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A perfect match—you and your bike
The correct interface between rider and bike is a crucial foundation for developing good riding skills. The key is to sort out your three contact points: the saddle; pedals; brakes and handle bars. The set up of your saddle and pedals primarily effects 'power' while the handle bars are all about control.
Sit on it
Seat height is determined by pedaling efficiency and has nothing to do with being able to touch the ground while sitting in the saddle. To find the right height - put one heel on the pedal at its lowest point while keeping your pelvis square on the saddle. Your leg should be straight. It's a bit high if your pelvis rocks with each pedal stroke. Adjust the height by flicking over the quick release mechanism at the base of the seat post and unscrewing it a few turns.
There's an Allen bolt under your seat to adjust its angle. Men tend to find a horizontal setting most comfortable, whereas women generally prefer to angle the nose down slightly (around 5-10° or about 1 cm lower at the front than the back).
The same bolt lets the saddle slide backwards and forwards on its rails—the central position is about right for most people. For techno freaks, spin your cranks to the horizontal position and use a plumb bob to line up the back of your knee cap with the ball of your foot.
Choose a comfortable saddle. It's an individual thing requiring trial and hopefully not too much error. Beware of the big softie. Shape, base material and rail flex determine comfort, not the amount of foam on top. Women should consider a specific women's model. There are an increasing number on the market; they tend to be narrower in the front, softer in the nose and wider at the back to better suit a woman's pelvis shape. Be careful it's not so wide that you cannot easily slide over the back of the seat on steep descents.
Power to the pedals
The secret to efficient pedalling is an even cadence, pushing down on one pedal while pulling up with the opposite one. Tightening your toe straps helps achieve this. The ultimate solution though is to score some clip-less pedals. You click in and out of these a bit like a ski binding. They can be a bit daunting to come to grips with but are ultimately easier to use and are worth an extra gear, or about 10% extra pedalling power. When setting up your cleats or toe clips, aim to position the pedal spindle under the ball of your foot.
Cycling shoes have a stiffer sole which provides a bigger platform to push on and hence transfer more power to the pedals. They're a must if you go for clip-less pedals. Cranks come in different lengths; the standard is 175 mm. Riders with shorter legs should consider 170 mm cranks which require less bending and extension of your legs to complete a rotation.
Get a grip
With modern brakes you only need to use one or at the most two fingers to effectively stop your bike. Think of your hands performing two independent functions: Thumb and outer fingers for holding on, steering and weight transfer. Index and middle fingers control speed.
Controlled riding in difficult terrain is only possible by performing these two functions independently. You'll probably need to move your brakes towards the centre of the bars so your inside fingers can easily grab the brake at the outside for maximum leverage. This can make combination brake/gear shifters slightly more difficult to reach but in most cases is an acceptable compromise.
Brake lever angle; try them angled down at about 45° to begin with, then adjust them up or down until it feels most comfortable. A good method is to jump on your bike, extend your arms and rest your wrists on the top of the handle bars. Your fingers should rest easily on top of the brake levers.
If you have smaller hands then adjust the brake levers closer to the handle bars by tightening the screw under the brake mechanism.
If your bike doesn't already have them, you can add bar ends which some people find useful when hill climbing.
The distance from saddle to handle bars should be comfortable, ie. not too cramped or over stretched when riding. This will be correct if you have the right size frame. It can be adjusted with different length stems but this will change how the bike handles. Keep within a range of 110-130 mm..
Your handle bars should be around 25-75 mm lower than the top of your seat (lower bars are better for hill climbing, higher are better for descending and are more comfortable for your back). Adjust handle bar height by using a stem with a different rise (-5° to 25°) or placing spacers under the stem An easy option for raising the height is to use downhill bars.