Physical Therapists Offer Tips for
Proper Bike Fit
the estimated 85 million weekend bicycle enthusiasts and competitive
riders in the U. S., the risk of a bicycle-related injury may increase
with an ill-fitting bicycle, according to the American Physical Therapy
first thing I ask any patient complaining of bicycling-related pain is
to bring the bicycle in to check for a proper fit," said Erik Moen, PT,
CSCS, a Seattle-based "Elite Level" coach with the United States
Cycling Federation. "In most instances, a poor bike fit is at the root
of their problem."
an APTA member, who races on the road, in cyclocross, and in a cycling
arena called a velodrome, says that the most common bike fit errors
include saddle heights that are either too high or too low, handlebar
reach that is either too long or too short, and misalignments of the
pedal and shoe. He recommends that cyclists do the following to ensure
that they have proper bike fit:
Be sure that the saddle is level. If you are sliding too far forward
from a forward-tilting saddle, too much weight is being placed on your
hands, arms, and lower back. If the seat is tilted backwards, you may
place undue strain on your lower back and possibly experience
saddle-related pain. A physical therapist can measure proper saddle
height by measuring knee angle at the most extended position of the
knee in common pedaling.
saddle also should be a comfortable distance from the handlebars. If it
is too close, extra weight will be placed on the mid-back and arms; too
far away and extra strain may be placed on the lower back and neck.
Handlebar position will affect hand, shoulder, neck, and back comfort.
The higher the handlebars, the more weight will be placed on the
saddle. Generally, taller riders should have lowerhandlebars in
relation to the height of the saddle. According to Moen, "Proper
handlebar position allows for shoulders to roughly make a 90 degree
angle between the humerus and trunk." Trunk angle for the road bike
cyclist is 25-35 degrees and for comfort/recreational riding is 35-90
degrees. Moen notes that riders should re-examine their bicycle fit
after bad falls or crashes, due to possible re-orientation of
handlebars, brakehoods, cleats, or the saddle.
to Pedal. A physical therapist also can measure the angle of
the knee to the pedal. The closer the angle is to 35 degrees, the
better function the cyclist will have and with less stress on the knee.
For the road cyclist, the angle should be 30-35 degrees. The
recreational cyclist should have a 35-45 degree angle.
Foot to Pedal. The ball of the
foot should be positioned over the pedal spindle for the best leverage,
comfort, and efficiency, Moen notes. A stiff-soled shoe is best for
comfort and performance.
is a skilled activity that requires aerobic conditioning," Moen said.
"You should make it your goal to work toward pedaling at 80-90
revolutions per minute (advanced at 90-105 rpm). Pedaling at this rate
will lessen your chance of injury."
Condition. "Good flexibility of the hamstrings, quadriceps,
and gluteal muscles is crucial because these muscles generate the
majority of the pedaling force and must ideally move through the
pedal-stroke in 80-90 revolutions per minute," said Moen. "Proper
stretching, balance, and flexibility exercises help with coordination
of cycling-related skills such as breaking and cornering."
also cautioned that changes in riders' strength and flexibility affect
the ability to attain certain positions on the bicycle and also may
require them to re-examine their bike fit.
points to bicycle accessories on the market — such as softer
handlebar tape, shock absorbers for the seat post and front fork,
cut-out saddles, and wider tires — that help to bring comfort
to the sport. "Cycling should be about enjoyment, not pain," said Moen.
"Proper bicycle fit will minimize discomfort and possible overuse
injury, maximize economy, and ensure safe bicycle operation. Proper
bicycle fit will make your ride a lot more pleasurable."
for avoiding bike-related injuries follow this press release.
Click the following links for photos illustrating proper bike fit
as well as stretching exercises for cyclists
the "Bike Right! Bike Fit!" consumer brochure in Adobe PDF.
Tips for Avoiding Bike-Fit Related Injuries
hand position on the handlebars frequently for upper body comfort.
a controlled but relaxed grip of the handlebars.
pedaling, your knee should be slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal
stroke. Avoid rocking your hips while pedaling.
(Front) Knee Pain. Possible causes are having a saddle that
is too low, pedaling at a low cadence (speed), using your quadriceps
muscles too much in pedaling, misaligned bicycle cleat for those who
use clipless pedals, and muscle imbalance in your legs (strong
quadriceps and weak hamstrings).
Pain. Possible causes include poor handlebar or saddle
position. A poorly placed handlebar might be too low, at too great a
reach, or at too short a reach. A saddle with excessive downward tilt
can be a source of neck pain.
Back Pain. Possible causes include inflexible hamstrings, low
cadence, using your quadriceps muscles too much in pedaling, poor back
strength, and too-long or too-low handlebars.
Tendinitis. Possible causes are inflexible hamstrings, high
saddle, misaligned bicyclecleat, and poor hamstring strength.
Numbness or Pain. Possible causes are short-reach handlebars,
poorly placed brake levers, and a downward tilt of the saddle.
Numbness or Pain. Possible causes are using quadriceps
muscles too much in pedaling, low cadence, faulty foot mechanics, and
misaligned bicycle cleat for those who use clipless pedals.
Band Tendinitis. Possible causes are too-high saddle, leg
length difference, and misaligned bicycle cleat for those who use
is a national professional organization representing nearly 65,000
members. Its goal is to foster advancements in physical therapy
practice, research, and education.
more information on the American Physical Therapy Association, visit www.apta.org.