To get started in Road Cycling all you need is a correctly setup standard “off the shelf” racing bike in good condition. You might choose to upgrade to more advanced equipment at a later stage.
Correct set up on a bike will be more efficient, comfortable and enhance performance. Incorrect bike set up can lead to muscle strains and overuse injuries in the knees, ankles, hips, and back, and reduce the control and handling of the bike. The main areas to focus on when setting up a bike are:
- Body Measurement for set up
- Road Frame size
- Road Seat height
- Shoe position on pedals
- Seat position (fore – aft position)
- Upper Body position
Body Measurement for Set up
First and foremost in bike set up is to obtain various body dimensions that are used in various formulae to determine correct bike set up. The most important being the “inseam measurement” which is explained here
Dress in a pair of knicks and thin socks. No shoes
Measure the distance from floor to crutch to obtain the inseam measurement.
To do this, place a thick spined book between your legs as if to use it as a seat – standing upright on a hard floor surface with your back to the wall. Mark along the top of the book edge, which is touching the wall. Using a tape measure or ruler, measure the distance from the floor to the mark. This is the inseam measurement. (Take the measurement 4 or 5 times and take the average.)
This measurement is then used in the formulae that determine frame size and seat height.
Road Frame Size
A correctly sized frame will provide a balance between height and length as well as responsiveness and comfort.
Factory built bikes are made to a formula which suits the average shaped rider. People with longer and shorter bodies (or the reverse) can find it hard to get a stock frame. In this case where possible a rider should have his/her frame customized by a frame builder.
The formula used to determine the approximate frame size is INSEAM (CM) x 0.65
Seat height is one of the most important measurements for correct positioning on the bike. Wrong seat height can waste energy and result in a less efficient pedalling action.
Being too low will cause bunching up on the bike and restrict the full contraction of the leg muscles. Being too high will cause rocking on the seat, which wastes energy. It can also cause overstretching of the leg muscles.
Here are 2 methods for finding the correct seat height:
The Heel Method
This is the easier method for getting the correct height.
In the normal riding position turn the cranks until they line up parallel with the seat tube of the frame.
Position the center of the heel directly over the center of the pedal axle.
Adjust the seat height up or down until the leg appears fully extended. If the heel of the shoe is thicker than the sole on the ball of the foot, the seat position will need to be adjusted, e.g. if the heel is 3mm thicker than the shoe at the ball of the foot the seat needs to be lowered by 3mm.
The Calculated Method
The formula for this is INSEAM (CM) x 1.09
This formula will provide a starting point for seat height which will be at the upper level of the adjustment range.
Seat height is measured from the center of the pedal axle (crank lined up with seat tube) through to the top of the seat cup.
Shoe Position on Pedals
To get the most out of each pedal stroke, specific pedals and shoes are used.
There are two types of pedal systems, one that requires “toe straps” and the other is the “clipless” system.
Specific cycling shoes for both of these systems require a “cleat”. The cleat positions and secures the foot on the pedals for maximum benefit. It is secured to the sole of the shoes and is adjustable.
Many factors are considered when placing the cleats, and as it plays such an important role in preventing injury and maximizing effort it is best to have a coach or a specialist retailer advise and adjust cleat positioning.
Seat Position (fore – aft position)
Loosen seat bolt enough to be able to slide the seat forward and back.
On a level surface lean the bike against the wall and sit in the normal position with the feet at the 9 and 3 o’clock position.
Have someone drop a plumb bob (easily made by tying a piece of string to a key, or a lump of bluetac) from the small lump just below the kneecap on the forward leg – all the way to the floor between the crank and frame.
Adjust the seat position until the plumb line falls through or slightly behind the pedal axle of the forward foot.(not more than 1-2 cm behind the axle)
Before re tightening seat bolt check that the seat is perfectly level.
Upper Body Position
Upper body extension is a personal thing. There are no “rules” only general guidelines. The goal is to achieve a balance between comfort and aerodynamics.
Head Stem Height
This depends on your height and frame size. A guideline is that the top of your head stem should be 5 – 10cm below the top of your seat. Lowering the head stem further improves aerodynamics but this may feel uncomfortable to people with less flexibility in the lower back, hips and hamstrings.
Head Stem Length
Whilst in the racing position on the bike have someone drop a plumb line from the tip of your nose. The line should fall directly through or within 1 – 2cm behind the centre of the point where the handlebars connect to the stem.