Adjust Your Bike for a Better Fit

From paved bike paths to mountain biking single track, the Vail Valley offers a wide array of bicycling opportunities. Unfortunately, more than 1.3 million people are treated for bicycle-related injuries each year. As orthopaedic surgeons, we treat many of these injuries. The most common cycling accidents involve colliding with a car or another bicycle; loss of control; or feet slipping off the pedals. But injuries can also crop up from a bad bike fit. Here are some tips on how to adjust your fit and position and prevent injury: Adjusting the Saddle Your bike seat should be at a level that supports your full body weight and allows you to move around on the seat. Too much upward tilt can result in pressure points. Too much downward tilt can make you slide forward while riding and put pressure on your arms, hands and knees. To adjust the seat height, place your heels on the pedals and pedal backwards. Your knees should fully extend in the down position. If your hips rock side to side the seat is too high. You can also adjust the seat forward and backward for better comfort. Put your feet on the pedals so the crank arms are parallel with the ground. The proper position will put your forward knee directly over the pedal axle. Drop a weighted line from the patellar tendon in your knee to make this adjustment easier to see. Handlebar Adjustment The length of your stem will give you either more reach or more of an upright feel. If the handlebars are too high, too low, too close, or too far away, you may have neck, shoulder, back, and hand pain. You should be able to comfortably use all the positions on the handlebars and bend your elbows while riding. Common Complaints and Possible Solutions An ideal bike fit is often a matter of trial and error. The slightest imbalance can lead to pain. Here are some common complaints and possible solutions. Knee pain is a frequent complaint among cyclists. Knee pain is usually associated with a seat position that is too high, too low, too far forward or too far backward. • A seat that is too high will cause pain in the back of the knee. • A seat that is too low or too far forward may cause pain in the front of the knee. • Improper foot position on the pedal, or improper cleat alignment, can cause pain on the inside or outside of your knees. • Individual anatomy may also result in knee pain. Cyclists with slight differences in leg length may have knee pain because the seat height is only adjusted for one side. Shoe inserts or orthotics can help correct this problem. • Another cause of knee pain is using too high a gear. Try to use a gear that allows you to pedal quickly, from 70 to 100 strokes per minute. Back injuries will also haunt many cyclists, which isn’t really surprising given how they’re hunched over their bikes for long periods of time. Posture is everything and it’s important to get this right and not put strain on the lower back. Neck pain is another common cycling complaint, and is usually the result of riding a bike that is too long or having handlebars that are too low. Foot pain or numbness is often the result of wearing soft-soled shoes. Wearing special cycling shoes with stiff soles will distribute pressure evenly and help you pedal more efficiently. Foot pain can also be caused by using too high a gear. Hand pain or numbness can be prevented by wearing padded cycling gloves that provide cushioning. You should ride with your elbows slightly bent, not straight or locked. Bent elbows will act as shock absorbers. Changing hand positions can also reduce pressure and pain. Final note Remember that it is important to fit the bike to the rider not the other way around. As we age, we are less flexible so you will be more comfortable in a more upright position. Consider a professional bike fit to improve comfort and performance.