How to Set Up Your Spin Bike at the Gym

Most people who log serious miles outdoors cycling in Oakland usually have their bike fit fairly dialed-in. They’ve either had their setup checked at the bike shop where they purchased their bike, or they’ve had an experienced friend check their alignment on the bike. But once we all head indoors for spinning classes, things break-down a bit. It’s tempting to just blow off a perfect fit, thinking it’s just one hour on the spin bike. I’ve seen many spinners roughly set the seat to a height that seems reasonable, but leave the rest of the settings where the last person had set them. Spending the extra two minutes to set up your bike correctly for your body proportions will pay off in the long run.

Assuming an average of 80 rpm (revolutions per minute), in a 55 minute spin class, you are putting your hips, knees, and ankles through about 4,400 revolutions. That’s thousands of times  you may be over-extending your knee, thousands of times you could be jamming your hip, and thousands of times you could be putting undue stress through your ankle joint. And thats’s just in one spin class! If you spin multiple times in a week, improperly setting up your bike could leave you vulnerable to piriformis syndrome, knee pain, achilles tendonitis, or iliotibial band syndrome!

Here’s three simple steps to setting up your spin bike properly:

1.  Get the seat height approximately correct by standing next to the bike, and adjusting the seat so that it’s level with your hip joint. If you are unsure exactly where your hip joint is, on most people it’s usually at the widest part of the hip.  To dial this height in perfectly, mount the bike and put your feet in the pedals (or clip-in), bring your right pedal to the bottom position, and then make sure there is a micro-bend at the knee of your extended right leg. If your right leg is too straight, lower the seat a bit until you see a small bend in your knee. If your right leg is severely bent at the knee, raise the seat a bit until just a small bend remains.

2.  To position the seat fore/aft (slide it forwards or back), bring your pedals level with each other (like 3 and 9 on a clock face). Drop an imaginary plumb line down from your front knee and notice where it lands on the pedal. Ideally your knee will be aligned directly atop the center of the pedal. If you are having trouble gauging this while sitting on your bike, just ask the person next to you whether your knee is over the center of your front pedal.

3.  Hop off your bike and look at it from the side. For advanced riders, the handlebar height should be adjusted so that it is on the same horizontal line as the seat. For beginning riders, or those who are still developing their core strength, set the handlebars two inches higher than the seat. If you feel a lot of low back strain in this position, set your handlebars even higher. The lower the handlebars, the more aggressive the position, therefore you will have to use your core to help hold up your torso. There\’s no one correct position, so make this ride comfortable for yourself!

TWO BONUS TIPS: If you are using a bike with toe cages, be aware that one size does not always fit all. Often these cages are meant to accommodate a large foot. If you have small feet, position the ball of your big toe at the center of the pedal. This might mean that you don’t use the full real estate of the toe cage, but your feet will be much more comfortable at the end of the class! When you transition to a standing position, send your hips back and pull your abs up. This will maintain your center of mass correctly to best take advantage of your  bio-mechanically awesome bike setup!

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