For weekend bicycle enthusiasts and competitive riders alike, the risk of a bicycle-related injury may increase with an ill-fitting bicycle Good bike fit promotes good posture with muscles and joints working in harmony. Without this, riders who are generally pain free will likely experience pain and be predisposed to injury. One of the first things we ask a patient complaining of bicycling-related pain is to bring the bicycle to a knowledgeable bike shop to check for a proper fit. In most instances, a poor bike fit is at the root of the problem.
Only 1 percent of America’s cyclists are elite racers, so the majority of patients who bike are recreational cyclists. But the same advice holds true for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re Lance Armstrong with an unprecedented sixth Tour de France victory, an athlete training for the Olympic Games in Athens, a Pan-Mass Challenge rider or a leisure cyclist, bicycle fit is an individual matter reflecting your coordination, flexibility, strength, and skeletal parameters. A properly fitted bicycle should allow you to maintain common riding positions with an acceptable level of comfort and the greatest pedaling economy.
Among the most common bike fit errors are excessive saddle height (high and low), excessive handlebar reach (long and short), and misalignments of the pedal and shoe. We join the American Physical Therapy Association in recommending that cyclists do the following to ensure proper bike fit:
Be sure that the saddle is level for endurance and recreational riding. If you slide too far forward on a forward-tilting saddle, too much weight is placed on your arms and back. If the seat is tilted backwards, posture is compromised and you may place undue strain on your lower back and possibly experience saddle-related pain.
The location of handlebars is determined by your height, strength, coordination, and functional goals. Higher handlebars put more weight on the saddle. Generally, taller riders should have lower handlebars in relation to the height of the saddle. If handlebars are too far forward, you put strain on your back.
Be sure to re-examine your bicycle fit after a bad fall or crash for possible re-orientation of handlebars, brake hoods, cleats, or saddle. It is also important to have yourself checked out, to make sure your pelvis (especially your seat bones) and spine are in good alignment. Persistent problems with bike fit after a fall may be a good indication that it is the body that actually needs attention.
Equally important to proper bike fit is your physical condition . Good flexibility of the hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteal muscles is crucial because these muscles generate the majority of the pedaling force and must move through the pedal-stroke in an ideal 80-90 revolutions per minute. Proper stretching, balance, and flexibility exercises help with coordination of cycling-related skills such as breaking and cornering.
Proper alignment of the pelvis, hips and spine are the cornerstone to muscles being able to function properly. Changes in your pelvic alignment will affect your strength and flexibility and therefore affect your ability to attain certain positions on the bicycle. This may also require you to re-examine your bike fit.
Bicycle accessories, such as softer handlebar tape, shock absorbers for the seat post and front fork, cut-out saddles, and wider tires, can help bring comfort to the sport. Cycling should be about enjoyment, not pain. Proper bicycle fit minimizes discomfort and possible overuse injury, maximizes economy, and ensures safe bicycle operation. Proper bicycle fit makes your ride a lot more pleasurable.
Here are some further tips all of which assume your postural alignment is good:
Knee should be slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal stroke, and your hips shouldn’t rock while you pedal.
Hand position should be changed frequently for greater upper-body comfort.
A higher cadence (speed) and using easier gears help you achieve better pedaling skills. Your goal cadence should be 80-90 revolutions per minute. A bicycle computer with cadence read-out is very useful.
Common Bicycling Pains
Anterior (Front) Knee Pain. Possible causes are having a saddle that is too low, a too low cadence (speed), using your quadriceps muscles too much in pedaling, misaligned bicycle cleat for those using clipless pedals, and muscle imbalance in your legs (strong quadriceps and weak hamstrings).
Neck Pain. Possible causes include poor handlebar or saddle position. A poorly placed handlebar might be too low, at too great a reach, or at too short a reach. A saddle with excessive downward tilt can be a source of neck pain.
Lower Back Pain. Possible causes include inflexible hamstrings, low cadence, using your quadriceps muscles too much in pedaling, poor back strength, and too-long or too-low handlebars.
Hamstring Tendonitis. Possible causes are inflexible hamstrings, high saddle, misaligned bicycle cleat, and poor hamstring strength.
Hand Numbness or Pain. Possible causes are short-reach handlebars, poorly placed brake levers, and a downward tilt of the saddle.
Foot Numbness or Pain. Possible causes are using your quadriceps muscles too much in pedaling, low cadence, faulty foot mechanics, and misaligned bicycle cleat for those using clipless pedals.
Ilio-Tibial Band (Hip) Tendonitis. Possible causes are too-high saddle, leg length difference, and misaligned bicycle cleat for those using clipless pedals.
See you on the roads!