Whether you are just getting into bike riding or you are a seasoned cyclist, you must have a bike that fits you well. Having an improperly sized bike can lead to pain in the knees, neck, wrists, feet, and lower back, so it is important that you learn how to fit your bike properly.
If a bike is the right size, a cyclist will be able to properly distribute their weight between their hands, seat, and feet without having pain or numbness while biking. Measurements are not exact for a bike fitting, but cyclists will have their arms and legs in the proper places when the bike fits.
Finding a bike that fits properly will vary from person to person, but there are a few guidelines to follow to make sure that you have a comfortable biking experience.
Fitting & Sizing Your Bike
Although fitting and sizing may sound similar, they are not the same process. Sizing a bike is simply just finding a bike frame that is the right size for your body and height. Fitting is a little more in-depth and requires the cyclist to have the proper form on the bike. This means that you might have to change your saddle height, handlebar length, etc.
It’s also important to add that there are different types of bike frames: road, mountain, and hybrid/city bikes. The fitting on these bike types will vary.
If you are looking for a new bike at the store, it is best to have a store salesperson or bike tech help you find the right frame for you, as they are trained to do so. Luckily, the sizing of a bike is free because it is so simple. If you are looking at bikes online, it may not be as simple to just hop on a bike and see what you like. Sometimes, bike brands will just label their bikes S-XL, but don’t depend on these measurements because they are not standardized. Instead, look at the product description to see the actual measurements of the bike.
There is a calculation that you can use to know what size bike frame you should buy. All you have to do is multiply your leg inseam by a certain number, depending on the bike frame you want. If you want a mountain or hybrid bike, you will multiple your leg inseam by 0.685. For a road bike, you will multiply your leg inseam by 0.7.
To find out what your leg inseam is, simply stand against a wall and take a narrow book and place it in between your legs where you would sit on a bike saddle. Mark where the top of the book is on the wall. Measure the length of that mark, and that’s how long your inseam is. Take that number and multiply it by the number according to whichever bike frame you want. Once you have finished this calculation, you will know which frame size you need in centimeters.
If you want to know what bike frame would be best for you (and you don’t want to do the math) take a look at these tables below.
|Your Height (in feet and inches)||Recommended Size For Mountain Bike Frame (in centimeters)|
|Your Height (in feet and inches)||Recommended Size For Road Bike Frame (in centimeters)|
|Your Height (in feet and inches)||Recommended Size for Hybrid/City Bike Frame (in centimeters)|
Most bikes will be labeled as S-XL, so it would be best to look at the product description to see the measurements of the bike. However, you might fall in between a certain size, so how will you know what will fit best for you?
In this case, REI states that if you are in-between sizes, then you just have to find out which fit you like better. For example, let’s say that you are in between sizes for a shirt, you can either choose an extra small or a small. If you want a more tight fit, then you will want the extra small or if you want a little bit more room, you might want the small size. It’s the same thing with a bike. Make sure that you are trying the bike out in person to see which size is a better fit for you.
Even though the bike fitting isn’t very exact, it is crucial because it will make the bike more comfortable to ride. Let’s start with the stand-over height. There is a little bit of a difference between the top tube on the mountain and road bikes. A road bike has a straight tube while a mountain bike has a top tube with more of a slope, which is why the stand-over height will be different for each bike frame type. Oftentimes women’s road bikes have a top tube that is more sloped than men’s road bikes.
To find out the proper stand-over height, straddle the bike with the shoes that you plan to wear while you are cycling and observe how much clearance there is between the top tube and yourself. With the mountain bike, you want to have about 2″ between the bike’s top tube and yourself. With a road bike, you want to have about 1″ between the top tube and yourself. However, if your road bike has a sloping top tube, you will want a 1″ clearance as you would with a mountain bike.
Hybrid and city bikes’ top tubes are generally low and easy to step over, so you won’t have to worry about your stand-over height on this type of bike frame.
Once you have assessed your stand-over height, then it’s time to start looking at the saddle height and your foot position. The saddle, or seat height, should be high enough so that when you are riding your bike, you should be able to reach the pedal with a slight bend in your leg. When you are on a bike, your hips should not rock back and forth to try and reach the pedals. It might take a few minor adjustments to find the height that works perfectly for you. Take a look at this video to see how to set your saddle height.
After adjusting your saddle height, then you can start to focus on the fore/aft position, which is the angle of the saddle. Most of the time, the saddle should be parallel to the ground, but maybe that’s not the most comfortable position for you to ride. In some cases, riders might like to angle their bike slightly downward.
After getting your saddle height in place, then you can start adjusting other parts of the bike. Just as the stand-over height and saddle position, your upper body position will also vary depending on your bike frame. Generally, road bikes will have the cyclist lean forward for the best aerodynamics while a mountain bike will put the cyclist in a more upright position to maintain balance. If you are on a road bike, you will want your torso to create a 45-degree angle with your hips and a 90-degree angle with your arms.
Another rule of thumb when riding a bike is to have the handlebars close enough so that you can reach the brakes on your handlebars. This is called the reach. You shouldn’t have to force yourself to get up and stretch to reach the brakes. You can always adjust your handlebars so that they are closer to your body.
When you are setting your handlebar height, there isn’t an exact formula that you need to follow. You will just simply adjust the height to what is the most comfortable for you. If you are road biking, you might want to have the handlebar height a little bit lower than your seat height. If you are mountain biking, then you might want the handlebars to be a bit higher and closer to the saddle. If you are riding in a more aggressive, forward position, then you will have your handlebars a little bit further away.
If your bike is properly adjusted, then the ball of your foot should be just in front of the pedal spindle when the pedal is in the bottom position. Your knee should be bent ever so slightly, not fully extended.
There are many advanced fittings that you can do, but if you are a beginner or new to fitting a bike, it would be best to leave the advanced adjustments to a professional bike technician.
Drawbacks of Riding With an Improperly Sized Bike
If you are riding a bike that is not properly fitted for your body, then you will experience aches and pains that will make you want to stop riding your bike. Before you switch out your bike or give up cycling completely, make sure that your bike is fit for you. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, then it could be a sign that your bike is not fit properly.
- Pain in your thighs when going up hill: If you are feeling this burning sensation in your thighs, take a look at your knees while you are riding. If they are sticking out, it is a sign that your saddle is too low. Simply just put it a bit higher and see if that helps.
- Aching hands and wrist pain: If you are experiencing this type of pain early in your bike ride, your saddle height is probably too high and putting too much weight on your hands and wrists. Put the saddle a bit lower and see if that helps.
- Sore hips and lower back pain: If your hips are rocking side to side while you are riding your bike, make sure to lower your saddle height just a bit and see what adjustment works best for you.
- Cyclist Palsy: If you’re having numbness or tingling sensations in your wrist or the ulnar side of your hand, you might be experiencing cyclist palsy. The best thing to do to prevent this is to check if your saddle is too high, if you are extending your wrist too much, a tight grip, locked elbows, and a hunched upper back. Make sure to make the proper adjustments to your bike to avoid cyclist palsy.
Having an improperly sized bike can be a source of trouble, but you might be experiencing some aches and pains even if your bike is fitted perfectly to your body. Here are some examples:
- Feeling sore from simply over exerting yourself
- Getting sore knees from setting your bike at too high of a gear
- Having too soft of a saddle (can cause blisters and chaffing)
- Pain in your elbows from locking your arms instead of keeping a slight bend
- Getting numbness in your hands from not changing the positions every once in a while
So if you are experiencing some of these problems, don’t blame the fit of your bike. If you are just getting into cycling, you might be experiencing some of these pains. Make sure that you are not over-exerting yourself and that you are in a comfortable position while riding your bike.
Cost of Fitting a Bike
A professional bike fitting is one of the best ways to ensure that your bike is properly adjusted for your body. You might be wondering, how much is a bike fitting? Every store and location will have a different price, so there is no guarantee of whether a bike fitting will be affordable or expensive. In some cases, a bike fitting can cost anywhere between $30 to $150. It just depends on your location, the store, or the bike tech.
So before you get your bike fitted, make sure that you talk to a few reputable bike techs in your area to see how much they will charge for a bike fitting. Whether you decide to work with a professional or decide to work on fitting the bike yourself, you will have a much more comfortable riding experience with a bike that is set up perfectly for your body and riding style.
My Recommended Gear for Year-Round Cycling on a Budget
It took me years of trial and error to figure out the best and most affordable setup for my daily bike commuting. I would only recommend the gear that is good quality for a good price. Here’s my full year-round gear recommendation guide.
Want to know how much your cycling gear should cost? Check out my guide with different budget options here.