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How to fit your Road Bicycle

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How to fit your Road Bicycle

The most basic point to keep in mind while buying a bicycle is the size of the bicycle. To do this, your height plays a key role and helps determine the frame size best suited to you. There are size guides available to know which bicycle size suits your height. A major misconception is that once you get the sizing right, the bicycle is ready to be ridden. Some might be lucky and this might be the case. However, to achieve the most efficient performance while on the saddle, you might have to adjust the positioning of various components of the bicycle, this is known as a bike fit. Below are the different aspects that are adjusted while getting a bike fit done, and how to do them yourself.  


It is important that your saddle is level and well centred. To centre the seat, place a flat horizontal object on the seat and compare the edges to a horizontal levelled sight line such as a window sill or the top of a building. Most cyclists do fine on levelled saddles, however if you experience discomfort tip the saddle slightly up or down (no more than 2-3 degrees). Commonly, men prefer it tipped up while women prefer it tipped down slightly. While adjusting the levelling of your saddle, ensure that it is centred on its rails over the seat post.  


The easiest way to adjust one’s seat height is to mount your bicycle on a trainer and do it yourself. To get the optimum seat height, place your heels on the pedals and pedal backwards. An indication of the optimum seat height is when your legs are completely extended at the bottom of the pedal strokes with your heels on the pedals. You seat is too high if your hips rock while pedalling. You can mark the position on the seat post once you’ve identified the best suited height with electrical tape or a marker, for future reference.  

If you don’t have a trainer, you can use the help of a friend to hold the bicycle near a doorway when you mount it. Make sure there is something to hold onto, though.  

Another way to adjust the saddle height would be to raise it to the level of your hip bone, this is effective and usually the optimum height. You can adjust this if necessary. 

How to fit your Road Bicycle - Saddle
How to fit your Road Bicycle - Cleats


If you ride in cycling shoes, it is important that the cleats on the soles are well-positioned. There are two main adjustments to make – fore/aft and angular.  

Fore/Aft: Position the cleats so that the balls of your feet rest over the centres of the pedals (the axles) when pedalling. To check this, hold your feet level on the pedals and look from the top when you are on your bicycle. The balls of your feet form protrusions on the inside of the shoes and they should rest over the axles. If they don’t, adjust the positioning of your cleats till they do.  

Angular: Making this adjustment is mostly based on trial and error. Ideally, your cleat position should allow you to rest 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. 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. 


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). Get on your bicycle and pedal backwards until you're sitting comfortably on the saddle. Move your feet into a position such that your knee is in line with the pedal axle. The forward crank arm 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 crank arm. 

If you're over 6-feet tall, ride long distances, climb a lot and pedal at about 90 rpm, you may prefer to be as much as 1 to 2 cm behind the end of the crank arm. If you're less than 6-feet tall, spin at 95 rpm or faster and like to sprint, you'll probably prefer to be directly over the end of the crank arm. 

How to fit your Road Bicycle - Fore and Aft
How to fit your Road Bicycle - Handlebar reach


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 by your bike on a level surface and viewing it from the side comparing the height of the seat to the height of the bars. For road riding, a difference of 1 to 4 inches is optimal, even slightly more, if you prefer a more aggressive riding position. Ideally, a 45-degree back angle is comfortable. When the handlebar is at the right height, it should feel natural to look ahead without craning your neck.  


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. To check reach at home, mount your bike on a trainer and make sure the bike is level. Get on and pedal until you're comfortable and your upper body is relaxed. Look ahead as if you were looking down the road. For dropped handlebars, rest your hands on the tops of the brake levers. Now, have a helper look at you from the side 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 centre of the handlebar. Indicators of proper reach include: being able to always comfortably bend the elbows while riding, no hump in the back, a natural neck angle and equal pressure on the hands and seat. 


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. For optimal control and efficiency, drop handlebars should be about the same width as your shoulders. 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. 

How to fit your Road Bicycle - Handlebar size

These adjustments are easy to do by yourself at home, alone or with the help of a partner using a few basic tools. A proper bike fit is necessary to stay healthy on and off the bike. A well-adjusted bike will not only increase your performance on the saddle, but also keep all aches and pains at bay. If you haven’t got your bike fit done yet, try it out and be amazed by the difference you feel on your next ride! 


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