Editor’s Note: This article is courtesy of the team at Art’s Cyclery. The original post can be found here.
Bike setup depends heavily on personal preference, but in this video we’ll give you some basic tips that will provide a starting point to find what works best for you.
Tire pressure is influenced by multiple factors: Riding style, riding conditions, tire selection, and whether or not your wheels are set up tubeless. If you ride very aggressively, higher tire pressure can prevent rim dings, pinch flats, and tire burps. If you ride less aggressively, lowering your tire pressure can improve your traction and overall ride quality. In high traction riding conditions, you can run higher pressure which allows for less rolling resistance. In low traction conditions, a lower pressure will help you find grip.
Tires with a stiffer side wall allow you to run lower tire pressures, while tires with less structure require higher pressure. Tubeless allows you to run a lower tire pressure for increased traction with much less of a chance of flatting. If you have tubes, you are susceptible to pinch flats so a higher tire pressure is required. As a starting point, the range for tubeless tires is 25-40psi and 40-50 psi for tires with a tube. Typically you will want 2-3 psi higher in the rear tire because it often takes harder hits than the front.
Brake Lever Position
Lever position may seem like a minor adjustment, but it can have a huge effect on your riding. The angle of the lever in relation to the bar influences your body position on the bike. Angling your levers too steeply can cause you to put too much weight on the front wheel, leading to wash outs and crashes. If your levers are too flat, it can injure your wrists on jumps or drops.
A neutral position, roughly a 45-degree angle in relation to the bar, is a good place to start. Modern brakes are designed to be modulated with one finger, so adjusting your lever to where your index finger sits in the pocket at the end of the lever will provide maximum braking power and performance.
The rotation of the handlebars within the stem has a huge effect on bike handling. Many bar and stem combinations will have guide marks so that you can quickly select the bar angle you are most comfortable with. As with all of the other setup tips, it is best to stay away from the extremes. Having your bars too far back can contribute to bad form and also hurt your wrists. Adjusting your bars too far forward will negatively affect the bike’s handling by putting too much weight over the front of the bike. Lining your bars up so that they are perpendicular to the ground is a great starting point. From there you can make small adjustments forward or back until you find the right position for you.
Suspension Air Pressure
Most modern mountain bikes come equipped with an air fork and air shock. The amount of air pressure in your fork and shock will determine how your bike absorbs bumps and obstacles, along with how it handles on the trail. Most suspension manufacturers have a chart that gives you a suggested air pressure for your weight.
The first step in dialing in proper air pressure is checking your sag. Sag refers to how much your suspension compresses under the weight of the rider. We recommend running between 20 and 30% sag in your fork and shock. To achieve more sag, use a shock pump to release air from the fork or shock. For less sag, you will pump air into the shock or fork with the shock pump. Remember you will lose remember roughly 10 psi when unscrew the pump from the valve, so you will need to compensate for this.
Seat height is critical to maximizing your power, efficiency, and comfort on the bike. More importantly, proper saddle height can help prevent long term injuries. Running your saddle too high can lead to discomfort in the perineal area, back, reduced efficiency, and pain in the back of the knee. Running your seat too low also reduces efficiency and can cause knee damage, reduced flexibility in the hips, and back pain. The optimal seat height is when your knee is bent at a 30° angle at the bottom of the pedal stroke. With your lateral condyle (lateral to the knee cap) as the pivot point, measure the angle between the greater trochanter of the femur and your ankle.
If you don’t have an angle iron handy, there is a quick way to get close to the proper seat height. Spin the pedals backwards with your heel bisecting the spindle. At the bottom of the pedal stroke, your knee should be completely locked out, but you should not have to shift your hips side to side to reach the pedals. This will set you relatively close to the proper height and you can make small adjustments from there.
Whether you’re taking a buddy’s bike out for a rip, or setting up your brand new bike, these tips will help you feel more comfortable and confident. Don’t be afraid to fine-tune these adjustments to find what works best for you. A properly setup bike can make all difference, so grab your bike, grab your tools and hit the trails.