If you’ve just bought a new road bike, or you’re upgrading to a new bike, you might need some help getting it correctly set up so you can really enjoy the ride. Here are some tips to help you get sorted on your new bike.
Having the correct saddle height can make a huge difference to your pedalling efficiency. It’s pretty easy to get a good saddle height with a little time and patience, and the best place to start is to follow our how to guide to learn how to easily adjust your saddle height. If you’re unsure how to do it yourself, there are many professional bike fitting services that will ensure you have the best possible position, which will allow you to cycle in more comfort.
Most new bikes will come with a healthy stack of steerer tube spacers above or below the stem. While you might be happy with the position of the handlebars as the bike arrives, if you find the handlebar position too high or low, you can easily adjust the height. With an Allen tool simply remove the stem top cap, loosen the stem bolts, and move the spacers around to alter the position of the stem. To refit the stem, first preload the headset bearings by tightening the stem top cap until all play has been eliminated, then tighten the stem steerer bolts.
As with adjusting handlebar height, you can also adjust the bike fit with a different length stem. You might be just fine with the stem length that came on your new bike. However, if it’s too short, you’ll be bunched up and cramped, and if it’s too long, you’ll be over stretched. Both can result in discomfort and impact your riding enjoyment by limiting the control you have over the bike. Some manufacturers specify different length stems in relation to the frame size, to try and offer the best fit. Sometimes you might need to customise the stem length yourself though. Good bike shops will be very helpful in helping you get the right stem length on your new bike, or buying a new stem doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.
There are few things more annoying that noticing your stem isn’t quite straight someway into a ride. Getting the stem straight in relation to the front wheel can take some squinting and patience, and some people can be really fussy about ensuring the stem is absolutely straight. A very expensive way of ensuring your stem is straight is this nifty tool from German company Tune, which uses a laser to straighten the stem against the front wheel.
Having the right tyre pressure can make a big difference to how a bike rides. Too low and the bike will feel slow, too high and the ride will be harsh. Most tyres will have a maximum inflation pressure on the sidewall (usually 120psi) but that doesn’t mean you should inflate your tyre to this pressure. Depending on your weight and the condition of the roads, you can safely run lower pressures, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Trying lowering them by 5-10psi and going for a ride, until you find the sweetspot. I regularly run my tyres between 80-100psi. Generally, the wider the tyre the lower the pressure.. Use a track pump with an integrated pressure gauge or better still, invest in a pressure gauge for best accuracy.
There’s nothing worse than slipping or badly set up gears, and having the bike gears correctly set up will provide a smooth and quiet ride. Setting up the gears on a bike can seem daunting, but it’s quite simple, and there’s lots of advice in books and the internet to help you out. There’s even an app to do it. Yes, really!
There are quite a few bolts holding a typical road bike together, and they each have a recommended torque setting (a measurement for how tight a bolt should be). With more people buying bikes direct, it’s even more critical to ensure a bike is safely assembled, and a torque wrench completely removes the guesswork for how tight a bolt should be. Most components will have the torque setting printed near the bolt, or you may have to consult the instructions - always check manufacturer's’ recommendations. Different torque wrenches work in different ways, but one common type allows you to set your required torque by turning a knob at the end of the handle. You fit the appropriate head, then turn the wrench until a distinct ‘clunk’ tells you that you’ve reached the correct torque.
If you’re going to do any bike setup work, you need some good quality tools. Most modern road bikes require nothing more than a couple of Allen tools, but increasingly Torx bolts are being used. A screwdriver (Phillips head or flat blade) is sometimes necessary for adjusting the front and rear derailleurs. A good multi-tool will be sufficient for making any adjustments and there are lots of different types on the market, from diddy emergency tools to higher quality workshop-style tools. A multi-tool is ideal for less frequent adjustments and taking with you on a ride, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of tinkering at home, then you might want to invest in some decent standalone tools, which will make working on your bike easier than grappling with a tiny multi-tool.
A bike leant up against the wall is easy to work on, but if you want to do more extensive bike setup work, such as adjusting the gears, then a workstand can make working on the bike a lot easier. A workstand elevates the bike off the ground, so you have easier access to it from both sides, and the wheels and gears can spin freely. Workstands come in different styles and prices, from wall-mounted to freestanding types.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.