February 01, 2018

How do you feel on the bike? Do you regularly experience discomfort? Wake up the next day stiff and sore? Chances are you are there is something wrong with your fit. Whether you have been riding for years or are new to cycling, getting yourself properly fitted to your bike is crucial to a comfortable and efficient ride. It can make the difference of giving you a few extra watt's to win the race or make your first big ride bearable.

The most common culprit of poor bike fit is the bike is the wrong size for the rider or its the right size but it has been set up poorly. An improperly adjusted saddle height, or the wrong size stem or bars can just as easily cause similar fit issues to the wrong sized frame.

Depending on the type of riding you are doing, a saddle thats 1cm too high can create big problems over time and distance, that little amount of pain you are feeling right now can lead to more serious injuries down the road. That’s why it’s critical to address improper fit issues sooner than later.

Here are the key components to a proper bike fit, and what you should look for when sizing yourself up properly. It is worth noting these tips is a very general and may not work for you. They are a basic guide, if you are in doubt consult with your local fitting expert as some of these tips may not apply to you and your body shape.

Start with your frame
To get your fit dialed, you of course need to start with the right size bike frame. Begin by checking standover height, which is the distance between the top tube and your crotch when straddling the bike. Aim for about one inch of clearance if the bike has a traditional straight top tube, or two inches for a bike with a sloping top tube. It is worth noting this is a very general rule of thumb, if you are in doubt consult with your local fitting expert.

Check your saddle height
While there are all manner of methods to determine what’s right for you, the basic gist of getting a proper saddle height is that when pedaling in a seated position, your knee should be slightly bent (about 10 degrees) at the bottom of the pedal stroke. If your knee is locking out at the bottom of the stroke, your seat is too high— and if you feel like your leg never gets a rest, it might be too low. When you think you have it nailed, have a friend watch you from behind to make sure your hips don’t rock from side to side. Also take note of how you feel over time on a ride. If your knee's are getting sore or you are bopping up and down it may be worth checking the height again.

Use string to check fore/aft position of your saddle. 
While seated comfortably in the center of your saddle, spin your cranks to the horizontal position, then have a friend drop a line of string from the front of your forward kneecap (try tying something heavy to it to make it hang straight.) In the saddle right position, the end of the string should just touch the front of your crank. If it falls ahead or behind the end of the crankarm, move the saddle fore or aft accordingly until you hit the mark.

Use the "hidden hub" trick to check your stem length. 
Now it's time to check out your stem length. The ideal distance will vary based on flexibility and riding style, but generally you’ll know you’re in the ballpark when you are seated on your bike with elbows slightly bent and hands on the brake hoods, and you look down at your front bike hub and it is obscured by the handlebar. If the hub is viewable in front of or behind your bars, try swapping out a shorter or longer stem.

For handlebars, go wide if you're unsure. 
As for handlebars, aim for a width that matches your shoulder width. Bars typically come in 38cm, 40cm, 42cm, and 44cm sizes. When in doubt go wider, which can make breathing easier by opening up your chest and lungs. Also, consider the amount of drop your bars have. If you’re not particularly flexible, choose a shallower drop bar, which makes it easier to comfortably maintain an aerodynamic sprinting position.

Check the height of your stem and saddle.
Also pay attention to the height of your bike stem, which should be about an inch below the top of your saddle. This will make it easier to use the drops of your handlebars without discomfort. Typically the ideal configuration is to have zero to 20mm of spacers and a stem that is 90mm to 120mm. If you need a giant stack of spacers and stubby 70mm stem to get comfortable, it likely means your bike probably isn’t the right size. That’s why it’s critical to pay attention to these types of issues during the bike buying process. It’s far easier to change a stem than a bike.

When in doubt, try it out.
Finally, remember that bike fit can often involve a lot of trial and error. “If your position needs significant adjustment, make changes incrementally to avoid shocking your body and possibly causing injury,” advises Carver. “And when in doubt, hire a professional bike fitter.”