Getting a professional bicycle fitting is extremely important if you’ll be putting in tons of miles and your body is already adapting to the proper cycling position.

But if you’re just a casual cyclist getting started (and therefore need to put in some time on the bike before deciding on your ideal position,) you can get a good fit at home with these simple tips.

It will be a lot easier if you have your bike on a stationary trainer, but having a wall to lean against works in a pinch. Then all you need is a set of Allen wrenches and a little patience.

1. Set proper seat height.

If this is your first bicycle fitting, chances are you put your seat too low. Most beginners do, so let’s start with this.

There are multiple ways to do this, and some require formulas and special fitting equipment, so here is the easy way to start with:

Raise your seat to where your leg is straight when you are sitting on the seat and have your heel on the pedal at the bottom of the stroke (roughly the 6 or 7 o’clock position.) This will translate to the correct knee bend when the ball of your foot is on the pedal.

Note: Be sure to wear your cycling shorts and shoes for this step. It also helps to pedal backwards a few times to make sure your leg straightens at the bottom of the stroke and your hips don’t rock excessively.

In the end, when your foot is on the pedal in the proper position, you should get about a 30 degree bend in your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke.

2. Set the fore/aft seat position.

Once your seat height is dialed in, you need to set the fore/aft position, or how close the seat is to the handlebar.

There are two easy ways to approximate this.

First, move the seat forward or back until your knee is directly over the pedal spindle. You can eyeball this or, for greater precision, use a plumb bob (i.e. a key tied to a piece of string.) Just hang the string off the little bump below your knee cap and move your seat until the key is pointing at the pedal spindle.

Or even easier (but with a greater margin of error,) set the seat so the tip of the seat is just behind the bike’s BB shell.

3. Set proper cleat position.

For starters, you want to position your cleats so they are centered under the ball of your foot. You will slide the cleats forward or back to get to the ball of your foot, then probably slide the cleats laterally a bit.

You may also want to adjust the angle of the cleat. In other words, where the front of the cleat points. You might like it pointing straight at the tip of the shoe, or off to either side, depending on the natural angle of your feet. Fortunately, most cleats have enough float that you don’t have to get this angle exact.

4. Tilt handlebar.

Now we are getting to even quicker changes. This one is for greater comfort from altering your hand position slightly.

What you do is tilt the handlebar up or down in the stem. Generally you want to tilt it up and back just a tad for increased comfort with your hands on the brake hoods.

So all you have to do is loosen the stem clamp bolts enough to nudge the bar, tilt the bar up and back, then re-tighten the bolts. This method is much easier than untaping the bar, adjusting brake hoods, and re-taping.

5. Rotate brake hoods.

This can also be done without untaping the handlebar.

The point is to rotate your brake hoods inward slightly. This helps to fit the natural curvature of your hand, giving you a more natural hand position.

All you have to do is loosen the brake hoods slightly, rotate them inward slightly, and re-tighten.

 

Following these tips should give you a pretty good bike fit in a relatively short amount of time. As you ride more, you can slightly vary your position until it’s dialed in exactly how you like it.

 

Note for those of you putting in a lot of miles: Once you feel you have a good position and some flexibility, you should see a professional for a real bike fit to get your position perfect. It’s not cheap, but the process can save valuable riding time in the future, as well as prevent needless medical bills from injuries stemming from poor riding position.

Professional fittings are also nice for the adjustments where you may need to purchase new parts, such as a different length stem to set a better reach to the handlebar. When you do the pro fitting, you’ll determine exactly what size new parts to buy. That’s great because it sucks to go buy a brand new 100mm stem when you really need a 105 or 110mm!

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3 Comments
  1. …when your foot is on the pedal in the proper position, you should get about a 30 degree bend in your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke…

    30 degrees is definitely too much. Is this a typo?

  2. @Mike

    Not a typo. A 30 degree bend in the knee, measured with a goniometer, is the general rule of thumb for starting a bike fit.

    Personally I like to extend my leg more than that. Maybe you do too. That’s why any rule of thumb is simply a starting point!

  3. I found that a horizontally levelled brake hood is comfortable and its reduce shoulder pain & fake feeling of handlebar being too low.

    I have done many bike fits due to shoulder pains trying to shorten reach & raise handlebar like many bike fit’s says. Its never works even I levelled the seat with the handlebar.

    Now I make the brake hood horizontal, my saddle can be adjusted much higher & still be comfortable.

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