Once you decide what kind of riding you want to do, the most important decision you have to make is which bike to buy. While there are many factors to consider, the final one is choosing a bike that fits you so that you can ride comfortably and safely. If youíre being smart and buying your bike from a reputable bike shop, the experts there will help you choose a bike that fits you and make the minor adjustments that ensure itís just right. If they donít, or if they try to sell you a bike that doesnít fit, go to another shop. That said, below are a few tips for figuring out for yourself if you and the bike are made for one another.
The first thing to check out is whether or not you can comfortably straddle the top tube of the bike while standing up, especially if it has a horizontal top tube. For a road bike, you should have about 1 Ė 2 inches between the top tube and your crotch. You donít want to hop off the seat and be in pain! A mountain bike might require a bit more room since youíre likely to be doing faster dismounts. Of course, this isnít an issue if the top tube curves down to the rear. If youíre looking at bikes on-line, the standover height should be 1 Ė 2 inches less than your inseam.
Once you know you can straddle the bike, take it for a spin so you can check how comfortably you can reach the handlebars. You shouldnít be either too stretched out or uncomfortably upright. You can, however, make several adjustments that can affect handlebar-reach comfort. You can raise or lower the handlebars to suit your needs (racers usually like to be more leaned over and aerodynamic while more casual riders might like a more upright position). Be sure, however, that you never raise the handlebars above the maximum height mark on the stem. Doing so increases the chance of the handlebars coming off the bike while youíre riding. Not good! The handlebars can also be rotated a little up or down to affect the angle at which you hold them. Adjusting the handlebar rotation can take some of the stress off of your wrists and shoulders, making riding more comfortable.
Another aspect of fit is seat height and position. While it might feel initially awkwardly high, your seat should be high enough that when youíre pedaling the down-stroke leg is nearly, but not quite, straight. You always want to maintain a bit of a bend in your knees. This seat height will help maximize your power when pedaling. While you have someone else watching, ride your bike and have them look to see if your hips rock side-to-side while you pedal. If they do, your seat is too high and youíre to stretching to reach the pedals. Lower the seat a bit. Additionally, to help relieve strain on your knees and maximize efficiency, adjust your seatís forward-back position so that when you have both pedals horizontal to the ground your forward knee is over the pedal. It is much easier to have someone else look at your leg to assess this angle.
While you can, and should, adjust your bike as necessary to keep you riding comfortably, itís often easier to have the help of someone who knows what theyíre doing. Do whatever it takes to give yourself a comfortable ride and youíll be happy to spend hours in the saddle.