Bike Setup

Get Comfy in the Cockpit

Now if you’re thinking about some dodgy nightclub in Leeds then you’re on the wrong mailing list. This is about getting comfy on your bike. Chances are you’ve got a nice bike. It’s your bike and you don’t share it. You bought it to ride, and you want to enjoy riding it. You won’t be enjoying it if it cripples you, not unless you’re even more of a deviant than you look in that lycra outfit! No, setting up your bike so that it fits you is crucial to getting the most out of it. Presented here are some of the more immediate opportunities for a little faff.

First, Pedals

To clip in, or not? To the novice clipping into pedals may seem like an open invite for a brief wobble and quick fall whenever you come to a stop. Yes, that is a risk but one you soon overcome. The two big advantages of clipping in are (a) always getting your feet in the same/right place on the pedals and (b) allowing you to pull up on the pedals as well as push down – using both legs together makes it easier, once you get used to it.

What type of clip in pedals? ‘fraid I don’t know. I have SPD on my road bike and toe-clips on my mountain bike. A quick email to the group would no doubt get some good info by return.

Second, Seat height

Makes a big difference to your efficiency and how much you knacker your knees when riding. The classic guidance is that you should set your seat height to give you a slight bend in your knee when the pedal is furthest away.

Adjusting the seat height should be a simple matter of loosening the clamp where the seat post meets the frame, raising/lowering the seat and re-tightening the clamp.

Third, Seat position (forward-back)

You may have never looked under your seat. If you do you’ll see that it is on two rails and there is a clamp holding the two rails. Underneath there will be a nut (usually an allen bolt), maybe two. Loosen this bolt and the seat will slide forwards or back. The common wisdom is that your seat should be positioned so that when you sit on it and position the pedals horizontally (with your feet on them), there should be a vertical line through your knee and the ball of your lead foot.

When I ride I move forward and backward on the seat, even so the ‘vertical line’ is a good guide for getting a starting point for the seat position.

And Seat Angle

The same clamp that holds your seat in position (forwards-backwards) also allows you to adjust your seat angle. This makes a huge difference to the comfort of the gentleman cyclist, and apparently a significant difference to the cycling pleasure for the female cyclist too.

Fourth, handlebar reach and height

Modern bikes have a ‘stem’ which clamps to the steerer (the tube that’s attached to the top of the forks) and carries the handlebars. What you might not realize is that it is symmetrical, so you can turn it upside down. Why? Most stems have a modest angle to them (6,10 or 15 degrees), so depending on which way up it either gives a slight rise or drop to the handlebars. You can also buy them in different lengths to increase or reduce the reach from the seat to the bars (but that involves spending money).

You may have also notice that your stem is sat on a number of spacer rings. This gives you some scope to move the stem up or down a little (maybe as much as 20mm?)

So how do you adjust this? First lets look at raising and lowering the stem. When you are sat on your bike you should see a single allen bolt in the centre of the top of the steerer, and two bolts on the stem at the side closest to you. Loosen the top bolt a little, then loosen the two stem bolts. The handlebars no longer steer the front wheel. Now unscrew the centre steerer bolt completely. The stem and spacers should now lift clear. Be careful not to lift the frame off the forks, so you don’t disturb the bearings in the bottom of the headstock. Simply re-assemble with more or less spacers above/below the stem to suit. Now the important bit, tightening it back up: first take up the slack on the two stem bolts to a point just before they start to clamp the steerer – keep it loose for the moment. Now tighten the stem centre bolt – ONLY FINGER TIGHT, then nip it up by say 1/8th of a turn. Too tight and the steering wont move smoothly, too loose and the forks will rock in the headstock. Too slack is safer than too tight, and causes less damage. Then tighten up the two steerer bolts. These need to be tight enough to stop you twisting the bars independently of the front wheel. (stand at the front of the bike, hold the wheel with your legs and try move the bars). ‘tis done.

If you want to flip the stem up the other way, then you’ll also need to take the handlebars off (two or four bolts at the front of the stem). That’s all there is to it.

And while you have the front clamp loose you can also position your handlebars higher or lower, twisting their position in the clamp.

One last thing, where there is a pattern of bolts (2, 4 or any other number >1), you should loosen and tighten them progressively – tighten one a bit then another, then another then back to the first. This way the clamp is tightened evenly.

Fifth, brakes

Specifically brake levers. If you peel back the rubber hood (still a cycling thing going on here), you’ll find an allen bolt hidden beneath. The bolt tightens the band that holds the brake lever to the handlebar.  Loosen the bolt a little and you’ll be able to move the lever. You can point them in, or out, put them higher, or lower, whatever suits. You should be able to move them a little without worrying about the handlebar tape, though taking the tape off, positioning the brakes and then re-taping the bars isn’t such a big deal if you’ve got a little patience.

Between the stem, the handlebars and the brakes there’s plenty of adjustment to get a comfortable reach that suit you when you’re sat in the saddle.

Buying shiney bits

As ever there’s lots of shiney bits you can buy here’s some ideas:

  - New seat, different widths and constructions

  - Seat posts, from the extremes of carbon posts to suspension posts

  - Pedals we know about

  - Handlebars come in different widths, and with different drop profiles. Plus cow-horns of course.

Final words

It’s personal. Hopefully this article has opened your eyes to an array of tweaks you can make to your bike to make it more comfortable for you. When it’s more comfortable you’ll be happier riding further, for longer and maybe a bit faster too.