Bike fitting 101

Good question. The way I see people riding around on their bikes in the ‘hood, I often wonder: is it me or is it them?

I know that not everyone is into long distance or fitness riding. Sometimes a quick toodle to the store is all you are out for. So who cares what position you are in on your bike?

Well it can make a real difference. Your position on the bike effects both the efficiency with which you pedal and your comfort in doing so.

And if you are more comfortable and more efficient aren’t you going to enjoy riding your bike more? Unlike Steven Harper,  I admit to a hidden agenda: I want to see as many people on bikes as possible. Take that Mayor Robdoug!

So what’s involved in making sure your bike fits and that you are properly positioned on it?

Bike fitting has some scientific aspects to it. No, it’s not just an eyeball affair. I once gave a lecture on this and it took me almost 90 minutes. That’s more than the West Annex News (and you and I) can stand. And a proper fit on a road bike can take an hour. I’m not going into that kind of detail here.

So here’s just some basics that will help you enjoy your ride a bit more.

Step one, you have to get the right seat height. Muscles have an efficient dynamic range. Stretch them too much and they won’t contract back as strongly (think of a rubber band). When adjusting the seat height, you never want your legs fully extended on the down stroke. You want your legs extended to 20 to 30 degrees flexion at the knee. That means you still want your knee flexed at little bit and the bottom of the pedal stroke. And when measuring this, the ball of your foot should be on the pedal. I don’t ever want to see any of you riding with the heel of your shoe on the pedal, or I will stop you and chew you out. And your foot should be level to the ground. And, many people don’t realize it but the down stroke is longest with the crank parallel to the seat tube (the tube that your seat sits on top of) and not vertical.

If the seat is too high, your legs will be extended beyond their point of efficiency as well as comfort. Additionally, you will be swiveling your pelvis from side to side in order to reach the pedals.  That is going to chafe your private parts, and that isn’t good for you or your significant other.

If the seat is too low, you aren’t getting all the power you could by stretching your legs out more, resulting in a more tiring ride.

But the seat also has a fore and aft adjustment. Correctly placing your seat over the pedals also helps efficiency as well as knee comfort. There is a proper way to do this by dropping a plumb line from your knee cap to see if your foot is positioned correctly . With your foot parallel to the ground, the nubbin at the bony prominence just below your knee cap (your tibial tuberosity) should be directly above the middle of your forefoot (or the spindle of the pedal).

About saddles, and those big-ass seats: they are often much less comfortable than a smaller, firmer seat. Think of wearing a Birkenstock sandal (firm, molded) compared to slippers on a long walk. The tilt of the saddle also needs attention. Start with it level, make small adjustments from there.

And remember, when riding your arms should never be fully extended at the elbows. There should always be some flex.

A full bike fitting involves adjusting handlebar height, width and stance as well as several other contact points on the bike. Tires, handlebar tape, wheels, gear ratios all contribute to a bike’s comfort. As I said, it can get quite detailed. Most of you likely won’t care or notice a detailed fitting. However, when you buy your bike, don’t just get on it and ride off. Make sure someone takes the time to have a good look at you while you are on it. Ask about the seat height, position and tilt…. even if it is just for riding to the store. Unfortunately, many bike shops can’t even offer the most basic fitting advice, even shops that sell expensive bikes.

The wrong size bike cannot be made right by a bike fitting. First off, get the correct size bike.

I’m afraid that while we are lucky to have several good bike shops in the neighbourhood, none are equipped to do a proper fitting. If you plan on doing some serious riding,  a good fit makes a world of difference to how far you can ride and how much enjoyment you will get out of it. In my view, Heath at La Bicicletta, 1180 Castlefield Avenue is the best fitter in the city.  And once you’re at La Bicicletta, have a gander at the most wonderful, luscious, sexy, fabulous bikes you can imagine. This is THE bike store in Toronto.


Let us know if you want to know more about bike fitting. I will answer any questions posted in the comments section below.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: