Bike Fitting Advice

One of the most important aspects of getting the most out of your road bike, is the fit. Almost every bike shop that deals in road bikes offers a bike fitting service these days, often with varying results. I have had professional bike fittings myself, and, like gait analysis in running, the results can be worse than not having it done at all. If you are a professional rider, an extreme aero position is great – if you work in an office all week, bending over double on the bike at the weekends because that’s the way you saw the guy on TV that won Ironman Kona does it, might not be the best for you, or for your performance.

My experience of bike fittings is that the fitting often owes more to the bike fitters preferences and experience than what might necessarily be best for the customer. If a fitter is working with 20-something professional cyclists all week, the fitting he or she does for the 42 year old accountant that comes in on a Saturday may just end up not doing him an awful lot of good.

To that end, I have found the following measurements, based on a combination of tips from a former professional cyclist, information from club cyclists, and my own experience, seem to work well for most average cyclists doing training for triathlons or road racing on a normal road bike. I have passed on these measurements to quite a few people, and most seemed to feel they worked well – including a few who had been unhappy with professional fittings they paid for.
This isn’t to dismiss professional bike fitting – it has a place, and is ideal if the fitter takes the customers fitness level, desire to balance comfort with performance, and abilities into consideration – unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. In the absence of this ideal, try these tips to get a good bike fit:

  1. While standing up straight, measure your inseam – the distance from the floor to your crotch. Multiply this figure by 0.883 – Note this distance.
    Use this measurement to set your saddle height, by measuring from the centre of the Bottom Bracket to the top of your saddle, in the centre of the saddle length.
  2. Level your saddle using a spirit level.
  3. Drop a plumb line from the nose of the saddle. This line should be 5-6cm behind the centre of the bottom bracket.
  4. Place your elbow against the nose of the saddle. The tips of your fingers should be 8-9cm behind the handle bars.
  5. Sit on the bike. With your hands in the racing position (on the lower bars) your knees should pass close to your elbows.
    When you look down, you should not be able to see the hub of your front wheel.
    With your leg fully extended on the pedals, there should be a very slight bend in your knee.
    Your handlebars should be well below the height of your saddle.
    If you find you are getting back or or neck pain, try tilting your handlebars back slightly for a more relaxed position.