If you’ve just bought a new road bike, or you’re upgrading to a new bike, before you can really enjoy the ride, you might need some advises helping you to set up your bike. Setting up a road bike for different positions is relatively simple, so here are a few tips to help set up your bike to get the best position for individual needs. Road bikes are the fastest and most efficient way to get from A to B on road. Doing so in comfort is another thing. The needs of road riders can be categorized as three separate things: race, comfort and endurance, especially for three aspects: saddle height and position, handlebar stem length, handlebar width and controls position. Here are some tips to help you set up your new road bike.
Saddle height and position
A major factor is the saddle height. Having the correct saddle height can make a huge difference to your pedalling efficiency. Research suggests that having the saddle height out by just 1-1.5cm can make a very big difference in your cycling efficiency. The reason for this is that when the saddle height is not correct, unnecessary and inefficient movement is created at the hip, knee and ankle joints. If your knee is locked straight your saddle is too high and vice versa if your knee is bent the saddle is too low.
Correct saddle height is a constant. There’s no raising it for racing or lowering it for touring. No matter what sort of road cycling you’re doing, your saddle height should be the same. The actual position of the saddle can have an effect on comfort so make sure it is flat, use a spirit level if necessary, to avoid slipping off or moving around too much.
Comfort– For comfort the saddle should be level and slightly forward of the medium setting to keep the body more upright and ease pressure on the back and shoulders
Race– For racing in order to allow the leg to push more while also lowering the front of the body, the saddle tends to be pushed further back. The only exception to this is in time trialling or triathlon, where the saddle is pushed very far forward to allow for more powerful leg leverage and open up the leg angle as the body, tends to be much further forward on aero bars or in the tuck position.
Endurance– Setting the saddle for endurance riding is again the best of both worlds so a neutral position will make it comfortable without losing too much power.
Handlebar stem length
The handlebars and stem have a much bigger affect on comfort than you might imagine. If the stem is too long or too short you will either be overstretched or bunched up, both of which affects control as well as comfort.
Sit on the saddle and place the hands on the brake hoods as this is the furthest the body will lean. A good rule of thumb is to get the bars so that when the hands are on the drops your torso is about 40° from horizontal. Your upper arms at about 90° to your torso with a slight bend at the elbow.
Comfort– For comfort a shorter higher stem can make you control better and the body less stretched out, also keeps steering light but if too short it may become twitchy.
Race– For racing a longer flatter stem is usually used to keep the front end down, the arms further forward and to slow the steering down.
Endurance– For endurance, a neutral balance of height and length needs to be struck for comfort and control as well as not forsaking speed.
Handlebar width and controls position
Handlebar width and shape can also influence comfort and control. If they are too narrow the steering becomes twitchy but if they are too wide and they can become unwieldy as well as being uncomfortable. The length of drop, shape, distance forward (some extend further forward than others placing controls further away) and position of brake controls should all be taken into account as well. A good rule of thumb is that the bars should be slightly wider than the width of the armpits across the chest.
Comfort– For comfort a wider, shallow drop bar with short forward reach provides more control as the body is not stretched and aerodynamics aren’t as important. Brake/gear controls are normally placed higher to bring them closer to the body and easier to grab.
Race– The current trend is for bars to be slightly narrower to bring the shoulders in and hoods positioned slightly lower to keep the front end down. Shallow bars are very popular as they allow more time to be spent on the drops without too much strain.
Endurance– Endurance is again a balance of comfort and control. Bars are slightly wider than race set up to allow the chest to open up and provide a wider hand position. Hoods are set to medium height as comfort is more important.
The right tyre pressure
Having the right tyre pressure can make a big difference to how a bike rides. Too low and the bike will feel slow while too high and the ride will be harsh. Most tyres will have a maximum inflation pressure on the sidewall, usually is about 120psi. But that doesn’t mean your tyre should be inflated to this pressure. Depending on your weight and the condition of the roads, you can safely run lower pressures, and don’t be afraid to try. Trying lowering them by 5-10psi and going for a ride, until you find your type. Generally, the wider the tyre the lower the pressure. Use a track pump with an integrated pressure gauge or better still, invest in a pressure gauge for best accuracy.