Gear Prudence: A pet peeve of mine: people who ride their bikes with the seat way too low. You should not be able to put both feet flat on the ground while stopped! I know I shouldn’t care how other people ride their bikes, but for their own good, they need to understand that they’re making it harder to pedal and probably messing up their knees to boot. Why don’t people know anything about proper bike fit? —Feet Implanted Timidly
Dear FIT: We’ll tackle the larger question of proper bike fit later, but you have correctly identified one of the more common misapprehensions about seat height. The too-low seat is especially common for Bikeshare riders and it’s not rare to see someone whose seat is so low that his knees rise nearly to the height of the handlebars with each pedal. This is, as you point out, suboptimal from a mechanical advantage standpoint (think Archimedes and levers) and would, if carried on long enough, probably result in significant joint pain. It’s also a totally understandable mistake and here’s why: Bikes wobble. If you’re not used to riding one (or if you’re just really worried about falling down), of course you’re going to lower your seat to the point that you can get both feet on the ground as quickly and easily as you can when you stop. Even if it’s “wrong,” per se, it feels safer.
Knowledge about proper bike fit remains elusive for most people because this is how most conversations about bike fit go:
1. Bike shop employee eyeballs your height and suggest a properly size bike and adjusts seat, then asks ‘This OK?’
2. Person buying a bike, who in many cases hasn’t ridden a bike in a really long time, if ever, says ‘Um, yeah, I guess.’
3. The end. No one ever mentions fit ever again.
There are exceptions, and some shops and riders work really hard to get the bike completely dialed-in, but this is primarily for people using the bike in sport and competitions. In most other cases, fit is left to guesswork because it is so idiosyncratic. Everyone’s body measurements are slightly different, bike geometry varies, and individual preference (aggressive, relaxed, bad back, wonky ankle) can lead to all sorts of different outcomes. There is a science to bike fit and you can go down an internet rabbit hole with a tape measure and protractor to arrive at the “ideal fit.” But even a “scientifically derived” fit still has a margin of error and riders should feel no compunction about taking a wrench to their bike or bringing it to a shop for advice in order to achieve what feels most right to them. Bike fit is more a process than an outcome and if you don’t get it right on the first go round, that’s OK. —GP