Back In the Saddle

5 Simple Fit Tips to Make Your Ride More Comfortable

We’ve all been there: it’s the morning after a beautiful 20-mile loop on the local rail-trail; you’re still hearing the whoosh of tires on smooth pavement, feeling the cool relief of a shady, tree-lined stretch. The only thing keeping you from getting right back out for another lap is… your butt. And your lower back. Oh, and your shoulders. Your knees could use a bit of a stretch, too, come to think of it, and oowww your wrists are not moving the way they should quite yet.

Investing 10 minutes in a basic fit assessment can help solve these issues for future rides. If a bike is fit properly, your body is stable, supported and ready to take on more miles with or without a padded saddle. While your local bike shop will always be able to provide the most accurate in-person fine tuning, this five-point quick fit should make a huge difference!


Upper Body Angle

Wearing clothes you generally ride in (this doesn’t necessarily mean lycrayour jeans will work just fine!), throw a leg over the top-tube of the bicycle so you’re straddling the frame. You should have a few inches of clearance over the frame, so you’re able to pop off the saddle easily if you need to stop in a hurry. If you have no clearance over the frame, this bike is likely going to be too big to fit properly. Place your hands on the handlebars in a riding position, with your hands able to rest easily on the brakes. If you’re on a bike with drop handlebars, place your hands on the hoods of the brake levers.

Photo by: Thomas Altfather Good | CC BY-ND 2.0

Next, shimmy backwards to lift your sit bones (ok, your butt) onto the saddle. You may need to stand on your tip-toes to do this, or place one foot on a pedal. Direct your eyes forward, and straighten your back. Your body is now making a triangle shape when viewed from the side, with one point at the saddle, one point at the handlebars and one point at your shoulders. If you’re on a hybrid or mountain bike, you’re looking for about a 45-degree angle at your shoulders, allowing for a slight bend in the elbow. If you’re on a road bike, you’re looking for about a 90-degree angle at your shoulders, allowing for the same slight bend.

In other words, the geometry of your upper body is creating a supportive triangle shape, engaging your core muscles, and allowing your elbows to absorb gentle vibrations and feedback from the road before it reaches your shoulders and neck.


Adjusting Saddle Height

Place the ball of your foot on the center of a pedal and take that pedal to the bottom of your pedal stroke, the point at which the pedal is farthest from the saddle. This should mean that the crank arm of that pedal is in-line with the angle of the seat tube. At this lowest point in the pedal stroke, you’re looking for a slight bend in the knee, with your heel angled slightly up, putting the ball of your foot closest to the ground. If you have a significant bend in your knee at the bottom of your pedal stroke, your saddle needs to come up. This should alleviate compression pain towards the front of the knee. Conversely, if your leg is fully straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke, take the saddle down. This will alleviate pain in the back of the knee from overextension.

Photo by: tinaxduzgen | CC BY-ND 2.0

A fun last check for proper saddle height: grab a friend and have them look at you from directly behind as you pedal a bit. Your sit bones (ahem) should remain stable on the saddle throughout your pedal stroke, not dip down with each leg. If your sit bones are being pulled down against the saddle at the bottom of each pedal stroke, take the saddle down until you’re stable on the saddle throughout your full pedal stroke. It’s amazing how comfortable the same old saddle is when you’re not slamming yourself against it!


Adjusting saddle fore/aft

Because the seat tube on any bicycle is angled slightly backwards, as you raise or lower the saddle, you’re also moving it farther or closer to the handlebars. Now that the saddle is at the correct height, hop back on the bike and double-check your upper body angle. If you moved the saddle up a bit, you’ll need to slide the saddle slightly forward. If you moved the saddle down, you’ll need to slide it back a bit. All bicycle saddles sit on rails that make this a quick and easy adjustment. Another tried and true way to check the fore/aft position of your saddle is to place a pedal at the forward-most part of your pedal stroke, at the 3 o’clock position. Your knee should be just about directly over the spindle of the pedal, so you’re able to power easily through the bottom of your pedal stroke.

Photo by: Phil Roeder | CC BY 2.0


Adjusting Saddle Angle

Ok, maybe we’re picking up on a theme here: the saddle is pretty clutch when it comes to a comfortable fit. While the adjustments we’ve made so far allow your body to support itself and take a lot of weight off of the saddle, we do need to be sure that what weight is on the saddle is comfortable. Almost any saddle on the market is designed with an elevated rear section to ensure that your sit bones are supported and bearing weight, rather than placing any weight on soft tissue. With the saddle at a level position, in other words, this rear section should sit higher than the nose of the saddle, so your sit bones can do their job.

Photo by: Phil Gradwell | CC BY-SA 2.0


Wrist Angle

With the major fit elements figured out, let’s check wrist angle, an often overlooked part of any good fit. On a mountain or hybrid bicycle, you’ll want to be sure that the brake levers are positioned in-line with the angle of your arm and hand. That is, you should be able to draw a straight line from your shoulder to your fingers resting on the brake lever. This is actually an instance where dropping some money on ergonomic grips with paddle-shaped palm support can make a big difference in your comfort level.

On a road bike, or bike with drop handlebars, you’ll similarly want to be sure that the hoods of the brake levers are positioned to allow your hands to rest easily in line with the angle of the rest of your arm. This generally means hoods that are angled ever so slightly upward, rather than totally level with the ground.

Photo by: cyclotourist

Alright! We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and it’s easy to get caught-up in the geometry of a perfect bike fit, analyzing every angle and nuance. So, this is the part where we get out and ride! Put some miles on, clear your mind, fall in love with your bike (or maybe just your saddle) all over again. If there are specific areas that are still troublesome, stop by your local shop for a fit evaluation. Now that you’ve put in the initial work of fitting your bike, the fine-tuning will be much easier, and you’ll have the knowledge and vocabulary to get comfortable that much faster. Happy trails!

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