By Michael Joseph, DPT Student
In my three years working as a professional bicycle fitter I have done fits for every level of cyclist, from individuals who were purchasing their first road bike to professional level cyclists and national team members. A properly fit road bike is imperative to ensure the frame and components are the right size for the rider. The purpose of professional fitting is to reduce pain, increase comfort and maximize speed and efficiency. The following article will cover basics of fit measurements, positioning, and reasons why riders may be experiencing pain or discomfort on the bike. The bulk of this content is based on my professional experience as a bicycle fitter and the training I received from GURU Cycling.
Saddle height is measured with the rider seated on the saddle with his or her foot at the 6 o’clock position. The rider’s pelvis should be level on the saddle and there should be 40 degrees of knee flexion (plus/minus 5 degrees). Measure both legs to ensure no there are no imbalances. Common symptoms of a saddle that is too high include IT band syndrome, posterior knee pain, and hip or low back pain. Common symptoms of a saddle that is too low is anterior knee pain from stress on the quadriceps and patellar tendons.
Saddle setback refers to the fore and aft position of the saddle. When the foot is in the 3 o’clock position, the front surface of the knee should be directly over the pedal spindle. This can be measured using a plumb bob or laser. The rider should feel like they are pushing the pedal straight down, not in front of them or behind them; the pedal stroke should feel powerful and efficient. If the saddle is set too far back, it can irritate the IT band and hamstrings tendons. If it is too far forward, it may put excessive pressure on the quadriceps and patellar tendons.
Type of saddle
Saddle selection is highly subjective. Every manufacturer seems to develop their own way of fitting a saddle to a rider. This can include basing it on width of the pelvis, sit bone pressure points, or spinal flexibility. However, the best way to determine the which type of saddle to use is to test ride it. Saddle selection is all about finding the saddle that fits the rider’s body type.
Cleat fitting might warrant an entire article all on its own, but here are some basics.
The fore aft position of the cleat on the shoe should align the ball of the foot with the pedal spindle. The medial/lateral position of the cleat should position the knee directly over the foot. The rotational position of the cleat should position the foot so it is facing directly forward. Knee pain can be caused by improper foot and cleat positioning. If a rider has knee pain and the saddle height and setback are positioned correctly, cleat positioning may be the culprit.
Handlebar reach is defined as the distance from the saddle to the handlebar and is measured from the front tip of the saddle to the center of the tubing of the handlebar. When fitting reach, the rider should place his or her hands on the brake hoods. The reach should be as long as possible, while still feeling comfortable. A longer reach allows for a longer stem, which makes the front of the bike more stable and makes steering more responsive. However, in this position the shoulder should not exceed 90 degrees of flexion. There should also be about 15 degrees of elbow flexion. If the reach is too long, the rider may experience elbow pain, tension in the neck and shoulders, and back pain.
Handlebar drop is defined as the difference in height between the saddle and the handlebar. Increasing the drop makes the rider position more aggressive and aerodynamic. This may be ideal for a rider participating in stage or criterium racing. However, for a leisure rider, a more upright position will likely be more comfortable. If the drop is too low, the rider will experience symptoms in the hands and wrists, such as pain from too much weight on the hands. This can also cause nerve irritation; riders may experience numbness, tingling, and burning sensations in the hands.
Blog Post written by Michael Joseph, DPT Student at Mount Saint Mary’s University. Michael is currently in his final Clinical Rotation with me at Catz Physical Therapy Institute.
- Asplund, Chad, St. Pierre, Patrick. Knee Pain and Bicycling: Fitting Concepts for Clinicians. The Physician and Sports Medicine. April 2004. 32(3).