Do-It-Yourself Bike Fitting Part III. - Functional Asymmetries - Searching for Balance



Riding in the slipstream of fellow cyclists in a group ride, it is likely you have realised many of them will be dropping their hips to one side. Some just vaguely, others very obviously…

You may also realize similar imbalances when watching a cyclist from the side. The hip may be sitting further forward on one side. A view from top will reveal this more clearly (something you can do with a cyclist on the trainer).

Try telling your observation to him/her and the response will very often be that they feel perfectly “normal” on the saddle. If you guide them to move their pelvis so they sit square and balanced on the saddle - or if on the trainer, force the pelvis to the position – then you will hear the cyclist say how unbalanced and awkward they feel. “This surely can’t be right!”

Now do all these tests on yourself. Get some one to watch you or shoot a video. You do feel balanced, sure! The results may surprise you though!

Bike fitting is never about forcing yourself into a position. Your bike needs to look like a mirrored image of you!

But first you need to observe yourself off the bike. How is your posture off the bike, do you have lateral pelvic tilt? Look at yourself in the mirror; look down to your pelvis. Are your shoulders parallel to your hips? If you bend down very slowly to touch your feed, does the motion come fluently and symmetrically or are your muscles on each side challenged in a different way? Do you know if you have any leg length discrepancies?

Any imbalance on your hip mobility or lateral pelvic tilt will find its outlet through the weakest link in your body. While you may be blaming cleat positioning to your IT-Band syndrome or lack of flexibility and weak core muscles to your lower-back pain, the real cause may very well be a tilted pelvis or restricted hips.

Improving off the bike posture – with the help of a physiotherapist – should be a priority. But we are what we are, and will never be as symmetric as our bikes are. If our pelvis is off balance then the rest of our body is challenged to compensate. What we need to do is balance the pelvis by supporting our body where needed.

Here are a couple of points to consider when working on adjusting balance:

· Make sure once again that you are not over or under-reaching to your bars and pedals. (Follow the previous DIY post, Part II.).

· Leg length shims: You may not have a leg length discrepancy but still need leg length shims if, for example, one leg is extending less due to tight hamstrings.

· Cleat position: Cleats should be placed same distance behind the 1st metatarsal joint in your feet (how far back is another topic, but definitely not too close!). This may result in cleats being positioned differently on both shoes. But remember: It is not your shoes but your feet that are relevant to cleat positioning. You cannot/should not try correcting hip twist by moving your cleats fore- or backwards.

· A good fitting saddle: It may sound obvious, but a saddle that is not comfortable will cause you drop to one side even more.

· High arch insoles: To trigger proprioception on the bike. Cycling shoes need higher insoles than regular shoes because of their stiffness. Even the highest ones shoes come with are usually too low. Ideally you need to feel significant contact under your arches when standing. You can also work on your existing insoles by adding support (bar tape works well) under the arch.

· Shorter cranks: This does not resolve any imbalance issues. But will help in reducing the effects of any unresolved balance issues.

· The “shark saddle”: With a fin on its rear end protruding upwards they are very convincing (!) when it comes to making you sit centred on the saddle. This is especially useful if you have no obvious imbalances off the bike. You do not feel the fin when you are sitting correct but will be very aware when you slide to the side. You can make your own shark saddle. Please check the web for examples.

· Shoulders, like hips, should also be balanced. If you have made sure you are not overreaching on the bike but still drop one shoulder, especially on the TT bike, then you may consider armrest that are of different height.

Imbalances related to muscle tightness and flexibility may decrease (or increase) over time. This will require you to readjust your position. But skeletal imbalances will most probably remain the same.

Next time you ride in slipstream of other cyclists you will be able to tell who is most comfortable on the bike and is less likely to get an injury. Better be one of them!

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