If the bike doesn't fit, Ariel Mendez knows he's probably lost a repeat customer. The owner of Leawood Bicycles in Kansas City, Mo., has worked with bicycles since the 1960s and knows by now that "the most important thing is it has to fit the rider. The rider doesn't have to fit the bicycle." Before he begins his custom-fitting process, he has to know what kind of riding they plan to do.
Road? Dirt? Both?
Do they need: a road bike -- lightweight and built for long distances? A rugged mountain bike with fat tires that climbs hills easily? Or a hybrid, which many of his customers buy, that combines the upright riding position of a mountain bike with the lighter weight of a road bike?
Then, Mendez can fit
The saddle, or seat: Make sure it's comfortable. You don't have to use the one that comes with the bike. Look for one that allows you to sit so that your pelvis rests on a level surface. A woman's seat will likely be wider than a man's because a woman's pelvis is wider.
Frame size: Stand over the bike, legs straddling the frame, with one hand on the handlebars and the other on the seat. Lift the bike off the ground until the frame touches your crotch. On a road bike, there should be one to two inches of clearance between the tires and the floor; two to three inches on a hybrid or mountain bike.
The height of the seat: To find the correct height, sit on the bicycle, with one foot on the pedal at the bottom of a stroke, the ball of the foot resting over the center, or axle, of the pedal. If the seat is at the right height, your knee should be slightly bent, not straight.
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