Updated: Mar 31, 2020
Following the self-diagnostics “check list” (in previous post) will help you identify each part of your body that is under stress when riding on the bike.
Now it is time to track down the causes for the stresses that are put upon us. This may require anything from a very straightforward observation (“numb private parts -> saddle is tilted up too much”) to serious detective work, uncovering a long chain of events that results in your knee or lower back pain.
Before assuming the most complicated of reasons for our troubles it is best that we make sure our basic settings are right.
• Start with the obvious: Find your saddle height! A very high percentage of road cyclists and triathletes are riding with a saddle that is too high for them! Placing your heel on the pedal at its lowest setting to find correct height is not going to work. How do you know you are not over extending your knee? Or that you are not dropping your hip to one side…
Measuring inseam and using a formula to find a number is not going to help either. How do you put your hamstring tightness into the equation? You need to try your saddle height in 3mm increments, make sure your knee is not accelerating during extension, your hip is stable on the saddle at all times and that you have good contact on the bottom of the pedal stroke. Fluency of the pedal stroke is the target. You will need to mark the points of over and under extension of your leg. The range you will be comfortable is usually about 12mm. Stay right in the middle.
• Handlebar position: Observe your hands on the bars while pushing at your regular pace. Do you hold on the hoods or are you further back, close to where the bars are curving towards the stem? “It feels more comfortable” is not a good reason. The hoods need to fall in your hands naturally, without any effort or pressure in the palm. If they don’t, then they are too far away! (Or the opposite: You don’t have enough room and hold the top of the hoods then they are too close).
• Now the critical question: Is it the stem that is too long or saddle that is too far back? This you will need some time to work on. Try moving the saddle forward until the hoods fall naturally in your hand and ride at least a week. Observe the pressure in the hands and the workload that is enlisted to your quads. Too much? Move the saddle back 5mm and shorten the stem by the same amount (stems usually come in 10mm increments, so skip the stem repositioning for this time). Still too much pressure? Move the saddle back another 5mm and shorten the stem by the same amount (or 10mm if you didn’t shorten the previous time). Does the pedalling get easier? Quads and hamstrings begin to do similar amount of work? Is there less pressure in your hands? Observe and note.
• Handlebar height should be tackled in a similar method with hip comfort (please check older posts for checking hip comfort), hand pressure and shoulder tension in mind.
These are examples to some basics that every cyclist should observe. A simple hex-key and different sized stems will get you far.
The methodology is simple but should be strictly observed: Never change two settings at a time and always give at least three or four riding sessions at your training intensity for your body to adapt. Write down each change you have made, and what difference it made to your comfort. Otherwise it is inevitable to get lost in the “bike fit hell”.
Getting the basics right is the first step.
In the next DIY post I will share some tips to identify discomfort caused by our functional asymmetries.