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What does a bike fit do for my body?

Part 1: Saddle height

Summer in Colorado is one of the most beautiful times to be out on our bikes. For many of us, this time of year also means being on our bikes for longer and more strenuous rides. As the miles add up, many people start to notice little aches and pains while they ride. Sometimes they go away on their own, but more often than not, they tend to get worse, even starting to bother us when we are off the bike. 

For most people, a combination of physical therapy and a getting a proper bike fit can fully alleviate these problems! As a physical therapist and bike fitter at Coal Creek Physical Therapy, I like to focus on where our body actually comes into contact with the bike and make the necessary adjustments to put bikers in the most comfortable and advantageous position for biking pain free. Once the bike fit is performed and the biking position is optimized, we can use PT exercises and hands on care to improve our ability stay in a good position on the bike! In this post, I will discuss the details of how the bike saddle position can affect our comfort on the bike. In the next 2 posts, I will discuss how the handlebar and cleat position are fit to achieve best bike fit. 

Starting with the bike saddle, I first make sure the height of the seat is correct. Ideally, when the foot is at the bottom of the pedal stroke (think 6pm if the pedal stroke is a clock), the knee should be bent at roughly 30 degrees. This will look like a very small bend in the knee. If the saddle is too high, we tend to develop back of knee and achilles pain due to overstretching the knee and hamstrings and ankle and calf muscles.

Additionally, low back pain can also result from having to reach so far down to reach the handlebars. If the saddle is too low, the front of the knee tends to become painful due to being forced to fire the quadriceps maximally in a very cramped position, placing pressure on the knee cap and tendon that connects the knee cap to the shin.

In addition to adjusting the height of the saddle, the forward vs. back ward and tilt of the saddle nose can also be adjusted for maximal comfort. Generally speaking, I aim to have the saddle relatively flat so that the pelvis has a stable platform from which to operate. If this is achieved, then the cyclist does not feel as if they are sliding forward (nose too far down) or backward (nose too far up) and are not putting too much pressure on the sensitive areas of the perineum that come into contact with the perineum. 

Regarding fore and aft (forward vs. backward) position of the saddle, I aim to have the saddle relatively centered in the measurement area indicated on the side of the saddle rails. If the saddle is too far forward, the front of the knees will tend to feel compressed and painful with prolonged riding because the quadriceps is again being forced to work maximally in a cramped position. If the saddle is too far back, cyclists will notice they feel as if they are reaching excessively to try to get to the handlebars and feel neck and shoulder discomfort as a result.

Although all of these adjustments can be performed experimentally by the cyclist, I recommend consulting with us here at Coal Creek Physical Therapy first to ensure the correct adjustments are made so as not to increase injury risk. If you feel like you could benefit from a professional bike fit or physical therapy consultation, we are happy to see you at Coal Creek!

Happy cycling!

Annabel Bavage, PT, DPT


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