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Gravel BIKES

Grind that gravel

Setting up your new gravel bike will allow you all the benefits of comfort, performance, and safety.  Setup of gravel bikes is very similar to road bikes, with a little mountain bike setup tossed in as well.

cockpit setup

This is where you're going to spend all your time, so let's make it comfortable and safe.  The paramount goal of gravel bike fit and set up is to ensure and maintain comfort.  If you're sore, you're not enjoying the ride, and if you're not enjoying the ride, you won't ride.


No doubt it may seem weird to begin with the pedal setup, but this is a very important aspect that will affect all the other measurements.  The foundational setup is to ensure the ball of your foot is over the spindle of the pedal.  Set up your cleats to make sure this is as exact as you can make it.


Next up is saddle height.  A good way to set this is to get in your cycling shoes and clip in.  With a pedal at six o'clock, your knee should be slightly bent.  How much is too much?  Unclip and put your heel on the pedal.  Your knee should be thisclose to locking out.  If it's not, raise the saddle a few millimeters and try again.

Once that position is set, adjust the fore-and-aft of the saddle.  The goal here is to have your knee over the pedal spindle / ball of your foot with the pedal at three o'clock.  Fitters use a plumb bob to check this, but you can do it with a string or even a yardstick.

Additionally, you can play with the angle of the saddle from level to a few degrees either direction. Most riders like the saddle level, but you are the best judge for your own backside.

A note on saddle interface: there are two protuberances of bone at the base of the pelvis. The scientific name for them is ischial tuberosities, but we simply call them sit bones. You want your weight supported on these bones, NOT on the soft tissue of the perineal area ahead of them. Adjust the fore and aft to where you’re seated and can comfortably reach your handlebar without locking your elbows, while keeping in mind where your sit bones are resting on the saddle. Adjust it forward and back and try the positions until it’s situated perfectly.

handlebar & stem

Gravel bikes evolved from road bikes so it's to be expected that drop style handlebars would be part of the evolution.  While they are similar, they do exhibits some manufacturer differences that will need to be accommodated in set up.

When bikes are built up for the sales floor, we always strive for neutral settings on the handlebars. However, in the case of road bikes, some manufacturers install the bar tape before it ships. In these cases, we do not unwrap tape to reset any angles.

After a couple rides in the neutral position, your body will tell you what tweaks are required.  

Are your neck and shoulders sore or noticeably fatigued?  You're likely shrugging your shoulders and reaching too far.  This is remedied with a shorter stem.   You may be tempted to slide your saddle forward to adjust for this.  Don't.  The setting you previously made on your saddle should never be compromised.  Treating your upper and lower body separately here is crucial.

Does your lower back feel rough?  Your handlebar is likely too low and will need to be raised.   

Is it your upper back, between your shoulder blades, that you're noticing post-ride?  Then the handlebar is likely too high.

The spacer rings between the stem and the top of the headset are where you make this adjustment. By adding or removing the sequence of spacers on either side of the stem, you are raising or lowering the handlebar height of the bike. These rings come in many thicknesses and allow fine tuning of handlebar height.  Naturally, once you have it where you want it, the steer tube can be cut so you don't have to keep spacers on the top side of the stem.

brake levers & shifters

Setting up your controls will make you safer and can also assist in alleviating any fatigue issues, in concert with the stem and handlebar adjustments you just made.  For many years, the general consensus was to have the hoods level and the tips of the brake levers in line with the horizontal part of the handlebar drop.  A good base position is 3-5 degrees above level.  

Now we know what you're thinking: just loosen the stem face and rotate the handlebar up a bit.  Don't do it!  You'll be compromising the previously set handlebar position.  Nope, you're going to have to unwrap the bar tape and make the adjustment at the lever clamp.  Don't fret, it's way easier than it seems.  Here's how: