By Monika Blewett
Whether you’re planning to buy a new bike this year or getting your trusty steed ready for another great cycling season, proper bike fit is essential for comfort and to prevent injury.
First, make sure your bike shop has helped you select the correct frame size. After that, you can make several adjustments -that make for a better ride. This means adjusting the stem, seat post, handlebars, and sometimes the crank arms (where the pedals are attached).
To get the most power from each pedal stroke and to prevent knee strain,the height of your seat is crucial. On most bikes, you shouldn’t be able to sit on the saddle and have your feet flat on the ground. If your saddle is too low, you can’t have a proper pedal stroke. That can lead to knee pain and quad cramps. The saddle should be high enough so you can straighten your leg with your heel placed on the pedal in the six o’clock position.
Once you’ve determined the correct saddle height, you should check the fore/aft position. Begin with the saddle level. Tilt the nose up or down after a ride or two depending on your personal preference.
While seated on the bike, with the left pedal in the nine o’clock position, place the ball of your left foot over the pedal axle. [The pedal axle is where the centre of the pedal attaches onto the crank arm.] You may want some help measuring this. Locate the bony protrusion just below your left kneecap. If you drop a line from this spot on your knee, it should fall directly to the pedal axle. [You can use a piece of string and tie your house key to the end of it.]
Some mountain bikers move their saddle further back to generate more climbing power but you need strong knees for that. The saddle fore/aft adjustment is so important that if you develop any knee problems from cycling this is one of the first adjustments you should check.
Once you’ve correctly adjusted the seat, you need to check the handlebars.
Before the introduction of WSD or “woman specific designs” this was often the most difficult adjustment for women. Women have longer legs and shorter torsos than men, so on a bike built for a man they had to reach too far for the handlebars. One solution for this is a shorter stem to allow your body a forward lean of approximately 45 degrees. Here’s a quick check you can do: when seated on your bike, with your hands on the bars and elbows slightly bent, look down at the front hub. [The front hub is the centre of the front wheel where all the spokes are.] If your stem is the correct length, you should not be able to see the hub! The height of the handlebar is a matter of personal preference and varies with the type of rider. Keep in mind that a lower handlebar is not only more aerodynamic but also helps to distribute some of your weight to your hands so it’s not all on your seat.
The final adjustment is the easiest one, and best done at your bike shop. The width of your handlebar affects not only comfort but also bike handling. Until recently, most handlebars were made for broad male shoulders and had to be cut down for women (easiest with straight mountain bike handlebars). Now, handlebars made especially for women can be purchased at bike stores.
A word of caution: All changes in bike fit should be made in small increments so your body can adjust gradually. Feeling good on your bike is the key to an enjoyable ride or a successful competition. And if you feel good, you’ll have a much more enjoyable ride!
Monika is a certified Cycling Coach with the Canadian Cycling Association and has achieved her
Ontario Cycling Association’s Level One instructor certificate.