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Please note: Due to other work commitments, this site is no longer being updated.
Webmaster, May 2006

Bike Fit

Below is some information about basic bike fit.  It contains advice from an article by Jim Langley with a handful of additions and revisions from Paul Swift.  Jim was a writer and editor for Bicycling Magazine from 1989 - 1999 and the author behind the "Bible of Bike Maintenance" - Bicycling Magazine's Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair for Road and Mountain BikesPaul is a bicycle fit expert and his Bicycle Fitting System has been praised as as one of the most innovative products in the industry.  Visit Jim's website at and Paul's at

An improper bike fit can cause serious discomfort including things such as a numb bum, burning feet, stabbing knee or back pain, sore hands, achy shoulders and a stiff neck.  While the information below can be very useful to make minor adjustments to your bike fit, we highly recommend that you take the time and money to have your bike professionally fit.  In the long run, the extra expense may possibly save you from excruciating pain and permanent injury.  You can have your bike fit at a reputable bike shop however, not all bike shops offer the same degree of expertise when it comes to bike fit.  Always wear your bike shorts and bike shoes for a proper fit. 

The CARE Exchange and Chain Gang recommend having your bike professionally fitted by: 

Paul Swift
Paul is an expert in the field, a US National Champion & Goodwill Games Gold Medalist. He designed the LeMond RevMaster "spin bike" and has given basic bike fitting clinics in LA for the California AIDS Ride.
Check out his bio

Let him know that you are an AIDS/Lifecycle Rider for a discount.
Ph: 818-667-0748
Paul is now based in Seattle

For Northern California Riders try:
Clay Mankin at City Cycles, 3001 Steiner St, San Francisco 
415-346-2242    email:

Curtis Cramblett, Revolutions In Fitness, Oakland, CA
510-325-1884    email:

For listings of other bike fitters around the US, visit

1) Seat Angle
Adjustment: Start with the seat level with the ground. If you experience discomfort, angle the seat up or down a few degrees (maximum of about 3 degrees).
How to do it: On most bikes, there is a bolt near the top of the seat post that loosens, allowing you to adjust the seat.

2) Seat Height
Adjustment: Dress in your biking duds and put the bike on an indoor trainer or position yourself and your bike in a doorway, so you can hold yourself up while pedaling. Have a buddy sit behind you and watch. Then raise the seat until, as you pedal backwards with your heels on the pedals, your legs are completely extended at the bottom of the stroke. If you have to rock your hips to reach the pedals the seat is too high.
How to do it: The Allen bolt that holds the seat post in place is on the side of the frame by the base of the seat post. Pedal backward until one pedal is completely at the bottom. Your heel should just be able to touch the lower pedal with your leg straight so when you place the ball of the foot on the pedal (ball over the center of the pedal) your knee will bend. This is a great starting place for seat height

3) Pedal/Shoe Adjustments
Adjustment: Pedaling is most efficient when you ride with the balls of your feet on the pedals. Trouble is, it’s possible to end up pedaling on your arches or tiptoes unless you use something to hold your feet in place.
How to do it: Toe clips, which are comprised of cages and straps, can be attached to pedals to hold feet in the correct position. When you’re ready for an upgrade, purchase a clipless pedal system. Mount the cleats to the shoe bottoms so that when you click into the clipless pedals, the balls of your feet are centered over the pedals. 
It is probably best to have your clipless shoes fitted by a bike fitter to assure proper cleat placement.

4) Seat Fore/Aft Position
Adjustment: Make sure the bike is level on the trainer. Then hop on and pedal a bit to warm up the muscles. Stop pedaling with one foot at three o’clock. Have your assistant level the crank arm and the pedal. Maintain that position while your helper holds a plumb line (a thread with a nut on the end works fine) against the indentation just beneath the bone that’s below your kneecap. Adjust the seat fore and aft on the rails until the plumb line bisects the pedal axle. Make sure your knee is not in front of the center of the pedal when the forward leg is at 3 o'clock.
How to do it: Loosen the same bolt used to angle the seat (see Seat Angle section).

5) Reach to the Handlebars
Adjustment: Comfort is the deciding factor. Ideally, you’ll be able to comfortably reach the various handlebar positions on your bike without locking your elbows, straining your back and/or neck, or having to scoot forward or back on the seat. Sit and spin on the trainer and see how it feels. Or videotape yourself and see how you look. 
Another test: Look down and see where the handlebar is in relation to the front hub (the part at the center of the wheel). On road bikes with dropped bars (the curly ones), the reach is usually right when the bar hides the hub. On mountain bikes, the right reach usually places the bars an inch ahead of the hub.
How to do it: Changing the reach requires installing a longer or shorter stem (the piece that holds the handlebars).

6) Handlebar Height
Adjustment: Comfort is key. If your lower back, neck, hands, and/or arms hurt, you’re probably leaning too far forward. If all your weight is on the seat and every bump feels like a kick in the pants, you’re sitting too upright. Measure bar height by holding a yardstick on the seat so that the yardstick extends over the bars. On road bikes, handlebar height varies from matching seat height to 4 inches lower (extreme racing position). On mountain bikes, height begins at seat level to about 3 inches lower than the seat.  Handle bar height may be higher as well
How to do it: If there are bolts on the side or back of your stem, it’s probably a model that is raised or lowered by removing it and adding/removing or moving shims. No shims? Purchase a taller stem—or on a mountain bike, taller bars may do the trick. If your stem has one bolt on its top, loosen the stem by turning this bolt counter clockwise several turns and then striking the bolt with a block of wood. You’ll then be able to raise or lower the stem (don’t exceed the safety height marked on the stem) and refasten it.

Troubleshooting Common Bike-Fit Problems

Symptom Likely Cause Solution
You’re always scooting forward on the seat Stem may be too long so you pull yourself forward as you ride; saddle nose may be tipped down too much Install a shorter stem; level saddle
Also check page on saddles
You’re always scooting back on the seat Stem may be too short so you feel cramped and push yourself back; saddle nose may be tipped back; saddle may be too far forward on the rails Install a longer stem; level the seat and center it on the rails; move your seat back
Also check page on saddles
Lower back hurts Stem too low or too long; must strain back to reach bars; or seat may be too high, causing rocking when pedaling Try raising the stem/handlebars; still hurts? try shorter stem; check and adjust seat height  Also check page on back pain
Neck hurts Stem too low; must crane neck to see Raise the stem/bars
Hands hurt Stem too low; too much weight on hands; saddle may be pointed down Raise the stem/bars; level saddle
Also check page on sore wrists
Front of knee hurts Seat too low and/or too far forward, straining knees Raise seat; may need to move seat further back as well
Back of knee hurts Seat too high, over-extending leg Lower seat
Numb bum all the time Too much weight on the seat; may need to slide back a little on the seat. Try to sit such that you feel the weight on your sit bones rather than the front or center of your crotch Lower handlebar position; check seat height as it may be too high; May need to try another brand of shorts and or seat; lose weight
Achilles tendon hurts Pedaling too much on your toes; cleats too far forward on your shoes; feet may not be forward enough over the pedal Keep the balls of your feet over the pedals when you’re pedaling; move cleats back.  Also check page on Achilles injury
Bad gas Eating too many energy bars Ride at the back of the pack

Extra Bike-Fit Tips

How you ride has a lot to do with comfort, too. The number one problem for many cyclists is what I call the vulture riding position, because it resembles that animal’s posture. It’s what a cyclist looks like when he locks his elbows and raises his shoulders, a position even hard-core pedalers often develop. You’ll feel a lot better if you RELAX. Every few miles, shrug your shoulders and let them drop and keep those elbows bent.

Never raise any bike part too high because it can lead to failure and a crash. Parts are usually marked with limit lines that, when exposed, indicate that the part is too high. Heed these markings.

Once you’ve found the correct seat height, mark the seat post.  Please do this before you travel.  This way—if the post slips, or when you pack the bike for shipping—you’ll quickly be able to get it back in the right spot.

Likewise, measure from the top of the saddle to the center of the pedal axle (put the pedal at the bottom of its stroke, down around six o’clock) and memorize and jot down the number where you can find it. It’ll come in handy if you have to set up another bike, say a rental or borrowed one.

Early in the season you’re not as flexible and you’ll probably enjoy a higher handlebar position. As you ride more regularly, you’ll gain flexibility and may want to lower the bars to stretch out a bit more.

Women often require additional changes such as narrower handlebars, shorter stems and easier to operate brake levers.

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