What’s the #1 reason most people stop riding bikes?
Is it because biking is boring? (Hint: no)
Are they just too cool to ride bikes? (Probably not)
Is watching Netflix and simultaneously eating a giant bowl of cookies and ice cream more enticing? (Okay you’ve got a point, but…no)
The #1 reason people stop riding bikes is DISCOMFORT. Riding may be fun; it may be exhilarating; you might love the tight shorts – but it hurts. It hurts the neck, or the feet, or the back, or possibly…oh, how do the French say it…ah yes, that’s it…the derriere! And that’s no fun – but it doesn’t have to be that way!
Yes, you read that right – biking doesn’t have to hurt – it CAN be fun and comfortable.
So how do we get there? Let’s talk bike fittings. Many of your handy-dandy neighborhood bike shops have a professional bike fitter on hand. Do some homework and make sure yours is qualified.
Our local expert is Matt Howard at the Bike Shoppe in Ogden. The Bike Shoppe touts a 40+ year tradition of excellence and service and can help you with all of your cycling needs.
Before you start the fit, it is also essential that you get a bike suited to your frame and body type. You may have gotten a killer deal on a bike at a garage sale; Santa might have brought you a flashy bike that has a fancy horn; maybe your bike is a hand-me-down from your great-great-grandpappy O’Daniels – but if it isn’t sized right for you, then no amount of fitting or adjustment can ultimately make up for that.
DURING THE FIT
After making sure you have the right bike, your bike fitter will take a series of measurements to design the perfect fit for you. It’s important to have a professional do this, because they have specialized training, experience, and an understanding of how movement contributes to biking efficiency and injury prevention.
A bike fit consists of two main components: the lower body fit and the upper body fit.
In addition, many people wear flexible-soled shoes for exercise, including biking, which ends up absorbing most of your force, rather than transferring it to the bike to power you forward. This can be easily fixed with clipless pedals and shoes (yes, the name is totally deceiving—these are the pedals you clip in to). These are beneficial for several reasons:
First, they lock your foot into the most efficient position—again, with the ball directly over the spindle of the pedal.
Second, the shoes that go with these pedals have stiff soles that transfer a greater percentage of your power to your bike, so you get more benefit (because no one wants to waste energy).
Now we come to the perpetually uncomfortable bike seat.
Unfortunately, the feeling of the seat will just take some getting used to, but, if in the right position, it is achievable!
The seat height is adjusted based on the angles your legs are making. This will help you increase your efficiency and decrease your likelihood of injury (especially patellofemoral pain right over your kneecap that comes from overload).
Ideally, when your foot is on the pedal at its lowest point, your knee should be at an angle of 145-155 degrees, which is about 30 degrees short of full extension. This helps avoid that pressure over your kneecap, as well as avoid pulling on your hamstring tendons in the back of your leg.
When in this position, there should be a straight line from just below your kneecap to the spindle of the pedal. You may have to adjust the seat forward or backward to fine tune the fit.
To achieve a slight elbow bend, the handlebar stem can be adjusted up or down, forward or backward. In addition, you can play around with different hand positions, like riding in the drops (which will also help your aerodynamics).
Now back to that shoulder pain I mentioned before: if the shoulders are taking too much stress, there are a few things to do:
First, make sure you have a bend in your elbows so your shoulders aren’t taking all the stress.
Second, work to improve your hamstring flexibility, so you can stay planted on your seat without rocking your pelvis back and forth, which then transfers to your shoulders.
Another common complaint among bikers is low back pain. This is usually because they are overextended in the upper body. This is another reason to look at your handlebar position.
If you’re leaning too far forward, your back may be strained; as the muscles fatigue, form breaks down, the body begins to compensate in other areas, and eventually, injury can ensue.
Additionally, because the eyes want to stay level with the horizon, this may cause you to crane your neck forward and overextend. Again, as with the back muscles, the tissues in the neck become fatigued, and over time this can lead to injury.
One simple fix is to angle the stem upward as this effectively shortens the stem, moving the rider’s body up and back. This simple movement can take some of the stresses off the neck and low back, providing relief and creating a more comfortable ride.
AFTER THE FIT
Yes, there is still some work to be done after the fit! Most importantly, go ride your bike! Get used to the new fit!
It’s a good idea to go back to the bike shop after 2-3 weeks of consistent riding to have the fit looked at again and discuss any pain or awkwardness of the fit.
A bike fit is not a one-and-done thing, especially for new riders. As you get better, stronger, and more flexible, your fit will likely change. And in the event of an injury, it’s definitely worth a look at your bike, especially if your injury was from overuse.
It’s also important to visit your physical therapist or other healthcare professional in the event of injury, or chronic soreness. There may be more than your bike fit to blame for these things. Physical therapists are qualified to discover underlying causes of your pain or injury, and give treatment and education to get you back to riding, and the other things you love.
Regular maintenance of your bike is also essential. It will help you avoid adjusting your fit to overcome resistance from things that are misaligned. It also helps your bike last longer. You know what they say: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
If you have any more questions about bike fitting, reach out to the experts at The Bike Shoppe.