Bike fitting: The bike to the person or vice versa?

We have just started a series of presentations discussing common cycling injuries; how to prevent these occurring through a thorough bike fit, as well as introducing the benefits of using a Wattbike for ongoing training or occasional specific fitness testing.

The repetitive nature of cycling has the potential to cause problems. When observing the statistics, competitive cyclists average up to 5,000 pedalling revolutions an hour, between 10-150 miles each session and up to 20,000 miles a year. It is therefore easy to understand that even very subtle irregularities with the bike or cyclist can manifest into discomfort and pain and possibly time off the bike.

As physiotherapists at the Hallamshire Physiotherapy Clinic we come into regular contact with cyclists presenting with related and unrelated injuries or problems. The commonest injury prone areas we observe in cyclists are the neck, back and knees.

A cyclists’ flexibility and joint/muscle movement is fundamental to gaining particular positions when riding a bike. This is relevant if you are competing in a time trial where an aerodynamic forward position is required as opposed to a touring cyclist whom will require a more comfortable position for longer periods in the saddle.

There can be many reasons for the onset of pain in cyclists. Commonly we observe that the bike set up or “Bike fitting” is incorrect. Interestingly, many cyclists will spend considerable amounts of money on a bicycle but do not think or know about having the correct set up. We are all individuals and hence are different shapes and sizes with different length trunks, legs and arms. Two people of the same height will ultimately need a different bike set up. The type of riding you do is also very relevant. Considerations to gender is also important as the anatomy of males and females are different. Increasingly there are more female specific bikes on the market with narrower handle bars, shorter top tubes (shorter trunks and arms) and shorter cranks. A correct fit of a woman or a man’s bike is perfectly possible but inevitably the factory fitted/supplied handlebars, stems etc, would need to be altered, something that some bike shops may be a little reluctant to do!

The problems cyclists face are that if a bike is too big then this can result in overreaching and potentially cause irritation of both the neck and lower back. If the saddle is too high, the rider will tend to over extend the knee when the pedal is furthest away from them, thus causing excessive pelvis movement from side to side. Therefore, causing lower back pain in addition to pain behind the knee. The list goes on from fitting cleats incorrectly in relation to the pedal spindle, as well asymmetries in hip, knee and foot alignments. Ultimately the bike should fit the rider and not vice versa. Bike fitting is a dynamic process and the cyclist can physically change over a season, particularly if they are new to cycling. Occasional reviewing of the cyclist’s position is necessary.

A correct bike fit is paramount and we are offering a bike fitting service combined with a musculoskeletal screening assessment for cyclists of all abilities aimed at injury prevention.

Find out more about our Sheffield Bike Fit Service

Matt Withycombe

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