Handlebar Adjustments and Hand Position in Bike Fitting

These 5 categories of hand position and handlebar adjustments used by the best professional bike fitters on the planet.  

Many people experience discomfort in cycling specifically focuses on one of the three contact points: the hands.  While the most popular change is likely stem length or height, today we’ll talk about the changes every bike fitter should examine.

Hand positioning on a bicycle is a mix of the bar’s height, depth and width, bar rotation,  length and rise/decline of the stem, and brake type/hood and position (including the lever’s reach).  The position can be augmented by changing any of these variables.  Finding the right one for you is a level of trial and error and most likely a visit to a professional who examines all of these factors and how they contribute to your overall position.  Each contact point change on the bicycle may impact another contact point but for this specific article, we’ll examine hand position in isolation.  

General Hand Position

BikeFit Arm Angle Road Bike FittingGenerally, your hands should be placed in whatever position you most frequently ride. The most comfortable position for the majority of road and gravel bike cyclists is where the angle between the torso and the upper arm is around 90 degrees (see illustration right). You should have a slight bend in the elbows to maximize comfort and control. This bend can increase if you want to become more aerodynamic such as when time-trialing, racing, or riding into a significant headwind.

Once you’ve found your sweet spot you can begin adjusting the position. Don’t forget to move your hands around on the bars to try different positions. We also recommend testing standing on the pedals to accommodate climbing or sprinting out of the saddle.

If you ride more upright, the angle at the shoulder may be less than 90 degrees. This less than 90-degree angle applies to road bikes, touring bikes, and indoor bikes.

Comfort should be your guide when adjusting the height of the handlebars. The road bike racer typically has the top of the handlebars below the seat height. For non-racers of many disciplines, the top of the bars may be even with the saddle or even higher. 

Stem Height / Handlebar Height

The height is impacted by 2 factors:

  • # of spacers under the stem
  • Stem Angle

Headset Spacers

When you purchase a new bike, the fork is uncut which means you’ll have the option to choose to cut the fork height lower, which would accommodate fewer headset spacers.   From a bike fitting standpoint, it’s unhelpful to do this from purely aesthetic motivation until you’ve discovered proper position.  The only exception to this would be a custom bike where your measurements from a previously fit bike were used to create a custom geometry for you minus the spacers.  A small side note here is that fit changes with fitness, age, injury, and other factors.  As a result, having the ability to make adjustments with your bike is extremely helpful unless you want to continue buying bikes regularly.  If financially feasible, this is not the worst problem on the planet.  For reference, most bikes will offer about 40-60mm in spacer height.

Stem Height

An adjustable stem or sizing stem is the best way to find your ideal stem height.  A BikeFit Pro with this tool can help you test from -30 degrees to +30 degrees while also easily examining your stem length as well.

Without the use of this tool through a professional fitter or bike shop, some companies offer adjustable stems. We define an adjustable stem as having more than one axis of adjustment. There are many one-axis adjustable stems that don’t allow for adjusting the stem’s length.  From our standpoint, if you are going to invest the money into an adjustable stem (not many left on the market), you’re likely better off visiting a fitter where they’ll aid you in finding the right stem and then you’re afforded with the opportunity to purchase one (with the proper specifications) that matches your bike and style.  Comfort first; style second.

Speaking of style, many cyclists see professional bikes and want to emulate their stem length and drop.  While many of those parts may be available including some sexy looking one-piece bar and stem combos, how do you know before purchasing if the reach, drop, and length are right for your riding style, goals, distance…etc?  We are not saying that these products are not great or don’t offer advantages but style without fit is worthless.  For example, if someone purchases a -17 degree stem and “slams” their bike (removes all the spacers) but can barely survive a ride for more than an hour without dismounting to stretch negates the potential “aero” benefits of that position.  They also will potentially be forced to book an appointment with a reputable spine surgeon in a few years.   That’s not to say that no one should ride in an aggressive position.  There are some flexible, solid-core individuals who can sustain that position while remaining comfortable for hours.  Most of them are professional or aspiring racers but just because they do it, doesn’t mean you must to experience true cycling enjoyment.  In the end, we like the advice from “Big Jonny” posted on the Drunk Cyclist Blog, “Forget slamming.  Ride what your body requires.”


Stem Length

Although this may seem like a shameless self-promotion, it’s the truth.  A sizing stem is again the best possible way to efficiently test different stem lengths.  If you visit a bike shop or fitter and they are forced to remove and install a stem each time you want to try a new angle or length, how long would this take?  Removing a stem isn’t difficult per se but it is tedious.  There are multiple points to examine on a bicycle and spending half an hour trying 6 different stems may not be the best use of time.  If we can stress anything in your bike fitting journey, it’s to test positions until you find the one that’s the most comfortable for you  (hopefully in the most efficient manner).

To verify this point, we asked several bike fitters to give their expert opinion on the proper stem a couple of years ago. We began by showing them a number of different cyclists. Of the 8 fitters, we questioned, 6 of 8 failed to recommend the proper stem length the rider ultimately chose after utilizing a sizing stem. Not once did more than 2 fitters guess the desired stem for the rider.  This test was only for length—we didn’t ask about the stem’s height or angle.  Finding the right stem is challenging (and sometimes expensive) to do by yourself and is definitely an area where a BikeFit Pro can help you.  If a bicycle fitting expert recommends a stem without testing or trying a few lengths, we strongly advise you gently recommend they use a sizing stem or find another fitter.

Handlebar Reach and Drop

Handlebar reach is the distance from the center of the stem connection to the bar and the furthest point in the “drops.”  The “drop” is the distance from the highest point of the bar to the lowest point. 

The implications on fit are how the bar affects your position and comfort on the bike.  If you see a handlebar at your local bike shop with some appeal to you, it’s important to find out where it stacks up in both of these variables before you purchase.  For some, the bar upgrade is focused on the material (aluminum vs. carbon), weight or personal choice in a different shape.  The reach, drop, and shape should be comfortable and appropriate for your riding style.  

Photo Credit: Bike Gremlin

Handlebar Rotation

Historically the most frequently used method of determining the handlebar’s rotation was putting the bottom of the drop parallel to the ground or level like the photo on the left. If you walk into most bike shops today, this is what you’ll most likely observe.  This position, while aesthetically pleasing,  is usually not comfortable for most riders. The rotation of your bars is determined solely by what is comfortable, not the bar’s alignment with the earth’s surface.  Rotate your bars upward until you achieve a more neutral wrist position (this can also be achieved through hood placement).  Let comfort be your guide to fine tune as your body will guide you to the best position. This simple adjustment helps improve hand comfort and reduces numbness.

Lever or Brake Placement

Much like the rotation, the goal is a neutral wrist position.  The brake levers on both road, gravel and mountain bikes are mobile and can be adjusted to impact not only wrist position but also reach.  Mountain bikes, like any other type of bike, brake lever position is imperative when establishing a neutral wrist position.

Lever Tilt

This seemingly minuscule change significantly impacts riding comfort.  Like the myth that all handlebar drops should be parallel with the ground, levers do not need to follow the contour of the drop; they can be shifted inward or outward based on comfort.  As much as manufacturers have worked on the ergonomic designs of hoods for comfort, placement on the bar and tilt provides the most natural hand position for the individual preferences and bodies.  Over the years of fitting thousands of riders, here’s what we’ve found that seems to help most riders.

When hoods are set up in line with the handlebar, the hands are in an unnatural position.  Tilting the brake levers inward provides pain relief and increased control.

Below the unnatural position, we are forced into when conforming to untilted hoods shown without the handlebars.

Here the hands hang and move naturally.  The brake lever placement should mimic the natural inclinations of the body.

For most people, that natural position is achieved by rotating the levers/hoods inward on a road or gravel bike. 

Final Hand Position Info

Hopefully, this article provides you with some ideas on the different adjustments and hand position changes on the bike.  We should mention that these are not the only factors and implications in handlebar fitting.  Handlebar shape and width are two variables in hand position and overall comfort that should be part of your fitting process as well.  Consequently, the best possible advice from BikeFit is to not be afraid to try some out-of-the-box changes suggested in this article.  Secondly, and most importantly, setting up an appointment with a qualified BikeFit professional provides crucial advice, the ability to test many of these methods (including products), and an outside set of eyes to observe your riding with the ability to offer vital insight into the best changes for you.  In the end, fitting is a personal experience and although humans have trends, everyone is asymmetrical and unique.  If you are concerned about the expectations of a bike fit or want to learn more about bike fitting, we provide more information on our blog.

Good luck and happy fitting!

-Your BikeFit Team, Paul and Damon

What to Expect in a Bike Fit

The expectations of a bike fit can vary depending on what you need and where you are fitted.  BikeFit breaks down the definition of bike fitting and some realistic expectations for a quality fit.

The short answer to the title in this article: It depends.  It’s impossible to place an “all-encompassing” practice such as bike fitting and apply it to the plethora of cycling disciplines and types of activities on a bike.  That would be equivalent of seeing 1 doctor for every possible ailment.  Beyond the general practitioner, there’s a specialist for almost every condition.  Bike fitters also range in their experience, tools used, education and process.  Therefore, what you should expect will vary but our mission is to help you find the individualized fit you need and to identify the most important elements.  Although anyone can offer bike fitting, it may not necessarily meet your goals.

What is a Bike Fit? 

1.) Adjusting the bicycle to fit the individual needs of the cyclist.  

2.) Educating and aiding the cyclist to function best on their bicycle.

For this article, we are going to focus on part 1.  The second part delves into the world of bike fitters, physical therapists, and coaches who provide riders with ways to improve strength, pedaling technique, flexibility, breathing, and other rider-specific exercises.  This is certainly not saying that you didn’t receive a full fit if these missing from your fit session, but there are different types of fitters and finding one that meets your needs is imperative.  

Let’s begin with the basic understanding of the definition of a bike fit: adjusting the bicycle to fit you.  Other times we’ve defined this as customizing a symmetrical bicycle to an asymmetrical body.  I hope no one is shocked by this nugget of truth but even the ridiculously beautiful people of the world whose eyes are perfectly spaced could have high arches, two different sized feet, or a leg length discrepancy. To take this a step further, we contacted renowned bike fit professional Jessica Bratus of Bike FitMi in Ann Arbor, MI to glean her definition of a bike fit, “It is a process in which every contact point of the bicycle, as well as the macro relationships between contact points, are optimized for that particular body.”  Since we are seriously nailing this point home, the fit is about you, the individual, and your unique body (height, weight, flexibility, physical activity, injury, asymeetry…etc.).   

Fitting Goals

Since we’ve established the individual and subjective nature of fit, it is imperative that before you seek out a fitter, you ask yourself 2 questions:

1.) What results do I want from a bike fit?

This will likely be synonymous with your goals.  Most of these results fall into 2 categories: eliminate/reduce pain or increase performance.  Here are a few examples:

  • Solve my issue with recurring pain on the back of my knees after each ride.
  • Reduce hand numbness that occurs after a few miles.
  • Find a position that will help increase aerodynamics for my next triathlon.
  • Optimize position for best power expenditure while racing.

There are a plethora of results you may desire but the important part of this puzzle is to recognize that a fitter is not a miracle worker.  As a rider, we have to manage our expectations of the fit outcome.  Many fitters provide an excellent experience but they are not going to change you from a beginning rider to a world-class athlete.  

2.) What type of riding or rides will I do in the future?

This is where the “need” or goal of the individual plays an important role in the fit process.  To understand what we mean by “need”, think of the results or goals you want to attain combine it with your type of riding.  Here are a few examples:

  • Gran Fondo
  • Local time trial
  • Club rides every weekend
  • Charity rides like Bike MS
  • Triathlon
  • Commuting to work
  • MTB (downhill, enduro, xc…etc.)
  • Gravel Riding
  • Racing (any discipline)
  • Fat Bike Adventures
  • BMX

Within these examples, there may be some variability of your needs based on the distance, the amount you’ll ride, and competitively, your expectations.  For example, it’s one goal to finish a Gran Fondo and another to be competitive in the top times in your age group.  It’s also noteworthy to mention that the more time you spend on the bike will dictate how much more important a quality, comprehensive fit will help you.  Pain is intensified by duration.  If your aspirations are much simpler like riding at the beach once in a while, you may benefit from proper setup but the full fit experience will be focused on your intensity, duration, and type of riding. 

Bike Fitting vs. Bike Sizing

Now that you’ve established what you want from a fit, let’s explore some common misnomers in fitting.  Bike fitting is an odd and confusing concept in cycling, but it’s even more profound compared to other products and industries using the term “fit.”  What does it mean to find the right fitting shoes, pants, dress, hat…etc.?  If I take the following measurements of my body, this particular article of clothing will supposedly fit (unless you’re a body builder, speed skater, sprinter or track cyclist).  To apply this same sizing logic to cycling:  we assume that if you are a certain height and have a specific inseam, this amazing new bike is going to “fit.”  There are even some systems in bike shops where the body is scanned or medieval torture instruments are used to take measurements which in turn place you on the “perfect fitting bike.”  It may be the correct size, but it’s unlikely that it will “fit” based on the definition we described previously without adjustments or corrections.  Consequently, it’s important to understand the definition because the terms bike fitting and bike sizing are often confused even by professionals and bike shops.  

Without going into excessive detail on the differences between them (we delve into this in another article), bike sizing happens prior to purchasing a bike. The process involves taking measurements of an individual and applying those specific measurements to match a person to the correctly sized bike frame.  Most competent fitters will perform both bike sizing and bike fitting and will understand the relationship between the two.

The Main Components of a Bike Fit

Although there may be a few other processes that some fitters use, most professional bike fits will have the following: An interview, an assessment, adjustments of the 3 main contact points, testing, and a report.

Pre-Fit Interview

Before you sign up for your first fit, we strongly recommend contacting a fitter to discuss your goals and type of riding.  It’s possible that you’re a mountain biker and the fitter you contacted has only worked with road and triathlon bikes.  If that’s the case, it may not be a good fit.  This is also significant if you have an injury (recent or past) that may need the attention of a physical therapy-based fitter.  A quality fitter will tell you about their experience level, whether they’ve helped cyclists attain similar goals, or will inform you if this is outside of their general practice.  If that’s the case, they should refer you to another local professional with the experience to best serve you.

The Interview

Assuming you’ve found the right match, a knowledgeable fitter will interview you either prior or during the fit to glean as much relevant information as possible.  Here are some examples of what they may ask:

  • Goals or objectives for the fit
  • Cycling goals
  • Current type of riding (how much and how often)
  • Injury history including current issues
  • Medical conditions
  • Areas of discomfort
  • Previous fitting information (have you had a fit prior to address the concerns)

There are fitters who may ask more detailed or follow up questions based on their training and comfort.  These are some of the basic ones that every fitter should ask.


This varies significantly across the spectrum from fitter to fitter.  If you receive a fit from a medical professional fitter, they will likely perform an off-bike structural assessment or flexibility assessment as part of the fit.  This is not a requirement of a bike fit.  Unfortunately, there are many fitters who are not qualified to assess your flexibility by grabbing your leg and checking its range of motion.  If a fitter does incorporate off-bike assessments, they should explain to you the purpose and how it affects the fit.  The qualified ones will be forthcoming and assure you are completely comfortable during the process.  If you’re not, inform them immediately.

For those who do not perform an off-bike physical assessment, they will likely start their assessment process by observing your pedaling motion and body movement during the warm-up phase of the fit. 

Adjustment: Fitting Should Focus on the 3 Contact Points

The founder of BikeFit, Paul Swift, popularized the term, “making the bike disappear.”  The idea that you are literally in space fully functioning in whatever activity or event that’s occurring and the only resistance you encounter is the wind, the mountain, the rocks, your muscles screaming or on a rare occasion, an ostrich chase.  Unfortunately for many riders, you are keenly aware of the presence of your bike including discomfort or pain in the three contact points: feet, hands, and rear end.  

Regardless of your goal, style of riding, or reason for getting a fit, you can expect a competent fitter will aptly examine and potentially adjust all 3 main contact points.  We’ll argue that even a fit for a flat pedal (as opposed to clipless pedals), while it may require less attention, should still properly examine and correct at the feet.  As Jessica mentioned earlier, every fit should focus on these contact points and the relationship between them.  Unfortunately, there are countless stories of riders who invested significantly into professional fits that ignored one of these three areas or only barely scraped the surface.  Although we won’t to delve into the extent of how each area should be examined in this article, you should expect a fitter to be equipped with the knowledge and tools to adjust all points thoroughly.  When this doesn’t happen, you get a case like one of our customers:

Mark set a goal to complete in a 170 mile,  3-day ride across Florida.  Unfortunately, after every ride, he experienced significant knee pain–the longer the ride, the worse the pain.  Mark went to 5 different bike fitters in 7 years and although they examined him using some state of the art equipment and 3d motion capturing, they failed to fully examine the foot/pedal interface and offer solutions that could have reduced his pain.  In the end, he ended up solving the issue by visiting a BikeFit Pro who extensively focused on his feet and fitting him for Cleat Wedges.

Although this may be an extreme example, if a fitter does not spend ample time on each contact point, you did not receive a full fit.  In our experience, it seems that the feet are the contact point that is ignored most often, although arguably it’s the most important.  For most riders, you can ride without your hands on the handlebar or you can ride out of the saddle but the contact point that’s always connected is the feet, except if you attempting to superman on the bike.  BikeFit’s legal team advises that no one should attempt to superman on their bike.


As we mentioned before, a fitter is not a miracle worker and small changes can make great differences but not necessarily immediate.  It’s important that after the accommodations and changes are complete, you test out this new position outside of the environment of the fit studio.  Usually, you aren’t fit while climbing hills, descending treacherous trails, or pushing for your best 1 hour time.  Consequently, the changes made by the fitter may feel odd at first .  That doesn’t mean the fit was a failure but the body, in some cases, takes time to adapt.  For some individual, the benefits are immediately apparent, especially for those who previously experienced pain.  Some fits allow a cyclist to ride more efficiently over the same distance at a lower heart rate, since they are not using their joints an muscles to stabilize the bike but rather they’ve become 1 hybrid of bicycle and human: a buman or a hike (buman is much better).  Most fitters will offer you the opportunity to return within a realistic period of time to reassess if you are experiencing anything negative, lingering effects from the fit.  If a fitter doesn’t offer this service, they are putting their business in jeopardy.

Reporting or Measurement Sharing

Throughout the fit, professional fitters have different methods of note-taking to document the bike and body changes.  This is a crucial part of the fit and information that, in our opinion, must be provided to the cyclist at the conclusion of the session.  Some fitters will use a program that creates a report like the BikeFit Pro App.  

Other fitters may use a word document, a full readout of numbers and measurements from a fit bike, or pen and paper.  There isn’t a “right or wrong” way to provide you with measurements but is it wrong if they are not supplied at the conclusion of the fit.

Post Fit

While the goal of the fit is to provide the cyclist with their desired results, sometimes this is not the case.  If for some reason your fit does not help you meet your original goals, we always recommend going back to the fitter to inform them that there is an issue.  Just like any other product or service, you would return if the results were not what you expected.  If you visit the doctor initially and your symptoms persist, you’re going to call the doctor back.  Professional bike fitter Tom Wiseman of Cycling Solutions mentioned in an interview recently, “I want customers to come back to me if they are not satisfied.  The only way to learn how to solve the problem is to know there is one.”  Jerry Gerlich, a professional fitter from Castle Hill Fitness, guarantees his work, “Everyone is a different ball of wax and if you guarantee your work, that really gets you to focus on what’s going on to solve the problem.”  Although it’s difficult lesson, it goes to show that if you are in some way unsatisfied or especially still in pain, you should return to your fitter.

Final Fitting Thoughts

Although it’s part of the expectations, we did not go into detail on the techniques, tools, technology or specific biomechanics of a fit.  The reason is that this varies widely from fitter to fitter and the main aspects of every fit should be the same.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case.  Happy Freedman, Professional Fitter from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York says, “Not all fitters are created equal but a great fitter will adjust to your needs.”  This is true of any profession in the world where, for example, there are great teachers and there are not-so-great teachers but experience does not always correlate with excellence.  The second part of Happy’s statement is the one that’s the most important.  Is the fitter attempting to meet your goals and needs or trying to force you into a position dictated by a machine?  This isn’t technology slander, since we use it daily as part of our fitting and fit training, but we don’t rely on it solely.   

Paul Swift described it like this, “The less you know about bike fitting, the more you look at a number to dictate the fit.  The more you know and look at bike fitting, the more you look at the overall picture.”

Our advice: contact the fitter and ask them about the expectations delineated in this blog, explain your goals to them, learn about their experience and process, find out if they’ve solved problems or attained goals for cyclists with similar ambitions, and how they address the main contact points.  If you want to know what to expect in a bike fit, ask a competent fitter.

Bicycle Stance Width and Q Factor: Origins, Examples, and Solutions

Updated 07/22/20

Stance Width Origins

In his early days of track racing, Paul Swift (founder of BikeFit and Director of BikeFit Education) constantly heard the incessant yelling of his coaches, “bring your knees in!”  This assumed that there was something inherently wrong with Paul’s form and he needed to force his knees into the “correct” position.  Paul is unlikely to admit that his form was anything less than perfection, but the “knees in” adage was fundamentally flawed.  At the top of the pedal stroke, the knee was not under the same amount of pressure, and it moved outward naturally to get closer to his ideal position for comfort.  The knee then followed the foot faithfully down to discomfort town forcing it inward at the 6 o’clock position.

Paul was not the only person who suffered from this potentially debilitating issue which not only affects alignment but also places significant torque on the knee when it’s forced into an unnatural position.  The result: pain and potential injury (not to mention the power loss). Even though 150 years have passed since his racing days and bike fitting is much more popular in cycling culture, the concept of stance width is largely ignored.  Our blog article today aims to explain the factors involved, when to make changes, solutions, and our recommendations from years of bike fitting experience.  Before we go any further, grab your favorite beverage and let’s go over the terminology we’ll use in this article:

Stance Width – The distance between the center of one pedal to the center of the other pedal.  This article will also reference individual leg stance width, which is defined by the distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the center of the pedal.

Q Factor / Crank Width – The distance between the outside portion of each crank arm where the pedal attaches.  The term was originally coined by Grant Petersen while he worked for Bridgestone Bicycles.  The “Q” stands for “quack” which referenced the wide stance of a duck.  This is seemingly contradictory because the argument can be made that q-factor (unchangeable and determined by multiple factors such as bicycle and component manufacturers and the width of the chainstay) is, in many cases, too narrow on a road bike.

Pedal Spindle Width – The distance from the outside of the crank arm to the center of the pedal.

Snowboarding Stance Width Similarities

Now that you’ve thoroughly digested the major terms of the article and you’ve realized you need a signifcantly stronger beverage, let’s completely change gears and talk about snowboarding.  When you Google “Stance Width,” a plethora of articles about snowboarding flood the screen.  Significant time and energy focus on the adjustment of snowboarding stance width.  Their starting point is based on a measurement from the center of the kneecap to the floor, applying that measurement as an initial width starting point, and then specifically adjusting both width and foot angle until the individual achieves maximum comfort.  In most of the articles we discovered, a trial and error method was utilized.

Clearly, we are unable to apply the same measuring standards from snowboarding to cycling but there is a striking similarity: the feet need to be set up correctly because once set, the individual is unable to self-select their stance width.  Author, bike-fitter, and physical therapist Dr. Katrina Vogel reminds us that “you self-select your stance (width) when you walk, run stand or jump.”  Therefore, in sports when you are “locked-in,” achieving the correct stance width is paramount to power delivery, efficiency, and injury prevention.

Determining Factors of Bicycle Stance Width

While snowboarding uses multiple pre-drilled holes in the board to customize the stance width of the bindings, in cycling, we have two determining agents (as well as some customizations that we’ll discuss later): q factor and pedal spindle length.

Q Factor / Crank Width

Q factor is roughly the same within specific categories of bike types i.e. road bikes, mountain bikes, fat bikes…etc.. The cranks need to be wide enough to clear the chainstay and a wider tire will, in turn, affect the chainstay width.  We will not spend much time on q factor because it’s largely predetermined (based on bottom bracket width, crank offset, bicycle type, and manufacturer specifications) and since the ultimate goal is to find the most comfortable stance width for the individual, this article will focus on pedal spindle length and stance width customization.  With that said, q factor is an odd term and it’s preferable and universal to refer to it as “crank width” in order to not make cycling a sport dominated by coded language.  Although we will focus on stance width today, keep in mind these crank width standards based on bike type:

Road Bike: Approximately 150mm.  Currently, many Shimano cranks boast a 146mm q factor and the masterminds at Campagnolo prefer 145.5mm, just to mention a few.

Mountain Bikes: Approximately 170mm.  Sram XO1 and Shimano XTR both width-in at 168mm.

Fat Bikes: 200-230mm. 

Pedal Spindle Width

Largely uniform in the industry (like crank width), this is the best area for stance width customization.  Let’s take a look at some of the common pedal spindle widths (we’ll keep adding to this):



  • Blade, Max, Sprint, and Classic (all versions) – 53mm
  • *Note – Look Keo pedals have a threaded area that is 2mm longer than other pedals, allowing for the safe installation of up to (2) 1.5mm spacers.


  • Zero Titanium – 50mm
  • Zero Chrome-Moly – 53mm
  • Zero Stainless – 53mm
  • Zero Stainless custom lengths: 50mm, 56mm, 59mm and 65mm


  • Thrust 8 (all types) – 53mm
  • Thrust 8 custom spindle lengths – 50mm, 56mm, 59mm and 62mm
  • *Xpedo, like Look, provides a 2mm longer threaded area.


  • Road – 50mm and 55mm (+5)
  • Flash III: 52.5mm (standard), 58.5mm and 64.5mm
  • Trail III: 52.5mm (standard), 58.5mm and 64.5mm
  • Flip III: 58.5mm

Crank Bros:

  • Eggbeater, Candy, Mallet, 505, Double Shot – 52mm
  • Extended Spindle Kit (sold separately) for Candy, Mallet, 505, Double Shot + 5 – 57mm.


  • CRM Chrome-Moly 55mm (custom sizes below):
    • 49mm
    • 52mm
    • 58mm
    • 61mm
    • 65mm

 SQ Lab:

  • 511, 502, 521
    • 50mm (-5)
    • 55mm (Standard)
    • 63mm (+8)
    • 70mm (+15)

Photo: SQ Lab

The last 2 examples may not be as well known on the market, specifically, Keywin is difficult to acquire in the United States, but we mention them to accentuate pedal manufacturers focusing attention on stance width.  In our opinion, this is a largely ignored, pivotal factor in achieving optimal comfort, power and efficiency on the bike.  Although some companies like Speedplay take this into account, for most riders some customization is required to optimize peformance and reduce injury.

When to Modify Stance Width

Although research for this blog post discovered zero articles on common trends in cycling stance width, the consensus of the experienced minds at BikeFit, our trained BikeFit Pros and the popularity of Pedal Extenders, support the need for stance width modification.  It’s difficult to believe that the majority of every asymmetrical human male and female size 4’8″ to 7’2″ would be accommodated by a 252mm (about 10 inches) stance width (252mm was obtained by using an average 53mm pedal spindle width on each side and a 146mm q factor). Considering the pedal spindle width and q factor example, cycling is like the “one size fits most” of clothing.  We are not sure of who fits the “most” category but in our experience, “most” is more like some.  Granted, we already mentioned the possible extended pedal spindle width but think about the amount of emphasis on bike size rather than stance width–every company offers multiple bike sizes but not every company offers an array of stance width options.

With the argument made for customizing stance width, let’s take a gander at a rider who requires modification:

Video Courtesy of Quest Therapy Consultants
Take a moment to evaluate each knee.  The left and right (more significant) distinctly move outward at the 12 o’clock position and then back in at the 6 o’clock position.  Even without the aid of the laser guide, it’s obvious the knee craves a wider stance width but is forced to follow the position of the foot inward during the downstroke.  This is incredibly common. We challenge you next time you’re on a lovely weekend ride with others, observe the pedaling of your compatriots.  Do you notice knees kicking out at the top of their pedal stroke?

Without delving deeply into the world of bike fitting, the “knees out” rider may also have a saddle height issue or a need for Cleat Wedges.  If the saddle is extremely low, a similar pedal stroke will develop.  In the case of the video above, saddle height is not the culprit.  The client did require wedges, but in order to not confuse the issue, stance width is the main problem.

Stance Width Solutions and Drawbacks

*In case you’re scoring at home (of course you are), this is a quintuple blog repeat score for using “stance width” in every major heading (spoiler alert, they’ll be 8).  It exemplifies how we feel about the topic.

To solve the “knees out” issue and achieve maximum comfort, the foot needs to align with the knee–it’s not the other way around.  Consequently, the foot must be adjusted/moved out.  Here are some solutions:

1.) Longer Pedal Spindle

Feel free to reference some of the pedals mentioned earlier such as Speedplay, Issi, and Keywin.  While Shimano Dura Ace pedals now offer a 4mm extension, the “regular” spindle width is already tight at 51mm.  As a result, a 55mm spindle width may not be long enough for many riders.  When Road Bike Action reviewed the first model (9000) with the extended spindle option, they made this bold statement, “for those looking for a wider stance without bulky extensions, the Shimano cleat has ample lateral adjustment. The pedals also have a 4mm-longer axle option to widen your stance width even more.”  To say the cleat has “ample lateral adjustment” is like saying that a Ferrari Portofino has ample seating space.  It does, if your only intention is to drive yourself and one other extremely lucky person through the streets in style.  The Shimano cleat does have ample lateral adjustment for some people, but most will require more and even a 4mm longer spindle option will often not solve the problem.

2.) Cleat in, Foot Out (Picture to the Right)

Most bicycle cleats and shoes have some room for lateral movement.  While some cleats/shoes offer more flexibility than others, this simple change makes a noteworthy difference and is the most affordable adjustment.

These small spacers provide an extra 1.5mm to stance width.  We do not recommend using more than (1) per pedal.  It’s important that there are enough threads to safely install the pedal into the crank.  As we mentioned earlier, Look Keo pedals are built with a longer threaded area to accommodate an additional 1.5mm spacer.

This is not a gratuitous sales ploy by the marketing team at BikeFit.  These extenders have helped a multitude of riders.  When the lateral movement of the cleat, a longer spindle or the 1.5mm spacers are not enough, the 20mm pedal extender works wonders.  Using the previous equation based on the q factor of a Shimano crank, adding a pedal extender to each side would add 40mm to the overall stance width for a total of 292mm or about 11.5 inches.  Considering an avg. mountain bike q factor is 170mm, adding 40mm to a road bike at 146mm will likely help many cyclists achieve desired comfort and alignment.  BikeFit offers both a Hex+ 20mm Pedal Extender for those pedals that require an 8mm wrench for installation and our regular 20mm Pedal Extender for all other pedal installation types.

We would also like to note that Road Bike Action’s earlier claim that extensions are “bulky” is the equivalent of calling a pro peloton sprinter overweight.  Clearly, they both are the correct size to achieve specific results.  The extenders are imperative for many riders and at 37 grams, it’s worth the extra “bulk.”

5.) The Combo Move

Every person requires their own specific stance width.  Therefore, combining the different methods together will yield the best results.  If you need more space than the 20mm extenders provide, add a 1.5mm spacer.  If the 20mm extender is just a bit too long, consider laterally moving the cleat out (foot in) after installation.  Many riders even combine the longer spindle of a Speedplay pedal with a pedal extender or a pedal spacer.  

Single Leg Stance Width

This one may seem like a head-scratcher but it’s true for most riders.  We’ve mentioned this in other articles but a bike is a beautifully crafted, symmetrical machine.  The human body is a flawed, somewhat challenged, aging, potentially injured, often uncoordinated, sometimes imbalanced, asymmetrical biped.  Consequently, when we are bent over and clipped into a symmetrical machine, problems arise.  In order to fit an asymmetrical being to a symmetrical bicycle, it’s important that each leg is evaluated independently.  This means that one leg could be perfectly aligned and the other one could have the 12 O’clock kick-out occurring during every stroke.  Each leg will potentially require its own modification independent of the other.  For example, BikeFit sells more single left-only pedal extenders than the right-only.  This doesn’t mean that human nature has a propensity to a wider stance width on the left-hand side (it may, but that’s another blog post), it further supports our assertion (spearheaded by Paul Swift), that “each leg has its own individual stance width.”

After Stance Width is Adjusted

Considering our earlier video of when a stance with modification is needed, here is a view of what alignment looks like after adding a 20mm pedal extender:

The diagram to the right displays the differences an adjusted stance width offers the rider.  Although it shows a “longer pedal axle” as the optimal intervention, the same methodology can be applied using the solutions mentioned previously.

Conclusions and Final Stance Width Thoughts

If research was conducted on cycling stance width, a bell curve of the most prevalent measurements may exist.  Even if that information for cycling was available, in our experience, bike fitting is somewhat subjective.  Therefore, the perfect formula for cyclist A may be horrific for cyclist B.

Stance width is worth examining for every cyclist on any type of bicycle.  As we’ve mentioned in other articles, if a cyclist is out of alignment riding at 85 rpm, that’s 5,100 pedal strokes per leg, per hour.   If we carry this scenario out further, let’s say the average cyclist rides 6 hours per week, which is roughly 122,000 pedal strokes per month and over 1 million per year, per leg.  With that number of pedal strokes, the strain on the body (especially the knee) is significant.

In cycling, the industry usually grabs us with the flash of style: aero helmets, new colors, more gears, less friction, larger pulleys, more carbon…etc, but none of these are more important than fit.  Does it matter how your bike looks or functions if you’re in too much pain to ride it?

If you’re a bike fitter or a bike shop, we implore you to analyze the stance width of every rider you fit or bike you sell.  If you’re a cyclist, as much as tinkering with fit may improve your comfort, it also may make it worse. It’s worth every penny to get a professional fit.  Before you schedule a bike fit, ask your fitter whether they examine stance width and what modifications or process they use.  Glean as much information as possible before you book it or you’ll be unhappy with the results.  If you have questions about fitting or stance width, feel free to drop us a line.

Enjoy your ride.

-The BikeFit Team

Paul, Damon and Bill


Bike Fitting vs. Bike Sizing

As a cyclist, it’s imperative to familiarize yourself with the differences between bike fitting and bike sizing.  These terms are used by bike shops and professional fitters for the following reasons:

  • New bike purchase
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Desire to increase power and efficiency

Often bike fitting and bike sizing become intertwined, but they are completely different.  With that said, fitting a road bicycle works best when you start with the right size bike or at a minimum, a bicycle that is close enough to your right size. As a result, both contribute to a comfortable, powerful and efficient ride.

Bike Sizing

Sizing a bicycle is not as complicated as you may have been led to believe, in part due to the reality that a good bike fit actually has little to do with the bicycle per se.  Yet, we will touch on that part more in the fitting section.

Bike sizing is the process of taking the measurements of an individual and applying those specific measurements to match a person to the correctly sized bike frame.  Depending on where you go to get measured (or if you are doing this at home), you may find that shops, fitters, or a multitude of websites provide you with numerous ways to discover the correct bike size.  One of the earliest methods was a formula applied by French Coach and former pro cyclist, Cyrille Guimard based on the inseam.  Greg Lemond later used and popularized this method of multiplying the inseam measurement by .883 to determine saddle height and frame size.

A similar methodology remains in use today by some bike shops who will measure your inseam and have you stand over a bicycle top tube to obtain the proper frame size.  If you use the ubiquitous Google search method, you’ll likely find a chart that suggests the best size for you based on a few measurements like you were purchasing a t-shirt or a hat (you are less likely to experience an injury from hat or t-shirt which is why bike fitting is vital).

Other sizing resources or formulas will use multiple measurements (see the image to the right) to match you with the perfect frame.  Considering the plethora of options with seat posts, stem lengths, riding positions and cycling disciplines, it’s vital that the shop or fitter ask you about what type of riding you’ll be doing to pick out the correct frame.  This goes without saying that this process should be completed in order to ascertain your frame size before fitting.

Bike sizing has also become much more elaborate than the early methods of formulas and measurements.  Some companies use specially designed tools to establish body measurements via a sizing cycle or a laser system.  Yet, even these advanced systems don’t always account for intricacies of the human body.  Renowned expert fitter, Happy Freedman, reminds us in his talks that the human spine compresses throughout the day.  Consequently, you may be a different height in the morning vs. the evening.

Finally, there are numerous body types in the world.  Bikes are beautiful and incredibly symmetrical; the human body is not.  Someone may have a short inseam and a long torso or vice versa.  Therefore a person who is 5’10” could ride a frame size ranging from 52 to 58 (S-XL depending on the brand), in theory.  These human differences need to be taken into account in a good sizing and fitting process.

Bike Fitting

Once you’ve completed the sizing process, fitting a bicycle comes down to the contact or connection points between the cyclist and their bicycle and adjusting those moving parts on the chosen bicycle. These five connection points (9 on a time trial or triathlon bike) are the right and left foot, the pelvis, and right and left hands.  Even if your bike is not the correct “size,”(barring a significant difference) as long as you get the connection points in the ideal place, you can still achieve a good and comfortable bike fit.  Considering the vast different bike geometries and the fact that a significant discrepancy in size will make fitting extremely difficult, we do recommend starting with the proper size first before fitting.

A proper bike fit has more to do with the saddle, handlebars, brake levers and hoods, stem and, most importantly, shoes, cleats, and pedals.  It should also be mentioned that a proper fitting will incorporate the unique needs, goals, and type of riding of the individual cyclist as well as solving problems presented.  We talk more about this in our bike fitting expectations article.

In our Road Bicycle Fitting article, we explain (in incredible detail) adjusting each one of these connection points: feet, pelvis, and hands.  If you are looking for more information on Bike Fitting vs. Bike Sizing, Coach Rich Schultz posted an excellent article.

Summary: Bike Fitting vs. Bike Sizing

Although we mentioned earlier that these two processes are completely different, bike sizing and bike fitting are both crucial aspects of cycling comfort.  First, start with sizing and then move to fitting.  Below is a quick reference chart describing both.

Determining the most appropriate size frame for the cyclist:

  • sizing machine/size cycle
  • tape measure
  • stand-over and height
  • compare to their old bicycle
  • formulas/calculators

The art and science of adjusting the moveable parts of a bicycle to fit the individual needs of the cyclist:

  • feet
  • seat
  • hands

Cycling Knee Pain? Stance Width may be the Culprit.

cycling knee pain
cycling knee pain

Do you experience cycling knee pain? Do the images above look familiar?  Are your knees going outward when you pedal?  If not, you’ve likely noticed this when riding with others.   The origins lie in an under-discussed topic in cycling: stance width.

Stance width

Here’s a fun exercise to find out what we mean by “stance width.”

  • Stand up.
  • Take a few steps.
  • Stop and stand in a comfortable position with your legs side-by-side.

Look at your feet.  This is your natural stance width that your body selects when you are not clipped into the pedals.  Now, for fun, clip into your pedals on the bike and observe how your normal stance on your feet and your bike setup may be different.

We are not suggesting that you mimic the exact comfortable standing stance to your bike setup, but it does give you an idea of why many people experience discomfort on the bike.  When you performed the exercise above, you may have noticed that your feet are wider apart than on your bike or that your feet “toe out” to the side.

Clipping into a pedal may limit your natural position, but we promise you don’t have to quit cycling and sell your bike.

The knee followeth the foot

Going back to our illustrations above, when you clip into the pedal, the foot does not have a choice to move. Consequently, the knee kicks out at the top of the pedal stroke (going where it wants to) and then, because it is attached to the foot, follows it inward at the bottom of the stroke.  After thousands of revolutions (a 2-hour ride could have 10,000 depending on how fast you pedal), you may develop some significant knee pain.

Solution #1 – Cleat in = foot out

knee pain move cleat

In the earlier days of cycling, the default was to tell the rider to bring their knees in to meet their feet.  Sadly, this may cause even more knee pain.  The best solution is to move your cleat in, which in turn, will move your foot out to meet your knee.  This simple change will help with your knee alignment and potentially alleviate cycling knee discomfort.

Solution #2 – Pedal Washers or Pedal Spacers

If you’ve already moved your cleats in completely but your knee continues to push outward, try adding 1.5mm washer (only use one) to the pedal spindle where it attaches to the crank arm.

knee pain spacers

If you have a wider stance width (many riders do), you may require more lateral (foot out) adjustment.  20mm Pedal Spacers provide the extra length.  20mm spacers require a 15mm pedal wrench but we also provide Hex+ 20mm Pedal Spacers for pedals that install using a 5mm or 6mm hex key wrench.

knee pain pedal spacer



Now that you’ve moved the foot outward, you likely increased your comfort, alleviated knee pain, and aligned your feet to your knees.  Your pedal stroke should look more like the image below:

knee pain alignment

Eurika! You’ve maximized your ability to apply power to the pedals and now can ride off into the sunset (without having to ice your knees or visit an orthopedist when you arrive home).  Remember that bikes are symmetrical and people are not. Take this into account and assure that you and your normal, asymmetrical human parts are customized to fit your bicycle.


Look Keo Pedal Wear

The equipment of the cyclist often tells a story.  You can acquire valuable information from looking at the components. However, expensive hardware and software will not find it–you must use your eyes! The popular Look Keo pedal is one of the easier pedals to discover uneven wear as the result of a common misalignment. Sometimes this wear can show up in just a few minutes of pedaling.

Where do You “Look” and Why?

For most, our feet do not meet flat or level with the pedal due to forefoot varus. Notice the inside of the foot tilted up higher than the outside of the foot.

Pedal wear foot tiltlook keo foot tilt

In order to clip into the pedal, the foot is forced to be flat (the cleat will not engage the pedal if it is tilted). Therefore, your foot is forced to be level (parallel) with the pedal. How do we know? Look at your pedals and you will see the uneven wear. If the foot wanted to meet the pedal flat and level, the wear would be even, not uneven.

Take a gander at the Look Keo pedal below. Notice inside the red circle which pinpoints the pedal wear more in this area than anywhere else. The reason: the foot wants to be tilted in its natural position.

look keo pedal


Many stores and fitters own the expensive Keo Fit pedal but that only addresses cleat rotation to some extent.

What about the newer Look Keo pedals with the wider platform or the Look Delta pedals? You will still find the same wear underneath the front area of the pedal up toward the inside.

look keo pedal delta

The Solution

These example Look pedals and many others like it show the need to add a wedge. Cleat Wedges® enable the cycling shoe to connect with the pedal naturally, by acknowledging the foot’s inherent angle.  This creates a neutral foot position throughout the pedaling cycle, resulting in greater comfort, power, and even pedal wear!  One of the most desirable and comfortable indicators is even pedal wear.

This pedal wear is evident in other pedal systems. See our blog post on Speedplay Pedal Wear for more information.

How to Fit a Triathlon or Time Trial Bike Part 1: Overview

Triathlon and Time Trial Bike Fitting Part 1:  


Triathlete being fit with front view Time trial Bike triathlonThis article focuses on triathlon bike (TB) and time trial (TT) bike fitting.  It is not intended to be a resource for bike sizing. Often these two descriptions become intertwined. However, anyone with interest in bike fitting or sizing should understand the differences. With that said, fitting a time trial bike works best when you start with the right size bicycle frame.  At a minimum, a frame should be close enough to your correct size.

The position on the time trial bike we will discuss most will be the aero position–forearms sitting on the armrest with hands at the end of the aero bars/extensions.  This term is referred to as “in the aero bars.” This does not render fit on the base bar or cow horn section of the bars unnecessary.  On the contrary, consideration should focus here because it is the connection for starts, climbing, cornering, and where most brake levers are found. We want to help guide you to a position that you will ride almost all of the time in the aero bars. If you are not able to ride in this position comfortably, we suggest a change to the bike fit.

Time Trial Bike Contact Points Triathlon

Illustration 1 – Tri-Bike with the “target” connection points highlighted.

Triathlon or time trial vs. road bike and considerations

One thing we will not focus on in this article is whether you should be riding a triathlon bike vs. a road bike. For many, a road bike may better serve you and there is nothing wrong with riding a road bike in a triathlon.  When necessary, we will specify TB (triathlon bike) or TT (time trial bike) for distinct or modality specific descriptions/reasons.  Most of the time we will use “TB.”  Like all cyclists, athletes who participate in triathlons, duathlons, and time trials desire comfort while riding. However, unlike many road cyclists, the triathletes and time-trialists are rarely seen sitting up and relaxing.  The geometry, and thus positioning, on a time trial bike is often quite different from a road bike.

At BikeFit, we’ve developed our bike fitting curriculum to address a duathlete’s and triathlete’s specific needs. We do incorporate some of the protocols, especially with regards to hip angle, developed by Dan Empfield at SlowTwitch/F.I.S.T.  This is, of course, in addition to what we perform during a typical fit (foot/pedal interface, seat height, stance width, front view, side view, etc.).

The history of “aero”

During the 1984 Olympics and around the Olympic Training Center, many people started to notice “funny bikes,:  This was, of course, prior to the advent of “aero bars.”  Race Across American (RAAM) then showed perhaps the first version of an “aero bar.” The RAAM guys kick-started this aero bar craze, not the triathletes as many believe.  Several morphologies occurred as the triathletes attempted aero positioning. Shortly thereafter, a Boone Lennon built a set of “aero” bars for a Tour de France racer. This publicity increased the “aero bar’s” positive reception by ALL cyclists, not just the crazy long distance guys and the early triathletes. Then John Cobb helped BikeFit founder, Paul Swift, compose what may have been the first published bike fitting manual for time trial bikes and triathlon bikes in the 1990s: “The Bicycle Fitting System,” co-authored with Vint Schoenfeldt, PT.


Today, Paul Swift now also teaches at SlowTwitch, a fabulous bike fit education program run by Dan Empfield.  He is a man who has taken the side view and put it into a much easier to digest format. Dan invested more time into time trial bike and tri bike fitting than anyone on the planet. It is important to note, Dan focuses on the side view perspective but also does a great job with helping fitters generate the best size frame (bike sizing) for their clients. Together SlowTwitch and BikeFit offer the most comprehensive triathlon bike fit in the world. Bike fitting that considers only the side view is like building a house and setting it on the ground without regard to the foundation.  Fitting only the feet is like building the foundation but stopping before putting up the walls and roof.

Time Trial Bike Triathlon

The illustration above is an early version of a time trial position. This is also fairly indicative of triathlon bikes at the time that focused on the aero position.  This photo shows Chris Kostman of Adventure Corps- www.adventurecorps.com.  Chris is the promoter of the Furnace Creek 508 and an excellent BikeFit Pro. He certainly does not fit people like this today.

The differences between early time trial/triathlon bike fits and today

What are some of the differences with Chris’s fit and a triathlon or time trial bike fit today? Fittings at this point occurred before we started with the foot-pedal interface.  Chris would point out he was at the forefront of setting the cleat further back on the shoe than most prescribed. We would argue he did it before shoes were ready for that change. With the advances in cycling shoe technology, indeed cleat position changed (foot-pedal interface information).

Two major things stand out when we look at Chris: hip angle and shoulder angle. The saddle is further back than most tri bike fits today. This results in a more acute hip angle which is exacerbated by the extra-long reach to the bar.  Notice the shoulder angle; this is WELL beyond the typical 90 degrees or so we like today. Lucky for most of you, this position disappeared years ago. People ahead of you suffered so that you can achieve comfort and efficiency. A good time trial bike fit should be comfortable for the duration of your bike ride or race. You will also generate more power and increase efficiency with a quality, comfortable bike fit.

Tri(triathlon) or time trial bike position vs. road position? 

From Dan Empfield www.Slowtwitch.com   “The forward position places the rider over the cranks further and puts him/her in an aerodynamically sleek position. The position also saves key muscles for running. Road bike seat tube geometry is geared toward making efficient use of all leg muscles, especially the hamstrings, which is an important muscle to save for the run. Tri-geometry makes more use of the quads to generate power.”

We do believe most everyone agrees with Dan’s first statement–this forward position “places the rider…in an aerodynamically sleek position.”  It is Dan’s second statement that conjures disagreement among professionals.  Some studies indicated little to no noticeable change in physiological measures between a shallow seat tube angle and a steep seat tube angle.  Ben Reuter and David Pascoe completed this study and published it in 2006 ‘Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise.’  Referring back to Dan’s statement, is that the same as saying “key muscles?” You can decide. We think most professionals agree with the use of the forward (aero) position.  However, all are not in agreement as to its exact benefits.

Position and comfort in triathlons

Before we get to cycling part of your triathlon (the third event), a good tri bike position should also be comfortable for someone just getting out of the water and onto the bike–this is rarely discussed. The majority focuses on transitioning to the run. While this factor is crucial, the run is far away from when you get on the bike and commence the highest speed section of your race. Let’s endeavor to place the athlete in the most comfortable aerodynamic position.  In the end, what is the point of improved aerodynamics if you are unable to generate an ounce of power?  We suggest when getting a triathlon bike fit, swim as close as possible or just prior to your bike fit. A few places on the planet will set this up for you. Ask if this is an interest, but places like this are few and far between.

The triathlon position tends to be more static than a road position. In other words, the cyclist spends less time adjusting or altering their body position while riding.  So the main focus is, for the most part, pinpointing one position on the bike. Dialing in this single position actually becomes a bit easier than a road fit. Yet, people sometimes suggest a tri-fit is more difficult.


Sizing a tri bike is also not as complicated as suggested by some.  However, sizing takes a slightly different trained eye than road bike sizing. Fitting a triathlon bike comes down to the contact points (connection points) between the cyclist and the bicycle. These NINE contact points (yes there are nine places you touch a triathlon bike): right and left pedals (1,2), the saddle (3), right and left forearms (4, 5), right and left extensions (6, 7), when in the aero position, and right and left hands (8, 9), when upright in the base bar or cow horns.

 Time Trial Bike Triathlon Illustration 3 – Tri Bike with the “target” connection points highlighted.

Sizing on a TB, however, probably needs to be more precise than sizing on a road bike. The choices, although many in triathlon bike accessories, can be a bit more limiting in adjustability.  A proper bike fit has more to do with the saddle, handlebars, brake levers and hoods, stem and, most importantly, shoes, cleats, and pedals than the actual frame.  As long as you get the equipment within the target range, you can achieve a proper and efficient bicycle fit.

Selling bicycles is the business of a bike or tri shop, and their focus is typically on the bicycle and bicycle frame. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes bias can enter the picture and hopefully, this does not negatively influence the bike fit.  If the shop you choose to purchase your from is not well versed in fitting (or positioning), we strongly suggest you connect with someone with fitting expertise before your purchase. A good fitting bike may reduce more time in your triathlon than any other adjustment you make (proper training notwithstanding).


Unlike the human body, bicycles are symmetrical (other than one crank sometimes being a little wider from center than the other). That means getting the connection points into the target range is only a start to the bike fit. Not only do these points need to be in the correct area, but you need to fine tune each specific connection.  Assessing and fine-tuning the location of the bike part as it meets your body is imperative.  For example at the hands, just because you may have the correct length and angled stem does not mean you have the right shape and size of base-bar or elbow rest and extensions, the proper bar tilt/rotation, and/or brake levers and their location on the handlebars. Simply because you set the cleat fore/aft position does not mean its rotation, tilt, and stance width are also correct (foot adjustment). The ultimate result between the bike and your connection to it–the bicycle basically disappears. Once you no longer notice the bike and your focus exists solely on the ride, the scenery and/or company, you achieved a proficient bike fit. Similarly, while a triathlete may not care about the scenery, their concern is speed. When a triathlete no longer notices their bike, they are experiencing a great bike fit.  Don’t fight with your bike!  Use your motor to tear up the course.  I guarantee you if your bike “disappears” during your triathlon, the transition to the run will go much more smoothly.

Getting Started with Fit (Contact Points)

As previously mentioned, the cyclist’s body contacts the bicycle at 9 points:  hands (4), forearms (2), pelvis (1), and feet (2).  The location of the feet, pelvis, forearms and hands dramatically impacts comfort and efficiency on the bicycle. Several pieces of equipment on a bicycle are adjusted to find your ideal position on your bike:

  1. Pelvis – saddle selection, height, fore/aft, tilt and sometimes cycling shorts.
  2. Hand and forearms – base bar, forearm pads, extensions, brake levers and shift levers (all connected to the stem).
  3. Feet – pedals, cleats, cycling shoes and occasionally crank arm length
Our next 2 articles provide detailed explanations on contact points.

Learn More About Triathlon and Time Trial Bike Fitting

Are interested in learning more? Please see our next Triathlon and Time Trial Bike Fitting Article: Part 2–Pelvis/Saddle Fitting.


Time Trial Bike Triathlon Bike

How to Fit a Triathlon or Time Trial/TT Bike Part 2: The Pelvis/Saddle Fitting


TT/Tri Fitting Part 2:  

The Pelvis/Saddle Fitting

Saddle Selection

Rarely do bicycle fitting articles mention saddle selection. Reality: this should be the first step before making any adjustment to the seat height, tilt, or fore/aft position. Riding with the wrong saddle can compromise your comfort and ideal cycling position dramatically.
As simple as it sounds, the best way to find the most comfortable bike seat is to sit on it. The problem lies in the fact that switching saddles is both time-consuming and difficult.  Changing a saddle can take up to 15 minutes per seat which means most people select a seat by pressing a finger into it to test its firmness or softness. Another option is simply choosing a saddle based on advertisements. Some saddle manufacturers have done a nice job with their design and a fabulous job with their marketing.  Unfortunately, this still doesn’t help you procure the ideal saddle.  Fortunately, we solved this problem. At BikeFit we built a saddle fitting tool called the SwitchIt™ that quickly and easily allows you to test as many saddles as you’d like by sitting on them:

Not all shops carry the SwitchIt so you’ll need to ask for it or find another bike shop that does. When you find a shop with a SwitchIt, try to set the position on their sizing bike or stationary bike that has it mounted it to a similar position as your triathlon bike.  Try as many saddles as you like until you find the one that fits best before you make your purchase. It may come as a surprise that the seat you currently ride is not the best saddle for you. Let your tush be the judge!

Saddle Selection Misnomer

Beware of other ways a bicycle dealer may guide you with saddle fitting and saddle choices. Some bike shops may have you sit on a device that takes an impression of the width of your sit bones. If this device actually works, the best information it “suggests” is how wide or narrow of a saddle you “might” like. Unfortunately, we can share with you story after story where this device does not provide information for a comfortable saddle choice.
Illustrations 4 – As you can see sitting on bike is not like sitting on a box
As mentioned, the incorrect saddle can compromise your position on the bike and, of course, feel uncomfortable.
As you try to find the right saddle, keep an open mind. Some shops may start you down a saddle choice path by pointing out saddles designed for a triathlon or for men or women specifically. However, some triathletes find a road saddle more comfortable and some men may find women’s specific saddles more comfortable or the other way around. Either way, please be ready and willing to try ALL kinds of saddles.

Saddle Cutouts

Are seats with a cutout good? It seems that in the past some seat manufacturers added a cutout to make up for their less-than-ideal saddle design. Many saddles did not offer the ideal support in the right area. A good-fitting saddle may not need a cutout if the support is in the ideal area for you. Where is the ideal area? It varies from person to person.  In general, for most of us (male or female) it means not too much pressure in the front or in the center of the saddle.  For some, sitting slightly off to one side may be the answer.  Bike fitter extraordinaire John Cobb often recommends positioning the nose of the saddle to one side.

Illustration 5– tip of saddle rotated to the right. More information can be found about Cobb Saddles.

Ultimately a cutout seat may prove the most comfortable, but don’t discount those saddles without a cutout before trying them first. You may surprise yourself as to which feels best.

Saddle Tilt

Is a level saddle the best position for you? It may be ideal for some but probably not for every triathlete. Numerous people tilt the saddle nose down thinking it will increase comfort. If you must tilt the nose down more than a few degrees, you may not have the right saddle and/or the overall bike fit is likely too far off. Too much downward tilt usually results in your pelvis sliding forward. This leads to hand, elbow, forearm, triceps and shoulder discomfort or pain. You may find yourself pushing your pelvis back from the bars several times in a ride. Some people will also feel like they are pedaling more with the tops of their quads (just above the knee).  While not as common, some saddles feel better with a slightly upward tilting nose. The best adjustment for your saddle really depends on you and on the saddle itself.  So don’t get hung up by someone saying it is “supposed to level” or “tilt” this way or that way.  Rather, adjust to what feels best.

BikeFit App Saddle Tilt Tool

The BikeFit App for iPad and iPhone saddle tilt tool.

Saddle Height

The starting point for most do-it-yourself bike fits is typically saddle height. Sit on the saddle with one leg hanging free and your pelvis level—not one hip tilted higher or lower. Your hanging leg’s heel should just scrape or touch the pedal when the pedal is at the very bottom (6 o’clock). Once you slide your foot back to bring the ball of your foot to the center of the pedal you should have a slight bend in your knee.

Illustration 6 – Heel Scrape

In our experience, the properly bent knee resides between 27 and 37 degrees of flexion from a straight leg. Typically, most people have greater than 30 degrees of knee bend at the bottom of the pedal stroke. The Empfield – F.I.S.T guide suggests an even lower saddle height range.  Collectively we feel that you will almost never see someone needing to be taller than our ranges. Occasionally you might rarely see someone lower. If your hips rock a little when you pedal, lower the saddle a couple millimeters and test again. Repeat as necessary until you eliminate this rocking. You may be someone that just rocks.  Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger; you are not alone. At this point, you may want to consider shorter cranks. If you are on a fit bike with adjustable cranks, shorten them and observe the changes.
While there are formulas that take into account your inseam measurement, they generally do not produce any better result than this heel scrape method.
We recommend using a Goniometer to accurately measure knee bend. Take a look at the goniometer checking knee flexion or the bend in the knee at the bottom of the stroke:

Illustrations 7a & 7b – Goniometer measurement and proper knee angle

Saddle Height Accuracy

Can saddle height be set to the exact millimeter?  Saddle height is never the same even for the same person. What do we mean by this? What happens if they wear a different pair of cycling shorts? That precise measurement is now not so precise. Does the “millimeter measurement” account for the wear and tear of a saddle that has been ridden for a long period of time? What if the rider feels tight one day, rested the next day, or they wear additional clothing to accommodate for cold weather? The list is nearly endless. Bottom line: the millimeter adjustment is not as important as you might believe.

Saddle Fore/Aft Position

For years common thinking for saddle fore-aft positioning was determined by the knee over pedal spindle (KOPS) positioning. The KOPS fit process: place one foot forward (3 o’clock) with your crank arms parallel to the ground and then ensure that the forward knee cap is just over the center of the pedal (see picture below). For some riders, this method will work well enough for a road or mountain bike fit but that is a “maybe” at best.

Illustration 8 – Knee over Pedal Spindle alignment

Many people use a plumb bob for this measurement (we did at one time). We found a laser or the BikeFit Pro App to be easier and far more precise. While the right leg in the photo above is closest, the rider can spin the other leg forward and check the fore/aft on the far leg as well without moving the laser. We also refer to this as a “hands-free” technique.  With a laser, the fitter is able to make an adjustment or simply step back and take a look.  This is not possible with a weighted string hanging from the knee. Today we use this more to see if one knee is further forward than the other but NOT to check the actual saddle fore-aft position (especially on a triathlon bike fit).

Unlike road or mountain bikes, KOPS is NOT a starting point for triathlon bike fit. The modern method we subscribe to is a modified (but fairly close) Dan Empfield or Slowtwich approach. As mentioned above, my early influences come separate of Dan, having lived at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs when funny bikes were first being made.  I was also influenced by working with aerodynamic guru John Cobb. We put a lot of John’s information in our first bicycle fitting manual, possibly the first fitting manual on tri bike fit.  It is not that tri bike fitting was not talked about, but finding a manual for one was next to impossible.

Illustration 9 – A bike that may have been used in the 1984 Olympics – notice the small wheels

UCI Exceptions: Saddle Fore-Aft

There is an exception to the fore-aft saddle position for time trial bike fitting or for any bike that needs to be UCI legal. Because of this, it is actually easier to fit a time trial bike than it is a triathlon bike–one of the driving aspects or fit parameters is automatically set for you. We are not saying this is a good thing but rather an easier thing.

Illustration 10 – saddle set at 5cm behind the center of the BB

For USAC or UCI races or time trials, set the saddle height and put the nose of the saddle 5cm behind the BB and “Voila” you have your seat position for a time-trial bike. There are other parameters to follow. Just to make things more complicated, the UCI has a jig and your bike needs to be set up within the guideline of this jig (or template).  This resembles a template for a stock car.

To see what this jig looks like, here is a bike that is set up illegally for UCI/USAC racing.

Illustration 11 – Saddle too far forward for UCI and USAC racing.

jig saddle fitting
Illustration 12 – UCI bike requirements.

Additionally, not shown in this illustration are several angles and positions of the cyclist on the bike that must adhere to UCI guidelines.

Learn More About Time Trial/Triathlon Fitting

If you are interested in learning more, please see our next Time Trial/Triathlon Fitting Article: Part 3: Upper Body Positioning.

How to Fit a Triathlon or TT Bike Part 3: Upper Body Positioning

triathlon contact points

Triathlon and TimeTrial/TT Bike Fitting Part 3:  

Upper Body Positioning: Hands and Forearms


Shoulder and Hip Angles

The upper body is driven by two angles: the hip angle and the shoulder angle. Pinpoint these to angles and most people will feel comfortable in a triathlon bike position.  Your 3 landmarks for measuring hip angle are the (1) center of the bottom bracket (BB), (2) greater trochanter, and the (3) acromion process (AC Joint).

Hip Angle - TriathlonIllustration 13 – Hip Angle on a Triathlon Bike

If you are not sure where the AC joint is located, Arland Macasieb, a top triathlete and Red Level BikeFit Pro, points it out on the image below:

AC Join - Should Angle Triathlon

Illustration 14 – Notice the extension arm of the goniometer tool is in-line with Arland’s finger. To see more about Arland go here:  www.arlandmac.com

Shoulder Angle Triathlon

Illustration 15 – Ken Call DPT, a triathlete and BikeFit Pro, displays a 90° shoulder angle. Ken works for Therapeutic Associates out of Kennewick, WA. Here is a link to see more about Ken: http://www.therapeuticassociates.com/locations/washington/tri-cities/west-kennewick/kenneth-call/

Time Trial Bike Fit Should angle TriathlonTime Trial Bike Fit After Shoulder Angle Triathlon

Illustration 16 – Before and After

On the left, the triathlete demonstrates a hip angle above 100° and a shoulder angle greater than 90°.  On the right (post-adjustment) you see a hip angle closer to 100° and a shoulder angle closer to 90°.  We achieved this by moving the saddle forward (also raising it a few millimeters to compensate for the forward movement.  Anytime you move the saddle forward, you are also lowering or decreasing the distance to the pedals).  We lowered and shortened the stem and slightly decreased the reach on the extensions.  This took a few adjustments to the saddle, a couple at the stem, and one at the extensions.

This fit did not require a different set of bars; the only new piece of equipment needed was a stem. Of course, we used a sizing stem to help us get to this position. A sizing stem is a MUST when performing ALL bike fitting. If your fitter is not using a sizing bike, request a sizing stem for your fit.  Even though we did not change the bars in this particular fit, you may need to in order to achieve these angles. The bar change may include the base bar and the extensions along with forearm pads.

Another way to look at upper body fitting is to think of setting the 100 and 90 angles. Once completed, you simply rotate the entire upper body forward or backward. Perhaps this is one aspect where a fit bike like the Exit Bike may make this easier.

Hip and Shoulder Angles Triathlon

Illustration 17 – Rotating the entire body in unison on the bike

But wait!  Empfield says the shoulder angle should be close to 80°.   This is true–however, the protocols of F.I.S.T use different landmarks when measuring shoulder angle.  So yes, Slowtwitchers tend to look for 80°, but at BikeFit we use 90° for most bike fits.  Road, mountain, and triathlon remain consistent with our shoulder angle measurement, using the same landmarks. We do not change our number and landmarks for any single style of fit. The shoulder angle is basically the same.   In other words, we completely agree with each other.

Base Bar

Before doing all of the above, you need to select a base bar for your triathlon bike. The base bar used to be referred to as pursuit bars or cow horns. In case you haven’t noticed, we use a base bar or cow horns most of this time in this article.

Base Bar Width (Cow Horns)

The easiest way to select the handlebar’s width is to pick up different width bars in a bike shop and grab hold of them. Place your hands on each of the forward “reach” areas. Try both narrow and wide bars. Once you have the bars in hand, move them down near your waist, straight out in front of you, and then bring them toward your chest. Do this with a few bars and usually you’ll find one that feels better than the others. It may sound awkward, but it’s a great guide. If you are still unsure between two widths, put the bars up to your armpits and choose the ones that are most closely aligned.


Although this article focuses on the upper body, to learn about fitting the foot to the pedal, see our article on Road Bike Fitting or take a look at our BikeFit Manual: When the Foot Meets the Pedal.

Ready to get your Triathlon Bike or Time Trial Bike fit? Locate a BikeFit Pro.

Triathlon Bike - Hip and Shoulder Angles

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