Everything that you ever needed to know about bike fitting

Having carried out countless different bike fits over the years, from a Nun on a hybrid to a Professional preparing for the World Championships, and every level in between there are many different hints, tips and observations that I have picked up along the way. Here I hope to share as many as possible with you in a simple to understand format. (If anyone would like to book a bike fit with me I can be contacted at barry@thecyclingblog.com)

The Bare minimum


How to get your saddle height in the general area of being close to correct.

Sit on the bike and pedal backwards with your heels on the pedals. Your heel should just about remain in contact with the pedal with your knee fully straightened out. This should allow for a slight angle in your knee when the ball of your foot is over the axle of the pedal, where it should be.

If you are suffering from knee pain on the bike a general rule of thumb is that pain on the front of the knee is an indication of a saddle too low and pain on the rear of the knee a sign of a saddle set too high.


Old cyclists wives tales that get you in the general area :

Saddle height : Put your arm pit over the saddle, the tip of your middle finger should just reach to the centre of the bottom bracket. 

Handlebar height : The top of your stem should be the height of your three middle fingers higher than the top of the head-tube.

Saddle set back : With your elbow against the front of the saddle your middle finger should just reach the centre of the top bolt on the stem cap.

Stem length : With your thumb at 90 degrees to your index finger place your thumb in line with the centre of the top bolt on the stem cap. Line your index finger up parallel to the stem and the tip of your finger should just reach the centre of the handlebars.

Basic bike fitting

Shoe and cleat set up : 

This is like the foundation of the good house. If the shoes and cleats are not set up correctly everything else will be off as-well.

If you need to wear orthotics running, or in your everyday shoes you should always wear them in your cycling shoes too. Some non-cycling medical professionals claim that as cycling is a non load bearing activity compared to running that there is no need to use the orthotics whilst cycling. They must have never looked at the figures on a power meter. It is essential that your foot is as fully supported as possible. LeMond and Kelly both used custom orthotics made by Jempi Willsens during their careers. Tom Boonen, Philip Gilbert and many other current day professionals also use custom orthotics made by Jempis’ son Koen.  Nowadays the vast majority of professionals use custom orthotics or others such as Specialized Body Geometry footbeds which are a good value alternative to the custom option.

The cleats should be set up so that the ball of your foot is directly over the axle of the pedal. They should also allow your foot to replicate as much as possible the natural angle that your foot turns to when standing naturally. For many this often means a toe out heel in position. The cleat should be centred so that you have an equal amount of float in either direction. Often I have had people remark that after a bike fit they feel as if the pedals are loose at first. This is because they were accustomed to having their foot right up against the float restriction on one side and having all of the float on the other causing tension right up along the foot and leg, leading to all sorts of issues.


Saddle height formulas.

Begin by getting your inside leg measurement.

Standing wearing just socks and cycling shorts use a long spirit level between your legs to help get the measurement.

Keep 1/3 of the level behind you and 2/3 in front. You should be able to see the bubble.

Pull the level right up into your crotch, just as your saddle would be when sitting on it.

Then get someone to measure the height to the top of the level and you have your inside leg measurement when related to your bike. Alternatively place the level against a wall and mark it with a pencil to get the measurement.

Using this measurement you have 2 options to find your saddle height which is the distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the top of the saddle in line with the seat tube of the bike:

The Lemond method – Multiply this figure by .883

This gives a saddle height accurate to Greg LeMonds pedalling style, which had the foot fully flat at the bottom of the pedalling stroke. If you pedal like Kelly with your toes down and heel up you will need to raise your saddle by anything up to 20mm from this initial figure.

The Hamley method – Multiply the figure by 1.09

This gives the saddle height for maximum power output. This does not take into account flexibility, injuries or comfort. It is purely based on power and is not recommended for anyone with any injuries and really only suits someone who is very flexible and racing at a very high level.

Saddle set back :

A good starting point is to have your knee over the axle of the pedal in the 9 o’clock position. But there are variations of this which work well too, although it is important to have the knee more forward than having it behind the axle of the pedal which creates too much pressure on the knee itself. This measurement is taken using a plumb line or a long level from the tip of the front of the saddle to the centre of the bottom bracket.

Handlebar height : 

The bars should be at a height where you can move from the hoods to the top of the bars and back pretty much without any shoulder movement.

80% of people new to cycling have their handlebars too high in the misconceived notion that this will be easier on their back. Core strength and flexibility play a big part in determining just how high the bars should be. Another rough guide to this would be the point at which you can lean down and forward and still hold yourself up comfortably with your hands behind your back. It is important to have someone there to catch you in case you pitch forward too much and end up kissing the stem.

Handlebar reach :

With your elbows relaxed and your hands resting on the hoods look straight ahead. Then look down and try to see the centre of the front hub. If you can’t see the hub you are pretty close. If the hub is behind the bars you are too stretched out and may need a shorter stem. If the hub is in front of the bars you may need a longer stem.  Bending your elbows was always a mantra of Tony Ryans’ that still holds true to this day. If your elbows are locked all of the vibration from the road will travel up into your neck and shoulders, and if someone in a group bumps off you they may drive you across the road. However when your elbows are relaxed they act like a shock absorber and save all that tension in your neck and shoulders. This also helps you to hold your straight line if someone bumps off you.

Having the handlebars set to the correct height will solve many neck and shoulder issues. The width is also and important factor in this. Taking frame size and geometry into account is also very important. Putting an 8cm stem on a 60cm frame with a 21cm headtube will have a disastrous effect on bike handling and make it nigh on impossible to descend at any sort of speed comfortably.

Saddle :

There is no one size fits all or one shape that suits everyone. Generally the more forward the position the narrower the saddle and the higher up a person sits the wider but after that it is important to be aware of the width of your own sit bones. A quick way to get a an idea if a saddle will suit you is to sit on a few different bikes in your jeans. If a saddle feels comfy in jeans chances are that it will feel comfy when wearing padded shorts. You will be surprised how well this works.

Pedals :

If the shoes, cleats and pedals are not set up correctly you will have problems no matter how close your saddle height may be. The float action of certain types of pedals works differently to others. Look pivot from the rear of the cleat whilst Shimano pivot from the front and rear. Speedplay offer the greatest amount of adjustment in all directions.


Professional bike fitting

The best way to get a bike fit is always on your own bike on a turbo trainer. Even if you have two bikes it is worth getting both set up, as with different frame geometry your measurements can be slightly different.

My own first bike fit was when I went to Tony Ryan when I was racing under 16. Tony had no fancy tools or gadgets but had a vast amount of experience and knowledge. Tony set many a rider up on their bikes and passed on a huge amount of knowledge to any who would listen.

Nowadays there is a vast amount of modern technology available to the modern bike fitter, but just like driving a car, experience is essential. Passing your driving test does not make you an expert driver. The bike fitter must be a cyclist or a triathlete. They must be able to relate to what you tell them and what your goals are. They must also have a good understanding of anatomy and biomechanics along with a good working knowledge of the mechanical aspects of the bike too.

When someone comes to me, whether they want to ride for 1 hour pain free, ride The Ras, The Etape, Paris-Roubaix or The Ring of Kerry, cycle 595k in one day or climb over 30,000 feet in one day, I can help them find the correct position from my own personal experience on each of those types of cycle. If they are physically imbalanced, as someone with size 44 and 46 feet and a significant leg imbalance I can help them from my own personal experience again.

I always focus on three different factors when carrying out a bike fit :

The person physically – This includes being made aware of any injuries past or present, the flexibility of the person, their pedalling style and their cycling requirements.

The person mentally – This includes items such as how confident they are in a group or descending and their goals for the future on the bike.

The bike itself – This includes the geometry of the frame. The contact points, saddle, pedals and handlebars. How component changes will effect comfort and bike handling.


I use a combination of laser alignment and video technology together with experience in every bike fit. I also advise on remedial exercises and stretching routines which can be very beneficial to many cyclists. Advice on frame size etc. when purchasing a new bike after the bike fit is also part of the service along with a detailed report of all of your key measurements.


I hope that you will have found this interesting and helpful. If you would like me to fit you to your bike here in Clonmel or if a club or company would like me to come along to fit a number of cyclists in a single day (please allow 1 hour per person) just drop me a line at barry@thecyclingblog.com

The most important answer comes last ……..

How much does a full cyclingblog bike fit cost?  €70 





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