For Cycling Health
Bike fit is the first step towards cycling health, bicycle comfort and optimal performance.
It is an effective method of addressing the common forms of discomfort and pain associated bicycling.
The most common forms of cycling pain and discomfort are:
- Bike saddle soreness and genital numbness
- Knee pain
- Shoulder and neck pain
- Foot and ankle pain
- Numbness in the hands and wrists
- Low back pain
Causes of saddle soreness and numbness:
- Incorrect saddle height
- Incorrect saddle tilt (nose too high or too low)
- Ill-fitting saddle.
The saddle is your anchor point.
If that anchor is too high or too low, or if it is tilted, you struggle to maintain a good connection with your bike as you pedal. You put undue pressure on your groin which causes sores and numbness, and can lead to impotence. You may move around too much in the saddle, which causes chaffing.
When your saddle height and tilt are adjusted correctly, you are more stable and comfortable – and you deliver more power to the pedals. Correct saddle adjustment is essential for cycling health and performance.
There are hundreds of saddles on the market, in a variety of shapes and sizes – with and without center recesses or cutouts. Some saddles will work for your body, some will not. Your cycling health and performance are contingent on saddle selection as well as adjustment.
There are also variations in riding styles and postures (for instance, road versus triathlon) that affect your saddle fit and choice. You may have to try a variety of saddles to find the best one. This is often a part of the bike fit process.
Many people think the remedy to saddle discomfort is more soft padding. Usually, this does not solve anything, and may cause more chaffing.
The Zendurance Cycling Self-Study Guide provides information to assist you in choosing a saddle, and perceptive guidance for evaluating saddle height, tilt and fit.
Causes of cycling knee pain:
- Saddle too high (pain in back of the knee)
- Saddle too low (pain in front of the knee)
- Incorrect fore-aft saddle adjustment (pain front, back or side of knee)
- Instability in the feet (knee wobbles laterally)
- Immobility or instability in the hip (knee wobbles laterally)
Your knee is a joint with mobility in a single plane – it is not meant to rotate.
But, it’s stuck in the “middle seat” between your hip and your ankle – two multi-plane joints that do rotate. When you pedal, if they aren’t cooperating, it’s your knee that suffers.
A bike fit can identify and remedy the causes of knee pain:
A saddle that is too high can cause your knee to over-extend which may cause pain in the back of your knee. A saddle positioned too low can cause your knee to flex too much which may cause pain under your knee cap. (These are not hard and fast rules.) Likewise, a saddle positioned too far forward or back may strain your knee as you strive to maintain fore-aft balance and pedal smoothly.
An unstable foot or hip can cause your knee to wobble laterally as your leg sweeps up and down through the stroke. You may experience pain along the outside or inside of your knee. On a stationary stand, observe your knees as you pedal – either directly or in a mirror placed in front of you. If one or both knees wobble side-to-side, evaluate your foot stability on the pedal, and your hip mobility.
Foot stability is also critical for your knees’ health, as well as your comfort and performance. See the discussion below.
If your pedal stroke forces your hip to flex or extend beyond its range of motion, your knee may suffer. In a bike fit, saddle and/or bar adjustments may help to keep the hip within its range of motion and eliminate knee wobble.
You may still experience knee pain, even when your feet and hips are stable, and your saddle is adjusted correctly. This can be caused by a pedal stroke that is too big – forcing your knee and/or hip to flex and extend too much. You can decrease the size of your stroke by changing to shorter pedal cranks. Cranks typically range from 165 millimeters to 180 mm in length. A decrease of just 2.5 to 5 mm can be the remedy back to happy knees and cycling health.
Causes of shoulder and neck pain, hand and wrist pain:
- Handle bars too low.
- Excessive reach from saddle to bars.
Shoulder and neck pain are often due to chronic tension as you support the weight of your leaning upper body on the bars.
Tingling and numbness in your hands and wrists result from excessive pressure and weight on the bars. Bike fit corrections may include raising the bars or shortening the reach from saddle to bars. These adjustments decrease forward lean of your upper torso.
Moving the saddle back may also alleviate upper body tension and pain by moving more of your weight farther behind your feet. Combined with bar adjustments, this can significantly improve fore-aft balance. The Zendurance Cycling Self-Study Guide provides you with guidance to optimize your fore-aft balance. Good fore-aft balance on your bike is yet another factor in your cycling health and performance.
Foot and ankle pain:
- Ill-fitting shoes
- Inappropriate pedals of cleats
- Incorrect cleat placement
- Instability between the foot and the pedal
Don’t ignore your feet! All the power you generate must pass through your feet into the pedals.
Your bike shoe and your pedal’s platform need to hold and stabilize your foot as you apply your body’s weight. Just imagine how unstable you would feel trying to stand on a ball. (If you were straddling a bike saddle, you would probably weight the saddle, not your feet!)
Unstable feet can lead to knee injuries, hot spots in your feet, and sub-par performance. Cleat placement affects the position of your foot on the pedal. It is an important part of the bike fit process. Cleat positioning includes fore-aft and side-to-side adjustment. Centering your foot over the pedal with optimal cleat placement can improve foot and knee comfort and power transfer to the pedal. Again, both cycling health and performance!
Your pedal and cleat combination determine float. That’s the amount of freedom your foot has to pivot on the pedal. Some people benefit from restricted float, while others require more rotational freedom.
You may need additional adjustments to stabilize your feet for healthy knees, happy comfortable feet and great performance – including insoles and cleat wedges. If you have foot or ankle pain, seek out a bike fit specialist who is experienced in cleat placement and foot stabilization.
Minor adjustments here can restore your cycling health and enhance your performance. Remember, your feet serve as the only portals for transferring power from your body to your bike.
Low back pain:
- Handle bars too low
- Excessive reach from saddle to bars
You experience low back pain when you rely too much on these muscles for upper body support and/or core stability.
For cycling health and performance, low back must be stable, with minimal stress. Adequate core strength is essential. In addition, a bike fit specialist can adjust your bars so your upper body is not pitched as far forward or as far down.
Bike fit is the first step to a remedy that restores your cycling health. Remember: The first requirement for enjoyable and efficient cycling is a bike that fits you. (For more info on bike fit: Bike Fit Beta.)
Proceed to: Strength Training for Cycling Health
Bicycle Comfort: Addressing Common Cycling Pains
Zendurance Cycling Home Page