A Physiotherapist’s (& Cyclist’s) Tips On How To Properly Fit Your Bike & Prevent Injury

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians all across the country have been looking for alternative means of exercise. Many of us have narrowed our gaze on cycling. Cycling has been introduced to us in many forms, from outdoor road, gravel, or in the spin studio, it always helps us get that much needed sweat. Along with cycling comes the age-old question: How the heck do I set up my bike? Throughout this article I will explore some fitting guidelines and personal preferences; however, it is not always one size fits all. The following will be a combination of research gathered and how I set up my road bike and spin bike to prevent injury, but make sure you combine what you learn to what feels right for your body.

Seat Position:

With seat height we always start with a basic measurement, place the seat at a height that reaches the top of your hip bones (lateral to your navel) WITH the shoe you will wear. Many people will often measure height without their footwear, which in some cases can add some considerable height (especially those with cleats). To see if this seat height works, sit on the bike and straighten one leg to see its angle. The ideal leg angle is about 140-145 degrees to prevent knee injury while maximizing power output (1). We can give you exact measurements and body landmarks, but for some people you just need to feel it out. For me, while riding at the above specifications, I still felt more quadriceps loading than I’d like, so I raised the seat, which allowed me to extend a little more during the push phase, which took some pressure off the knee. Along with height, many spin bikes allow for front to back movement of the seat. The front to back movement typically falls within comfort, but for a quick measurement I typically tell my riders to check to see if their knee is in line with their toes, this assures a good starting position.

Handlebar height:

Adjustable handlebar height is a luxury not all bikes have; therefore, it is important when shopping for road, cyclo-cross, gravel bikes etc., to assure the frame itself is a proper fit. Assuring the frame is a proper fit will allow for the handlebar height to be appropriate for you, with the capability to rotate the handlebars to adjust grip position. With many at home bikes, and spin bikes, the handlebars are very adjustable. A rule of thumb is having the handlebar height slightly higher than your seat height (typically one notch higher). For stationary bikes, the handlebar height will also change the load on the core while sprinting out of the saddle. If the seat is just about seat height, i.e., lower, the core will have to work harder to hold you up in a controlled position. If you find some lower back discomfort, or you’re getting a lot of rotation through the hips and back, try raising the handlebars.

Extra tips:

  • If your bike has the option, try to use clips and cleats. Clips and cleats will allow you to pull with your push, offering a nice increase in power from the hamstrings and make for a more balanced workout.
  • If you’re having a difficult time staying motivated, try checking out online classes (for those riding inside). They range from spin classes from private studios, to riding Tour races. These offer a great new motivation and can rejuvenate old workouts.
  • Remember to listen to your body. A high proportion of cycling related injuries ARE preventable (4). Make sure the set-up is right and listen to the muscles. Patellar-femoral syndrome is one of the most common cycling injuries (2), which is classified as an overuse, imbalance syndrome. With proper set-up, there is a significant reduction in anterior knee pain in only three weeks! (3).

Stay healthy and stay active! Happy riding!

References:

  1. Flyger, N. (2006). Fit Module and Test Procedures. [Lecture 5] Standard Operational Procedure.
    National Sports Institute of Malaysia.
  2. Joseph, S., Ganason, R., Jalil, A.P., Aizam, Z.S. & Wilson, B.D. (2006). Gait and functional biomechanical analysis of elite cyclist : A case study. In: Schwameder, H., Strutzenberger, G., Fastenbauer, V., Lindinger, S. & Muller, E. (Eds.), XXIV International Symposium on Biomechanics in Sports Volume 2 (pp 639-640), Salzburg, Austria: University of Salzburg.
  3. Joseph, Saju, Mohd Syahrul Nizam Mohd Johar, and Rohan Ganason. "ANTERIOR KNEE PAIN (PATELLAR TENDONITIS) MANAGEMENT AND MODIFICATION IN BIKE FITTING FOR A TRACK CYCLIST." In ISBS-Conference Proceedings Archive. 2012.
  4. Wanich, T., Hodgkins, C., Columbier, J.A., Muraski, E. & Kennedy, J.G. (2007). Cycling injuries of the lower extremity. Journal of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 15(12), 748-756.

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