One of the primary reasons people turn to cycling is because it’s relatively low-impact, compared to other forms of exercise like running or weight lifting. Low-impact exercises like cycling can reduce joint damage, help you lose weight, and improve your cardiovascular health–but without a properly sized and adjusted bicycle, you may miss out on these important benefits.

Whether you’re a competitive triathlete or just enjoy the occasional weekend ride, a properly fitted bike can also help you improve your pedaling efficiency, your aerodynamics, and yes, it could even make you a faster cyclist!

Find Your Clearance

The first step of properly fitting a bike is to make sure that the bike itself is the right size. To do so, stand over the frame of the bike, with both feet flat on the ground. There should be between one and two inches of clearance between the top tube of your frame and the crotch of your pants. If you’re riding a mountain bike (as opposed to a road or hybrid bike), allow another inch of two of clearance.

(For women’s bikes, which don’t have a high top tube, you can skip this step.)

Adjust Your Seat Height

Once you’re sure that the frame itself is the right size, make sure that your seat is properly positioned. The goal here is to be able to sit on your saddle with one leg almost completely straight, with your foot resting comfortably on the pedal. This allows you to get the most out of every pedal stroke while minimizing fatigue. (Quick hint: If you can sit on the seat of your bike with your feet flat on the ground, your seat is too low.)

Angle Your Seat

With a sub-optimal angle on your saddle, you might find yourself consciously monitoring where you’re positioned on your seat, constantly making adjustments–too much forward tilt will make you feel like you’re constantly sliding forward; too much backward tilt, and you’ll feel like you’re slipping off the back of the saddle.

When you’re riding your bike, your weight should be supported by the same parts of your backside as when you’re sitting on a plain, hard surface. If adjusting the angle of your seat doesn’t help you feel comfortable in the saddle, try sliding the seat forward or backward to make sure your weight is properly centered.

Handlebar Adjustment

The position of the handlebars on your bike can have a huge impact on your back, shoulders, and wrists. Some of this is a matter of personal preference, but here are some general guidelines for positioning your handlebars, depending on your bike type:

  • Road Bike:

    The topmost point on your handlebars should be an inch or two lower than the top of your saddle, facilitating the forward lean that can make for a more aerodynamic ride.

  • Mountain Bike:

    On a mountain bike, the handlebars should be about three or four inches below your saddle. This will provide a lower center of gravity and will make it easier to get out of the saddle as you navigate potentially rough terrain.

  • Hybrids and Comfort bikes:

    Since you’re typically sitting more upright on a hybrid bike, the handlebars will need to be raised accordingly, as well. Position the handlebars one or two inches above the seat, allowing your rear to carry some of the weight that would otherwise be put on your shoulders, wrists, and arms.

And, of course, remember that these are basic guidelines. For a perfectly fit bike, go to a bike shop see a bike fitting expert, especially if you’re still experiencing any pain in your back, hips, or knees.

If you still don’t experience relief from your lower back pain after making these adjustments, consider ActivAided: our posture-training shirt that you can wear while biking, while resting, and everywhere in between.