Whether you’re a recreational or competitive cyclist, the fit of your bike is as important a part of your ride as the number of miles you cover and the intensity of your training program. Each component of the bike needs to be adjusted to your body requirements to ensure that you and your bike are well matched. Furthermore, your height, flexibility, joint mechanics, and posture can all affect your comfort and efficiency; therefore, it is important to make the necessary adjustments before your first ride. Here are a few factors to consider:
Your Goals as a Cyclist
Proper bike fit is largely dictated by the goals of the cyclist, so it’s important to know what you want to get out of your riding. Are you looking to complete a road race, take a long bike tour, speed through the bike leg of a triathlon, or use your bike for commuting or riding around your neighborhood?
- Competitive riders need to be able to move in more than one plane. We’re looking to create a relaxed and efficient position where one breathes easily and does not spend more energy than necessary to ride the bike.
- A road biker, who needs to ride for long distances, will generally be looking for a sustainable position: riding with a relaxed elbow and a position that allows them to breathe deeply.
- Recreational riding, like taking a few spins around your local park, should be ultra relaxed, and requires the proper saddle height adjustment. The most common mistake I come across in this class of rider is having the saddle too low, putting too much force on the knees.
Points of Contact
When riding a bike, there are a few key points of contact that require your attention:
- The position of your hands on the handle bar
- The placement of your feet on the foot pedal interface
- Your posture when seated on the saddle
Each point of contact has a range of influences, and a good bike fit involves multiple interactions of all these things. For example, if you raise the handle bar so that your hands are higher, that will also influence your center of balance and the angle of your hips and trunk. Remember that bicycles and their components, such as crank arms, handlebar stems, and saddles, come in different sizes and can be swapped out for parts that suit you better.
You should be able to sit on your bike and extend your arms to the handlebars by bending at your hip, not your spine. Core strength is key if you want to hold that position. Otherwise other parts of your body, such as your elbows, hips, and knees, will have to compensate, which can leave you vulnerable to injury. It doesn’t matter if you’re riding a road bike, a mountain bike, or a folding bike for commuting. You have to be able to hold your core stable.
We also look at changes that take place in your body over the course of the day. Disc compression and arch compression combined can result in up to 4 and half centimeters of deviation! There is a fun experiment you can try before you go looking for a bike: measure your height in the morning when you first get up and then again in the evening before bed for a week, and see how much change takes place over the course of the day.
The reason we look at your posture is that your position on the bike changes as your strength waxes and wanes over the course of the day. We therefore do not assume that any one position is correct, but aim for a number of “correct” positions over the course of the ride. We treat the rider space on the bike as a cockpit in which the rider can move around as they need to.
As you can see, ensuring that your bike fits you comfortably, safely, and efficiently relies on a wide range of factors. Bike fitting services such as those available at HSS can help you identify and resolve any issues and get the most out of your ride. Additional resources include your local bike shop, your friends in the cycling community, and the International Bike Fitting Institute.
Updated on July 15, 2019