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Bike Fit... continued

want to be able to put your hands on the appropriate places on the bars while keeping your elbows at a comfortable angle, somewhere between straight and 90 degrees. You shouldn’t feel particularly stretched out, but you should be able to take deep breaths. The bars should be low enough so you can climb hills easily, but not so low that your back gets stiff. Other than that, it’s a matter of personal comfort. You’re not going to mess your arms up with a weirdo positioning like you might with your knees, but you’ll probably end up stiff, sore and unhappy.

So, let’s look at the distance between the saddle and bars. The old saw is that when you butt your elbow against the horn of the saddle, your fingertips should be close to the flat of your bars (or 2-3cm in front of your fingers, depending on who you hear it from... and this truism applies most truly to drop bars). Raising and lowering the bars changes the distance - if the saddle and the bars are at the same height, that will be the shortest distance between them. If the bars are lower than the saddle, you’re leaning forward more than if they were at the same height, so it’s effectively farther. Raise the bars up past the saddle height, and it’s a shorter distance, since your torso is (hopefully) on the top side of the bars. If you’ve got a threaded fork and quill stem, you can use this principle to do some cheap experimentation: If you raise your stem from flat and the distance seems better, you probably need a shorter stem. Vice versa, you need something longer. Those with threadless forks can join the party by flipping the stem (assuming your stem has some sort of rise) and/or moving the spacers around on the fork to raise or lower the stem, and thus the bars. If you find the distance to be better but the bar height to be a dealbreaker, try getting a stem that’s 1cm more or less than what you have. Unless you’ve started out with a stem that’s really long or short, you’re probably not going to need more than that. Before buying a new stem, check your local bike-related messageboard or craigslist affiliate - very likely there’s someone who’s in in the reverse situation and would be happy to swap.

If you’re not wanting to replace your stem, and you don’t have combination brake/shifter units to contend with, you can consider non-drop bar options. Drops put your hands a couple inches below the stem, increasing the effective distance from the bar to your shoulder. With bars that go out or forward, this isn’t an issue. Some popular styles include: flat bars (which some people swear by but allow a limited number of hand positions, so perhaps not best for very long rides), risers (same as flats, but with a rise at the ends for those that like to be a little more upright), mustache bars (which look sort of like a lower case ‘m’; same general idea as flats, but more hand positions and the ability to move a little more forward), and bullhorns (u-shaped with a number of variations in form; unique in giving the rider the ability to stretch further forward without having to stretch down (which some find optimal for climbing).
Assuming everything went right, you should now have a bike that gets pretty close to the kind of fit that those fat-cats without the student loans paid out the nose for. Feels pretty good, eh? Hit the road for a victory lap, you. A last word of advice before you go: if you’re used to a ‘bad’ fit, you may find that a good fit feels a little weird or uncomfortable. Give your muscles a little bit of time to accustom themselves to a good form, stretch out before riding, and give it a couple of days before fiddling with anything or rushing out to the bike shop. Happy pedalling!