Cycling comfort and efficiency begin with a bike that fits right.

Before buying a bike, you should take several models for test rides. When you narrow your choice to one bicycle, ask for a personal fitting to ensure the bike is adjusted to your body. Most shops will allow you to bring the bike back for adjustments, if needed, during the first month or so.

When you’re getting acquainted with your bike, make notes of any aches or pains that develop as you ride. They could be resolved with minor adjustments to seat height or tilt of the handlebars.

Standover height

Finding the right standover height ensures your bike is correct size for your leg length and flexibility. Wear your cycling shoes to the fitting.

Road bikes:

Generally, you want about 1” of clearance between your body and a straight top tube. When you lift the bike you should have approximately 1” of clearance between the ground and tires.

Mountain bikes:

Generally, when straddling your bike, you want 2” minimum clearance between the tire and the ground when you lift the frame. If your bike has full suspension, you’ll want less initial standover clearance.

Bike seat height

Place the bike in a stand or ask someone to hold the bike upright while you sit on it. Ideally, at the bottom of a pedal stroke you want to feel a slight bend in your knee. Secure the seat at the ideal height. Make minor adjustments, as necessary.

Taylor Phinney and Matthew Busche Shake Hands - OutThere Colorado
BMC’s Taylor Phinney, left, shakes hands with Treck Factory Racing’s Matthew Busche before the start of Stage 1 of the 2015 USA Pro Challenge in Steamboat Springs. Photo Credit: Christian Murdock

Bike seat position

Ask a friend to support the bike while you sit in the saddle with your feet on the pedals. Your knee should be aligned over your forefoot for greatest efficiency. When in the correct position, a plumb line dropped from the bottom of your kneecap would lead to the ball of your foot. This means most riders will pedal with their shins angled just slightly forward.

To achieve the correct shin tilt, loosen the seatpost binder bolt and slide the saddle forward or backward as needed.

For most riders, the saddle should be parallel to the ground. To make saddle tilt adjustments, simply loosen the saddle binder bolt (or bolts) at the top of your seatpost (directly underneath your saddle) and adjust as needed.

Bike stem length and angle

Your stem length and angle determine how far you reach and bend at the waist to reach the handlebars. If you need to increase or decrease the stem length for a comfortable reach to the bars, you will most likely need to have a bike shop change out the stem to one that is the correct length and angle.

To gauge the fit of your stem, ask a friend to support the bike while you’re on the saddle. You want a modest amount of bend in your arms without having to reach too far to apply the brakes. If it feels as though you could comfortably play piano keys on your handlebar, your arms are in a good position.

This should place your back at a 45-degree angle, which puts your head in a forward-tilted position and keeps shifters and brake levers within easy reach.

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