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How to Guides

How to Fit Your Bike

How to Fit Your Bike

Whether you ride on road or off, pedal casually or competitively like the champions above, bicycling is most comfortable and efficient when your bike and components are adjusted to fit your body correctly. We take care to ensure that your new bike is fit to you optimally. As you develop as a cyclist, maintain your equipment and travel with your bicycle, however, your adjustments and needs may change and require fine-tuning.

To help, we've put together these guidelines for checking and perfecting your fit. They work for on- and off-road bikes (assuming you're on the right-size bicycle and not trying to fit a too-small or large model you purchased at a yard sale, for example). Keep in mind that we specialize in bike fit. If you're experiencing a problem that you can't fix at home, come in and see us! If you think you'd like a complete analysis and fit, please contact us to set up an appointment with one of our trained bicycle-fit technicians.

Note that this article assumes you already have a bicycle. If not, we've got a store-full and would be happy to help you pick the right size one out and ensure it fits you correctly, too.

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Step 1: Level and Center the Seat

Start adjusting fit by placing the bicycle on a level surface and checking that the seat is level (photo). A good way to check level is to place a carpenter's level on top of the seat. If you don't have this tool, place a yardstick on top of the seat and compare the edge of the yardstick to a horizontal sight line, which you know to be level such as a windowsill or the top of a building. While adjusting, ensure that the seat is centered on its rails over the seatpost, too.


- A level seat supports your full body weight, offers optimum pedaling efficiency and makes it easier to move around on the seat when necessary. (It's logical to think that tilting the seat down will ease pressure on sensitive areas. But, when you do this, it causes you to slide forward when riding, which puts extra pressure on your arms, hands and knees, which can lead to injury.)

- Most riders do fine with level seats. If you experience discomfort, tip the seat slightly (no more than 3 degrees) up or down. Women typically tip it down; men tip it up.

- If the seat won't move after loosening the bolt(s), the parts are probably stuck. Tapping the seat with the heel of your hand should free the parts.

- If your seat has a channel down the middle or a raised tail, don't use these as a reference. Your goal is to get the area you sit on level, not the high or low parts, but the overall sitting surface.

Step 2: Adjust Seat Height

The easiest do-it-yourself seat-height adjustment is done on a trainer or indoors in a doorway and requires a friend or spouse to help. Put on your cycling shorts and shoes, mount your bike in the trainer or place your bike in the doorway, get on and hold onto the doorjamb to support yourself. Have your helper stand behind. To find seat height, place your heels on the pedals and pedal backwards. You've found the optimum seat height when your legs are completely extended at the bottoms of the pedal strokes with your heels on the pedals (Photo A). As you pedal backwards, have your helper watch for rocking hips, the sign that the seat is too high. You want to have your legs completely extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke with no rocking of the hips. With the seat set at this height, when you're actually pedaling with the balls of your feet over the pedals, you'll have the perfect bend in your knees (Photo B).


- This is a starting position. If it feels too low or high, adjust the seat up or down. But, only slightly to fine-tune the adjustment.

- When you've found the perfect position, mark it with an indelible marker (or wrap electrical tape around the post to mark it) so you won't have to go through the fitting process again. Do NOT scratch the seatpost to mark it as this can cause it to possibly break.

- Consider memorizing the measurement, too (measure from the top of the seat to the middle of the crank). This will help you set your seat height fast on a rental or borrowed bike.

Step 3: Adjust the Shoe Cleats

If you're riding in cycling shoes, it's important that the cleats on the soles are positioned correctly. There are two important adjustments, fore/aft and angular. The former is easy to find, the latter takes some careful trial and error.


The cleat should be positioned so that the balls of your feet rest over the centers of the pedals (the axles) when you're pedaling (photo A). Sight from the top when you're on the bike to check this (hold your feet level). The balls of your feet form protrusions on the insides of the shoes and these should rest right over the axles. If not, adjust the cleats as needed.


Ideally, your cleat position allows resting your feet in a natural position on the pedals. Otherwise, you could injure your knees. Usually, aligning the cleats with an imaginary line that bisects the soles provides a safe starting position (photo B). But, go for some very easy rides to check the position and ensure it's right for your knees. If you feel any stress or strain, change the angle slightly to eliminate discomfort.


- We're experts in positioning cleats. Ask for help if you're having trouble.

- When you've found an ideal cleat position, trace lines around the cleats so you can easily replace a worn cleat and reposition a loose one.

- Use quality tools, lubricate threads and work with care so you don't strip the cleat bolts.

- Also, check your hardware to make sure it’s still tight after about 5 hours of riding.

- If you're using toe clips and straps, make sure the clips hold your feet in the optimum position (balls of the feet over the centers of the pedals). If not, get different-size clips. If you've got huge feet, place spacers between the clips and pedals to "lengthen" the clips.

Step 4 - Find fore/aft seat positionStep

This adjustment requires a helper, too. Place your bike on a level surface next to a wall or post so you can hold yourself upright (or put it on a trainer, but be sure to level the bike). Put on your biking shorts and shoes, get on and pedal backwards until you're sitting in the "sweet spot" on the seat. Move your feet into the position shown in the photo. The forward crankarm and pedal must be level with the ground. The fore/aft seat adjustment is correct when a plumb line (any piece of string with a weight on the end) hanging from your kneecap, touches the end of the crankarm.


- As with the other adjustments, this is a safe starting position.

- If you're over 6-feet tall, ride long distances, climb a lot and pedal at about 90 rpm, you may prefer to be as much as 1 to 2 cm behind the end of the crankarm. If you're less than 6-feet tall, spin at 95 rpm or faster and like to sprint, you'll probably prefer to be directly over the end of the crankarm.

Step 5: Check Handlebar Height

Changing handlebar height can require know-how and parts you may not have. So, we recommend using these tips only to gauge adjustment. If you discover that you need a change, we're happy to provide the parts needed and install them if you like.

The first bar-height check is comfort. If you're sore during or after rides particularly in the lower back and/or neck, the bars may need adjustment. Inspect bar height by standing your bike on a level surface and viewing it from the side comparing the height of the seat to the height of the bars (photo). For road riding, a difference of 1 to 4 inches is optimal, even slightly more, if you're a flexible racer. For off-road use and recreational riding, bar height should be equal to or up to 2 inches below the seat height. Keep in mind that these are guidelines that work for most people. Sometimes it takes a little experimentation to find the most comfortable position.


- If you'd like to measure the difference between your seat and bar height, rest a straightedge on the seat (if the seat's not level, level the straightedge) so it extends over the bars and measure the difference with a ruler.

- It's important to realize that there's a limit to how much you can raise the handlebars. The amount of adjustment depends on the frame and component design. In some cases, it may be necessary to install longer cables and housing to raise the handlebars, too.

- Tall riders (long arms and large hands) usually favor lower handlebars and short riders prefer higher ones.

- Achieve a comfortable back angle of approximately 45 degrees (depending on your degree of flexibility).

- When the bars are the right height, it should feel natural to look ahead (no neck craning).

- Another way to "raise" mountain-bike handlebars is to replace your flat bars with a riser model. These can be an inch or two higher than flat bars.

- It's usually not a good idea to raise the handlebars too much. Once they're higher than the seat, your body weight is shifted more over the rear of the bike, which can mean greater jolts from bumps in the road. This can lead to discomfort and pain.

Step 6: Check Handlebar Reach

A proper reach to the handlebars is the key to enjoying comfortable rides. If the bars are too close or too far away, you may experience neck, shoulder, back and hand pain. And, it can cause you to scoot backward or forward on your seat all the time. On most bikes, to change length, you must replace the stem. And stems come in a variety of types and diameters. So you may want to have us check your position and suggest a proper replacement.

To check reach at home, put on your cycling clothes, mount your bike on a trainer and make sure the bike is level. Get on and pedal until you're comfortable with your upper body relaxed. Look ahead as if you were looking down the road. For dropped handlebars, rest your hands on the tops of the brake levers. For flat bars with bar ends, use the regular grip position. Now, have a helper look at you from the side (photo) to gauge where a plumb line dropped from the tip of your nose would fall. Optimally, there should be about an inch between the plumb line and the center of the handlebar.


- If you don't have a helper, photograph/video yourself from the side and check the picture.

- If you feel the need to scoot forward on the seat while riding, your stem is probably too long (and vice versa).

- Indicators of proper reach include: being able to always comfortably bend the elbows while riding, no hump in the back, a natural neck angle and equal pressure on the hands and seat.

Step 7: Check Handlebar Size

Most bicycles today come with handlebars that suit the person who fits the bike. So, it's likely that your handlebars fit adequately. There are lots of different handlebar sizes and shapes, however, and changing might fine-tune your fit providing additional comfort.


Check width first. For optimal control and efficiency, drop handlebars should be about the same width as your shoulders (photo). These bars come in sizes ranging from about 38- to 46-cm wide. So, if the distance between the bony protrusions on top of your shoulder blades is 42 cm, that's what the handlebar width should be. Flat-bar widths vary, too. Usually, riders who enjoy demanding, technical trails appreciate a little additional width (24 to 27 inches), especially if they're using full suspension. All-round riders prefer a more standard width of about 22 inches. Also, if the trails you ride cut through tight spaces such as neighboring trees, you’ll want to be sure the bars aren’t too wide to clear the obstacles.


Handlebars come in various shapes, too. Flat bars have different bends and may include rise to help you sit more upright. Drop bars often feature anatomic bends in the hooks for more comfort. And they're sometimes bent differently on the tops to accommodate your wrists. Another consideration with drop bars is reach, the distance between the bar tops and bottoms. Usually, taller riders appreciate more reach.

How to Ride in a Group

How to Ride in a Group

by Fred Matheny

Pacelines you see in pro-racing are organized. They have specific rules. But in big groups like you find in centuries or charity rides, things will be disorganized. This can intimidate even experienced riders.

Sooner or later you'll find yourself in a big group amid some riders with sketchy skills. It pays to learn how to survive (and also make yourself welcome in a crowd.

This article is provided by

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Look for Risky Riders

These are the unsteady people who wobble, appear nervous, have a tense grip on the handlebar, and frequently grab the brakes. Avoid them! Move up to keep them behind you, or slide to the other side of the road.

Stay at the Front

This is easy to say but hard to do in some groups. At the front you have more control over your destiny because most crashes occur in the rear two-thirds of the bunch. It may take a bit more work to reach the front and stay there, but it's worth the effort.

Watch the Wind

Wind direction determines on which side the greatest draft is found. If the wind is fro the right side of the road, smart riders move to the left of the wheel in front of them for greater protection. If you're doing this, beware of overlapping wheels with inexperienced riders. They may swerve and take out your front wheel.

Be Wary on Climbs

A major cause of group crashes is riders who stand abruptly. They slow for a second, causing the rider behind to hit their rear wheel and spill. To avoid this danger, let the gap open a bit on hills or ride a foot to either side. To avoid being the one who causes such a crash, pull your bike forward as you leave the saddle. Don't lunge and make a hard pedal stroke. Keep your speed steady. When sitting again, push the bike forward a bit. Practice Safety Skills - Cycling isn't a contact sport, but it's not uncommon to have your arm brushed when riding near others in a group. It pays to learn how to bump into other riders without swerving or falling. First, go with a cycling friend to a large grassy area like a soccer field. Ride side-by-side at a walking pace. Keep both hands on your bar. Start by gently touching elbows, then shoulders. As you gain confidence, learn more vigorously on the other rider. Soon, you'll be bumping each other with abandon and throwing in a few head butts for fun, all without going down. (Of course, always wear your helmet just in case.)

Riding relaxed is the key to absorbing contact without swerving. Have slightly bent elbows, a firm-not-tight grip on the bar, and loose arm and shoulder muscles. If you're relaxed, your body can absorb the shock before it gets to the handlebar.

How to Evaluate a Used Bike

How to Evaluate a Used Bike

Bicycles are simple and reliable, but they must be properly maintained for safe operation. Here's a checklist of things to consider before purchasing any secondhand bike.

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Paint chips are like beauty marks?—?they’re inevitable, and add character. Expect dings and scratches. What you don’t want, particularly in aluminum frames, are significant dents. These can act as failure points. Carefully check the lugs or welds where the frame is joined together. Welds should be even. Cracking of any kind is a show-stopper. So are bends at the dropouts (where the wheels attach to the frame). There should be no play in the front fork. Small areas of oxidation or rust are primarily just a cosmetic issue.


Never ride a bicycle with unplugged handlebars. If you can see the hollow of the bars, you must replace the handgrips are bar plugs before saddling up. In an accident?—?even a minor fall?—?unplugged bars are an impalement hazard. The bottom of racing-style “butterfly” handlebars should be roughly parallel with the ground. Replace worn or missing bar tape.


Replace torn or obviously worn saddles. There should be no play whatsoever. Generally speaking, saddles should be adjusted parallel to the ground. Sitting in the saddle, your leg should have a slight bend at the bottom of the pedal downstroke. If your pelvis rocks when you are pedaling quickly, the saddle is probably too high. Lower it bit by bit until the rocking goes away. Verify that the seatpost clamp is free of cracks or obvious distress.


Check for worn or dried-out brake pads. These must be replaced, along with frayed or rusty brake cables. Braking should feel positive. Look for cracked or bent brake levers.


Wiggle the crankset. Side-to-side play indicates worn bearings or an improperly adjusted bottom bracket. The same applies to pedals. Replace a chain if it’s rusty or has frozen links. Chains and rear gear cogs become mated with use, so chain replacement may require the purchase of a new gear cassette. Spin the freewheel and listen for the chatter of broken bearings. Lift the rear wheel?—?you may need help for this?—?and verify that shifting is crisp through all gears. You should be able to shift into the largest and smallest rear gear without the chain jamming or becoming unshipped. If this isn’t the case, the gearing requires adjustment. On bicycles with rear derailleurs, inspect the rear brake hanger for bends or cracking.


As with the crankset, side-to-side play in a bicycle wheel indicates poorly maintained hubs. Squeeze the spokes with your fingers. The tension should feel equal across the entire wheel. Loose spokes indicate serious problems. Rims require periodic adjustment to remain “true” (straight). Stand over each wheel and use the brake pads as a visual reference. Spin the wheel. A small amount of side-to-side motion can usually be corrected. Up-and-down rim motion cannot. Rims should smooth and free from road impact damage. Tires should hold the rated sidewall pressure. Replace tires exhibiting dry rot, worn tread, damaged sidewalls, or tears exposing inner ply.


Watch Your Line by Alan Canfield

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