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Teenager at school on a bike.

Basic Bike Fitting Tips

Author: CHKD Sports Medicine, Tim McDonald, PT, MS, ATC
Published Date: Wednesday, April 14, 2021

The warmer temperatures that come with spring make it a great time to ride a bike, whether it be for exercise, errands, or even commuting to work. To ensure that your ride is as enjoyable and comfortable as possible, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Seat height

Incorrect seat height is probably the most common and significant bike fit issue, and can lead to knee pain if not corrected. There are several ways to adjust seat height. The easiest method is to set the height so that when you’re sitting on the bike seat with your heel on the pedal that’s at the bottom of the “spin” (pedal and crank arm at the 6 o’clock position), your knee is straight. If your heel is on the pedal and your knee is bent, raise the seat. If you can’t reach the pedal with your heel, the seat needs to be lowered. Click here for a photo example.

Foot position on pedals

When pedaling, your forefoot should be on the middle of the pedal. By forefoot, I mean the ball of your foot. If your seat height is correct, and your forefoot is on the pedal, your knee should be flexed (bent) approximately 30 degrees when the pedal is at the bottom of the spin (when the pedal is closest to the ground). See photo example.

Seat angle

Your bike seat should be parallel to the ground, not tipped forward or back. Place a level across the top of seat and adjust to correct its position. A seat that is tipped forward may result in too much weight on your hands when they’re on the handlebars, and a seat that’s tipped back may result in too much pressure on your “bottom,” which is no fun. See photo example.

Seat fore/aft position

When your foot is at the 9 o’clock position of the pedal spin, the front of your knee should be over the pedal spindle (“axle” of the pedal). Or to be more precise, your tibial tubercle, which is the ‘bump” at the top and front of your shin bone, should be over the spindle. If it’s not, move the seat forward or backward to position correctly. See photo example

Body (trunk) position

On a road bike, your trunk angle should be 30 to 45 degrees in relation to the ground. On a mountain bike, you’ll be more upright, with an angle of 45 to 60 degrees. To accomplish this, you may need to change your handlebars or stem. A bike shop can do this for you. See photo example.

The guidelines above are very basic recommendations. Many bike shops offer fitting services that will finetune your position and allow you to ride comfortably.

Have fun, remember to wear your helmet, and be sure to obey all traffic laws.

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About CHKD Sports Medicine

About CHKD Sports Medicine  CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.