Time in the saddle: Get fit on the bike to avoid pain
Whether road cyclists or mountain bikers, some have been riding for years with the same frame size, the same adjustment of parts and the same back or knee pain, but they never add up the correlation.
“Your body’s position on your bike affects how you ride,” said Peter Jon White of peterwhitecycles.com., in his piece, “How to Fit a Bicycle.” “It affects how much power you can efficiently deliver to the pedals. It affects how comfortable you are on the bike.”
Bike fit also effects how injured regular riders might be throughout the season. Or uninjured.
Dr. Ivo Waerlop of Summit Chiropractic and Rehabilitation sees bike injuries across the board all season long. From broken clavicles caused by endos on a rocky descent to chronic back pain from long road rides, cyclists might be spared of all sorts of injuries by simply making a few adjustments on their bikes.
Waerlop will conduct his annual bike fit clinic Wednesday, and hopes to provide mountain and road riders with insight on whether or not their bike is truly a good fit.
“We’ll get a lot of people bringing in new bikes at the clinic,” Waerlop said. “I’m guessing 30 to 40 percent of those will be a bad fit.”
Most commonly, people buy frames that are too big, Waerlop said. Unfortunately, frame size is not something that’s adjustable.
“People are really unhappy when they buy a $3,500 frame and it turns out to be the wrong size,” he said. “The biggest thing is frame length. You could have a really short bike, but a frame that’s too long, and you’re spread out all over the bike. Length is a big issue for children. And most women are made differently: Their legs are longer and their torsos are shorter. With guys, a lot of times, it’s the other way around. Women-specific geometry addresses these differences.”
Back pain is the most typical repercussion for a mismatched frame size. It is far more common in road bikers because they “are in a static position for extended amounts of time.” Neck pain can result in both road and mountain bikers with the wrong-sized frame or handlebar stem length, but one key factor that can be corrected for any biker is seat height.
“How you’re sitting in the seat determines how the power is delivered to the pedals,” Waerlop said. “The angle of your leg makes your quadriceps more or less efficient. What we want to do is maximize efficiency.”
According to http://www.freewheelcycle.com, “if your hips rock while pedaling, your seat is too high. If your knee is still bent when the pedal hits bottom, the seat is too low.”
Waerlop points out that if the seat is too high, it can decrease power output from the quad and gluteal muscles “making unnecessary hard work.” It can also cause stress on the knees if they become locked in fully extended position and lower back pain from pelvic rocking. If the seat is low, the thigh and gluteal muscles are at a mechanical disadvantage and compressed forces on the knee
cap can cause pain. Lower back pain can be caused from a low seat because of the exaggerated bend in the waist to reach the handlebars.
The angle of the seat can also make or break a cyclist. Riders with their seats too far back might not be getting as much power out of their pedals and riders with seats tilted too far forward might experience shoulder or neck pain from too much weight in their arms.
Handlebar position is the least critical of the three key body-bike connection points (feet, seat and hands).
Waerlop said the rider should not be able to see the front axle when looking down at the handle bars, because, from atop the bike, it should be hidden from view behind the stem of the bars, which should be within two inches of the height of the seat.
Besides basic comfort and avoiding injury, proper bike fit can often help professional bikers and avid riders in competition.
“A lot of times, I’ll change someone’s fit, and they won’t like it at all and they’ll change it back,” Waerlop said. “It can create problems. Then, there are people that go out and try it. They won’t like it, but then they’ll go out and race and shave like 10 seconds off their time … or 30 seconds. They’re more efficient. Their muscles are working better. A lot of my riders will ride 150, 200 miles a week, and that’s just training stuff. If someone’s doing that kind of mileage and having pain all the time, if you can take away even a portion of that, they’re very grateful.”