By Lindsay Kirlin PT, DPT
Summer is here! With the great weather upon us, it’s the perfect time to head out for a ride or hit the spin studio to burn some extra calories. Although cycling is a universal sport that almost anyone can participate in, each bike fit is individualized based on biomechanical and anatomical uniqueness. Multiple factors such as terrain, event-specific positions, novice vs. elite rider pedal technique, flexibility constraints, and mobility constraints all contribute to an individualized bike fit.
During a fitting process, the most important aspects are the point of contacts on the bike. Even though there is not a “one-size-fits-all” for bike fitting, below are some tips and tricks to help when fitting your bike.
Your cleat position is based on how your bones and joints are built and your ability to maximize your power output. About 98 percent of your force when riding comes from your hips and your knees. Because of this, it is important for your feet to be placed at a proper position. The more forward your cleat is on your shoe, the more motion (rotation and side to side movement) your foot has. The further back your cleat is on your shoe, the less motion your foot has.
Although no research has shown a significant difference in power output based on cleat position, it may be more beneficial—especially for longer rides and comfort—to place your cleat further back on your shoe to decrease any excessive movement.
Seat height is the measurement from the saddle to the pedals. It is recommended that your seat is high enough so that you have a 20 to 40 degree bend in your knee. This usually correlates with the top of your hip bone lining up with the seat when you stand next to the bike. This large range is due to how dynamic riding is; the speed and terrain can alter your position in the saddle, which in turn alters how much your knee is flexing and extending. Although each bike should be fit especially to the individual’s anatomy, two recommendations can be made if you are experiencing knee pain on the bike:
As mentioned above, most of the power when cycling is generated from our hips—our engine. Like a car, the engine must be placed in an optimal position to work as efficiently as possible. This position is again based on your anatomy. If you tend to have longer femurs, shifting the seat backward so that your knee cap is over your pedal spindle is recommended. If your femurs are shorter, shifting the seat forward so that your knee cap is in line with your toes is recommended.
If you are unsure where you may fit, a relatively neutral position is your knee cap falling between the middle portion of your foot and the end of your toes. These positions can be measure with a piece of string starting at your knee cap and dropping the string straight down towards your foot while sitting on the bike.
Bar Drop and Bar Width
Once your hips have been positioned, then it is time to adjust your handlebars to continue to maximize your power output. Many factors can be considered for bar positioning, but the most import factor is comfort and stability. Different bar positions also place different demands on your hamstrings, low back, and pelvis, which can also affect your comfort on the bike. Slouching more (which can come with fatigue) affects your reach to the bar. Therefore, it would be more beneficial to raise the bar height to decrease the demand of forward reaching. If you have adequate hip and spine mobility, as well as strength, it would be more economic to lower the handlebars as long as you do not feel like you are overreaching. Again, comfort is key. It should feel comfortable enough that you are not excessively rounding your low back/unable to maintain a neutral position while sitting on the bike.
Bar width can also impact stability and breathing efficiency. A wider arm position is usually more comfortable, more stable, and allows better breathing due to an open airway position. A narrow fit tends to lend to impaired breathing, rounded shoulder positioning, poor handling/stability on the bike, and increased neck strain due to impaired breathing mechanics.
In short, your bike fit should be specific to you and your anatomical uniqueness! If you’re experiencing pain or limited mobility on the bike, or just feel like you need more assistance, the FX Physical Therapy team is happy to help with your bike fit to ensure a sweaty spin class, a powerful performance, or just a safe ride out with the family!