When buying a bicycle, most people are aware of the importance of the size of the frame they choose. However, while this holds true and is important, once the cycle is bought it needs to be fitted well to ensure efficiency in performance. This is not something many first-time buyers are aware of, and often end up wondering where their unsightly pains and aches are from and more often than not giving up cycling stating that it is too painful an activity! Since most bodies are different from each other, minor adjustments can be made to one’s cycle to ensure absolute comfort and efficiency when on the saddle. Here are a few simple tips for a basic bike fit which can be done by you at the comfort of your own home.
Adjust the Seat Height
The easiest way to adjust one’s seat height is to mount your bicycle on a trainer and do it yourself. To get the optimum seat height, place your heels on the pedals and pedal backwards. An indication of the optimum seat height is when your legs are completely extended at the bottom of the pedal strokes with your heels on the pedals. You seat is too high if your hips rock while pedalling. You can mark the position on the seat post once you’ve identified the best suited height with electrical tape or a marker, for future reference.
If you don’t have a trainer, you can use the help of a friend to hold the bicycle near a doorway when you mount it. Make sure there is something to hold onto, though.
Another way to adjust the saddle height would be to raise it to the level of your hip bone, this is effective and usually the optimum height. You can adjust this if necessary.
Adjust the Saddle
It is important that your saddle is level and well centred. To centre the seat, place a flat horizontal object on the seat and compare the edges to a horizontal levelled sight line such as a window sill or the top of a building. Most cyclists do fine on levelled saddles, however if you experience discomfort tip the saddle slightly up or down (no more than 2-3 degrees). Commonly, men prefer it tipped up while women prefer it tipped down slightly. While adjusting the levelling of your saddle, ensure that it is centred on its rails over the seat post.
Finding Fore/AFT Seat Position
Place your bike on a level surface next to a wall or post so you can hold yourself upright (or put it on a trainer, but be sure to level the bike). Get on your bicycle and pedal backwards until you're sitting comfortably on the saddle. Move your feet into a position such that your knee is in line with the pedal axle. The forward crank arm and pedal must be level with the ground. The fore/aft seat adjustment is correct when a plumb line (any piece of string with a weight on the end) hanging from your kneecap, touches the end of the crank arm. If you're over 6-feet tall, ride long distances, climb a lot and pedal at about 90 rpm, you may prefer to be as much as 1 to 2 cm behind the end of the crank arm. If you're less than 6-feet tall, spin at 95 rpm or faster and like to sprint, you'll probably prefer to be directly over the end of the crank arm.
Adjusting the Handlebar Height
The first bar-height check is comfort. If you're sore during or after rides particularly in the lower back and/or neck, the bars may need adjustment. Inspect bar height by standing your bike on a level surface and viewing it from the side comparing the height of the seat to the height of the bars. Usually, the handlebars on hybrid bicycles are level with the seat height, to enable a comfortable riding position.
Adjusting the Handlebar Reach
A proper reach to the handlebars is the key to enjoying comfortable rides. If the bars are too close or too far away, you may experience neck, shoulder, back and hand pain. And, it can cause you to scoot backward or forward on your seat all the time. To check reach at home, mount your bike on a trainer and make sure the bike is level. Get on and pedal until you're comfortable with your upper body relaxed. Look ahead as if you were looking down the road. Now, have a helper look at you from the side to gauge where a plumb line dropped from the tip of your nose would fall. Optimally, there should be about an inch between the plumb line and the centre of the handlebar. Indicators of proper reach include: being able to always comfortably bend the elbows while riding, no hump in the back, a natural neck angle and equal pressure on the hands and seat.
Most bicycles today come with handlebars that suit the person who fits the bike. So, it's likely that your handlebars fit adequately. Most hybrids have wider handlebars to ensure a comfortable, open-chested riding position. If necessary, after a couple of rides you can get handlebar grips or extenders if you feel the need for wider grips.
These adjustments are easy to do by yourself at home, alone or with the help of a partner using a few basic tools. A proper bike fit is necessary to stay healthy on and off the bike. A well-adjusted bike will not only increase your performance on the saddle, but also keep all aches and pains at bay. If you haven’t got your bike fit done yet, try it out and be amazed by the difference you feel on your next ride!