Natty Newbie starts mountain biking episode two: Bike set-up

Join Natty Newbie as she tries mountain biking for the first time. In our second episode, Natty and her new bike undergo the all-important set-up. Enter our fabulous competition to win your own start-up mountain bike kit.

With bicycles, one size doesn’t fit all. In fact, having the right size for your height still doesn’t mean the bike will fit you. This I discovered in the CycleLab store. Once I’d chosen my matte black Merida Big 9 TFS 300 (R8 499) with its knobbly 29-inch wheels, it was whisked away from me for some workshop tinkering involving converting the tyres to tubeless. An hour later, while store manager Steve Bowman kept me amused with a generous dollop of retail therapy gathering all the essentials for my new sport (see our competition to win your own starter kit), the Merida was ready for its second tweaking – the set-up. This is Steve’s area of expertise and why it’s essential to go to a specialist bike shop when purchasing your first pair of wheels.

Get the set-up right and body and bike can work as an efficient, harmonious team; get it wrong and your bits and bobs will hurt, and the potential for a serious injury (to knees in particular) skyrockets.

In one corner of the shop is a platform – a stage of sorts – with a rubberised surface. Atop this is an indoor trainer, which is a contraption that lifts the back wheel of the bike so you can pedal but remain stationary. Steve fixed my bike to the trainer, “Up you get.”

I went to the left side of the bike and mounted it like a horse, only to discover the saddle was just an inch too high for me to do this with the grace of Olympic gold medalist Julie Bresset. “The saddle’s too high,” I winced as my jeans got wedged between my legs.

“No, it looks good,” said Steve. “It’s at the right height when you can only just reach the ground on tiptoes.”

I have since discovered, thanks to my great cycling inspiration, Ride magazine editor Adele Tait, that because the 29er has a larger wheel diameter, it’s going to be a little higher off the ground. Julie Bresset rides a 26-inch bike, so it’s a little easier for her! “Most people want to be able to put their feet flat on the ground,” Adele told me, “but try to resist the urge to have the bike set up like that because you’ll put strain on your knees and it doesn’t lend itself to efficient pedalling.”

My other cycling guru, former elite racer Tim Brink, has also added sound reasoning, “The danger of having the saddle lower to reach the ground is that you end up straining the ligaments running through your knees and over-using your quad muscles. It just puts undue strain on your knee. You’ve just got to accept and get used to the fact that the saddle height is measured from the saddle to the pedal, not to the ground.”

This was going to make landing and take off a little trickier than I realised.

Tim was unsympathetic, “You’ll quickly learn to stop and leap off the saddle or find a log or a rock to rest your foot on when you want to stop.”

But I digress. Back to Steve in the shop.

“Now, get your cleats into the pedals,” he instructed. “Tip your toes forward, then push down on them. No don’t put your heel down, use the front of the shoe, that’s where the cleats are.”

At first the fit was too snug to push my foot into the pedals so Steve loosened the tension on the pedal springs. I clipped in. Then, to ensure I’d pedal smoothly and not risk injury, he checked the length of my leg, with heels down. “That’s my little trick, putting your heels down. It helps compensate for foot size, which will also have an impact on your saddle height,” he said. “Looks good. Now to clip out, just turn your heels out, away from the bike.” That was easy. I flashed Steve a triumphant grin.

I gave little thought to the fact that I have to remember to clip out every time I stop. But that’s for another episode of this blog series – no doubt there’s a tumble or two lying in wait. In the meantime, send in your entries to win a replica of my full kit worth around R19 000, compliments of CycleLab, Ride magazine and Sanlam Reality.

Pedal on…

Natty Newbie


Contact CycleLab for a great selection of products in the online store, advice, tours, online race entries and details of the stores round the country.


Ride, Sanlam Reality and CycleLab are giving one lucky reader the chance to win the full starter kit as described in this blog. All you have to do is follow the series and answer the question below. 

Click here to enter the competition. Closing Date is 31 October 2012. The items on the prize equipment list may be exchanged for similar goods of the same or lesser value to cater for individual fit. Click here for the full equipment list for the prize.

  • Loving your blogs..
    Before you know it you will be a “mountain bike junkie”..

    • Natty Newbie

      Thanks Bela – things are improving: fewer bruises, more muscle tone. But the finesse still needs work 😉

      Hope you’ve entered the competition

      Luv Natty