People ride bikes for various reasons - transport, fun, to be active, and for competition. Although these reasons are all different, they should have one thing in common: riding your bike should be comfortable.
So what can you do if you’re not comfortable on your bike? How do you make it fit you?
Setting up your bike is usually a matter of a few adjustments if your bike is the proper size. Generally speaking, with both feet on the ground straddling your bike you should have a few centimetres (about two-five) between you and the top of the bike frame.
For those cyclists who rack up many kilometers, getting a bike fit is worth it. A bike fit can cost from $100 to $300 and takes a few hours. Ask local bike shops or cycling clubs for recommendations on a good bike fitter.
For the DIY approach, here’s what I recommend:
- The ideal seat height is when your leg is nearly straight but still has a slight bend in the knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke (6 o’clock position). With too high of a seat you’ll rock side to side when riding. With a seat that’s too low, you’ll be less efficient and stress your knees.
- Finding the perfect seat (called a saddle in cycling lingo) is a matter of trying a few until you find one that is comfortable. Your riding position also comes into account. Get a narrower saddle with less padding if you race and have an aggressive cycling position where you are low, or if you are doing many kilometers daily like biking to and from work. The narrower saddle with less padding allows you to sit on your “sit bones” and it doesn’t push into your thigh and butt muscles making it better for these activities. But if you ride in a more up-right position (like you would on a hybrid or cruiser bike), a larger more padded saddle might be more comfortable.
- Check to see how forwards or backwards your seat is. To test this, tie a small weight onto a piece of string and bring your bike up beside a wall, fence, or counter for support. Sit on your bike, hold on to your support and make the pedals horizontal, level with the floor at 3 and 9 o’clock positions. With your free hand, hold the string on the top of your knee cap and let the weight drop to your foot. You want the string and weight to land around the middle of the pedal. If the string and weight lands in front of the pedal, your alignment places lots of stress on your knee. To fix this, you should move your seat back a bit. The angle of your seat should be flat or slightly pointing downwards towards the front.
- Higher handlebars will be more comfortable. If you wish to have a lower handlebar height (for aerodynamic reasons), make sure you are flexible enough (especially your hamstrings and glutes) so your lower back doesn’t round too much. Adjust the rotation of the handlebars so that your wrists are aligned with your forearms.
- The last point of contact is the pedals. Many people are happy using flat pedals. Their main advantage is that you can simply use your regular sneakers. Competitive cyclists, avid commuters or those bike-touring, often use clip in pedals and cycling shoes. The benefit of this system is that you can also pull upwards when pedalling making you more efficient. It takes a little practice to get used to clipping in but once you get it, it’s a breeze.
It can be a challenge to get your bike fit spot on the first time so be open to making minor adjustments as you go. Remember a comfy bike is a fun bike!
Healthlink BC: Bob's Story: Biking for Health