Bike Fit Guide: How to Set Up Your Bike for Ultimate Performance and Comfort

From choosing the right bike size all the way to positioning yourself correctly. This guide has it all!

Bike fit guide

You’re going to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a new bike, but how do you know it will fit you nicely? 

A bad bike fit can lead to injuries that could have been easily avoided. Fortunately, there’s an easy solution with the right tools.

Our comprehensive bike fit guide it’s full of resources and shows you exactly how to get the proper bike fit for your body type and riding style. It covers everything from bike size, saddle height, handlebar position all the way down to cleat positioning so that when you finally buy a new bike or adjust your existing one, it’ll feel like riding a dream!

How to choose the right bike size?

In order to choose the right bike size for you, there are three key factors involved: your height, your inseam measurement, and your riding style.

Let’s look at them!

Height: Standing upright, with joined feet, use a tape measure and measure from the ground to the top of your head to find out your height.

Inseam length: This measure is very important, even though it is not displayed in most of the bike size charts, it will play a major role in your bike fit, specially setting your bike seat height.

Here is how to take it:

  1. Stand against a wall shoes off with your feet slightly away from one another
  2. Place a hardcover book between your legs. The spine of the book under your crotch.
  3. Imagine that the book is the bike seat, so the book should firmly touch the crotch.
  4. Make sure the book is levelled with the wall and measure from the spine of the book to the ground (or make a mark as i did). That is your inseam length!

Write them down and let’s move on to the next step.

Choose your riding style

Different bike frames are suitable for different purposes: mountain biking, road cycling, touring, etc. Knowing your riding style will be a crucial step before you even start to think about fitting your bike.

Mountain bikes: Are designed to be ridden in rough terrain, with wide tires, a lower average gear ratio, and flat handlebars. It is more comfortable than a road bike.

They are designed for off-road trail riding and have shock absorbers to smooth out the bumps on uneven ground.

Road bikes: This type of cycle is best suited for cyclists who love going fast and covering long distances in short times.

Usually, they have a more narrow tire and drop handlebars.

If you are looking for a more aggressive position, speed, comfort, and efficiency, then a road bike is the best choice for you.

Hybrid/commuter bikes: Combination of mountain bikes and road bikes. They can take a lot of punishment such as rough roads, potholes, and curbs.

These are the most versatile types of bikes since they are not limited to one kind of riding style.

They have a more upright position which makes them more comfortable than road bikes.

BMX bikes: They are designed for rough tracks and jumps. Some models even have pegs on the front wheel to allow stunts during freestyle riding.

How are bikes sized?

Apart from BMX and kid’s bikes that are sized by wheel size, other types of bikes are sized pretty much the same way, which is by seat tube length and categorized in S / M / L frame sizes with some variations depending on the manufacturer.

This doesn’t mean that if you are M in a road bike you’ll be the same size in other types of bikes. Bike’s geometry for each type of bike is designed to serve their main purpose, your main posture will change too and that’s why we created a size guide with charts for each of them:

Having the correct bike frame size will make your life so much easier and it will put you a pedal stroke closer to getting the perfect riding position. The opposite is also true!

Cleat position

The right cleat and foot position is when the center of the cleat is behind the 1st MTP (metatarsophalangeal) joint which is the same as the center of the ball of your big toe. And then locate the center of your ball foot in front of the pedal spindle

That is in theory, BUT.

Finding the right cleat position is hard. You can’t just set it and forget it, as you’ll have to adjust it often if you’re trying to find your ideal bike fit.

Most people make a mistake when setting their cleats and end up having knee pain or foot pain because of this. They don’t know how to set their cleats correctly, so they keep making adjustments without getting any closer to finding what works for them. 

This guide takes all the guesswork out of finding a good cleat position for yourself by walking you through everything step by step with pictures and instructions on exactly what angle your shoe should be at in relation to the crank arm (and thus also your ankle).

Learn more: Cleat position guide.

Bike seat height

Saddle height is one of the most overlooked bike adjustments. The correct saddle height will allow you to balance, pedal, and stop easily without putting unnecessary strain on your knees.

Get this one wrong and fitting your bike will be nearly impossible as it directly impacts the handlebar reach and drop settings and everything in between.

There are lots of methods of finding the “right” seat height but this is the easiest one:

  1. Gear up: Especially put on your cycling shoes and cycling shorts to avoid miscalculations.
  2. Get your bike still and balanced: With the help of a friend, stationary trainer, a doorway, or leaning against a wall.
  3. Hop on the bike: Once on the bike assure that you are safe and place your heel on the pedal.
  4. Put pedals into 6 and 12 o’clock positions: If you aren’t on a stationary trainer, pedal backward to get the right position.
  5. Check your leg position and knee bend: Your leg at 6 o’clock should be fully extended. If your knee bends, that means your seat is low and if you can’t reach the pedal or rock to do it your seat is too high. 
  6. Repeat: Change the bike seat height accordingly (a few inches at a time) and repeat the process until you get it right! 

Then give it a try, go for a ride and see how you feel, your knee should have a slight bend on the longest point of the pedal stroke.

Always listen to your body, your comfort is always first.

Bike seat height is a BIG topic in itself. That’s why I crafted a complete guide on the subject that will teach you how to adjust your seat height for maximum comfort and efficiency, how to set up your fore/aft saddle position, and lots of useful tips.

Learn more: Bike seat height guide.

Bike and handlebar reach and drop

Bike reach is the horizontal distance starting from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the top handlebar tube. The drop is the handlebar height which is measured between the top of the seatpost head and the top handlebar tube.

Handlebar reach is measured from the center of the connection with the stem and to the handlebar’s furthest point. The drop is measured from the highest to the lowest points of the handlebar.

Handlebar position is the key for a comfortable ride and the most common signs of it being poorly set are upper body pain (shoulders, lower back, neck pain are the most common).

To get your reach and drop right you need to know about the correct angles in all the different positions, how to increase it or decrease it, hand position, and so on.

Learn all about them: Handlebar reach and drop guide.

Bike fit guide: FAQ

How do you know if a bike fits you well?

You’ll know that you have a bike that is well fitted if you can ride with proper form and comfort for the duration of your ride without any muscle fatigue or discomfort.

Proper form means cycling with good posture, whether seated or standing. This means that your upper body will be straight with a slight bend in your elbows and wrists, and your lower body (hips and knees) will be in a straight line with the pedal axle.

If you experience pain, numbness, or tingling in your hands, feet, or backside, you might need to adjust your seat height, stem length, seat setback (fore/aft), handlebar height, and reach (how far forward/backward you can comfortably reach the handlebars), stem angle (how far the handlebars turn down or up from level) and saddle angle (how far forward or backward your pelvis falls).

Should your feet touch the ground when on a bike?

Your feet should NOT touch the ground when you are seated on a bike. When standing out of the saddle with your hands on the brake hoods, there should be a slight bend in your knee and your heels should not touch down.

Should the bike seat be higher than the handlebar?

In general, the seat should be as close as possible to level with your bars. This allows you to obtain a more aerodynamic position as well as obtain more power from your legs. Depending on your flexibility, riding style, and bike frame type you may need to raise or lower your seat.

For example, time trial riders will adjust the bars lower to allow them an aerodynamic position.

How do you sit on a bike so it doesn’t hurt?

Soreness after a long ride is normal because of the pressure points between your body and the bike. The more you ride, the fewer pressure points you will feel since your body adapts to the position. But this doesn’t mean our bodies are designed to sit on a saddle for many hours.

When you change components on your bike (like seat height, stem length, or handlebar width), you should re-evaluate your position.

There are 5 things you should do to avoid seat pain:

1.-Proper bike fit: This should position yourself in the saddle correctly

2.-Take all of the saddle: Placing your sit bones in the biggest part of the saddle will help you avoid the pain.

3.-Give your butt a break!: Stand up from time to time, especially when you sprint or climb, this will release pressure to allow the blood to flow normally and rest the muscles.

4.-Use cycling shorts: cycling shorts are normally padded in the seat bones area precisely for this reason.

5.-Check your position from time to time: Redress your back and engage
your core muscles to have a correct position in the saddle.

The finish line

I highly recommend everyone to at least try DIY bike fit once, it will gain you so much knowledge about yourself and your bike. Plus, the chances of getting a proper bike fit are very high! 

If you want to go one step further in your DIY effort you can use this bike fit calculator.

But also I will highly recommend a professional bike fit if you continue to experience discomfort or pain after you try, if you want to compete or if you have very particular body features that only pro bike fitters will be able to manage.

If you find yourself in one of those situations, hit your local bike shop. They normally offer this service. I know it can seem expensive, but trust me it will be cheaper than a doctor’s bill further down the road!

We hope that you’ve found this guide to bike fit useful and informative. If you have, please share it with your friends and family!

Did we miss anything?

Do you have any questions about the information in this post?

Let me know by leaving a comment below.