Does the bike fit your legs?
If the bicycle has a horizontal top tube (as opposed to sloping), it's easy to tell. When standing over the bike in your cycling shoes, you should have about 1 - 2 inches of clearance. But if the top tube slopes, then this method becomes meaningless. Ultimately, you want to make sure that when you have the saddle at the proper height (there is a slight bend in the knee of the leg that is at the bottom of the pedal stroke), you can set your handlebars at the right height. Will you be more efficient with the bars above, below or at the same level as the saddle? And….will the reach to the handlebars be palatable? Does the bike fit your upper body?
A woman has different muscle placement than a man, requiring her to sustain a greater amount of force on muscles which are, on average, smaller than a man's as well. That means you may feel stretched out and experience neck and shoulder pain on a poorly fitting bike.
Can you reach the handlebars comfortably, without feeling as though you're too stretched out? You really have to ride the bike to know. Just sitting on a bike at the shop doesn't tell you much. When you're riding, your position will change a bit. You'll move around on the saddle; you'll use your arms more in rolling terrain than in flat; the dynamic fit and static fit are very different.
I can't emphasize enough how small changes in the rotation of the handlebars or the position of the brake/shift levers can affect your comfort on the bike. Typically, we find our customers prefer the handlebars rotated up slightly with the brake/shift levers also moved up a bit on the bars. This takes some stress off your shoulders and makes the brakes more accessible from the top of the brake hoods. These subtle changes are often the difference between a bike you love to ride and one you hate to ride.
To learn more…
If the reach is just so long that nothing seems to work, investigate the possibility of a shorter stem for the bike. This will bring the handlebars closer. Raising the stem also helps. Here's something to shoot for: when you're riding with your hands on the hoods, your back should be at about a 50 degree angle to horizontal. Competitive riders will prefer leaning over more. Really casual riders may want to sit up more.
Watch our design videos to learn the lingo and decipher the shop talk about bicycle frame design.