What is the Proper Bike Fit?

Bike fits are so incredibly important! Whether you are a recreational athlete who only rides a few hours a week, or a dedicated elite cyclist who prides yourself on your mileage and speed, you would benefit from getting a bike fit.

Your bike should not be uncomfortable to ride. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told things like, “My bike just isn’t comfortable” or “I have a lot of pain if I ride longer than an hour.” That should not be the case. You can fix that and you should.

Please Note: I am not a bike fit specialist. Most fit experts have some sort of fit certification. The information in this article is coming from my own experience and “Andy Pruitt’s Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists.” Listen to your body and use your own discretion. It is my hope that this information will encourage you to seek out the help of a fit specialist.

Not All Fits are Created Equal

There is a huge range of bike fits and depending on your needs and desires there will likely be a version that will stand out for you. Bike fits can be extremely expensive. They can take hours and you can walk away with more equipment that you need to purchase. If you are an elite athlete looking to optimize every pedal stroke then this is ideal for you.

The price point alone, though, can be very intimidating to people.  If that’s the case for you then walk into your local bike shop and ask if they have anyone on staff who does basic bike fits. You might be able to find someone who can just adjust and work with what you already had at a reasonable price.

If you’re still hesitant and not sure if a bike fit is right for you, then read through the rest of this article and see where you fall on the spectrum. Use this information to see if you are within normal limits and to understand how much thought can go into every millimeter on the bike.

Saddle Height:

Bike Fit Knee Angle
Please note: You will need assistance to hold the goniometer in place. The photo is for a general example and is not executed to perfection.

Saddle height is usually the first thing people set when they get a new bike. It’s amazing though how a couple of millimeters can seem to make all of the difference in comfort. Here’s a quick way to gauge where you are.

If you are having pain at the front of your knee when riding then your saddle might be too low. If you are having pain behind the knee then your saddle might be too high.

When your foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke, place a goniometer at the center of your knee. The top arm should point to the hip bone (greater trochanter) and the bottom arm should face the ankle bone (lateral malleolus). The bend in your knee should range from 25-35 degrees.

Keep in mind that for a mountain bike, your saddle height might differ as much as a centimeter from the other bikes you ride.

Handlebar Position:

Bike Fit Back Angle
Please note: You will need assistance to hold the goniometer in place. The photo is for a general example and is not executed to perfection.

Along with other factors, the handlebar position can help to establish your ‘reach’ on the bike or in other words how bent or straight your arms are and how bent over your body is. If you are experiencing hand or arm pain or numbness it might be because of your reach. Back pain can also often be remedied by adjusting this measurement.

With your hands on the handlebars. Place the center of the goniometer at the hip. One arm should be in line with your back and the other should be parallel to the ground. The angle of your bend is going to vary greatly. It can range from 25 degrees if you are a very elite rider, all the way up to 60 degrees if you are novice. A mountain biker will usually find themselves somewhere around 45 degrees.

Handlebar position is one of the most personal measurements on the bike so don’t be afraid to try out a few positions and continue to go back to your fit specialist with feedback. Remember that the distance to your handlebars is influenced by saddle height, spacers, bar width, and more.

Pedal and Cleats:

Cleat Position

Cleat position can be the culprit of feet, knee, and hip pain. The body is a unit and one thing usually impacts another. In general, your cleat should sit right on the ball on your foot. Put your shoe on, feel for the ball of your foot and mark it with a pen. That way, when you take the shoe off to put the cleat on, you know exactly where it is.

Cleat tilt: Sit at the edge of a bench or table where your legs can dangle. With your hips, knees, and ankles at 90 degree look at your feet. That is usually the angle that you wish to have your feet placed on the pedal. Try to mimic that angle with the rotational position on your cleat.

Other Concepts:

There are so many other elements that go into fit position: seat tilt, saddle setback, frame size, forefoot angle and more. All of these elements are relatively complicated and the help of an expert takes question out of it for you.

Take your Time:

When you first make an adjustment on the bike, it will probably feel strange. Give your body a little bit of time to adapt. Try the new position (unless it causes pain) for about 2 weeks before you make the decision to change again.

Everyone deserves to ride pain-free!

Bike Fit Openning

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