Having your bike fitted properly can save you discomfort, injury and help you ride faster for longer writes Debbi Marco

Bike fit 1

There’s nothing I love more than hopping on my bike and going for cycle around Richmond Park, but recently I’d found that my neck was getting sore, my back ached and I was just generally uncomfortable after anything much more than 30 minutes in the saddle.

It was time for me to get a new bike, so I headed to the Giant store in Twickenham, south west London to get properly fitted.

Why get fitted?

“Getting the right size bike is extremely important,” says Phil Turner, manager of Giant’s Twickenham store.

“We always say to people you can have a bike that’s £500 and fitted properly or a bike that’s £5k that doesn’t fit, but regardless of the price, it’s the bike that fits you that you’ll enjoy riding the most.

“A bike that’s the wrong size will cause you a lot of pain and discomfort in areas such as your lower back, your shoulders, between shoulder blades as well as your neck and even your wrists sometimes. This is caused by different loading in the wrong areas and because you’re putting pressures on areas that shouldn’t necessarily have pressure on them.

“Another bonus of having your bike fitted is increased pedal efficiency so you should be able to sustain a bigger effort over a longer period of time. Basically ride better for longer.”

Key areas to fit bike fit 2

While a basic sizing bike fit can be done in around 20 or 30 minutes by simply looking at basic principles, you should expect a performance level bike fit using something such as the Wattbike to take around 90 minutes.

Areas that will be looked at include the handlebar width as well as their height, finding a saddle that suits you and ensuring it’s at the right height and position, along with the position of your cleats on the pedals. A common signs of cleats being in the wrong position is knee pain.

“Comfort and speed go hand in hand,” says Phil.

“A perceived aggressive position is quite often the wrong position as it can be incredibly inefficient and it potentially does more harm than good.

“What you’re looking for is the most efficient position for you. By doing that you’ll get the most you’re capable of getting out of the bike fit. You’ll be comfortable and be efficient, too.”

Why use a Wattbike?

“A Wattbikes goes on guidelines from British Cycling athletes,” explains Phil.

“We look at saddle height, position – how far forward and how far back the saddle is, the distance from saddle to handle bar and the position of handle bar and height.

“We take the recommended difference for elite level and start at that point, then do a little core test and work back from there.”

Phil uses a laser light, which goes through the middle of the pedal axle and all measurements are taken from it.

Regardless of the shape and size of your bike, it will always be the same measurement from that mid point and all the figures taken from the Watt bike can be transferred onto your bike.

“The Watt bike measures mainly in power,” says Phil. “It is linked with software which maps out pedal stroke for both the left and right foot. It will pick out the angles at which peak powers occur and will help minimize the amount of power lost at the bottom of the pedal stroke.

“The main objection is to find the most efficient pedaling position for each individual by changing certain things such as the height of saddle, width and drop at the front. You get a lot of instant feedback from the Watt bike. You can see immediately whether the changes you’ve made have improved efficiency.

“It’s important you use the same saddle as on your bike as they can be various shapes and widths.”

Once the best position for you has been found, the bike is simply put on a turbo trainer and the measurements transferred.

My bike fit bike fit 4

Before I even get on the Watt bike Phil has started measuring. He asks me to put on my shoes and point to the widest part on each side of my foot, putting a small red sticker at each place.

He then rules a line between each one to establish where to fit my cleats, explaining all the while that cleat position can make all the difference to comfort on power in the saddle.

To measure saddle height, Phil gets me to put my heel on the middle of the pedal and explains my leg should be
straight, but not locked and it should retain a 30 per cent bend at the bottom of the pedal stroke. He takes a metal
rod to measure the angle from my ankle to knee through to my pelvis. Once he’s sure that measurement is correct, we move on to the fore and aft position of the saddle.

With the laser light directed vertically through the middle of the pedal axel, Phil explains the laser light
should fall just behind my knee cap to ensure equal pressure on the pedals. Phil whips out his spirit level to check
the saddle is completely flat too.

Next Phil addresses my reach. With my forearm parallel to the ground there should be a 90 degree angle between elbow and the front point of my shoulder where it rotates. The idea is to ride in a neutral position, not locking out your arms to reduce strain on neck, shoulders and mid-back.

With this in place, Phil’s attention turns to handle bar height. Even one centimeter either way can make a massive difference to your pedal power, as Phil is about to demonstrate.

He’s keen to check my core and ensure I’m not leaning too hard on the bars, so he makes me take my hands off
the hoods but hold my position. This way we can check my core is not out of position and struggling. I start to pedal riding steadily at between 90 and 100 rpm. The Watt bike maps out my pedal power for each foot.

The computer screen shows a figure of eight, which isn’t an ideal shape as the lines that are meeting each other in the centre represent the ‘dead space’ as the bottom of my pedal stroke. Phil explains a sausage-shape filling the area is the ideal shape but most cyclists pedal power is mapped as a peanut shape.

Phil moves the handlebar stem up 1cm and my pedal power improves, beginning to look more like a peanut. Phil moves it up by another 1cm but my power drops considerably. It’s amazing how such a small change can dramatically affect my power.

With all the measurements logged, Phil propped my size small Liv Envie Advanced 1 and put it in turbo. Matching all the measurements, Phil made a few small checks that everything was in the right position and it was done. I noticed the difference immediately when out cycling.

No sore neck and shoulders and going faster just
seemed easier.

DIY Fit

It pays to see a professional bike fitter who has all the right tools and experience, but if you want to make a few adjustments at home, here’s how…

Seat height

Stand facing a wall and put a book between the tops of your legs. Standing straight, mark a pencil line where the top of the book meets the wall. The distance from the floor to this mark is your inseam height. Do it a few times and take an average.

Your saddle height should be 109 per cent of this figure. Measure this from your pedal axle (with the crank arm at 6 o’clock) to the top of your saddle.

Seat forwards/backwards

You’ll need a helper and a plumb line. Put your bike on a turbo, making sure it’s level. Warm up for a few minutes, in your cycling kit. Have your helper stop the right-hand crank-arm in the three o’clock position, then place the end of the plumb line on the front of your leg, just below the kneecap.

The plumb line should bisect or be slightly behind the pedal axle. If it’s ahead, move the saddle back. If you make an adjustment, recheck your saddle height again.

Handlebar width

You should use a handlebar of a similar width to your shoulders, but it’s all about what feels comfortable. Some experts believe a wider bar gives more control and opens up your chest for easier breathing.

Whereas others feel a slightly narrower bar opens up your shoulders and back, reducing muscular fatigue and tightness, as well as making you more aerodynamic.

Stem length

Stem length depends on factors such as frame size, torso length, arm length and general flexibility. The shape and position of your handlebars and the position of the brake levers also affects reach. You should be able to have your hands on the hoods with an approximate 30-degree bend in your elbows when you are in your normal riding position.

Shift around in your saddle to make sure you find your true position before checking the angle.

Handlebar height

Stem length depends on factors such as frame size, torso length, arm length and general flexibility. The shape and position of your handlebars and the position of the brake levers also affects reach.

You should be able to have your hands on the hood with an approximate 30-degree bend in your elbows when you are in your normal riding position.

Shift around in your saddle to make sure you find your true position before checking the angle.

Cleat position

Find the ball of your foot (the first big toe joint on the inside of each foot). Mark that point with a piece of tape on the outside of each shoe. Place the centre of each cleat 5 to 7mm behind that point. The centre of most cleats is marked with a line.

Start with your cleats pointing straight up the centre of the shoe. Only change this if necessary, as most cleats have a degree of “float”– lateral play. Do a test ride and make small adjustments and keep re-testing until you get a comfortable position.

Frame size bike fit 3

Sizing charts are normally determined by gender, height and inside leg. The geometry of frames differs between models, so you may not need the same size for all types of bike. If your measurements fall between two sizes, you’ll need to determine your reach. Known as your ‘Ape Index’, this is your arm span (finger tip to finger tip) minus your height.

If you have a positive ‘Ape Index’ (arm span greater than height) choose the larger of two frame sizes. Otherwise, choose the smaller one.

Pictures by Rosie Hallam

Check out our triathlon training pages to make sure you’re getting the most out of your new gear.

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