Should you get a bike fit?

If you are suffering from numb hands or toes, knee pain, low back pain, shoulder discomfort or any number of other aches and pains after riding your bike, it may be due to improper bike fit.  Getting a professional bike fit is one of the most commonly skipped steps when buying a new bike, recovering from an injury, or trying to get back on the bike after some time away.  If you want to ride happily and pain-free for many years and miles to come, do yourself a favor and give yourself the gift of a proper bicycle fit for the new year.

What is Bike Fit?

Everyone’s body is different.  Some of us have long legs and short torsos, some people struggle to reach their brake levers due to small hands, some people may pedal a little bit differently than others, maybe you have one leg that is slightly longer than the other, etc.  In addition to our bodies being the way they are, injuries or personal goals can affect how your bike should be set up to maximize comfort, efficiency, and power.  Luckily, bicycles are machines with many adjustable parts.  In fact, every touch point on the bike can be changed out, altered, or moved to fit you better.  Although there are many different theories to bike fit, the main idea is to make adjustments to the bike’s components with these goals in mind:

  • Enhancing overall rider comfort
  • Preventing injuries
  • Reducing saddle discomfort
  • Reducing or eliminating pain and numbness
  • Reducing or eliminating discomfort associated with riding
  • Reducing rider fatigue by enhancing efficiency
  • Improving overall performance on the bike

Where Can I Get Fit?

When you buy a new bike, the bike shop will likely perform a very basic fit analysis to figure out what size bike you should be riding.  How?  They will have jump on a few different bikes and give them a spin.  The best way to know what size bike you should be riding is to sit in the saddle.  Reach and stand-over height are the most important elements in deciding which size bike is the best fit for you.  After purchasing the bike, a shop employee will ensure that your seat height is close to the right height and basic elements are adjusted properly.  

A professional bike fit from a PT is recommended particularly for those who want bicycling as a form of physical exercise in their routine, recovering from an injury, trying to train for a particular goal, or trying to get back on the bike after some time away.  Every rider—from mountain bikers to commuters—can benefit from a proper bike fit.

What Should I Wear?

When you head to the clinic for your bike fit, make sure to wear your favorite cycling shorts, shoes with or without cleats, and of course your bike!. Getting a bike fit in anything other than the clothes you normally ride in could result in an improper fit.  Also, bring the pedals and shoes that you normally ride in, which will be important for issues like toe numbness, knee or hip pain.  It will be important for the PT bike fitter to review your clipless cleat placement on your shoes and the pedal interface.  If you do not use clipless pedals, still bring the shoes you ride in.  If you currently use shoes that have a flexible or soft sole, your PT bike fitter may have suggestions on a more efficient shoe for flat pedals.

How Long Will it Take?

Any professional bike fit should take a good amount of time to complete, especially if it is your first fitting.  We try to get the major adjustments made within the first session, but can take a second session for more fine tuning and tweaking.  We definitely encourage you to ride your bike following the first bike fit to make mental and physical notes of the changes made and how you are feeling with those changes.  Your PT bike fitter will ask you about your cycling history, current, and past injuries and your goals.  Your bone structure, flexibility and anatomy—things your probably don’t even think about—are also extremely important for your PT bike fitter to understand.  

What Are the Elements of a Bike Fit?

After getting to know you, your PT bike fitter will set your bike up on a trainer and have you pedal, so we can analyze how you currently ride your bike.  Be prepared to work on and off the bike in order for your physical assessment to be completed and your riding habits to be evaluated.

Depending on what issues you have, these are the adjustments that can be made to your bike during a fit:

  • Saddle height
  • Saddle fore/aft position (movement of seat on the saddle rails)
  • Saddle tilt (angle of saddle in relation to the floor)
  • Getting a new saddle (your PT bike fitter may suggest a completely different saddle based on your body position and anatomy)
  • Stem length (for reach adjustments)
  • Stem height (“drop” or how high/low your handlebars sit on the steer tube. Generally, the lower the handlebars, the flatter your back; the higher the handlebars, the more upright you will be)
  • Handlebar width
  • Grip/ grip tape diameter
  • Brake lever adjustments (brake levers can be dialed in our out so you can comfortably reach them, the brake levers can also be moved on the bar so you have an ideal hand position)
  • Crank length
  • Shoe, insole and cleat adjustments (relatively small adjustments here can make a big difference in how your knees and hips move as you pedal, which could be the cause of discomfort in those areas).  

Is That It?

Nope, of course not!  Over time, your bike fit will change due to injuries, changes in skill level, new goals, weight loss, increase/decrease in flexibility, etc.  If anything changes with your body, or if it has just been a few years, it is a good idea to go get an updated bike fit.

Dr. Amy LaTendresse Glaser is a physical therapist and bike fit PT at Colorado In Motion

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