Bike fit 101: How to Adjust your Bike and Dial-in your Position

Alex Godbout Simard
  • 8 minutes

It’s no secret that having a properly adjusted bike will make cycling experience much more enjoyable and even reduce the chance of injuries over time. The goal of this guide is to provide a basic understanding of bike fitting principles so you’ll have a great starting point and ride as soon as possible. It's important to note that this document provides broad guidelines and indications. It’s also important to give your body some time to adapt to this new position. We suggest keeping the first few rides easy and short. If you feel any pain or discomfort while riding, please seek the help of a bike fitting expert. 

Saddle Angle: Level is best

Before jumping on your bike, your saddle needs to be perfectly parallel to the ground. Make sure the bike is on a leveled surface to have a good reference point. A bubble level is quite useful as well if you want to be extra precise. This will ensure you won't be sliding forward if the nose was tilted downwards and it will also reduce the pressure on the perineal nerves if the saddle was tilted backward. 

Saddle Height: A Good Starting Point

The majority of back and knee problems on the bike come from a saddle that is too high or too low. Here’s a quick way to get a good starting point if you have no prior reference: Place your crank at the six o’clock position. Adjust the height of the saddle so when your leg is fully extended and locked out, your heel is barely touching the surface of the pedal. The front portion of your foot should then reach the surface of the pedal easily and there should be a 25-35 degree flex in the knee. 

Fore and aft position of the saddle: Not related to your reach! 

It's a common misconception to think that the saddle fore and aft (front and back) adjustment is used to change the amount of reach to the handlebars. Bringing the saddle forward to be closer to the handlebars is a common mistake that can lead to knee discomfort or injuries. In fact, the fore and aft adjustment allows the knees to be well positioned in relation to the pedals. To do that, place your foot at the 3 o'clock position on the crank. The middle of the pedal (where the spindle enters the crank) should be perfectly in line with the front of your knee. Adjust your saddle backwards or forwards on the saddle rails to achieve this desired position. 

Handlebar and Cockpit Angle: Comfort and ergonomics 

The default hand placement where you will spend most of your time is on the lever hoods. It’s also the main position you will use when braking and shifting. That’s why it’s important that this position should feel comfortable and secure. This adjustment is also heavily influenced by the stem length which we will see just below. There shouldn’t be any strain on the wrist or the fingers. Viewed from the side, the transition from the handlebar to the lever hoods should be smooth and pointing slightly upwards. 

Stem length: Don’t be afraid to swap!

Although not adjustable like the saddle height, having the correct stem length is crucial in order to be comfortable and safe on the bike. Modifying the stem length is the only way to adjust the reach to the handlebars. Once your hands are on the lever hoods, your elbow should be slightly flexed. It should feel relaxed and secure. If you need to fully extend your arms and lockout your elbows in order to reach the lever hoods, your reach is probably too long. Same thing if you feel a strain in your neck when looking in front of you. 

Sings of a poor bike fit or an ill-fitting bike 

If you find that your hands naturally rest on the top of the handlebar, it usually means that the reach to the handlebar is too long or that the stem is too low on the steerer tube. Stain in the back of your neck when looking in front of you is also a common issue with a bike that has excessive reach. 

If your hips are rocking excessively from left to right while pedaling, it usually means that your saddle height is too high. Another sign would be if you have to point your toes at the bottom of the pedal stroke to finish the rotating motion. Ideally, you want to feel just a little bit of movement in the hips while pedaling and your feet should be almost parallel to the ground at the bottom of the pedal stroke. 

Special conditions and previous injuries can greatly affect how a bike should be set up. Professional bike fitters will take into account all these past and present conditions in order to dial in the perfect bike fit. If, while riding your bike, you feel any pain in your articulations, please contact a professional bike fitter and get an appointment.  

Cleat positioning (optional) 

If you bought your bike and plan to use it with clip pedals right away, it is important to position the cleats on your shoes before starting to adjust the bike. This operation can be skipped if you are using regular flat pedals and shoes. It’s important to take into account your personal physiognomy. Further adjustments will have to be made if your feet are naturally pointing outwards or inwards. Do not hesitate to seek the help of a professional bike fitter if you feel pain in your knees, ankles or feet while riding. 

Center the cleat front and back to the largest portion of the shoe toe box, which is where the metatarsal bone of your big toe would be. For the left and right placement, the center of the cleat should align with the center of the heel. If you have a cleat with a few degrees of float, while pedaling, you should have some freedom of movement when moving your heel inwards and outwards. If you have no movement on one side or the other, it means the position of your cleats is not allowing your feet to be in its natural and neutral position. Adjust accordingly to allow for some movement on either side.  

Can I transfer my bike fit? 

If you already spent a lot of time and effort on dialing-in the fit of your current bike, buying a new machine might be stressful. Fortunately, it is absolutely possible to transfer the fit of your current bike to the new one if a few key aspects are taken into account.  

The most important aspect would be to make sure that the new bike has a similar geometry as the current bike. For example, a size 54 cm aero race bike has a much more aggressive geometry than an endurance road bike of the same size. Trying to match the fit will be hard, and in some cases, impossible. That being said, a difference of a few millimeters here and there is totally acceptable and transferring your fit won’t be a challenge. 

Another key aspect would be to make sure that the contact points are similar in size on both bikes. The saddle, crank length and handlebar width would be the most important ones. For instance, a wider or narrower handlebar will change the effective reach of the bike. Different crank lengths will have an impact on saddle height and fore and aft.  

If the contact points are similar and the geometry is within a few millimeters, you can take your tape measure out and start transferring your fit.  

 

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