Bike fit points of contact

5 Bike Fit Tips That’ll Improve Your Comfort and Power

By Jim Lehman – CTS Premier Coach

How you position yourself on the bike makes a huge difference in terms of comfort, power, and aerodynamics. While it’s a good idea for all cyclists and triathletes to get a professional bike fit, there are some basic guidelines you can use to troubleshoot problem areas and generally set yourself up in a neutral position.
The goal is to achieve a position that allows you to ride your bike without creating any injuries and one that will allow you to ride your bike for years. As an added bonus, the right fit will also make you more efficient and powerful.

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Points of Contact: Saddle, Handlebar, Pedals

1. Try a Saddle Before You Buy

Saddle-Setback

 

Finding the right saddle can be a bit of a process because it’s important to find the curvature, width, and shape that is comfortable for you.

Saddles with more curvature (and/or a channel down the center) are often great for athletes who have limited flexibility through the hips and lower back. The curvature allows you to rotate your hips forward more easily without putting too much pressure on sensitive areas.

The width and amount of padding in the saddle also have a big impact on comfort and performance. Finding the right saddle may take some time and some trial and error, so work with your local bike shop – many have a loaner program – so you don’t have to make a huge financial investment. A quick ride in the parking lot is often not enough to tell you whether a saddle will work for you in the long run.

Ergon offers a saddle selector tool that takes into account several factors that can help narrow down the best options for you.

2. Determining Saddle Setback

Knee-Pedal-Spindle

 

Move the saddle forward or backward so your knee is over the pedal spindle when the crank is in the 3 o’clock position.
Again, this is a good starting point, and then you can adjust your cleats fore and aft as needed.

Use your thumb to feel the ball of your foot on the inside of your shoe. With a pen, put a small mark on this point of your shoe so you can set the cleat using this as a landmark.

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3. Basics of Setting Saddle Height

Saddle-Height (1)

 

While you can dial this in perfectly with a professional fit, here are some guidelines for roughly setting up your saddle height. These are especially useful when you have to jump on a loaner bike or even a bike in a hotel fitness center.

  • Start with the saddle in a level position, parallel to the floor.
  • Sitting on the saddle, pedal with your heels on the pedals. Your foot should maintain contact with the pedal without having to rock your hips.

4. Pay Attention to the Shoe-Pedal Connection

Shoe-Pedal

 

The pedals are your third point of contact with the bike.  It’s important that the platform is large enough to feel secure (not like you’re standing on ice cubes).

And the most critical piece will be adjusting the cleats properly, to make sure you have a stable and tight shoe to pedal connection that will ensure optimal power transfer and allow you to ride injury-free.

As a general starting point for many riders, you can set the middle indicator on the cleat slightly back, about 5mm, from the ball of your foot.

The angling of cleats and the lateral distance they are set from the crank (Q-factor) is dependent on each rider’s individual body structure, however, you want to make sure you don’t feel any twisting or tension in the ankles, knees, and hips while pedaling. You can start with the cleats set straight ahead and make minor adjustments from there. Note that each foot could require different angling.

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5. Handlebar Width and Reach Makes a Difference

bike handlebar width

 

With the handlebar, look at the drop and the width of the bars. If you have relatively small hands or a shorter torso, look for a shallow drop bar. The width of the bar should match the width of your shoulders, which will keep your arms in a neutral position when your hands are on the brake hoods.

You also want to ensure the handlebar reach is neither too long or short, as it can cause neck, shoulder, back pain, and compromise bike handling. You should be able to reach the hoods with a comfortable bend in the elbows without feeling like you need to scoot your body forward or backward on the saddle.

This should get you started, but if you need more help don’t hesitate to seek out the advice of your local bike fit professional. You can learn more about CTS 3D Dynamic Bike Fits here.

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Comments 7

  1. Pingback: How to Start Training for Cycling - CTS

  2. No one mentions pedal axle extenders when it comes to bike fit. I’m not tall, but I have wide hips. When I switched to clipless pedals, my ankles would begin to ache near the end of every ride. No amount of cleat adjustment would help because doing so would also lead to hot foot problems. And then I discovered pedal axle extenders. They widen my stance on the bike so my hips and feet and ankles are in a more natural position. Though extenders add some weight to my bike, it’s a small price to pay since I now ride in comfort.

  3. Once you find a saddle that fits your bum, use it until it is no longer available! Don’t be enticed by the “latest cool thing”, and don’t worry if it is a couple of ounces heavier. It is all about power generation and to maximize power you need the best seat.

  4. When looking for a saddle go to a bicycle shop that can find your correct saddle width and type for the kind of riding you do. There are too many options out there to try them all. Get measured. Listen to the professional. Be comfortable, powerful and efficient.

  5. for item 3 – saddle height, this no-hip-rocking benchmark would apply to both a too high and too low seat position? This topic seems a tad lightly covered given the importance of saddle height and how a improper adjustment can lead to either injury or diminished power.

    I always arrived at saddle height another way but look forward to given this a try.

    Thank you for the continued tips

  6. On finding a saddle…ask around to your fellow cyclists to see if they have one they bought which didn’t work out for them. Borrowing such a saddle gives you an easy way to try different ones and a chance to buy one cheap, and the person you bought it from will be glad to have gotten rid of it. Win-win!

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