The reason for setting your bike up correctly is to avoid pain whilst peddling – pain in the shoulders, lower back, knees and neck. Most of the pain comes from expecting the body to function in an anatomically incorrect position under load. In an unusual position and an un-natural position for the body to be in.
Pain in the neck and shoulders can come from reaching too far forwards or the seat being too high; pain in the lower back from the seat position being too close or too far away, or from the saddle simply being uncomfortable; Pain in both the lower back and shoulders can also come from the seat being too high caused by a rocking or pivoting at the spine/pelvic joint or too low so being scrunched up. If the handle bars are too low then the hip will be bent too much, which will cause the lower back to buckle up. If the seat is too low one is not able to extend the knee joint and is pushing and pulling from a place of bend, which causes knee pain as well as being hard work on the legs, and uses more quads and less hamstring, and will cause earlier fatigue than necessary.
First of all you need to make sure that the seat is the right height for the length of your leg: So you turn the pedal upside down if you have cages on and you drop it to the bottom of the stroke and sit your heel on the pedal make sure your hips are level and there is even load under both seat bones – then set the seat up so the leg is straight but not locked. You can also stand next to the bike and saddled measure the top of the saddle to the top of the hip. Or put a spirit level up into your crouch and measure down to the floor.
Once you set the seat right you then need to make sure it’s the correct distance from the handlebars. Obviously the bicycle comes with a standard fitting which joins the handlebars to the frame, so at first you want to try to manage your position with that fitting, but this can be replaced if need be. To measure this distance for yourself, you need to put your elbow against the front of the seat stretching your fingers out straight, parallel to the crossbar, then put the four fingers of your other hand at 90° to the tips of your fingers on the outstretched arm, your little finger should strike the middle of the handlebars. If it isn’t in the middle then you need to slide the seat forward or backwards by undoing the bolt underneath the seat and being careful to slide the seat along the bar and do it up again – if there is not enough play here then you need to change the stem fitting (as suggested earlier) which is the fitting clamping the handle bars to the fork post of the front wheel. When moving the saddle be sure to keep it horizontal, and in fact make sure it is horizontal in the first place. If you alter the stem fitting it will change the reaction of the steering and it will be very twitchy and sharp turning on corners if you shorten it – if you lengthen it then it will make a longer slower arc and need a bit more of a turn.
The relationship of the seat to the handlebar height needs to be checked for comfort – the higher the handle bar the more comfortable and easier on the back – the lower the handle bar the more potential there is for explosive pedalling as one pushes against the hip flexion – however this can come at a cost of lower back pain if the core and torso are not strong enough to cope with the load put out. Added to this if the handlebars are lower than the seat then you will be leaning down hill so you will have to look up – causing neck strain plus there will be quite a flexion in the hip joint which when the knee lifts to the chest can cause a backward and upward tilt in the pelvis which causes strain to the lower back. This is generally a bit more complicated to deal with, as often the handlebar/ front wheel fork post has been cut to length – something to be mindful of when you buy a new bicycle.
Another way to check the handlebar distance from the seat is to place the pedals level with each other in a horizontal plane, put your feet on either pedal. The have a plumb line dropping down from your elbow it should fall level with the front of the front knee.
After doing all this you need to check the seat height again because the shimmying around can alter this ever so slightly.
If you ride a bicycle on a turbo trainer or out for a ride without it being set up for you then you are likely to encounter pain in the knees the back of the shoulders or the neck if you do have any pain give us a call and we can help you set up your bicycle either face-to-face or over zoom.
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