Introduction

This article is for:

  • everyday cycling (not racing, or down-hilling etc.)



 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

PRECONDITIONS: You can undo nuts and bolts.

TIME: This fix will take about 15mins per week until you are happy.

DIFFICULTY: Adjusting your bike is easy. Deciding what adjustment to make takes some thought.


STEPS

1. Find the best riding position

2. Adjust saddle height

3. Adjust saddle forwards and back

4. Adjust handlebar height and reach

5. Adjust feet on pedals

6. Try out new position

 


1. Find the best riding position


Finding the best riding position for you is a gradual process of refinement and trial and error. Cyclists have different riding styles and their bodies have different proportions. So there is no universal, 'best-for-everyone' solution.

First, ask yourself a couple of key questions:

  1. What kind of ride you are looking for - more relaxed? more sporty? something inbetween?
  2. What are you like physically? - longer than average legs? shorter than average body? less flexible than average back?

Then, use your answers to guide making adjustments. How are you riding? How does it feel? If you are not happy, consider making one of the adjustments below. If you think an adjustment might help, try it out and see.

Repeat this process of review and adjustment until you can't make it any better!



2. Adjust saddle height

Knee angle around 25-30 degrees
Knee angle rule: Adjust the saddle so that the angle at the knee is 25-30 degrees.
Saddle top to pedal spindle = crotch to floor x 1.09
Saddle-spindle rule: Adjust the saddle so that the distance of the pedal spindle to the saddle equals your inside leg x 1.09.

Knee Angle Rule: With the pedal at the bottom of the downward stroke, set the saddle so that the angle at the knee is 25-30 degrees. Mechanically, this is an efficient arrangement, so it is common amongst 'sporty' riders.


Saddle-Spindle Rule: Set the saddle so that the distance from pedal spindle to top centre of the saddle equals your inside leg (crotch to floor) x 1.09. This formula approximately describes many sporty riders' set ups - strange but true!


Other rules: as you pedal sitting on the saddle:

  • keep your hips stationary - they should not move up and down as you stretch around the bottom of a stroke;
  • keep your knees bent - they should never lock straight.

Working joints hard outside their natural tolerances will lead to injury.


Comment: New bikers often set the saddle quite low, so that, when seated, toes still touch the ground. As you get more confident, a more efficient, comfortable position might be higher.




3. Adjust saddle forwards and back

Riding Style Adjustment

Sporty

set the saddle so that, with the pedal pointing forward and the crank horizontal, the front of the leading knee is directly above the pedal spindle.

Relaxed

set the saddle slightly further back, so that with the pedal pointing forward and the crank horizontal, the front of the leading knee is fractionally behind the pedal spindle.

Front of the knee above the pedal spindle
For a sporty riding style, adjust the saddle so that the front of the leading knee is directly above the pedal spindle.


Why sit further back?: Sitting further back transfers a little weight from the handlebars onto the pedals and saddle - worth a try, if you are getting aches and pains in your wrist, neck and shoulders.

Does sitting back make you bend and reach?: If you sit further back, all other things being equal, you will need to bend your back more, and stretch out your arms more to reach the handlebars. Too much of this can lead to aches and pains in your back and arms, so adjusting the saddle back is often followed by raising the handlebars and/or shortening the stem (see Adjust handlebars).

Saddle angle: A horizontal saddle is usually right for everyday riding. If the saddle tilts, you'll either slide forwards onto the narrow front of the saddle, or backwards and have to cling on.

Saddle design: The more upright your position, the wider the saddle. The more leaning forward your position, the narrower the saddle.



4. Adjust handlebar height and reach

 
More sporty - lower bars, saddle more forward, more arched back
For a sporty riding style, set the handlebars lower than the saddle

 

Adjustment: set the bars lower - many sporty riders have bars 2-3 cm lower than the saddle to reduce their profile to the wind. But remember - aerodynamics do not count for much under 20mph. Are your really going that fast?

More relaxed - higher bars, saddle more to rear, less arched back
For a relaxed riding style, raise the handlebars slightly, lower than the saddle .

 

Adjustment: raise the handlebars. A more upright position is often preferred by older riders with less bendy backs, commuters who need a good view of their surroundings, or on long rides.

 


Other rules:

  • keep your arms slightly, and comfortably bent. Most of your weight should be borne by the pedals and saddle - not the bars.
  • do not ride for long periods with wrists flexed (in, out, up or down). Keep your hand, wrist and lower arm within the range of 'natural' alignments.

Buy the right stem: As you lean forward, so your hands extend further forward also. Similarly, as you sit up, so your 'reach' is reduced. But your handlebars stay in the same place. So, as you adjust your position, your bike may begin to feel too short or too long.

In this case, consider flipping over your stem (the 'stick' that connects the steering column to the handlebars), or consider buying a new one. Stems have different amounts of 'rise' (increase in height) and length (forward extent), and the right stem will give you the handlebar position you need.



5. Adjust feet on pedals

Cleats are the 'clips' on special cycling shoes that securely attach the shoe to the pedal. They make for more efficient riding.


Ball-of-foot-above-spindle rule: place the ball of the foot directly above the centre of the pedal axle. This is efficient, stable and reduces stress around the ankle.

Leg-inline rule: try to keep the knee in line with the hip joint and ball of the foot. It is mechanically inefficient, if your knee wavers in an out during the stroke. That said, not everyone has perfectly straight, symmetrical legs so find your 'natural' alignment.

Hip, knee and ball of foot in a straight line
Leg-inline rule: keep the hip, knee and foot aligned

6. Try out new position

You don't feel FIXED? Any new position may feel a strange at first - your muscles will be accustomed to your old position, so try a new position for a while - it may feel better eventually.

Results


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Feels good, enjoy! (courtesy of copenhagencyclechic.com)




Bike Fixer

photo of mc

Bike Fixer is a co-op of bikers and web designers.
"MC" grew up car-free in the countryside, and had to ride a bike from an early age - absolute magic! In later life, he survived London traffic and l'Etape du Tour.


Sources

The books below are tremendously helpful, but there is a lot of material to get through.

  • Ballantine, R. and Grant, R. 1994, Richards Bicycle Repair Manual. Dorling Kindersley
  • Downs, T. 2005, Bicycle Maintenance & Repair
  • Haynes 2007, The Bike Book - Complete Cycle Maintenance
  • Park 2008, BBB-2 Big Blue Book of Bike Repair, Park Tools
  • Van der Plas, R., 2007, Bicycle Repair.  Repair and Maintenance of the Modern Bicycle

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