7 Bike Fit Tips for Older Riders



By Coach John Hughes


I lived and coached in Boulder, CO for 24 years. I took about 100 clients to the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine (BCSM) for bike fits by my good friend Andy Pruitt and his staff. Andy founded the BCSM. He’s the dean of bike fitters. He’s fitted riders in the pro peloton, casual riders and everyone in between.  I took one 50-year-old client to see Andy. Andy measured the client’s power output, fitted the bike correctly and re-measured the power output: five percent more power! You can read about Andy fitting one of my clients on my website.


1. Get a current bike fit

Our bodies change as we age and as a result bike fit is dynamic. In my ultra racing days I was six feet tall. Now I’m five feet 10 inches, which changes the saddle height and the position of the handlebars on my ultra racing bike and my touring bike.


Cross-country ski season is about over and to celebrate my 72nd birthday I skied 90 days. I also stretched daily. I just got on my touring bike for the first time this year. Because I’m more flexible the handlebars are too close.


2. Fit the bike to you.

Don’t try to fit your body to the bike. Because our bodies change over time your favorite bike you’ve been riding for years may no longer be the best bike for you. If you have a frame that’s about the right size you can adjust saddle and handlebars to the correct positions. If your frame is the wrong size or design then invest in a different bike. For example, a racing frame is stiff so more power is transferred to the wheels; however, because it’s stiff it also transmits more vibration and bumps from the road to you,


3. Saddle height.

The correct saddle height depends on your riding and physiology. Both your type of riding and physiology may change over time. In general, the lower the saddle height and the sharper the angle of your knees, the more power the rider has, but also the more stress on the front of the knee. A higher saddle height is better for endurance. But if your saddle is too high this may cause pain on the back of your knees. Also if your saddle is too high your hips will rock side to side as you pedal, which will increase friction in your crotch and may cause saddle sores. To check if your saddle is too high pull up your jersey or shirt so the top of your shorts is visible. Ride with someone watching you from the rear. The top of your shorts should be a stable line. If each side rises and drops as you pedal then your saddle is too high. If one side drops more than the other then you have a shorter leg on the side that drops more and you’ll need a shim in your shoe.


4. Saddle choice.

One rider had a very light racing saddle on his bike and complained his butt hurt. Andy pointed out that with a more comfortable albeit heavier saddle he could ride more, have more fun and get fitter.


Most of your weight should rest on your sitz bones. The width of the sitz bones varies among riders. If your saddle is too narrow or too wide your weight will be on your crotch – you know how that would feel. Good bike shops have a tool to measure the width of your sitz bones as a guide to choosing a saddle.


A lightly padded saddle may help; however, too much padding increases friction in your crotch and may result in saddle sores.


I wrote a column about 10 tips to prevent saddle discomfort.


5. Handlebars position.

If your handlebars are too far from the saddle or too low you’ll be stretched out on the bike. You may be more aero; however, the stretched position often causes neck and shoulder pain. The next time you ride pay attention to which position of your hands on the handlebars is more comfortable for your upper body. If it’s most comfortable with your hands on the top of the bar near the stem or on the curve just outside the top, then your bars are too far away and you need a different stem. The most comfortable position should be with your hands on top of the brake hoods.

I wrote this column on 4 things to do to prevent upper body fatigue.


6. Gearing.

No matter how diligent you are, your legs are less powerful now than 10 years ago. In my 20s my bike had 52 and 42 tooth chain rings and a five speed 14-24 freewheel. In my 30s and 40s my ultra racing bike had 53 and 39 tooth chain rings and an eight speed 12-28 cassette. In my 50s I changed to triple chain rings to get lower gears and a nine speed cassette. Now in my 70s it’s time to retrofit smaller chain rings.


7. E-bike.

If lower gears don’t allow you to ride comfortably or on the kind of terrain you’d like to ride it may be time for an e-bike — I’m considering one. I wrote this column on Anti-Aging: e-bikes, fun and fitnessBob Wolf acquired the electric bike shown, and did his first ride on it May 1, 2021.


Where to Get a Bike Fit

Trainers and mechanics trained at the BCSM by Andy Pruitt founded Retül, which does bike fits and advises on equipment. Bike shops around the world have personnel trained by Retül.

Here’s a good column on What’s the optimal cadence?


More Information

Stop Cycling’s Showstoppers A showstopper is anything that interferes significantly with your riding. My 65-page eBook has 10 chapters about how to prevent showstoppers and what to do if one of them afflicts you. In addition to bike fit and comfort on the bike, I cover proper training, optimal nutrition, environmental issues (heat, cold, rain, wind), ailments (cramps, indigestion, heartburn, nausea and diarrhea), riding techniques and injuries. Stop Cycling’s Showstoppers is a workbook. Each chapter includes a checklist for you to evaluate your riding and what you need to work on.


My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process incorporates the latest research and most of it is new material not published in my previous eArticles on cycling past 50, 60 and beyond. It includes columns by John Lee Ellis, Elizabeth Wicks, Jim Langley, Fred Matheny, Gabe Mirkin and seven other older riders.

This article appeared in Road Bike Rider 7 Bike Fit Tips for Older Riders - Road Bike Rider Cycling Site