Improving your bike’s fit can boost power output and reduce injury risk. With the rise of online bike fitting guides, many cyclists are trying to adjust their bikes themselves. While it’s great to see riders becoming more knowledgeable, there are still common mistakes made during DIY bike fittings.
Incorrect Saddle Position to Compensate for Reach
Moving the saddle forward to shorten the reach can lead to an imbalance, placing excessive weight on the front end. This can cause hand, wrist, neck, upper back, and shoulder discomfort, overuse of quadriceps, strain on the knees, and unstable handling. Instead of adjusting saddle position, look at altering the stem length, handlebar size, or consider a bike with a different geometry.
Over-Tilting the Saddle to Relieve Discomfort
Tilting the saddle downwards excessively can cause increased tension in the quadriceps and knees, as well as pain in the hands and wrists due to the body sliding forward. This issue often stems from a saddle height that’s too high or a saddle that doesn’t suit your body. Ensure your saddle is the right width, shape, firmness, and has an appropriate cutout for your anatomy to support your pelvis correctly.
It’s common for bicycles to come with handlebars that are wider than what most people, especially women, need. This oversized design can lead to discomfort. When handlebars are too wide, riders might overextend their wrists to compensate, or they have to stretch further to reach the controls. This can result in pain in the wrists, elbows, shoulders, and neck.
While it’s possible to replace the handlebars at the time of purchase, this often comes with an additional cost. And with the rise of bikes featuring integrated cockpits, the expense for this adjustment can be significant.
Cleats positioned too far forward can lead to a downward tilt of the foot, resulting in instability, numbness, and overuse of the calf muscles. A better placement is slightly behind the ball of the foot. This adjustment can relieve pressure on nerves and blood vessels, reducing the likelihood of foot discomfort. It also lessens the strain on the calf by shortening the lever arm from the ankle, making foot stabilization easier.
Many riders find that moving the cleats back makes them feel stronger and more stable, even though studies haven’t shown an increase in power output from this adjustment.
Improperly positioned cleats can also cause problems during uphill riding. If the rider naturally drops their heels, cleats that are too forward can lead
to overstretching of the knee at the pedal stroke’s lowest point. This can strain the hamstrings and cause the pelvis to rock, potentially leading to lower back pain. Adjusting the cleat position can help avoid these issues and promote a more comfortable and efficient cycling experience.
REDUCING CLEAT FLOAT: A CAUTIONARY APPROACH
Cyclists often opt for cleats with minimal float to reduce rotational movement on the pedal. However, if there’s excess foot movement, it’s usually indicative of issues with pedaling technique, foot stability, bike fit, or cleat alignment.
Float allows feet and knees to move more naturally, compensating for any alignment issues up the body. It’s generally safer to choose cleats with more float to prevent injuries. Additionally, more float provides leeway for imperfections in cleat placement and when the rider is tired.
THE PITFALLS OF UPSIZING CYCLING SHOES
Many cyclists end up buying shoes that are too narrow, especially around the toe box, leading to compression issues. A common solution is to buy larger shoes for more width. However, this approach often creates new problems: the cleat holes might be too far forward, preventing optimal cleat positioning; the foot could slide forward in the shoe; or the arch support may be misaligned.
Oversized shoes can also cause the foot to grip or ‘claw’ to find stability, which puts excessive strain on the foot muscles and can lead to pain in the plantar fascia. The key is to find shoes that fit well in both length and width, ensuring comfort and efficiency while cycling.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT BIKE FRAME: A COMMON MISTAKE
In the cycling world, the majority of riders today are enthusiasts or sportive participants, not professional racers. A 2022 report from British Cycling indicated that only about 17% of its 150,000 members were competitive racers. Despite this, many riders end up selecting bike frames that don’t align with their physical needs or riding style. They often lean towards frames with an aggressive race geometry – characterized by a longer reach and lower stack – instead of opting for frames with endurance geometry which might suit them better.
Selecting an inappropriate frame shape can be a costly error and one that’s hard to rectify. While adjustments to components and setup are possible, they’re often suboptimal. These changes can compromise the bike’s handling, feel, and even its appearance. It’s crucial for cyclists to consider their riding style and physical needs when choosing a frame to avoid these issues.