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Myth Busting Bike Fitting!

Following on from last week’s blog on physio bike fit (read about it here! https://www.smpc.com.au/physio-bike-fit/), I thought it’d be great to cover some common misconceptions around bike fitting.

Common myths:

1. Bike fits just involve altering the saddle height. 

Saddle height is a very important variable. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘holy grail’ of bike fitting as it has the ability to increase or decrease a rider’s power output. This is because it directly affects how much you can straighten your knee through the pedal cycle so that our big powerhouse muscles(the gluteals and the quadriceps) can work at their maximum capacity. If the saddle is too low, these muscles can’t generate enough power. If the saddle is too high and you lose power as you tend to rock side to side through your pelvis to help your foot stay in contact with the pedal. 

However, there is so much more to a balanced fit than simply altering that height. 

The goal is to balance a rider’s weight distribution across the front and back end, so that the rider has good control of their bike. If you are too far back, you’ll almost be popping wheelies up climbs and too far forwards, you will feel like you have a lot of weight on your arms and are cramped through your torso. 

You also want to look to position the saddle fore and aft position so that your knee is in a good position relatively to your foot. Too far forwards and you can irritate your knee, too far backwards and you’ll lose muscle efficiency. 

Once the back end is set up in a well-balanced position, we can then make adjustments to a rider’s reach and drop. Often I find the front end has been over-adjusted  to compensate for a poor back end fit. 

Cleat positioning is a whole other topic but generally I set these up to mimic a rider’s natural foot position. One older myth that still floats about from time to time is covered below!

2. The fitting process is the same for all cyclists, there is just one ‘right position’ on the bike

I absolutely love the work of Phil Burt. Phil is the Head Physiotherapist at British Cycling and worked for Team Sky as a consultant physiotherapist. In his ‘Bike Fit’ book, Phil Burt refers to three pillars of bike fitting, these being:

  1. aerodynamics
  2. comfort and sustainability
  3. power. 

The goals of each rider is really important to consider as this influences the fit. If a rider wants to improve one factor then one or both of the other pillars must reduce to compensate. 

For example, if you have a younger, elite athlete racing for Australia in the Teams Pursuit, the two most important factors are aerodynamics and power. The comfort factor is not going to be as important, especially because the event is completed within minutes. 

On the other hand, if you have an older recreational/ gran fondo rider, the most important factor is going to be comfort. They need to be able to sustain a position on the bike and tolerate it for many hours, so power and aerodynamics are not as important.

So how I fit each of these riders, and what is ideal for each of them, is going to be very different!

3. 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 region pain. Sub-optimal fit position and incorrect saddle choice are the most common reasons for chafing, saddle sores and numbness around your genitalia. Essentially you should feel supported by your skeletal system and not your soft tissue. One common error I see for saddles is an extremely narrow saddle for a rider with a much wider pelvis, particularly in females. Ideally your sit bones will be supported on the saddle, not sitting off the edges!

4. I’ve been getting numbness in my hands when I ride, I must need to buy a better pair of gloves!

Gloves can help reduce vibrations from the road, but again, your fit is key to improving these hand issues.

This is most commonly caused by too much weight on the upper limbs resulting in excessive weight being transferred to the bars through your palms. This can be from a fit that has too much drop between saddle and bar, too much reach to the bar  or a saddle tilted downwards. It can also be handlebars that are too wide or bars that are simply too narrow in circumference. 

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 improves your ability to increase power output. 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, especially if you’re doing a lot of climbing, as the achilles has a wider range of motion it’s being moved through which can result in irritation. 

If you are interested in getting a bike fit, please call us on 9645 7955 to book in your physio bike fit with Andrew or Hannah. 

Physio bike fits are able to be claimed through private health insurance, depending on your level of cover.

As always, keep moving.

REFERENCES: Burt, Phil, ‘Bike Fit. Optomise your bike position for high performance and injury avoidance’, Bloomsbury, 2014

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