Bike blog: make it fit

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Hello and welcome back to another bike blog!

Given that throughout my cycling life I’ve relied on sets of wheels I either got for free or a fairly negligible sum of money, the question of how well the bike actually fits me – or even whether it’s the right size – has never really arisen. Having a bike which fits has seemed to me like an untenable luxury, the exclusive reserve of people who buy bikes new, or compete, or at least certainly incompatible with my style of cost-cutting cycling.

However, one beautiful vintage racing bike later – one with a frame a little too high for my little legs – and I’m more alive to the need to make sure the bike fits. Dismounting was difficult, and occasionally injurious, but despite that, I commuted with it for a year – even taking it on a summer jaunt to France. Eventually, I realised that it just wasn’t safe, and needlessly difficult. While it pains me greatly to have to move on, it’ll be best for both of us. And when I find a proper replacement, I’ll make sure it’s the right size.

So far, I’ve been conflating size with fit. Those in the know about these kinds of things will be aware that the size of the bike refers to the frame, and how it is ‘out of the box’, whereas the fit encompasses everything you can adjust (from the seat post height to the angling of the handlebars) to make the bike optimally fit your body and cycling needs.


Some ideas for choosing the right size

  • the size of frame you’re after will depend on what type of frame you’re looking for – road bike, mountain bike, touring bike, comfort bike…? Different frame styles support different types of riding, so will fit very differently.
  • once you’ve ascertained what kind of frame you’re looking for, have a look at a frame size calculator or a frame size chart.
  • bike manufacturers will often provide resources to help you pick the right size.
  • there’s no substitute for giving it a go, however – while a bike might seem the right size on ‘paper’ various factors, from the size of the wheels to the peculiarities of different manufacturers, might make it uncomfortable to ride.


Some ideas for improving the fit

  • you can get this professionally done. Many bike stores will offer a bike fitting service, or you could turn to the expertise of a freelancer; either way, it’s likely to not be terribly cheap. This kind of fine tuning seems to be primarily aimed at “serious” cyclists looking to shave a few seconds of their time trial, but heavy use of a bike – whether to win races or get to work – can result in injury or discomfort if not fitted right. If you do decide to go with a professional bike fitting, make sure you make the most of it by requesting a copy of all the measurements and notes on all the alterations made, and be wary of the opportunity for up sell.
  • however, you can learn to make these changes yourself – and anything you change can get altered back again. Like anything bike-related, there’s dozens of resources available online to help. For starters, check out Peter White’s fairly comprehensive article.
  • the main considerations will probably be the height of the seat, the positioning of the handlebars, and the angling of the seat. You’ll find lots of advice online for figuring out how to adjust each of these.
  • adjusting your bike will involve compromising, so it’s worth having a clear idea of what you want to use your bike for. Do you want to ride super-fast and efficiently, or do you want to enjoy the scenery? Either way, you’ll need to make some trade-offs.
  • if you do get out the tool box for a few tinkers, keep in mind that there’s no one right way of finding the right fit. It’s about how it feels, not about how it adheres to some formula, so keep on testing and trying until you find what works.
  • check out this troubleshooting chart to diagnose problems with your fit.
  • a good fit will never be permanent, as your body and cycling priorities change. Be aware of how your bike feels and be prepared to continue making alterations.
  • finally, if it’s a good fit, you shouldn’t be aware of it. Keep trying until you stop noticing!