Bike Setup Tips For Smaller Cyclists | Emma’s Bike Fit Guide

Bike Setup Tips For Smaller Cyclists | Emma’s Bike Fit Guide


(soft music) – I get so many questions
from viewers who, like me, are a little
bit smaller in stature, asking for advice on how
to set up your bikes. In fact, there’s so many questions that I don’t have time to answer them all in the comments and by email. So I hope this video goes
some way to helping you out. Now, although I have kept hope alive that I might finally have a growth spurt, and end up taller than my younger sister, I think I’m gonna be waiting
forever at this rate. So I’ve had to get used to
being 157 centimeters tall. That’s five foot 1.8 inches
for our American viewers. And over the years racing and training, I’ve ridden bikes that I loved, and just felt fantastic on, and I’ve also had to ride bikes that were frankly too big, and on which I felt uncomfortable, and downright unsafe. I think I’ve learnt some
things along the way, and I would like to share
those details with you. I’m using my Canyon
Ultimate to demonstrate. And the smallest sizes of this bike, mine included, because it’s a XXXS, have smaller wheels. More on that later. (soft music) Now I think the most important parameter for smaller cyclists is reach. Saddle height is very rarely an issue. And just because you can just
about reach the handlebars does not necessarily mean
that the reach is okay, because if you’re stretched out and your hips are rocked forward just to reach the hoods, well, that’s gonna give you lower back pain, possibly shoulder pain, neck pain, and that rocking on the saddle can give you saddle problems as well. So you wanna look for a bike where the top tube
genuinely is quite short. There’s actually quite a lot of difference between the actual sizes and reach of the smallest frames
by all the different various manufacturers. So go for a frame where the top tube really is genuinely short. Of course, reducing the top tube length does bring the front and
back wheels closer together, and that can increase toe crossover, which is a real bane for smaller cyclists. Now I have only a tiny bit of
toe crossover on this bike, but in the past I’ve ridden 700C bikes where I had toe crossover from
one o’clock to five o’clock, which is pretty bad. And toe crossover obviously is a bit of a problem for bike handling. At any rate it’s the excuse I still use for not being able to do a track stand. – I’m afraid that if you have 700C wheels, you may just have to put up with a certain amount of toe crossover. There are a couple of ways
that frame manufacturers have tried to reduce toe crossover whilst keeping the reach nice and short. One of them is making
seat tube angle steeper. Another solution that they go for is to increase the fork offset. Do not fear though, there is another revolutionary, if you’ll pardon the pun, solution to toe crossover. So it’s time to talk about smaller wheels, specifically 650B and 650C. I’m gonna put it out there straightaway. I’m a big fan of smaller wheels. I find that with smaller
wheels on my road bike I have better bike handling,
I have less toe crossover, and specifically I have much better bike handling in crosswinds, because the smaller
area of the front wheel as seen from the side catches less wind. I have a special affection for 650C, because well, I won
the world championships time trial in Geelong, I was
on a P3 with 650C wheels. And I’m absolutely
certain that I could not have got aero enough on a
700C bike to win that race. So I really like these wheels. That said though, I’ve
done loads of races, road races with 700C wheels. And I’ve had 700C road bikes that I feel really comfortable on. So a lot of people ask me, why don’t you just ride 650 all the time? Well, there’s a couple of problems. So firstly, there aren’t that many road bike manufacturers that make the road bikes with 700C wheels. And secondly, in a road
race, if you get a puncture, you’re very unlikely to get a spare wheel from the neutral service if you run 650s. I know, because I’ve tried, and it went horribly wrong. So for that reason I always
use 700C wheels in road races. And I still do on my road bike. It just makes life a bit more simple if I ever do the odd race or sportive. That said, for events where
you fix your own punctures, like triathlon, sportives usually, or races where you have a dedicated team car right behind you, like a time trial at a professional level. I think 650 is a really good
option for smaller riders, because you either have to
fix the puncture yourself, so you take your own
inner tubes, et cetera, or your time car has the right
wheels for you behind you. And yes, running 650 does
reduce the choice you have of wheels, tires, and tubes, but there is choice out there, and that choice I think hopefully is gonna increase as
more of us small people demand bikes that fit. Now it is true that smaller wheels have slightly higher rolling resistance, but the science shows that
this is more than made up for by low drag and lower weight, ’cause the wheels are smaller. It’s not like riding off road where the size of obstacles is significant relative to the wheel size. Because on the road, any
roughness in the road surface is usually on quite a smaller scale. (soft music) Now for most cyclists, comfort
comes before aerodynamics, and that is absolutely right. But if you’re one of the
people that wants to go faster, well if the front end of
your bike is too high, you won’t be able to get low
to get aero and safe drag. And there’s particularly a problem for smaller cyclists, because, well, your saddle’s not very high, so your handlebars have
to be relatively low. Now as I mentioned
before, with 650 wheels, you can get lower at the front, because the wheel itself
is closer to the ground, the hub of the wheel. With a 700C frame, you want to look at what the head tube height is, because if it’s too big,
there’s not much you can do. Yes, there are downward sloping stems, but they bring you
further forward as well. And there are double jointed stems, but they’re a really heavy,
and quite ugly solution. So if you look for a
frame with quite a small head tube height, if it’s too low, you can always add spacers under the stem, but if it’s too high,
there’s not much you can do. (soft music) Now crank length might
sound like a minor detail, but it is an absolutely crucial consideration for smaller cyclists. Think about it this way,
if you have shorter legs, then you have less of a range of motion in absolute terms than
someone with long legs. But a longer crank means that your pedal turns a bigger circle. So at the bottom of the pedal stroke your foot’s quite low, and you have to have
your saddle low to reach. But at the top of the pedal
stroke with a long crank, your foot would come higher than it would with a short crank, which brings your knee higher, then you hit your knee in
your stomach, in my case, especially this is a problem if you’re getting low to try and be aero, or in time trials. That’s why shorter cranks basically are much easier to pedal
with for smaller cyclists. So for most smaller riders, it is worth considering a shorter crank, both for comfort, and to avoid injury risk to your knees and hips,
as well as potential saddle problems from rocking side to side. Personally, I noticed a huge improvement in my riding and my results, when I went from a 170 millimeter crank to a 165 millimeter crank like this one. 165s are actually commonly
available nowadays. And I know some small riders who even use a 155 millimeter
crank, so there you go. Now some people might tell you that if you have a shorter crank, you have less torque and
therefore less power, and I’m afraid that is
just rubbish science, because yes, you do have less torque, but you have a higher cadence
for the same foot speed. And your power is a function
of torque and cadence. So where it might take a little while to adapt your coordination to pedaling at that higher cadence, once you’ve got that coordination dialed, shorter crank should
not have a detrimental effect on your power. What you do need to be
careful about though is that you have a small enough gear to maintain that higher cadence even on the steepest climbs
that you’re gonna be tackling. (soft music) Now one thing that really
stands out for smaller riders is handlebar width. And that’s partly because
it can look quite silly when someone with narrow shoulders is riding on really wide bars. Am I right, viewers? Mm hmm. Now personally, I find that any handlebar wider than 38 centimeters
feels really clumsy and uncomfortable. And actually I prefer it if my handlebars are about 36 centimeters wide at the hood. That feels much better. But that said, having a too wide handlebar isn’t the end of the world, it just changes the handling slightly. It doesn’t hugely increase
the reach from your saddle, although very slightly. What is a problem though
is if the curvature, the radius of the drop curve is too big. Now if you’re not super tall, the chances are that you
also have small hands. I certainly do. And it is one of the things that is really uncomfortable for me
on bikes that are set up wrong is having the wrong reach
of the brake levers. It’s not just uncomfortable for your hands to be working at full
extension the whole time. It’s also dangerous, because you can’t reach the brake levers in a hurry when you need them. Or even worse actually, you
could ride the whole time with your hands on the brake levers, just in case, and then
you risk grabbing them when you’re startled,
which can lead to crashing. So getting a grip set where you can adjust the reach of the
levers is super important. And you can always find that out when you’re buying a grip set. Another detail of handlebar set up that is crucial for smaller people is the angle you set up the handlebar, and the position of the hoods on the bar, and there’s a reason I’ve
left these handlebars un-taped for the moment. It’s because I wanted to show you how much of a difference it can make where you put the hoods on the bar, and the angle you have the bar at. So I’ve loosened off the stem bolts. Check. (soft music) (tool clacking) And you’ll see that
changing the angle here, hugely changes the distance
from the saddle to the hoods, which is where I hold onto the handlebars. So if you move it back up there, it makes it much closer
and easier to reach. Similarly, if you adjust the position of the hood on the bar, (soft music) you can actually move the hoods
much closer to the saddle, and thereby reduce the reach. For example, that difference in hood position on the handlebar makes four centimeters
difference to the reach. The important thing though to remember is that changing the position
of the hood on the handlebar won’t just affect the reach
from the saddle to the hood, but also the distance from the
brake lever to the handlebar, which is another thing that we’ve talked about for smaller hands. So you need to find a balance. I would say set up the reach first, and get the handlebar at
the right angle for you, and then worry about the
reach of the brake levers. (soft music) Now I think it’s important to mention how hard it can be to change gear with mechanical shifters, if your levers are too far away and you have small hands. Because you’re having to
apply that lateral force, that full hand extension. That’s actually much
prefer electronic shifters, even though I know they’re
not necessarily faster. But for me I feel much
more comfortable on them, because you just need a
quick tap of the finger, and now my pathetic, weak little hands don’t get as tired, and I can change gear in a hurry when I need to. While we’re talking about small hands, the design of the brake hoods
is also really important. For example, there are some grip sets where the brake hoods are so wide, I can’t actually get my
hands fully around them. And that’s pretty unsafe, because it means that your hands aren’t as secure, and you can bounce off and bumpy roads. I’ve actually crashed that
way twice in training, and it wasn’t very nice. So I always go for a
nice, neat, hood design, which depends on the grip set. (soft music) Now I’d like to finish off
with some of the details that are actually really important for smaller cyclists. Firstly, space for bottle cages. If you have a small frame,
this triangle is smaller, and you literally have less space to fit bottles and bottle cages in. You might even struggle to
get one bottle in and out. I know for me it’s pretty tight. Two bottle cages can be really pushing it. Secondly stem length, now
if you need a short stem to get the appropriate reach, that can make the handling
of the front very twitchy. It’s just something that
you have to put up with to get the right reach. Lastly, space over the back wheel. So if you ride 700C wheels, there won’t be that much
space, if you’re short, between the saddle height
and the back wheel. And that means that if
you’re into bike packing and bike touring, if you have
one of those giant saddlebags there’s a risk that it actually
rubs on the back wheel. I’ve tried that. It’s sub-optimal both for your speed and for the integrity of your saddlebag. And then lastly, also due
to having a low saddle in relation to the back wheel, if you put a rear light on the seat post for the dark days, you might find that that rear light is actually below the height of the back wheel. And that means obviously it’s much less visible to motorists. So you want to think about putting your lights higher up, so they’re actually on the saddle or on yourself. Well, I really hope this video helps those of you who ask me for
advice on this huge topic. It’s a huge topic for those
of us who are not huge. If you liked it, give us a thumbs up, feel free to share it
with your small friends, or indeed your tall friends who do not appreciate how
hard it is being small. And if you do have any more questions, leave them in the comments below. I will do my best to find an expert and answer them for you. In the meantime, you might like to watch this video on why power to weight is maybe not as important
as everyone thinks. Sorry.