Adjusting a Bicycle

Enjoying Speed, Comfort, and Injury-Free Riding
By Richard A. Lovett

A bicycle is like a suit of fine clothes. It needs to be tailored for an ideal fit. If it's wrong, you'll not only feel ungainly on it, but even tiny errors make your pedaling unnatural and inefficient. Who really cares — other than racers chasing that last iota of speed? Ask your knees, hands, shoulders, elbows, or posterior. You don't have to be riding all that many miles per week for a misadjusted bicycle to become a serious pain in the . . . well, pick your favorite part of the anatomy.

When people think of bicycle adjustments they generally think first about seat height. That's important, but there are several other things that also need fine tuning, like your pedals, saddle, and handlebars. Let's begin with the feet and work upward.

An Important Consideration

Although you can adjust your own bicycle, you may want to hire an expert to fine-tune your machine for you. Many bike shops will do this using a bike-fitting approach called the Fit Kit. Not a kit in any conventional sense, this approach puts your bike on a stand so you can sit on it while a mechanic tinkers with adjustments. Make sure you wear your cycling clothes — especially your cycling shoes — so the adjustments that work perfectly in the store still fit on the road. If you've got clipless pedals, the bike mechanic can also adjust your shoes for perfect fit. When I've done this, it cost about $50 for the labor, plus whatever new parts I bought.

Go with Your Gut

Even if you've paid an expert to adjust your bike, don't feel wedded to the result. There's a lot of disagreement over adjustment rules, and people's bodies differ. What matters is what's best for you. Use the advice given by your shop and the suggestions that follow as a starting point, but don't be afraid to tinker. It can take a lot of experimentation to customize your bike to its"perfect" fit. Even then a change in shoes, saddle, or riding posture can start a whole new round of adjustments.

This material is adapted from the second edition of The Essential Touring Cyclist, by Rick Lovett, published by the Ragged Mountain Press Division of McGraw-Hill. Reprinted by permission.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 21 Nov 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »