You should be comfortable on your bike, whether you're on a 20 mile easy ride, or a challenging 100 miles. You should not have; saddle sores, hand or foot numbness, neck or back pain. If you are having any of these symptoms, you need to look at your bike fit. Remember, you will spend many hours in that saddle, and in one position. It's imperative that the fit is correct.

Imagine wearing a pair of bike shorts that were way to tight and at the end of a ride attributing the chafing to weak butt muscles; or shoes that were two sizes to big and attributing the blisters to poor pedaling mechanics or poor gear selection. Of course, you wouldn't think this way. So why don't most of us consider how our bikes fit us when we start to have symptoms such as front knee pain, back knee pain, neck pain, tingling in the hands or feet, low back pain, wrist pain, cramping, various tendonitis (patellar, IT Band, Achilles, tennis/golfers elbow), etc?

The answer is that most people do not realize that so many pains AND INJURIES are associated with a poor bike fit.

Take a moment to ask yourself:

  • How many hours will I spend on my bike this season?
  • How many miles will I ride?

Now, picture the following sample scenario:

You go for a 50-mile bike ride, riding at a pace of 15 mph and keeping a cadence of 85rpm (rotations per minute of your pedals). At the end of that ride:

  • You will have spent 3 hours and 15 minutes in the same position; AND
  • Your knees, ankles and hips have bent and straightened approximately 16,000 times!
  • Now consider at the end of 600 training miles (which you will do getting ready for this ride), those statistics come to 40 hours on the bike and over 200,000 revolutions!
  • Given the amount of time that you will spend on your bike and the number of times your legs will complete a pedal stroke, you absolutely need to be aware of how you fit on your bike (and conversely, how your bikes fits YOU).

Along with comfort, fit has the greatest effect on aerodynamics and pedal stroke efficiency. A saddle height that is 1 inch too high can cause unequal distribution of forces through the pedal stroke. This will lead to an unequal distribution of work on some muscles and give others a free ride. The relative position of the handle bar height to saddle height will change how well you either "cut through" or HIT the wind.

Bike fit is the process of matching a changeable bike into a slowly moldable body. An individual's flexibility (especially hamstring, lower and mid-back muscles) and strength (of the back, abdominals, and gluteal muscles) make a significant difference in how a bike is adjusted even if you have 2 people of the exact same height.

If your bike was adjusted at the local bike shop when you purchased it, don't assume that it's the right fit for you. One reason to be cautious about relying on the bike store fittings is that many times the folks behind the counter are not trained to detect and understand the many nuances that bike fittings involve. They also usually do not understand the biomechanics involved; i.e. flexibility and strength of the body.

This is something that only a trained professional such as a physical therapist, or an experienced cycling coach can fully detect. Make sure you ask your bike store if they have trained bike fit professionals and ask them to do your bike fit or seek out a professional. Often you will need to make an appointment, allow plenty of time to do this. If you're having even the slightest discomfort (which will probably get worse as you start to add on the miles and eventually keep you off the bike for good), we would advise that you seek out such a professional.

Basic Bike Fit Checks include:

  • SADDLE POSITION FORE AND AFT (front and back)

NOTE: If you have chosen to ride a recumbant bike, it will have different types of adjustments to look at. While bike fitting is less involved than a traditional road type bike, it is none the less important to have a professional adjust areas that involve your arm stretch, cleat adjustment (if you using this type of pedal), and any adjustments allowed to ensure you leg stretch is correctly set with your pedals.

There are many books on bike fit, but unless you are comfortable working on your bike, you should seek out a professional and by all means ask questions during your bike fit. Many bike fit technicians will give you much valued advise on your riding technique.

-- Courtesy of Curtis Cramblett