Get Fit on a Bike that Fits
By Brian Lee, PT, CSCS
There are all types of bicyclists
in this world: road-racers, mountain bikers, commuters, and recreational
riders. Whether you ride for long distances a couple of times a week or for
short distances nearly every day, you will benefit
from riding a bicycle that is properly fitted. Both children and adults are
safer, more efficient, and can enjoy bicycling more when they are fit properly
on a bike.
The first and most important rule
of bike fitting is that the bike has to fit the body, not the other way around.
If you try to make your body fit a particular bike that is
not well suited to you, your risk for injuries increases.
Whenever I begin a bike fitting
session, I ask the person what they ride and what kind of riding they do. This
includes a discussion of the foot-pedal interface because pedaling affects the
fit of the bike and the efficiency of the rider. Is the pedal flat for riding
around town, does it have a cage that fits over the toes, or is it a clipless
system where you step in and out of the pedal with a turn of the heel? With a
flat pedal, moving the bike is done by pushing down only, whereas a pedal
system that allows you to both push down and pull up engages different muscles
and spreads out the workload. I recommend a clip-less system to most people
because it is the most efficient.
In analyzing pedaling and
maximizing power transfer, we consider the location of the cleats on the shoes.
For some riders, we need to take a look at pedaling mechanics and decide
whether orthotics are required to address foot
In fitting a bike, where do you
After determining the type of
riding and discussing pedals, we look at the seat or saddle (what I call “the
perch”) and adjust it for height and then fore and aft. Most times, this allows
for approximately a 90 degree angle at the hip, though there are exceptions. We
also look at the tilt of the seat, which is typically level, but can be tipped
slightly to accommodate existing orthopedic issues in the rider or improve
Finally, we look at the front of
the bike, or “the cockpit.” We exam handlebar height and reach, and adjust
these for comfort and efficiency. We find, in an optimum position, many people
are angled similarly whether riding around town or racing.
Though there are similarities,
there are many factors that affect an individual’s bike fit, including personal
preferences, flexibility, and style of riding. I also find that, especially
among competitive cyclists, bike fit sometimes needs to be tweaked over the
course of a season; the angles of the seat and handlebars can vary slightly as
flexibility and conditioning change.
What if my bike is not fitted properly?
If your bike is not fitted
properly, you run the risk of overuse injuries from head to toe. Too much
weight on your hands can result in neurological issues, including carpal tunnel
syndrome or ulnar nerve problems. If your head is positioned too far forward
when you ride, you risk neck injury, such as radiculopathy and pinched nerves.
If the bike is the wrong size, you can develop lumbar spine issues. In riding a
bike that is too large or fit for someone taller, you may stretch your tendons
to accommodate the size, and that can be painful. If the bike frame is too
small, your power suffers.
Even with a great fit, if you try
to do too much too soon, you can suffer overuse injuries, such as quadriceps or
patella tendonitis in the knee, or posterior tibialis tendonitis in the foot.
Riding in an efficient way, however, will enable you to utilize your core
muscles. This will result in greater power development vs. only using your
extremities, which is the best possible way to prevent injuries.
What if I feel pain when I ride?
If you feel pain while riding, stop
and rest. My colleagues and I recommend RICE, which stands for rest, ice,
compression, and elevation of the painful area. We also encourage riders in
pain to honestly evaluate their workout schedule to determine if they have been
doing too much too soon. If pain does not resolve in five to seven days,
contact your physician. Only resume activity gradually.
Where can I get my bike fitted?
There are a several reputable bike
shops in the area. We also do bike fitting in Physical Therapy and Sports
Medicine, at the Island Health Center. We have the necessary tools and do this
on a regular basis for our patients. We can also help them to address
orthopedic injuries that either limit or are the result of riding.
Lee is a physical therapist and a certified strength and conditioning specialist
with the Department of Outpatient Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine, located
at the Island Health Center. He encourages all cyclists to wear a helmet and
ride safely. He competes regularly in triathlons and bike races and can be
reached at the Island Health Center at (607) 252-3500.