Bike Fit | Top 5 Ways And Tips To Do It Yourself Properly

BicycleHow-Tos & Tips

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What is Bike Fitting or How to define a proper bike fit?

In bike fitting, small adjustments are made to the cycle, such as to the saddle height, angle of the brake levers so that it suits your body. It does two things

  1. Improve your performance and output as a cyclist
  2. Prevent strains and injuries

Why is a Good Bike Fit Important?

A proper bike fitting is imperative so that you can produce the most power, more efficiently. But an even more important reason to get a proper bike fitting done is comfort. It provides:

Image credit: Avii Dayal

Better Comfort and Lower Chances of Injury

A good bike fitting ensures that your joints and muscles are held in biomechanically “friendly” or neutral positions. This helps in decreasing muscle and joint load. It also prevents muscle imbalances and recurring use injuries, and results in greater comfort.

Better Performance

After a good bike fitting, your body will be set in a position that encourages balanced muscle recruitment and more muscle engagement, helping you produce more power and have better endurance!

How to do a Perfect Bike Fit on Your Own? 

If you are reluctant to burn a hole in your pocket by investing in a professional bike fitting, you’ll be glad to know that you can do a bike fitting yourself! Here are a few tips and tricks to help you through: 

1. Fix the Saddle Position

There are a few adjustments you can make to your saddle – its height, its tilt and how forward or backward it is. Let’s look at each.

Seat Height

To fix your saddle position, measure your inseam length, and multiply it by 0.885. The resulting figure that you get should be the length of the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle. Adjust your saddle height accordingly.

This age-old equation is called the “LeMond” formula, named after the popular American cyclist himself. However, it gives a ballpark estimate as it does not take shoe soles, crank lengths, or pedal shapes into account. It assumes that all cyclists have the same flexibility and dimensions, so it cannot be fully trusted.

There is also an alternative technique for this. Start by dropping the crank to its full extension, and resting your heel on the pedal. Set the saddle height at a point so that your leg is straight at the fully extended position with just a soft bend in the knee.

Seat forward/backward

Image Credits: Convolution Bikes (Upendra Dreshpande)

Knee over pedal spindle (abbreviated as ‘KOPS’) is used to find the correct front/back position of the saddle. Make sure that feet are clipped in and the crank is horizontal or in a three-o’clock position. Drop a plumb line (imaginary or real) from the back of the kneecap to the pedal spindle. If it passes through the kneecap and the pedal spindle, that means your seat’s positioned correctly!

Seat Tilt or Angle

If you fix your bike seat at a wrong tilt or angle, it can cause more of your weight to rest on your hands and arms which can give rise to muscle tension. To achieve a neutral weight balance, you should install your saddle from anywhere between 1-2 degrees nose up. It prevents the tension and cramped feeling, and gives you more control over your bike. 

2. Fix the handlebar width, height, and rotation

Handlebar width:

Ideal handlebar width is something that differs from person to person. Some experts believe that a narrower handlebar reduces muscular tightness and fatigue by opening up the shoulders and back, while some believe that a wider handlebar opens up your chest and for better breathing and offers more control. Generally, you should use a handlebar that has a similar width to your shoulders. 

Handlebar height:

Handlebar height is normally low in performance road biking, relative to the saddle height, because the riding position is aggressive, the rider curves his back, lowers his centre of gravity, becomes highly aerodynamic and one with the bike. For such riding, it is recommended that the handlebar be “about 5-6 cm below the mid-point of the saddle”.

For recreational riding the top of the handlebar should be level with the saddle height, or a couple of centimetres below. It all depends on how much you want to lean or sink forwards, versus how upright you want to sit.

Handlebar rotation:

An MTB and handlebar bike have a pretty standard handlebar setting, straight. In road bikes, start by having your handlebar drops at an angle between five to fifteen degrees. Working within this range is advisable. Then start fine-tuning the angle until your hands rest comfortably on the drops. You can also adjust the height of the brake hoods. 

3. Fix the stem length

The stem is the component that holds the handlebar. The correct stem length allows you to reach the handlebar and brakes comfortably and keeps your upper body pain-free. As a rough guide, the stem length should be such that your elbows have a 30-degree bend when you have your hands on the handlebars in your normal riding position.

4. Fix the Cleat Position

Your feet are always clipped in whenever you are riding. This means that your feet are the most locked-up part of your body! Ensure that the cleat-pedal contact is comfortable.

If there is any misalignment, it’ll affect your ankles first, and then proceed to affect your knees, glutes, and lower back. It’s a chain process that you cannot afford to trigger. 

For fixing the cleat position, orientation is very important. Sit on a chair and let your feet dangle in the air. Ask a friend or family member to notice your feet angle. You’ll see that your feet naturally turn slightly in or out. Set up your cleats along the same angle to ensure a correct cleat position.

There’s another DIY technique to fix a cleat position. Stand upright and try to feel the bony knobs under your feet. The bony parts are your first and fifth metatarsal head. Mark them on the floor with the help of stickers and draw a line through them. The center of the cleat should coincide with this line, and you’re good to go! 

Also, cleats should be positioned in such a way that your foot’s heel isn’t too inward or outward. The angle of the cleat’s position should be similar to the angle at which your feet point while walking normally. 

To rectify the amount of tilt, you can install wedges in the shoe, or between the shoe and the cleat. If you need to widen your stance, you can also use pedal spacers. They can additionally widen the stance width by 20, 25 or 30 mm. 

If you want to narrow your stance, you might want to invest in a pedal system with a shorter spindle length instead. 

5. Fix the Crank Arm Length

Crank length determines how effectively you are able to generate pedalling force. Longer cranks give a lower gear ratio, and are only essential during uphill rides. The fact that longer cranks give more power is a myth. On the other hand, shorter cranks help you ride more aerodynamically. 

Having longer than necessary crank lengths can also make your thigh come up (almost to your chest!) which can give rise to joint pains and aches. Ideally, your crank length should be 9.7% of your height. 

Here’s a chart that you can follow to determine how long your crank arm should be:

HeightCrank Arm Length
6’0″ (1828mm)177.5mm
5’11” (1803mm)175mm
5’10” (1778mm)172.5mm
5’7″ (1702mm)165mm
5’5″ (1651mm)160mm

You can buy a crank arm of the required length and install it in your bike. All you have to do is unscrew the bolt, remove the crank arm, push the new one onto the spindle and screw it back securely. 

Read our article: Convert your tires into tubeless DIY

When to Do a Bike Fit?

We’ve listed a few common symptoms and their causes below. If you relate to them, chances are that your bike is a bad fit. 

1. If your feet or ankles hurt from cycling

The most important contact points with a cycle are your feet. Whenever you pedal, the foot is angled with the toes slightly upward at the top of the downstroke, and slightly downwards through the up stroke. Too much ‘ankling’ indicates that your saddle height is incorrect, and needs to be fixed.

Saddle height should never be too high or too low. If it’s too high, it will hurt the Achilles tendon (above the ankle), and if it’s too low it might cause it to pain due to too much heel-down pedaling style. Read ahead to learn what to do and prevent this problem.

2. If you are experiencing knee pain

The most common knee pain that cyclists experience concerns the patellofemoral joint (knee joint), and the forces that go through there. If your saddle height is too low, or if you sit too far forward, then these forces can get compressed. It can generate a knee pain that stings at every pedal stroke. An easy way to identify a bad fit is if you notice that your saddle is too high, and you’re reaching too far for the pedals. 

3. If your lower back hurts

If you are experiencing pains in your lower back area, it’s dead sure that your saddle’s height is incorrect. It’s either too high or you’re overreaching to the front end.

4. If your hands and arms are having to work hard

Having to reach too far for the handlebars can create extra pressure on the biceps which can result in locked out arms. It’s better to have the handlebar at a distance such that your arms are slightly bent. It helps in changing the riding position quickly. Your arms are not supposed to ache while bicycling, and if they do, then chances are your bike is a bad fit.

Final word: Should you do a bike fit on your own or seek professional help?

Get started with DIY bike fitting. If you have money constraints and don’t want to spend much in a professional bike fitting session, this DIY guide can be a lifesaver. Plus, none of the changes are irreversible. You can always lower your saddle if it’s too high, or fix your cleat all over again if you feel it doesn’t fit. And when you like, you can always go ahead and seek professional help! 

*Featured image credit: Harshil Vanjara

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