How to Select a Bicycle

Black and White Hardtail Bike on Brown Road Between Trees select a bicycle
Photo by Philipp M on Pexels

How many of you went to the bike shop with your parents to pick out a bike? How many of you were able to test-ride your bike? Did any of you get fitted for your bike while you were there? Today we will be talking about the proper fitting of your bike. We will start by talking about frame size, saddle position, and stem length.

Now we will be talking about the vertical frame size or stand-over height of the bike. Stand straddling the bike but do not sit on the saddle. Do you have 1 to 3 inches of space between you and the top tube? (crotch). There should be one inch of clearance between the top tube and you if you have a road bike style and three inches if you have a mountain bike style.

If you have a slanted top tube or step-through frame, measure from the bottom bracket tube center (where the cranks are) to the top of the seat tube (where the seat tube and saddle slide into the frame). The proper size should be 10 to 12 inches shorter than the inseam to the floor without shoes.

Now let’s talk about the saddle or seat. The seat should first be parallel to the ground. Once you are on the saddle, place your heel on the bottom pedal (R or L) and push the pedal to the 12 and 6 o’clock positions. This is correct if the leg is in a straight line without bending. If you are reaching by shifting to one side, the seat must be lowered. If the leg is bent, then the saddle must be raised. For this measurement, ensure that the heel is on the pedal, not the toes! Proper fit of the saddle will reduce stress on the knee and increase power stroke while pedaling.

Now the final step in fitting your bike is horizontal bike fitting. This involves upper body potion when leaning over on the bike and touching the handlebars or the reach. This is very important because this has to do with control of the bike and most of your comfort. Swapping of stems works only if the stem is easily removable.

Many stems have two bolts on the front to tighten the handlebar down. Many only have one. Swapping the stem when there is only one bolt is best not performed as it requires the removal of grips, shifter, brake lever, and possibly cables. If a student has unusually long arms, swapping the stem may be necessary, but look for a bike with a long stem already in place. Most of the time swapping of a stem to improve rider position is not going to be necessary.

Place the elbow at the front of the saddle with the forearm pointing towards the stem and handlebars. If the fingertips are more than two to four fingers wide away from the center of the handlebars, the stem should be replaced with a shorter one. This measurement works for mountain bike styles. If the stem is slightly off, the seat can be moved forward or backward for micro adjustments on the rails under the saddle. There also should be measure lines that tell you how far not to go on the rails.

For drop bar/ road bike styles, use the in-saddle method. This requires the hands and arms to be at a relaxed bend when the hands are on the break drops/ hoods. If the length is too long, this will cause stiffness in the arms and shoulders, plus put unwanted pressure on the saddle area of the body. Ideally, you will want a 45-degree bend at the waist.

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