If you’ve ever worn shoes that don’t fit well, you know it doesn’t take long before you’re in pain. The same goes for your bike! Your first miles may go smoothly, but a poor fit can lead to discomfort down the road. The good news is, some of the fixes are easy and you can try them out on your own. We spoke with OhioHealth physical therapist Peter Post and Dan “Coach Wes” Wesley from No Limits Hammer Harder endurance training — who work together as part of OhioHealth’s Bike Clinic — for tips on how to get the right fit on your bike.
As you pedal, two leg positions are important: the bottom and the top of your pedal stroke, or your extension and flexion. “You shouldn’t be reaching too far down at the bottom of your pedal stroke, nor do we want to much of an angle in the knee at the top,” says Post. “Reaching too far down in your stroke makes you rock side to side, which can cause knee pain, hip pain and saddle soreness. And if your knee bend is too high, your leg is flexing too deeply, which can negatively affect your performance and cause you to tire more easily.”
The fix? Saddle height. “Improper saddle height is the most common issue we see, but it’s also the easiest to fix,” says Wesley. It’s a simple adjustment can be made with a hex key or allen wrench. “Adjusting saddle height is usually the first step in achieving a proper fit. People often set their seats too low because they want to be able to put their feet on the ground quickly when they’re stopping.” As you raise the saddle, you extend the angle of your knee at the bottom of your stroke. Wesley says a slight bend at the very end is best. But setting your seat to the proper height can be a dramatic change for casual riders, so Post recommends practicing in a safe area before heading out on the road.
Working All the Angles
On a bike, your body forms an angle from your hips to your shoulders to your wrists. Wesley says this triangle is called the cockpit. The angle of your back and shoulders determines how aggressive your ride is — the wider the angle, the more aggressive, or forward, your position. But Post says aggressive positions can strain shoulders, necks and wrists without a proper fit.
Again, this adjustment can be made in the saddle. Sliding your saddle forward can close your cockpit angle, bringing your bottom closer to your hands, which takes pressure off your shoulders, neck and wrists. For recreational riders, Wesley says a smaller angle that makes you sit more upright is ideal.
Distance riders seeking greater speeds can expand the cockpit angle and bring their backs lower, which requires more core strength but makes you more aerodynamic.
After your saddle position is dialed in, slight adjustments to your handlebar stem, pedal alignment and cleat position can address any further issues you may have, and a bike fitting with professionals like Post and Wesley can help isolate and correct those problems.
“It’s important to keep in mind that achieving a proper fit is not a one-and-done process,” says Post. “As you continue riding, your strength will change, your flexibility will change, even your goals in your riding will change. We fit the bike to the rider and the rider to the bike. It’s an iterative process.” Wesley adds that, even when your ride is challenging, it should always be comfortable. “Comfort is the priority. If you have comfort, you can get to distance and speed.”
Take a little time between rides to find the right fit for you! If you’re interested in your own comprehensive bike fitting, you can contact the OhioHealth Bike Clinic at (614) 566.1786.