There can be a multitude of differences between various types and brands of bicycles, some minor and some significant, so it is important that you ensure a proper fit whenever you are purchasing a new ride.
Sizing a bike for your bodily proportions is hardly the easiest task in the world; we all have slightly different measurements with our limbs and torsos coming in all kinds of shapes and sizes.
Fortunately there are a few things that you can look out for when fitting a bike, and in this article we’re going to explore exactly what they are so that your next purchase can be one that suits you for the long haul.
First Things First: Visit a Shop
There is no way you’re going to be able to guarantee anything close to a perfect fit if you aren’t able to try your bike on for size, so to speak.
Regardless of whether or not you plan on purchasing your bike online because of more competitive pricing, there is no reason why you can’t visit your local bicycle shop to ask for advice and even try out a few different models to get a better feel for what is available.
Who knows, you might even be able to negotiate a great deal from your local bicycle supplier.
Even if you aren’t able to get a rock bottom price from the shop you’ll still gain a lot of valuable information, and sometimes a well fitted bike is worth paying a little extra for to avoid long-term wear and tear and even potential injuries further down the line.
There are some shops that offer a bike fitting service; you will usually have to pay for this service but it can often result in you receiving a discount against the purchase of one of their bikes, making it even more worthwhile to pay them a visit and see what’s on offer.
A Closer Look at Components
Now we’re going to go into a little more detail about the individual components that you’ll need to check before purchasing your bike.
1. Frame Length
The length of the top tube of your frame can affect your amount of forward lean, as well as playing into the height and angle of your saddle and handlebars.
It is worth taking a measurement of your tube length so that you can compare it with other frames and ensure a comfortable fit, but the angles of differnet tubes can vary somewhat.
To guarantee a more accurate measurement of your tube length, measure from the center of head tube at the point the top tube meets it, and then move directly horizontal (not diagonal) to the center of the seat post.
2. Frame Height
The height of frames can be measured in slightly different ways depending on which manufacturer we are talking about, so it is important to understand these varying methods.
Some manufacturers will measure from the middle of the bottom bracket up to the top of the insertion point of the seat post in the seat tube.
Others will measure from the same point in the bottom bracket but go up to the center of where the seat tube and top tube meet.
You may encounter other measurement methods besides these two, so while it can be frustrating trying to ensure a correct measurement it should help you to at least be aware that the differences exist.
The stem of the bike is the tube that connects the handlebars to the fork, and this is perhaps one of the most fundamental adjustments you can make to your bike setup to ensure comfort and safety.
Sitting on the saddle, place your hands on the handlebars and pay attention to your posture and the arch of your neck. If you feel as if you have to crane your neck upwards to keep your eyes level with the track in front of you then you will probably need a longer stem.
Being too low or too far forward in this case can also be an indirect result of saddle angle or even the brake levers, so take a loose mental note of the ideal stem positioning before moving on to the next component.
As with most of what we are discussing here, your exact handlebar setup will vary depending on the context you are using it in, so road cycling will invariably require a different fit to mountain biking.
Racers will typically want to keep their bodies lower for a more streamlined effect, so the handlebars will be set a few inches below the saddle. This is often true of mountain bikers as well, although sometimes to a lesser extent.
Touring riders will usually set their handlebars a little higher, more or less in line with their saddle.
The point here isn’t to prescribe an exact setup but instead to give you an idea of the things to check and questions to ask yourself; namely, what type of bike are you riding and in what context?
The angle or tilt of the saddle is another important factor that is often neglected in bike fitting.
This may sound like commonsense but saddles are designed to be sat on, and all too often we see cyclists with forward-tilting saddles having to maintain pressure on the handlebars just to prevent themselves from sliding off!
To get your saddle into a more favorable position, make it level and then sit on it with your hips pointing squarely forward and one leg hanging down.
From here, adjust the saddle to a height where the heel of your straight leg is just about able to reach the pedal. This will of course be quite individualized as the amount of bend in the knee can vary depending on your limb length, but it should provide you with a general rule of thumb and a solid starting point.
Although an arguably less significant factor of bike fitting, it is worth paying attention to the ‘sag’ of your suspension or the amount of ‘give’ it offers.
This is typically not as big a factor for bicycles compared to the suspension found in motorcycles; however, if you are really fine tuning your setup then it can definitely pay dividends to keep suspension in mind before making your final adjustments to each component.
7. Gearshift and Brakes
Now that you have your head and neck arched in a comfortable angle and your feet at a decent height relative to the pedals, you can start paying attention to the smaller details or the minutia.
Your gears and brakes can typically be adjusted to some extent, so once you have your handlebars at a comfortable height and relative angle you might want to pay attention to how your hands and wrists are sitting.
It is generally not recommended that you adjust the brakes unless you have some level of experience in doing so, but if you find that the amount of reach you have is not ideal then be sure to speak to your local bike shop about having it fine tuned to your preferences.
8. Miscellaneous Factors
You may find that subtle differences in the manufacturing methods, materials used, and even additional features may cause slight variations in the final measurements of frames and components.
When taking your measurements and homing in on your perfect bike fit, take your time and be willing to start from the beginning a few times to continue readjusting until you find a setup that really works for you.
You will be amazed by the differences in comfort, endurance, and overall performance that an optimal bike fit can offer!
So thats about it for now. Leave a comment below and let me know your experience with getting a bike fit. What is the biggest frustration that you have had, and how did you over come it?
Until next time, enjoy your ride!