How to Fit a Triathlon or TT Bike Part 3: Upper Body Positioning

Shoulder and Hip Angles

The upper body is driven by two angles: the hip angle and the shoulder angle. Pinpoint these to angles and most people will feel comfortable in a triathlon bike position. Your 3 landmarks for measuring hip angle are the (1) center of the bottom bracket (BB), (2) greater trochanter, and the (3) acromion process (AC Joint).

Digital illustration that shows a cyclists's Hip Angle on a Triathlon Bike

If you are not sure where the AC joint is located, Arland Macasieb, a top triathlete and Red Level BikeFit Pro, points it out on the image below:

Cyclist being measured by a professional bike fitter with a goniometer tool
Ken Call DPT, a triathlete and BikeFit Pro, displays a 90° shoulder angle

On the left, the triathlete demonstrates a hip angle above 100° and a shoulder angle greater than 90°. On the right (post-adjustment) you see a hip angle closer to 100° and a shoulder angle closer to 90°. We achieved this by moving the saddle forward (also raising it a few millimeters to compensate for the forward movement. Anytime you move the saddle forward, you are also lowering or decreasing the distance to the pedals). We lowered and shortened the stem and slightly decreased the reach on the extensions. This took a few adjustments to the saddle, a couple at the stem, and one at the extensions.

A cyclist on a triathlon bike with improper shoulder angle shown
A cyclist on a triathlon bike with proper shoulder angle shown after

This fit did not require a different set of bars; the only new piece of equipment needed was a stem. Of course, we used a sizing stem to help us get to this position. A sizing stem is a MUST when performing ALL bike fitting. If your fitter is not using a sizing bike, request a sizing stem for your fit. Even though we did not change the bars in this particular fit, you may need to in order to achieve these angles. The bar change may include the base bar and the extensions along with forearm pads.

Another way to look at upper body fitting is to think of setting the 100 and 90 angles. Once completed, you simply rotate the entire upper body forward or backward. Perhaps this is one aspect where a fit bike like the Exit Bike may make this easier.

Digital illustration that depicts rotating the entire body in unison on the bike

But wait! Empfield says the shoulder angle should be close to 80°. This is true–however, the protocols of F.I.S.T use different landmarks when measuring shoulder angle. So yes, Slowtwitchers tend to look for 80°, but at BikeFit we use 90° for most bike fits. Road, mountain, and triathlon remain consistent with our shoulder angle measurement, using the same landmarks. We do not change our number and landmarks for any single style of fit. The shoulder angle is basically the same. In other words, we completely agree with each other.

Base Bar

Before doing all of the above, you need to select a base bar for your triathlon bike. The base bar used to be referred to as pursuit bars or cow horns. In case you haven’t noticed, we use a base bar or cow horns most of this time in this article.

Base Bar Width (Cow Horns)

The easiest way to select the handlebar’s width is to pick up different width bars in a bike shop and grab hold of them. Place your hands on each of the forward “reach” areas. Try both narrow and wide bars. Once you have the bars in hand, move them down near your waist, straight out in front of you, and then bring them toward your chest. Do this with a few bars and usually you’ll find one that feels better than the others. It may sound awkward, but it’s a great guide. If you are still unsure between two widths, put the bars up to your armpits and choose the ones that are most closely aligned.


Although this article focuses on the upper body, to learn about fitting the foot to the pedal, see our article on Road Bike Fitting or take a look at our BikeFit Manual: When the Foot Meets the Pedal.

Ready to get your Triathlon Bike or Time Trial Bike fit? Locate a BikeFit Pro.


Interested in expanding your knowledge? Bike retailers and shop employees with a QBP account have access to educational resources within the U of Q Training Library. Get started now.


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