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With a recent increase in bike and home trainer sales around Australia during covid-enforced lockdown (Bicycle Network, 2020), it is a really good time to raise awareness about the importance of fitting a person to their bike.

Many people, particularly those newer to bike riding, assume their pains and discomforts must be a ‘normal’ part of riding and that they will ‘adapt’ as their body gets used to it. In some cases, this has an element of truth. In other cases, people will find themselves tinkering with their bike fit, trying different saddles, different chamois creams, various knicks, different gloves, sometimes to little or no avail.

Unfortunately this can be very off-putting (and expensive!) and I’m sure this has turned many people away from riding. Often these adjustments are just treating the symptoms of the discomfort rather than the cause which is why they’re forever searching for that magical fix.

So there’s the comfort element of bike fitting but a professional bike fit can also improve your efficiency and hence your power, meaning you can ride faster for less effort. It really depends on each person’s goals and bike fits are usually individually tailored to meet these needs, whether you’re a semi-professional road cyclist, a regular commuter or a weekend warrior.

What is a Physio bike fit?

Physios are very well-placed to perform bike fits due to our level of expertise in body assessment and tailoring each fit to a person’s specific needs.

Traditionally, bike fitters would use an anthropometric measure such as an inseam length, then calculate saddle height based on a formulae such as the LeMond method. While this can be quite helpful to set a base window of saddle heights, it does not take into account individual circumstances such as flexibility meaning that you may end up in a position that is not optimal for you.

We are able to factor in any past or present injuries, areas of discomfort, history of riding and your goals to ensure your fit is a comfortable, sustainable one for you.

What are common conditions bike fits can help improve?

Research shows that the most common injuries for cyclists are knee, lower back and neck discomfort (Clarsen et al, 2010).

A professional bike fit can also assist with hand tingling, ‘hot foot’ and saddle region issues.

Aspire Physiotherapy Bike Fit options

1. Comprehensive bike fit. Allow up to 90 minutes. This commences with physical assessment, including strength and range of motion testing. This enables me to identify any potential factors for discomfort on the bike. I then take detailed measurements, have a look at your cycling biomechanics and fit and make any adjustments that I recommend. Again, you will be emailed a thorough report with measurements and recommendations regarding both your fit and any factors identified through physical examination.

2. Follow up. Allow up to 45 minutes. The purpose of this session is to review any changes made to the bike along with any recommended treatment and/or exercises.

Why Aspire Physiotherapy?

Hannah has years of experience as a physiotherapist and bike fitter.Hannah has completed the physio specific ‘Science of Cycling’ course and continues to progress her bike fit skills and knowledge through undertaking further professional development.

Hannah has raced on a national level for the women’s team Specialized Securitor and her highlights include winning the Elite Women’s Sprinters Jersey in the 2019 Tour of Bright and winning both the elite road and criterium South Australian Championships in 2012.

Beyond this though, Hannah is passionate about helping all cyclists, no matter their level of ability, experience or goals! At Aspire Physiotherapy we aim to provide any cyclist with the optimal biomechanical bike setup to reduce injuries and optimise performance.

Bike fits performed by a qualified physiotherapist may also be claimable on private health insurance.

References

1. The Bicycle Network, 2020, ‘Pedalling to a better normal: a plan to ride out of Covid-19’, https://www.bicyclenetwork.com.au/newsroom/2020/05/24/pedalling-to-a-better-normal-a-plan-to-ride-out-of-covid-19/

2. Clarsen, B., Krosshaug, T. and Bahr, R. (2010), ‘Overuse injuries in professional road cyclists’, American Journal of Sports Medicine, 38 (12): 2494-501

Myth Busters

Common myths:

1. Bike fits are just saddle height

Whilst that would be nice and simple, it is not true. It is a very important factor but you also need to balance front to back end position on the bike and optimise the position of all of the following: Knee, foot, ankle, neck, hands and pelvis. Optimise the control of your trunk and shoulder muscles. Optimise the power output going through your lower limbs.

All of this is done through manipulating your saddle height, saddle position fwd/bwd, saddle tilt, cleat position, handlebar position, stem length, type and width of saddle and in some rarer cases, your crank length..

2. My saddle sores are only because I need to use more chamois cream or use better knicks

While this can definitely play a part and I can personally attest to wearing premium products, there are many other reasons you can have saddle sores. Sub-optimal fit position is a very common one!!

3. Hand numbness is normal, if I shake my hands out it goes away anyway, better gloves will fix that!

There are many reasons you can be experiencing hand numbness. These include a lack of changing hand position which reduces blood flow to the nerve, resulting in numbness; too much pressure on a single point of your hand due to the way you are positioning your upper body; too much weight on your hands which can be due to excessive drop from saddle to bars or even the reverse! So while padding in gloves can alleviate pressure, often the cause is the fit!

4. You should position your saddle as high as possible for maximum power

Assuming great flexibility, neural mobility and pelvic control, sure! This is definitely one way to achieve a higher power output for that small sub-group of people. However, I often refer people to what I call a ‘fit window’. Essentially, this is a range of saddle height measurements that their body may tolerate, the top of that window being the most ideal, when that person is feeling most energetic, limber and ready to go! The other lower measure being for when they may feel quite fatigued and tight.

If you place your saddle too high for your body, you will actually lose power. This is because you don’t have the mobility and flexibility available to hold that position, and so your body will use a few different ways to help itself which may include rocking side to side and/or adopting an ankling technique.

What I can offer people that are in search of height, is the option to work on their body through exercise and strengthening to be able to progress up to that height over time. It is important to note that this is not always applicable.

5. You should position your cleat as far forwards as possible to create a longer lever at the foot to improve power

Essentially the thinking behind this is that it moves your foot relatively backwards. This creates a longer lever at the foot which some say (and some research does support) improves your ability to place power into the pedal at the point of maximum power output (think 2-3 o’clock in the pedal cycle). However this is not true for everyone, again it’s definitely not a one size fits all approach! For some, this can contribute to an achilles overload as the achilles has a wider range of motion it’s being moved through which can result in repetitive tensile and compressive forces, this can cause an irritation.