Whether you’re looking to improve your performance, prevent injury or decrease pain, conducting a bike fit should be the first item on your checklist. Follow these basic bike fit steps to dial in your position so you can ride faster and enjoy your time on the road injury free.
STEP 1: SADDLE HEIGHT
While there isn’t necessarily one bike measurement that’s the most important, if you don’t dial in your saddle height it will skew the rest of your bike setup. Finding the correct saddle height helps prevent knee injuries, improve pedaling efficiency and make you more comfortable over longer distances.
To begin adjusting your saddle height, get on the bike and rotate the pedal so it’s at the 6 o’clock position. The ball of your foot should be directly over the pedal axle (see Step 4). With your foot clipped in to the pedal, there should be a slight bend in the knee. As a general rule, aim for around 27–37 degrees of knee flexion at bottom dead center of the pedal stroke.
STEP 2: SADDLE SETBACK
Once you’ve got your saddle height set up, the next measurement you’ll want to address is the fore/aft position of your bike seat. Saddle setback is important to prevent lower back and neck injuries due to overreaching and to keep from putting too much torque on the patella tendon, which often occurs when the seat is too far forward.
The basic starting point for saddle setback should put the knee in line with the pedal axle when the pedals are level at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock position. The easiest way to find this starting point is to drop a plumb line from the front of the kneecap. You’ve achieved a neutral starting position when the plumb line falls just forward of the pedal axle in the 3 o’clock position.
From here you can make slight adjustments forward or backward depending on your overall comfort and preferred riding style.
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STEP 3: HANDLEBAR REACH
A common mistake of beginners who choose to perform a DIY bike fit is to adjust handlebar reach by adjusting saddle setback. Doing this puts you out of position and messes up Steps 1 and 2 of your bike fit.
Instead, leave the saddle where it is and make adjustments to your handlebar height and stem length. This measurement is highly individualized and determined by your style of riding. For instance, cyclists who are serious about racing and want a low, aggressive position for improved aerodynamics opt for a lower handlebar height and a longer stem.
Endurance cyclists or more casual riders seek a more upright, comfortable position and usually opt for a few spacers to raise the handlebar height and use a shorter stem. Other determining factors are the amount of flexibility in your hamstrings, which can affect how far a reach your body can tolerate.
For a basic starting position, place your hands on the hoods and aim for a 90-degree angle between your upper back and arms. For the lower back and hip angle, shoot for 45 degrees and make micro adjustments from there.
STEP 4: CLEAT POSITION
The placement of the foot over the pedal is another important aspect of a bike fit, since it determines the angle of your knee as you pedal. Correcting your foot placement can also help with foot numbness and pain in the Achilles tendon.
With your foot in your cycling shoe, use a marker to make a small dot on the inner portion of the shoe where the ball of your foot is. When you clip your shoe into your pedal, this dot should align with the pedal axle. If it doesn’t, adjust the fore/aft position of the cleat.
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Also note the angle of the cleat and make sure your toes aren’t rotated in or away from the pedals excessively. It’s best to aim for a neutral cleat setup since most pedals have small amounts of float to allow for some side-to-side movement while pedaling. If problems persist from this neutral position, slight changes can be made.
Keep in mind that these steps are very basic and meant only as a guideline for beginners tinkering with their position. If you’re serious about your cycling or are having pain on the bike, seeking a professional bike fit is one of the best investments you can make.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RIDE