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, 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.
Points of Contact: Saddle, Handlebar, Pedals
Tip 1: Try before you buy a saddle
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.
Tip 2: With handlebars width matters, but so does reach.
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.
Tip 3: Pay attention to platform size in pedals
The pedals are your third point of contact with the bike. Some road pedals (Speedplay, for instance) that are double-sided, and all mountain bike pedals are double-sided, meaning you can clip in on either side of the pedal. More important, though, is 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, which will be addressed below.
Basics for Saddle Height and Setback
While you can dial this in perfectly with a professional fit, here are some guidelines for roughly setting up your saddle height and setback. 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.
- Move the saddle forward or backward so your knee is over the pedal spindle when the crank is in the 3 o’clock position.
Tip 4: Position the ball of your foot over the pedal spindle
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.
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.
Special thanks to Chris Balser for the bike fit and use of his studio for our photos!