Excuse: “My knees always hurt after I bike.”
A bike that is not properly sized or adjusted can cause a number of problems from wobbly biking to hurting knees. With the appropriate adjustments, your bike will fit like a sweet metal glove. Almost everything on a bicycle bends or adjusts, so play with it and make it fit you.
Frame Size: Bikes come in a variety of frame sizes (the “frame” is the basic, metal portion of your bike – ie the colored part). There are a few ways to find out the right frame size. The easiest way is to straddle the bike over the top bar. If you’re picking out a mountain bike you should have 3-4 inches of clearance between your pubic bone and the top bar. If you’re picking out a road bike, you should have 1-2 inches of clearance. This “Fitting and Adjusting Your Bike” video (also embedded below) from The League of American Bicyclists shows a similar way to check this measurement. A bike shop will gladly walk you through this process and can do more specific measurements.
Seat Height: Every time you push your pedals around one full rotation is called a pedal stroke. You’re going to have the most comfortable and effective pedal stroke if your seat is adjusted properly. The easiest way to determine this is by putting one leg over the bike and putting the pedal at its lowest position. Your leg should be slightly bent, not fully extended. At first, this may feel like the bike is too high and make you nervous when stopping or starting. However, this will help you to get the most out of your power. When you stop at stop signs, you should be coming off your seat, not teetering on your toes. Seat height is also typically the culprit if you’re running into balance issues or if your knees hurt.
Handlebars: Most handlebars are adjusted by a small screw at the top, in the middle of the handlebars (the “headset”). Loosen this bolt (or possibly two bolts) and adjust the handlebars to be where you find them the most comfortable. I recently made this change on my Boda Boda and it made a big difference in my posture and how the bike steered when I had a passenger. While you’re checking out your handlebars, double check that any handbrakes or shifters are conveniently accessible for your fingers.
Afraid you’ll break your bike? Before you leave the bike shop, ask them to help you make sure everything is properly sized and fitted. Also ask them to show you how to do it yourself for future reference.