It’s as easy as riding a bike—if the bike fits. Serious cyclists will tell you that a properly fitting bike increases your power and efficiency, which is great for racers and anyone looking to better their personal record. For the rest of us, a bike that fits right can help us more comfortably enjoy our time in the saddle and reduce our risk of injury.
How Important Is Bike Fit?
According to a 2012 study published in Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy Review, which assessed cycling injuries among triathletes, the majority of issues were not the result of crashes, but of overuse or poor technique—both of which the right bike fit can help prevent. In other words, if you plan to spend some time in the saddle and want to avoid injury, wear your helmet, choose safe routes, and get a professional bike fit.
Bike Fit Methods
The “best” way to fit a bike is a personal choice. Some cyclists swear by a traditional approach, using measurements and a professional fitter’s judgment, while others have great results with technology-aided systems.
With any approach, a good bike fitter—usually a bike mechanic, or technician, who’s had additional fit training—understands what kinds of adjustments will make you more comfortable and stronger on your bike. He or she will also take into account your physical needs and injury history to create a customized fit.
Adjustments can include raising the seat or moving it backwards or forwards and changes in handlebar height and angle. Sometimes, you’ll need to change certain parts on your bike to make it fit better, such as shorter or longer pedal cranks or handlebar stem. You might also change seats or pedal type for a more comfortable ride.
For a “low-tech” approach, your fitter will have you sit on your bike on a stationary trainer and use a plum bob (a small weight suspended from a string). He or she will use the plum bob to create a vertical reference line to assess your position as you pedal then stop. From there, adjustments will be made to position your feet and legs. Your bike fitter will also work with you to find a comfortable and effective position for your upper body.
Most higher tech bike fitting methods also use a stationary trainer and the same principles as manual methods—namely, helping put you in the most comfortable and most effective position—but with computer-aided tools. These systems, for example, include motion-capture methods to analyze your pedal stroke or capture body angles as you pedal. Again, your bike fitter makes adjustments to your bike as needed.
Start with the Right Bike
Though adjustments can be made to most bikes to place you in the proper position, starting with a bike that closely fits will make the process more successful. Different bike models and makes come in varying dimensions. With the help of knowledgeable bike shop staff, you can find a bike well suited to your height, build, and preferences. Your sports medicine doctor or physical therapist might also have advice about what to look for.
 Deakon RT. Chronic musculoskeletal conditions associated with the cycling segment of the triathlon; prevention and treatment with an emphasis on proper bicycle fitting. Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy Review. 2012 Dec;20(4):200-5. doi: 10.1097/JSA.0b013e3182688fa0.