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Basic Bike Fitting For Newbies

"Bike Fitting" is something every cyclist should be familiar with. This term is often mistaken for Bike Sizing by newcomers to the sport. So in this post, we shall try to clarify the concept and help the reader perform a basic bike fit to get them started.

Bike Sizing

Bike Sizing is, in essence, the selection of the "correct size" of the bicycle according to the height of the rider. Physical aspects under consideration include mainly rider height and leg-length (also called inseam clearance or stand-over height) however, for advance level training for road cycling/time trials/triathlons, etc., arm length is also factored in. Bike Sizing is the first stepping stone in achieving a correct Bike Fit. Generally speaking, you cannot have a proper bike fit with an inappropriately sized bicycle.

Bike Fitting

Bike Fitting is the science of adjusting the adjustable parts of the bicycle for comfortable and pain free riding.  This process involves a series of adjustments to "fit" the bicycle according to the rider's individual body demands.
The most important thing to remember is that bike fitting is an ongoing process. Your body changes with time. Young people get taller, some can gain or lose weight. Body flexibility and strength also change depending on your fitness routine.  So the general recommendation is to check & adjust bike fitting once a year.

How to do a basic bike fit

A basic bike fit can be performed at home to get comfortable on the bike. It would not provide race worthy, fully optimised fit but is sufficient for commuting & recreational riding. A helper is required to hold the bicycle while you mount the bicycle to test the adjustments at the stationary bicycle.

Considering that you have fulfilled the primary requirement of a proper bike fit, i.e.; you bought a properly sized bicycle according to your height, next there are two main parts to be adjusted for fitting the bike to your anatomy:

1) Saddle Adjustments (Height, Setback & Tilt):

Saddle height is the most important bike fit adjustment needed.  There are multiple methods to do it but heel method gets you started quickly as it is the easiest to do but is considered least accurate. So it will work for an average rider/commuter cyclist.  However, for serious riders who wish to maximise power transfer from legs to pedals, more precise adjustments are required. Riders interested in such optimisations are encouraged to search & read up about 109% and knee angle methods of saddle height adjustments.

Start by keeping the crank arms parallel to the seat tube. Sit on the saddle and put your heel on the pedal. If your feet can’t reach the pedal, lower the saddle until you can. On the other hand, if your leg is bent at the knee while you heel is on the pedal, you need to raise the saddle.  Keep adjusting until your leg is straight (no bend at the knee) while your heel rests comfortably on the pedal. That's it!

Saddle tilt (angle) should be straight/flat. You can use a bubble level instrument or mobile app to level the saddle flat.  If that results in discomfort in the groin area during rides, the saddle nose can be tilted slightly downwards to provide relief.  Saddle nose is generally never tilted upwards as this position puts extra pressure on the sensitive groin area that can become very uncomfortable very quickly.

Lastly, for ballpark saddle setback, your saddle rails should be clamped on the seat post clamp at  centre position. If you find yourself frequently adjusting your seating position forward or backwards while riding, move the saddle forward (if you slip backwards) or backwards (if you are slipping forward) in small increments until you are no longer slipping on saddle during rides. Avoid sliding the saddle to the very ends either way beyond the max limit marks on the saddle rails.

2) Handlebar Adjustments

For straight handlebars, generally the only adjustment required is brake levers angle that we will discuss here.  The lever angle should be set in such a way that while sitting on the saddle, rider's forearm, wrist and fingers put on the brake lever should be in a straight line.  This will prevent painful wrists and numb hands.

Handlebar Height, Reach and Drop Angle (for curved/road bike handlebar) are advance topics and out of scope of this post. Similarly, when using clip-less shoes, an additional set of adjustments is needed for the cleats but that is again an advance topic too complex to cover in this post.  For such advance topics (that are generally related to road bike fitting), the best resource we have come across on the internet is bikefit.com. Of course there are lots of video tutorials on YouTube as well.

In the west, bike fitting is a charged (and expansive) service performed by professionals using a plethora of sensors, software and/or computerised bike fitting tools. It is an expensive exercise because it may need bicycle part changes, e.g., installing smaller length cranks or longer sized stem, etc., that are charged separately from the bike fit session charges. However, with the purchase of a new bike, a basic bike fit is part of the package. In Pakistan as well, Bikestan and Bike Concepts provide both a basic bike fit with the purchase of a bicycle as well as advance bike fitting for a price.  Bikewrench also provides bike fitting service.

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