Whether you ride for exercise, fun or competition, you’ll want a comfortable ride, where efforts pay off with the most efficiency. It’s worth getting your bike custom fitted, whether you’re buying a new bike or retrofitting your old one. Merely standing with a bike between your legs and measuring how high your crotch is to the top tube is not, in any way, a real bike fit.
Start first with the crankset—the bars that go from the gear wheel bottom bracket to the pedal. People purchase a bike and never think about the length of their cranks, but they should be perfectly fit to the length of your leg, since they create the radius of the circle your legs make as you pedal. You want that circle to fit your leg bones. Perhaps you have one leg slightly longer than the other—that means that for comfortable and efficient riding, you might need cranks in two different sizes. A good bike shop can measure your legs and provide the right size crankset.
The most expensive part to fit is the frame, the center of the entire bike. Patrick Ramirez, one of the bike fitters at Contender Bike Shop in downtown Salt Lake City, says, “You need to have the frame correct, or everything else won’t be quite right. Getting the right-sized frame will minimize bad posture and help eliminate the potential of injury, because you’ll have more control between the handlebars and seat … Fitting is probably the most important thing if you’re going to ride your bike often.”
If the frame is too big, so that you have to extend too much, it makes steering and balancing more difficult; if it’s too small, your bike will be uncomfortable and harder to handle. Should you need a differentsize frame than the one you have, it might be better to purchase an entirely new bike.
A custom fit—where the fitter measures your bones and explains what you need— is expensive. At Contender, it costs $159. But since bikes last forever—longer than cars—paying to find out how to have a bike custom built to your body is certainly worth the money.
Next, before the exaltation of taking your bike for that first spring ride, have it checked—especially the tires—and lubricated. I could tell you of my own first ride-of-the-season nightmares: the friends waiting while I fixed a flat in my living room; the crank arm that came off because I never checked to see if the nut on the bottom bracket was loose; the tire that actually spun off as I was jamming down the Pipeline Trail because I hadn’t tightened the triangle-shaped “skewer” enough on my quick-release front wheel; and the resulting money I had to pay to have the road rash blood cleaned off the front seat of my car.
Meanwhile, start getting your body ready to ride. If you plan on more than a five-minute ride, don’t expect your knees to suddenly be able to bend a thousand times or more without paying a price in pain. Prepare by training on a stationary bike or stair exerciser. Working on bending your knees will also prime your synovial fluid, the knee’s lubrication that only starts flowing with movement. Work on getting your knees to adapt to making that fluid start flowing quickly, so the cartilage on your bone-ends is never rubbing without lubrication.
Heavy-resistance core work is also a good thing, especially for the spinal erectors and obliques. You want your upper body strong enough to yank your bike back into balance, if you need a quick move to do that while you get back into riding shape. Your core should be flexible enough to maneuver with precision. Maybe it’s true that you never forget how to ride a bike, but every spring, you do have to relearn how to ride it well.