Bike fit is an essential part of your cycling. Having your bicycle correctly set up for you will keep you injury free, comfortable, and make you stronger and faster. Having your bike correctly fit to you will:
- Improve your comfort – particularly your comfort in the saddle, and the pressure on your arms, neck and back.
- Boost your power and efficiency – a good bike fit will boost your strength in the pedal stroke, making you faster, but also more effective as you pedal.
- Protect you from injury – going on a bike ride involves rotating the pedals thousands of times, and if something isn’t quite right in how your body is functioning, it can magnify into injury very quickly.
There’s a misconception that getting a professional bike fit is just for Pros, but at PRO BIKE TOOL, we’d recommend that anyone riding regularly, or riding with any element of intensity, gets a proper bike fit so that they can get the most from their bike. You can do a basic bike fit yourself, but unless you’re an expert we’d recommend you get a qualified professional to look at you.
Professional bike fits are commonly performed using sophisticated computer programmes that measure your position on the bike and where key parts of your body interact with your bike, such as your wrists and sitbones. A good bike fitter will use this data, along with discussion as to how you feel and how much power you can produce in different positions, to find the optimal fit for you.
Bike Fit: The basics
The following are the key elements of bike fit, and the things that people first think about when setting up their bike.
This is the first thing that people think about when you mention bike fit to them. A saddle that is too high is likely to cause injuries due to over-extension of your leg as you pedal; however, a saddle that is too low will impede your power in the pedal stroke.
The Front End
Getting your handlebars the correct reach and drop from your saddle is another essential of bike fit. Having too aggressive a position on the bike – i.e., too long and low – will cause you back issues and saddle discomfort. This is altered by the length and height of your stem.
Bike Fit: The intricacies
There are a lot of elements to bike fit that people overlook and that can be very difficult to get right without an expert to help you. It is in the below points that a professional bike fit really comes into its own.
As well as saddle height, your saddle setback – that is, the position over the bottom bracket – will impact your power production and can play a large part in minimising injury. If your saddle is too far forward it can lead to pain in the front of the knees, and will be overly-recruiting your hamstrings. And vice versa, a saddle that is too far back can lead to pain at the rear of the knee and over-use of the quads.
If you’re a regular rider, presumably you have proper cycling shoes with cleats. The position of the cleat on the shoe can make a huge amount of difference to the muscles you use as you pedal, which impacts your power production and comfort.
Hood and brake lever
The position of your hoods and brake levers can be adjusted very finely, and this can make a surprisingly large difference to your overall ride comfort. If you’re finding your wrists or forearms are aching when you ride, that’s likely to be due to inappropriately positioned hoods. Even the smallest movement of these impact how your weight is distributed on the bike.
If you’re getting saddle sores, or shifting around a lot as you ride, there’s a chance your saddle isn’t well matched to your sit bones and flexibility. Saddles come in a variety of shapes and profiles, for example, some are lifted at the back, whereas some are very flat. A professional bikefitter will be able to assess the flexibility of your hip flexors and how far you can ‘hinge’ at the hip.
The elements assessed in a bike fit
A good bike fit will take many things into account, and the interplay of these will have a big impact onto your position on the bike:
- Your flexibility is a key element informing the position you can hold on the bike, and, for roadies, how aerodynamic you can make yourself. A proper bike fit will assess the mobility of your hips, shoulders and knees. Your ability to hinge at the hip will impact your pelvic rotation, which will affect how low you can get at the front of the bike – and thus how ‘long and low’ the front end of the bike is.
- Your goals
- The way your bike is fitted to you can alter depending on your goals and your type of riding. If you are a criterium racer, it’s likely your fit will be ‘long and low’, with a low front end and long stem aimed at giving you improved aerodynamics and lower centre of gravity for fast cornering. Contrastingly, if you ride long distances such as Fondos or gravel events, comfort will be as important as aerodynamics, and your position may be more upright to take the pressure off your lower back and neck.
- Any history of illnesses or imbalances in your body will play a large part in the way the bike is fitted to you. Issues with, for example, knee pains or tendonitis, can be eased a surprisingly large amount by your saddle fore-aft and height. Furthermore, ankle or foot problems can be addressed by cleat position or adding wedges underneath one cleat or the other to tilt your foot or effectively make one leg ‘shorter’.