A basic home bike fit

The perfect position varies depending on what you are looking for: power, comfort, aerodynamics or injury avoidance.

Phil Burt

Finding your optimum position on the bike is an essential factor in being fast. A good position is different for each individual based on their goals, body shape, and flexibility level. However, according to Phil Burt, author of Bike Fit, and Head Physiotherapist of British cycling and former consultant for Team Sky, there is a bike fit window. 

There are three contact points with the bike; the saddle, the handlebars, and the pedals (five if you count both hands and feet). You can adjust each of the contact points based on your body proportions, flexibility, and needs. A proper bike fit is probably the best money you can spend to improve your riding experience and speed, but some basics can get you started. 

Start with the saddle

Saddle height: heel to pedal method

Saddle height is the holy grail for power. It is often argued that it is the most important cycle-position setting, and I have to agree – many other positioning recommendations (say of the handlebars or pedals) are actually trying to correct a suboptimal seat height. So it makes sense to start here.

Phil Burt

The optimum saddle height is a goal to work towards as it is often restricted by your hamstrings’ flexibility, if it is too high for your level of flexibility, you will get pain in the back of your knee. If it is too low, you will not be able to get power through the pedals. A simple way to set your saddle height is to adjust it, so your heel touches the pedal with your leg straight the pedal at the bottom dead centre. 

Saddle setback: knee over toe

Once you have your saddle height, you need to adjust the saddle’s setback. The KOPs method involves dropping a plumb line or using a straight edge down from your knee when the crank is in the 3 o’clock position. The verticle line from your knee should be in front of the peddle axle but not beyond the toe. If the saddle is too far forward, you will get pain in the front of your knee below the kneecap.

Handlebars

To get a sufficient reach length for handlebars, put your elbow against the saddle front, your extended arm and open hand should fall about an inch short of the handlebars.

The handlebars should be between three and eleven inches (2.5 – 8 cms) lower than the saddle. Where you set yourself in this range will have to be by feel, making sure that your hands can sit comfortably and relaxed on the hoods with your elbows slightly bent for the duration of your rides. Start conservative and gradually lower your bars to a more aggressive position over time as your flexibility improves.

Pedals

To set up the pedals, align the foot of the foot with the pedal axle’s centre line and replicate your food’s turn out to match the way you walk. Aim to move both your walking and pedal position towards a foot straight-ahead style over time.

Improve your flexibility for a better bike fit

Burt suggests working on your flexibility directly after getting off the bike or after your shower. Starting with 30-second stretches, three times on each side and build up to 90 seconds as it becomes more comfortable and your form improves. Foam rolling should be done for ten repetitions each lasting 3 seconds up and 3 seconds down, pausing on any tight or sore areas.

Stretches you should perform are the Bulgarian squat (I prefer the couch stretch for quads), the Indian Knot. You should foam roll your ITBs, your glutes, and thoracic spine. Google these for demos.

Pick up Phil Burt’s Bike Fit: Optimise Your Bike Position for High Performance and Injury Avoidance. If you are interested in speed, get a bike fit from former National Time Trial champion Matt Bottrill.