Riding a bike that is properly fitted to be both comfortable and maximize your power potential is nearly as important as training itself. If your bike fits you comfortably, you are more likely to ride longer and harder. More importantly, the better all parts of the bike jive with your body, the more energy you can conserve while simultaneously maximizing your abilities. It doesn’t seem like small things like a quarter-inch change in the height of a seat or handlebars could make a huge difference, but it really can.
Since I am borrowing my dad’s bike rather than having had purchased my own bike, I was never fit to it in the first place. Usually when you purchase a bike you are measured for the right size frame and then once you purchase the bike, the shop will give you a complimentary fitting. Luckily my dad is only 2 inches taller than me so his bike frame is the right size. You can tell a frame is the right size if you straddle the frame with your feet flat on the ground on either side and the center bar is just an inch or two below your crotch. If it’s touching, it’s too tall, if it’s five inches away, it’s too short. Obviously when you buy a bike they will measure you to figure out your frame size, but this is a good way to see if a borrowed bike will work.
The easiest way to measure seat height is to get on a trainer so that you can clip in and the bike is stationary. However, if this isn’t possible, you can get on the bike in a doorway and have someone hold the bike steady behind you. Remember to wear your cycling shorts and shoes while adjusting the seat. To determine the correct seat height, place your heels on the pedals and pedal backwards. If your legs are completely extended at the bottoms of the pedal strokes when your heels are on the pedals, you have the right height. Now when you move your foot into the proper pedaling position, with the balls of your feet over the pedal, you’ll have a slight bend in your knees. Spin the bike a few times and have someone watch you and make sure that your hips aren’t rocking. This is a sign that the seat is too high.
Mike happened to notice that my seat seemed a bit high just a few days before my fitting and adjusted it downward. When I got my bike fitted professionally, there was no need to change it as our guess was correct!
Before my bike fitting, I had no idea that there was a method to putting the cleats on the bottom of my cycling shoes. From what I remember, Mike just put them on there without any measurement or involvement with the bike itself. However, nearly immediately after beginning my bike fitting, the man helping me adjusted my cleats. The cleat should be positioned so that the balls of your feet rest over the centers of the pedals when pedaling. Apparently this wasn’t the case with my current cleat position and they needed to be moved backward.
In order to verify that you have the correct seat position, sit on the trainer/balance in the doorway while clipped in again. Put one foot at 3 o’clock and the other foot at 9 o’clock with your feet as horizontal to the ground as possible. The front to back seat adjustment is correct when a plumb line (any piece of string with a weight on the end) hanging from the bony protrusion just below your kneecap, bisects the pedal axle.
Unfortunately, even with my bike seat completely forward, the plumb line wasn’t quite at the right point. However, the bike assistant informed me that it was probably close enough. If I felt that I was still uncomfortable on the bike, he could sell me a piece for $75 that would allow him to move my seat forward a bit.
This was the one that Mike knew we’d have to adjust. He could tell by watching me ride that I was bending over more than I should be. I also noticed that it was pretty difficult to really hold the brakes down since I had to reach so far. However, since I’ve never ridden a road bike before, I didn’t know that this wasn’t right. According to some online research, improper handlebar length can cause neck, shoulder, back and hand pain. Since I was experiencing all of the above, the main reason was probably my handlebar reach!
To check handlebar reach, get back on the trainer, get in position as if you were riding, looking forward, and have someone drop a plumb line from the tip of your nose. The should be about an inch between the plumb line and the center of the handlebar. Other ways you can tell if you have a proper reach are being able to comfortably bend your elbows while riding, no hump in the back, a natural neck angle and equal pressure on hands and seat.
Since my handlebar reach was not proper, I had to purchase a new stem for my handlebars. The stem was a few inches shorter than the stem that my dad used, which shortened the amount of distance my body has to cover to reach the handlebars. Although it was hard to tell at the time, during my long ride on Saturday I could really tell that I was more comfortable and that the brakes were easier to grip.
Go Get Fitted!
If you haven’t been fitted for your bike already, I highly recommend doing it. Most bike shops will do a fitting for anywhere from $60-$100/hour, although oftentimes the fittings are based on increments of time. In my instance, I was only charged for a 15 minute fitting which was $45. Parts are extra of course. Although it seems pricey, it’s totally worth it. A properly fitted bike can take minutes off of your race time and hours of back aches!
I wrote this blog with the help of: http://www.jimlangley.net/crank/bikefit.html