Bike Set-Up Standards for New Bike Buyers

Why Do Bike Set-Up Standards Matter?

There is a synergy that exists between athletes and the equipment they use. Most sports seem to understand and teach this – the right golf club for the way the golfer swings leads to a better golfer, the right skis for the conditions and the skier leads to a better skier. These are not professional athletes, they are people who just like to golf, or enjoy skiing; yet the majority of these athletes seem to understand that their equipment must work for them, not the other way around. However, when it comes to buying a bike, this synergy and balance between athlete and product is often dismissed, or simply ignored. For far too many cyclists, too much attention and time are spent on the product itself instead of the relationship that the product has to the cyclist using it.

When selecting a bike, it is crucial to remember that a bike will work as it was designed only when it is set-up within the intended engineering parameters. Your bike should not only allow your ideal riding position to be achieved within its functional range, but it should also allow for positioning changes to be made down the road without jeopardizing the strength, safety or handling of the bike. Too many people buy bikes that paint them into a corner; the only room their bike will allow their position to go is down a road that they will be unlikely to take. Ironically this trend gets worse the more someone wants a higher end machine, as these bikes are often designed for professional athletes that have a far different physiological makeup and lifestyle than the end consumer.

As bikes have become lighter and more technically advanced, it has become more crucial that you not only get a bike that can achieve your riding position, but that the bike supports your position in a “healthy” and structurally correct manner simultaneously. The only way to accomplish this is to get your ideal position assessed pre-purchase. Once your riding position has been established, a MBFA fitter can use the information to determine not only whether a bike will fit you well now, but they can make sure it has the adjustability needed to fit you well in the future too.

Key Set-Up Standards: Now that we’ve established the importance of set-up standards, what are the standards that you should look for, and expect a shop to recommend, in a bike that is a good match for your riding position?

1. Spacer Configuration Under the Stem: Some forks are a little less and some a little more, but most current road bikes have an engineering safety restriction that states that fewer than 4cm (1.6”) of spacers should exist between the bottom of the stem and the top of the headset/frame. Using more than the maximum number of spacers recommended by the manufacturer can compromise the integrity and stiffness of the fork steerer tube (which supports much of the rider’s body weight). Having to use more than 4cm of spacers is a sure sign that there is a better choice of equipment out there. Ideally most rider’s should be more in the middle of the range, with under 3cm of spacers below the stem.

2. Proportional Stem Length and Angle to Frame Size: Why does stem length and angle matter? Because stem position in relation to the front wheel arguably effects your weight distribution and balance on the bike more than any other variable and weight distribution directly relates to handling and stability. Despite its importance, this is the category that is perhaps the most abused in the bike industry. Changing stem length and angle to “make the bike fit” is the favorite “bandage” of many a bad bike purchase. So what stem angle and length is recommended and acceptable on your new bike?

• Stem Angle: Except in unique situations, stem angles should not exceed a 6-10 degree rise (upward angle).

• Stem Length: There should be proportionality between the stem size required and the size of the bike it is mounted. In other words, a short 8cm stem on a 60cm bike, or a long 13cm stem on a 51cm bike, almost always means something is wrong!

When a stem is out of these ranges, the shame is that the bike will never achieve what the designer intended, or what it was advertised to do, in regards to handling or stability.

3. Appropriate Frame Size: In an attempt to allow general bike shops to carry less inventory, an alarming trend has emerged where as few as four frame sizes are offered and advertised to “fit” everyone. So what happens if your only choice is a Small or a Medium, and a size between those two would really be ideal? Well you compromise. Either way you walk out of the shop with a bike that is too small with a longer, overly upright stem, or too big a bike that is too long a reach and feels unwieldy on your first descent. Neither one of these situations should be a reality as both scenarios are severely compromised, yet they both happen all the time. This is one of the big pitfalls of getting your bike fitted post purchase or purchasing from a brand-driven dealer instead of a rider-driven dealer.

By starting the process of buying and sizing a bike at a “Fit First” based dealer, the needs of the athlete are defined and prioritized in front of the needs of the equipment and this is the way it should be. Bike fit is not just getting a bike to feel more comfortable. In its purest form, it is an understanding of the synergy that exists between athlete and equipment, and building a foundation that gives any athlete the most flexibility, functionality, and desired outcome they desire through properly mating equipment and rider.

A bike is a lot like one’s home – if your home is the correct size and layout, it gives you stability and makes you want to live there and work to maintain and improve it. If it is wrong, one simply wants to move. When it comes to bikes, far too many people are moving. Your MBFA Certified Dealer will make sure you want to stay in your house for a long, long time by making sure that your bike fits the needs of your body and that you do not have to try to fit the needs of your bike.

Additional Resources and Subject Links:
Comparing Geometry/Fit Between Bike Models
Bottom Bracket Drop and Fork Rake – What and Why.