How do I find the right bike?

Finding the right bicycle is relatively easy. It’s kid stuff compared to finding the right apartment, job, romantic partner, or god(s) to worship. However, if you’ve never done it before, it can seem very daunting. There are also a ton of choices on the market these days, so it is worth a little consideration.

Here are the things you should consider, in order of importance:

  1. Fit- it doesn’t matter how awesome the bike is, a poorly fitting bike is going to make you sad and uncomfortable
  2. Quality – doesn’t matter how many awesome features it has if it explodes the first time you roll over a pothole
  3. Riding type – how, where, and why will you ride?
  4. Weight – if it’s too heavy to ride, you might be sad
  5. That’s it


I said it before, but it bears repeating: if the bike doesn’t fit you, you’re going to be uncomfortable and you’re not going to be happy with it in the long term.

Fit is the hardest part of finding a bike, so bear with me, the rest will be easier.


In order to understand why fit is so important, it’s worth contrasting a bicycle with another thing you might sit on: how bout the drivers seat in a car? Your car’s great great grandparents were bicycles. But why can [most people] ignore fit when buying a car? 1) Driving is not an athletic task. You just sit there, so things like ‘pedaling efficiency’ are not of importance. 2) Cars (2000-8000 pounds) are very heavy, so car designers can afford to add hugely padded & adjustable seats, steering wheels, etc. If bicycles (20-40 pounds) could be as heavy as cars, then we could add features that would make any bike fit any human

It should also be noted that how much ‘fit’ matters is dependent on how you’ll use the bike. If you’re only going to ride a couple miles to work, you’re going to care about fit less than someone who’s riding 10 miles. However, it always matters, and many people give up on bicycling because they don’t have a bike that fits, and don’t realize how much happier they’d be if they did.

Fit: the realm of possibilities

[image of various well and poorly-fitting bicycles: standards, folders, beach cruisers]

The most important elements of fit are Seat Height, Reach, and Handlebar Height. Seat Height is easy to adjust, and it’s quite easy to find a bike that allows you to set the correct seat height, but finding a bike with the correct reach is a bit more difficult.

Seat Height (aka how tall is that thing?)

A seat (sometimes known as a saddle) at the right height will allow you to pedal efficiently and comfortably. To find the right seat height, place one of your feet at the bottom of the pedal stroke, so that your leg is extended as far as it will be under normal pedaling conditions. Adjust your seat height until you have a slight bend in your knee.

Ensure your foot is level to the ground or pointed slightly toe-down. If you have to reach with your toes to feel comfortable, your seat is too high. If your heel is dipping (toe pointed up) then your seat is probably too low.

[tktk – saddle height figure][foot angle detail]

Too low: you’ll sacrifice pedaling efficiency and excessive pressure will be placed on your knee joint; this is fine for short or leisurely rides, but may cause joint problems in the long term. Beginner riders often feel uncomfortable with a ‘correct’ seat height because they feel unstable, especially when stopping and starting. It’s fine to set your seat height low if it makes you more comfortable.

[obama seat height photo]

Too high: your hips will rock back and forth while you stretch to reach the pedal at the bottom of the pedal stroke; this is uncomfortable and will cause knee and hip problems in the long term. There’s no reason to set your seat too high, so just don’t do it.

[How to adjust seat height: quick release, standard seat-clamp, tktk]

Reach & Drop (aka how long is that thing?)

These are the two most important elements of fit.

Reach is the distance between your seat and your handlebar.

Too much reach will cause you to have trouble steering, too much pressure on your hands (causing discomfort on longer rides), neck pain, and a general level of awkwardness with riding. If you find yourself steering with your fingertips or riding on the flats (if you have drop bars), your bike is likely too long for you.

Too little reach will prevent you from pedaling efficiently and may put excessive weight on your butt/seat, leading to discomfort.

Drop is the height of your handlebars in relation to your seat.

[Rules of thumb for reach and handlebar height??? How do I know what’s right for me? tktk]


  • riding style
  • topography
  • flexibility & fitness
  • experience

The right fit may vary depending on how you’re riding. If you’re going on a leisurely ride to the ice cream shop with friends, you’ll probably prefer a more upright posture, but if you want to get to work fast, you’re going to prefer a more aggressive posture.

Other Factors

There are some other aspects of fit that aren’t as important, but can definitely make the difference between a bike that is “almost there” and a bike that’s “just right”.

  • Centering – Are you
  • Handlebar width
  • Brake lever reach
  • Flat bar specifics –
  • Drop bar specifics – drop, hood length,

How do I find the right-sized bike?

So now you know all the factors that go into fit. How do you find a bike that fits you? The big factor we haven’t discussed so far is frame size. Essentially, the correctly-sized bicycle frame will enable you to have the correct reach, saddle height, and handlebar height.

What’s right for you


Customizing fit on an existing bike


Bicycle Types, short version