How To Fit Your Bike

Want to get the most out of your riding? Make sure your bike fits.

A bike that’s adjusted to your specific build improves comfort and reduces post-ride soreness, while making your pedaling more efficient. Whatever kind of biking you’re doing—road, mountain, commuting, gravel—you need a bike that works with your body, your flexibility, and your riding style. While many bike shops offer a professional fit, it pays to understand the process so you can do it at home or get the most out of the in-store experience. And beware that for years bike fitting advice was based on what pro cyclists needed, which wasn’t always the best advice for recreational riders. Focus on comfort. Here’s how:

Start By Asking a Few Questions

  • What kind of riding do I do?
    Knowing your riding style and discipline will help you get the best fit.
  • Do I have someone who can help me?
    While it’s possible to do much of this bike fit yourself, it will be far easier if you have someone who can help you.
  • Do I have the right tools?
    You will likely need a set of Allen wrenches, a tape measure, and a plumb line (which can easily be made with a weight on a string).
  • Do I have my riding gear with me?
    Do your bike fit in the gear you will ride in, including your riding shoes. 


You want to start with the correct frame size, which affects reach—the distance between the saddle and handlebars. Most bike models come in small, medium, and large sizes (some use numerical measurements in centimeters). The right frame size will get you in the ballpark for fine tuning. The sizes generally correspond to your height and inseam, and most manufacturers provide a sizing chart. When you test ride a bike, if it feels immediately awkward it’s probably the wrong frame size. Your goal is to be able to reach the handlebars comfortably, with your arms slightly bent. 

Standover Height

With the right frame size, you should be able to stand over the bike, feet flat on the ground, and have an inch or two of clearance between the top tube and your crotch. With mountain bikes you want a little more clearance, with road bikes a little less. Some bikes have a sloping top tube, which makes measuring clearance more art than science. Use common sense: Can you put your feet on the ground without inviting injury?      

Foot Position

Your feet are one of the main connection points to your bicycle. If you're using flat pedals there are likely no adjustments to make. But if you’re clipping into your bike, the location and angle of your cleat on your shoe is an important part of bike fit. If it’s off, you may experience pain in the back or side of your knees, your hips, or even your lower back. 

You want the center of your cleat beneath the ball of your foot. Check it: Feel for the bones on the outside of your feet near the base of your big toe and pinky toe. Imagine a line between the two of them and place the center of your cleat directly on that line.

You want the cleat positioned so that your feet attach to the pedal at a natural angle. To check this, sit and hang your feet off of the edge of a table or ledge, and have a friend assess the angle of your feet when they’re hanging naturally. Try to mimic this with your cleats. Go on short rides to see how your legs feel and adjust as needed. If the angle is wrong you’ll likely feel pain in your knee.  

Seat Height

Your optimum seat height will be similar between mountain bikes, road bikes, and recreational bikes. While there will be minor adjustments for things like the types of pedals and shoes you use, it should be about the same as measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat. A common method for finding the right distance is to measure your inseam and then multiply that by 0.885.

You can also do this without a tape measure. Have a friend hold your bike up. Get on your saddle. With the pedal at its lowest position, your heel should comfortably reach the pedal with your leg fully extended. When you’re riding, with the ball of your foot on the pedal, you should have a slight bend in your knee at the bottom of your pedal stroke. 

A man stands in between his bike and a stone wall.

Saddle Set Back

This refers to how far forward or backward your saddle sits. Here’s how to find the best position. Imagine your crankset is a clock with 12 at the top. With a friend helping, sit on your bike and move your pedal to the 3 o’clock position. Drop a plumb line off the front of your knee. It should go directly through the ball of your foot and the pedal axle. Move your saddle forward or backward as needed. 

Saddle Angle

For the vast majority of riders, having a perfectly flat saddle, parallel to the ground, will be the best position. Start there and adjust your angle if you feel any pain, numbness, or discomfort.

Handlebar Height

With your saddle properly adjusted, there’s no “right” setting for your handlebar height. It comes down to personal preference and the type of riding you’re doing. Many road bikers like to put their handlebars lower than the saddle to achieve a more aerodynamic position, but recreational riders or mountain bikers will likely find this position uncomfortable and unnecessary.

For road bikes, there should be about a 90-degree angle between your upper arms and your torso and a 45-degree angle between your spine and your hips, with your spine about 45 degrees to the surface of the road. To raise or lower your handlebars, adjust the number of spacers above or below the stem on your headset. (If you can’t get this right even with changing the stem, you may need a larger or smaller bike frame.) New cyclists may find it’s best to lower their handlebars gradually, as they gain flexibility and can ride more comfortably in an aerodynamic position. 

For mountain biking, the handlebar height comes down to personal preference. While comfortably holding your handlebars, you want to be able to have a clear view of the trail in front of you without craning your neck. This will likely mean that your handlebars are close to the height of your saddle.

For recreational riding, you’ll likely want handlebars set even higher than the saddle to give a more upright position. This is both comfortable and great for visibility, as you can easily look ahead and side to side. 

Handlebar Tilt

Regardless of the type of bike, you want your wrist in a neutral position, not tilted forward or backward, which can cause strain and stress. Adjust your handlebars until you can grab them comfortably in the neutral position. If you have drop bars, start with the bottom curve of your bars parallel to the ground and adjust until you find the right position.

Custom Parts

If you have maxed out the adjustments on your bike and still can’t find a comfortable position, don’t give up. You might just need to swap out a couple parts. If you feel cramped you may need a different length stem to extend your handlebars farther from your saddle. If your shoulders are feeling squished together, you may need to buy wider handlebars. But if you consistently feel uncomfortable no matter what you do, you may need a different size bike. 

Listen to Your Body

When it comes to bike fit, the most important thing is comfort. Use these tips as a guideline, but listen to your body and don't be afraid to tweak your fit until it feels right. Small adjustments can make big differences—especially in your knees, hips, and lower back. And when you get that perfect fit, there's nothing better. 

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.