How To Get Custom Fit For A Bike

A custom fitting helps Chris Schroeder find the right fit for the Soma ES city bike.

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The difference between a fun commute and an achy back can come down to the fit of your bike.

There was a time when every suit was tailor-made to ­fit. Today, most of us grab an approximate size from the rack and make a small adjustment like letting down a hem. Like a suit, most bikes come in a wide range of common sizes (and even some not so common tall sizes). Usually you adjust the saddle height, jump on, and ride.

I went to American Cyclery in San Francisco, CA, for a bike ­fitting at a classic shop that I knew would take the time to properly measure me. Using vintage wood sticks, my ­fitter measured my arm and leg extension and then placed me on an adjustable stationary bike to emulate my regular riding position. In my case, the stick to measure saddle height for my 6’6” frame had to be placed on two dictionary sized books to make it tall enough to assess my actual PBH (pubic bone height). The fitter took precise measurements to dial in my ­fit.

Beyond the basic body measurements, a fitter records several key measurements to help determine a precise range of motion, body positioning, and component size that is right for you. These adjustments, though often small, can help you get the best performance and riding comfort. There are generally six to eight important measurements though for me saddle height over handlebar drop and the distance from saddle to handlebar were the two that most dramatically increased the comfort of my ride.

After a ­fitting, your measurements are almost always applicable. Even if you purchase a brand new bike, your measurements will help determine where to raise your saddle to and how to get the best ­fit. The same is true for when you add accessories that can affect your riding position.

Whether you have owned your bike for years or you are shopping for a new one, a bike fitting can help you get the most out of your daily ride. The ­first ride on a properly ­fitted bike is a pleasure. You immediately “feel” the ­fit as you start to pedal. You are able to use your leg’s full strength without overextending at the knee or hip. Your back is slightly bent without any strain. Most importantly, a properly ­fitted bike allows you to focus on what really matters – a comfortable and fun ride.

Chris Schroeder is the director of sales and marketing for Rickshaw Bagworks. He has lived in the Bay Area for 13 years and developed a passion for bikes, plants, coffee, print design, and bags – and spends time working with organizations that foster community development like PaperGirl SF, the SFGMC, and SFMade. @ReallyTallChris


  • Brad Scott

    I am 6’6″ tall, about 440 pounds and I have not ridden a bike in years. I want to get off my butt and get out for some badly needed excercise, I used to enjoy a run in early years, I am now 53. And my knees can’t take the pounding of running. I’d like to trim my body to a goal weight of 250 pounds and make myself stronger in the process. Need to find a bike to commute to work and to enjoy on my off time. I have had a few on the job injuries over the years, my lower back gets strained on a weekly basis, this helps me to be sedentary, and a couch potato. I need to get out and get moving. I would like a bike to commute to work and be all round good bike for all terrains, be sturdy and comfortable, I want to enjoy getting to a destination and not be bent over too far. I don’t like it when my butt is higher than the handlebars. And I need a big seat for my big butt that I would like to get smaller eventually someday.

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