for is usually displayed on the packaging, or the staff in your local bike shop will be able to help.

Finally, most brands will produce saddles in different widths because riders will tend to have different width sit-bones. Most bike shops have a way of measuring this to help you find the right size. Some shops also have test saddles so you can see if a particular saddle works for you while out on a ride.

2. Set the saddle height

Setting the saddle height is one of the main tweaks you need to get right
Setting the saddle height is one of the main tweaks you need to get right

The saddle height will affect the efficiency of your pedalling, and can also contribute to or aggravate injuries, so it’s important to get this to the right size.

If the saddle is too low, this will put strain on the knees on the top of the pedal stroke. If it’s too high, the rider will have to swing their hips to make the bottom of the stroke.

Either way, it’s important to get this right because an incorrect saddle height will make cycling harder.

A simple way to check saddle height is to put the heel of your foot on the pedal
A simple way to check saddle height is to put the heel of your foot on the pedal

A simple way to set saddle height is to sit on the bike, then spin the pedals to the half-past-twelve position. Place your heel in the middle of the lower pedal, and your leg should have a very slight bend in it, but not be completely locked out.

You might find when you’re pedalling that your leg feels like it’s bending too much, even after setting the saddle height. This might mean you’d benefit from shorter cranks, in which case this is something the staff in your bike shop can help with.

3. Set the saddle angle and position

Aim to get the saddle in a position that means the back of your kneecap sits over the ball of your foot (see the pink line)
Aim to get the saddle in a position that means the back of your kneecap sits over the ball of your foot (see the pink line)

The saddle angle is about whether the saddle is mounted flat, or with the nose pointed up or down, which is again where some expert guidance from your bike shop can help.

If you’re not sure what angle to put it to, start off flat then tweak it later if you have any issues.

You will then need to set the forward and aft position of the saddle. This can affect the reach forward to the handlebars, and also pedalling efficiency.

In the case of the latter, it’s another one of those fit tweaks that make the difference between comfort and efficiency.

To get this set up, place the pedals in the quarter-to-three position. Place the ball of your front foot directly below the back of the kneecap. If you find this hard to spot, check with a homemade plumb line. It’s also something a bike fitter can adjust, if you don’t feel confident doing it yourself.

4. Handlebar setup

There’s plenty you can do with the handlebars and the cockpit (the combination of the handlebars and the controls mounted on them) to make your bike fit and perform better.

First, you can raise or lower the handlebars to suit your posture and adjust the reach. Raising the handlebars will give a more upright position and bring the reach slightly closer to you, lowering it does the reverse and is typically used more for riders who want a more aggressive position on the bike (when they are racing, for instance).

Jigs like this make it easy to adjust elements such as handlebar height to get the right measurements, then switch those fit measurements to a real bike
Jigs like this make it easy to adjust elements such as handlebar height to get the right measurements, then switch those fit measurements to a real bike

The reach can also be adjusted by changing the stem length. Bikes are usually designed around an optimum length, but you can change this a few millimetres to alter the reach of the bike.

Bear in mind that if you need to change this significantly, you might be better off on a different size frame, but check with an expert at the bike shop first.

5. Cockpit adjustment

The main adjustment to make in the cockpit is the brake reach, which is how far you need to reach your fingers to grip the brakes.

You should be able to comfortably reach and control your brakes while still having a secure grip on your handlebars. This is particularly important on long rides and long descents.

Many brakes on bikes with flat handlebars, such as mountain bikes and hybrid bikes, will have an easy-to-reach adjustment screw or bolt that you turn to bring the levers closer to the bars.

On road bikes there are several ways you can adjust the reach, either by adjusting a screw in a similar fashion to road bikes or by inserting a small shim or wedge.

Our video can help take you through the former process, and as ever, your friendly local bike shop may be able to help here.

6. Consider getting a bike fit

An expert bike fitter will have plenty of experience in helping riders of all sizes and preferred cycling disciplines
An expert bike fitter will have plenty of experience in helping riders of all sizes and preferred cycling disciplines

Most shops offer a fit when you buy a bike, and some offer a more in-depth fit process that takes an hour or two. The latter will dig right down into getting you the best fit possible.

Fits can be done on the bike in question, and also (as is usually the case for in-depth fits) on a special sizing rig, which allows the fitter to quickly adjust elements such as reach, stem length and handlebar height.

At its simplest, a bike fit will mean adjusting all the elements we’ve mentioned above, but can also go as far as recommending different lengths of stem, handlebar widths and crank lengths.

The difference a good bike fit makes can be remarkable, as rider Sue Howarth of Chorley found after her previous bike didn’t feel right: “I was keen not to make the same mistake again, so I opted for a bike fit. It was very thorough! They measured everything, even my bum, and concluded that what I’d thought was the right size bike for me was actually too small.

“I was sceptical as I’d done my research, but they built up the bigger bike. I tried it, bought it, and have cycled thousands of miles on it without any problems. It’s very comfy and definitely the right size!”

This article was published by BikeRadar, the world's leading source of bike reviews, gear reviews, riding advice and route information
  • Discipline: Road, Mountain, Urban, Womens
  • Location: UK, USA, Australia

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