|Professional cyclists couldn't ride the way they do without being precision fit to their bicycles. Look at how Philippe Gilbert (in front) has a slight bend in his knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Look at his bent elbows and relaxed upper body. Behind him, Ricardo Ricco shows off a perfect aggressive racing position with his straight flat back and super-aero stance.|
Step 2: Adjust Seat Height
The easiest do-it-yourself seat-height adjustment is done on a trainer or indoors in a doorway and requires a friend or spouse to help. Put on your cycling shorts and shoes, mount your bike in the trainer or place your bike in the doorway, get on and hold onto the door jamb to support yourself. Have your helper stand behind.
To find seat height, place your heels on the pedals and pedal backwards. You've found the optimum seat height when your legs are completely extended at the bottoms of the pedal strokes with your heels on the pedals (photo A).
As you pedal backwards, have your helper watch for rocking hips, the sign that the seat is too high. You want to have your legs completely extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke with no rocking of the hips. With the seat set at this height, when you're actually pedaling with the balls of your feet over the pedals, you'll have the perfect bend in your knees (photo B).
Step 3: Adjust your Cleats
If you're riding in cycling shoes, it's important that the cleats on the soles are positioned correctly. If you are not riding in cycling shoes it is time we fixed that. There are two important adjustments, fore/aft and angular. The former is easy to find, the latter takes some careful trial and error.
The cleat should be positioned so that the balls of your feet rest over the centers of the pedals (the axles) when you're pedaling (photo A). Sight from the top when you're on the bike to check this (hold your feet level). The balls of your feet form protrusions on the insides of the shoes and these should rest right over the axles. If not, adjust the cleats as needed.
Ideally, your cleat position allows resting your feet in a natural position on the pedals. Otherwise, you could injure your knees. Usually, aligning the cleats with an imaginary line that bisects the soles provides a safe starting position (photo B). But, go for some very easy rides to check the position and ensure it's right for your knees. If you feel any stress or strain, change the angle slightly to eliminate discomfort.
Step 4: Find Fore/Aft Seat Position
This adjustment requires a helper, too. Place your bike on a level surface next to a wall or post so you can hold yourself upright (or put it on a trainer, but be sure to level the bike). Put on your biking shorts and shoes, get on and pedal backwards until you're sitting in the "sweet spot" on the seat. Move your feet into the position shown in the photo. The forward crankarm and pedal must be level with the ground. The fore/aft seat adjustment is correct when a plumb line (any piece of string with a weight on the end) hanging from your kneecap, touches the end of the crankarm.
Step 5: Check Handlebar Height
Changing handlebar height can require know-how and parts you may not have. So, we recommend using these tips only to gauge adjustment. If you discover that you need a change, we're happy to provide the parts needed and install them if you like.
The first bar-height check is comfort. If you're sore during or after rides particularly in the lower back and/or neck, the bars may need adjustment. Inspect bar height by standing your bike on a level surface and viewing it from the side comparing the height of the seat to the height of the bars (photo). For road riding, a difference of 1 to 4 inches is optimal, even slightly more, if you're a flexible racer. For off-road use and recreational riding, bar height should be equal to or up to 2 inches below the seat height. Keep in mind that these are guidelines that work for most people. Sometimes it takes a little experimentation to find the most comfortable position.
Step 6: Check Handlebar Reach
A proper reach to the handlebars is the key to enjoying comfortable rides. If the bars are too close or too far away, you may experience neck, shoulder, back and hand pain. And, it can cause you to scoot backward or forward on your seat all the time. On most bikes, to change length, you must replace the stem. And stems come in a variety of types and diameters. So you may want to have us check your position and suggest a proper replacement.
To check reach at home, put on your cycling clothes, mount your bike on a trainer and make sure the bike is level. Get on and pedal until you're comfortable with your upper body relaxed. Look ahead as if you were looking down the road. For dropped handlebars, rest your hands on the tops of the brake levers. For flat bars with bar ends, use the regular grip position. Now, have a helper look at you from the side (photo) to gauge where a plumb line dropped from the tip of your nose would fall. Optimally, there should be about an inch between the plumb line and the center of the handlebar.
Step 7: Check Handlebar Size
Most bicycles today come with handlebars that suit the person who fits the bike. So, it's likely that your handlebars fit adequately. There are lots of different handlebar sizes and shapes, however, and changing might fine-tune your fit providing additional comfort.
Check width first. For optimal control and efficiency, drop handlebars should be about the same width as your shoulders (photo). These bars come in sizes ranging from about 38- to 46-cm wide. So, if the distance between the bony protrusions on top of your shoulder blades is 42 cm, that's what the handlebar width should be.
Flat-bar widths vary, too. Usually, riders who enjoy demanding, technical trails appreciate a little additional width (24 to 27 inches), especially if they're using full suspension. All-round riders prefer a more standard width of about 22 inches. Also, if the trails you ride cut through tight spaces such as neighboring trees, you’ll want to be sure the bars aren’t too wide to clear the obstacles.
Handlebars come in various shapes, too. Flat bars have different bends and may include rise to help you sit more upright. Drop bars often feature anatomic bends in the hooks for more comfort. And they're sometimes bent differently on the tops to accommodate your wrists. Another consideration with drop bars is reach, the distance between the bar tops and bottoms. Usually, taller riders appreciate more reach.