A well set-up bike is not only a joy to ride, but it helps prevent long term injuries and takes less effort to achieve the same results. If you are finding your ride uncomfortable, either take it to a professional to have it properly fitted or follow the simple instructions below and you will notice an immediate difference.
Put on your cycling shoes and straddle the bike. There should be around 2.5cm (1") clearance between the top tube and your body, on a bike with a straight top tube. If the bike is a semi-compact or compact design (that is, with a slightly sloping top tube) then allow 5 cm (2") clearance or more. If you can’t straddle the bike with the requisite clearance distance, then the bike is too big for you.
The correct saddle height is crucial in setting up your bike for a comfortable ride. If the saddle is too low, you will put extra strain on your knees. If it is too high, a rocking motion that will occur in your hips that will put a strain on your lower back. There are several methods suggested for getting the right saddle height. The most common one is asking a friend to hold your bike while you hop on, put your heels on the pedals and adjust the saddle until you have a straight leg at the 6 o’clock pedal position. This will mean that when the balls of your feet are on the pedals, your knees will be slightly bent.
It is usual for the saddle to be parallel to the ground. Female riders sometimes prefer to have the saddle tilted slightly upwards. The saddle can be moved backwards and forwards and needs to be positioned correctly. Again, ask a friend to hold the bike while you sit on it, with the balls of your feet on the pedals at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock. The aim is to position the saddle so that the knee of your front leg is above the pedal.
Most people set their handlebar height so it is a couple of centimetres below their saddle height. People with long arms, often set them lower. It really is a personal choice. Choose handlebars that are the same width as your shoulders to encourage chest expansion which aids breathing. Your torso should be leaning forward and your elbows should be bent when your hands are on the top of the handlebars. Make sure you look at handlebar height carefully when you purchase your bike, as generally, handlebar height can only be altered by a few centimetres.
REACH AND STEM
After you have fixed the saddle and handlebars, look at your reach to the handlebars. You should feel comfortable, not cramped or overstretched; your elbows should be bent and your back at around 45°. If you feel there is a problem, don’t alter the saddle position; rather fit a longer or shorter stem.
FOOT POSITION – PEDALS AND CLEAT ALIGNMENT
If you position your feet poorly, you can encourage knee and leg injuries. The angle of the cleats needs to match the angle of your feet. Sit on table with your legs dangling over the edge. Look carefully at the natural angle your feet are placed in – do they turn inwards or outwards? Try and draw these angles on a piece of paper or get someone to do it for you. The next step is to put your cycling shoes on and find the ball of your foot and mark this position on the side of both shoes. Put the cleats on the bottom of the shoes at the angle drawn earlier. Put the shoes on and clip them into the pedals. Move the shoes until the marks on the side of them line up with the axis of the pedal axle. Ensuring that the angle is still correct, ask someone to mark the sole of your shoes and the cleats on the front and the side. Tighten the screws in the cleats.
When you apply the brakes, your wrists should be straight and the levers well positioned for your fingers to use them. Incorrectly positioned brakes can not only lead to sore wrists but also to impair braking power.
TRIAL AND ERROR
Only time on your bike will let you know if you have a good fit or not. Fine tuning can be done after several rides when you and your bike are used to each other. You will find that once your bike is a perfect fit, you will be travel faster and take longer routes and feel far less tired. Remember to wear your reflective safety vest and reflective safety belt when cycling to ensure you are highly visible to other road users.