Fix Your Bike Fit
By Aaron Hersh—There is no single, universal solution to finding a comfy bike position, but certain ailments are frequently caused by the same fit problems. If you’re having discomfort on the bike, these solutions recommended by veteran tri bike fitters can fix a subtle ache before it escalates into a full-blown injury.
Hip discomfort or difficulty producing power
The cause: If the angle between the hip and back is too acute, generating power becomes a struggle. The telltale sign is discomfort in the hips when at the top of the pedal stroke.
The fix: Open the hip angle, which can be accomplished a few ways. Raising the aerobars works, but it also increases aero drag. Nytro Multisport fitter Gregg Medinilla recommends “moving the saddle forward so the rider can be on top of the gear” to open hip angle without sacrificing speed.
The cause: Acme Bicycle Co. fitter Jonathan Blyer sees “a strong link between saddle discomfort and lower-back pain.” An uncomfortable saddle forces riders to roll their hips backward to lift their sensitive parts off the saddle, which strains the low back.
The fix: The solution is “all about sitting on the bike seat with proper posture,” which requires a comfortable saddle, says Blyer. Find one that allows your hips to rotate forward without hurting your undercarriage.
Back or neck pain
The cause: Stretching “too far from the saddle to the aerobar pads” forces the neck and back muscle to work extra hard, says Colorado Multisport fitter Ryan Ignatz.
The fix: Riding a saddle that allows you to come forward is a good start. Switching to a shorter stem or aerobar with adjustable pad position is another option. Lifting the bars can help but might compromise aerodynamics.
Pain behind the knee
The cause: Riding in clipless pedals “pulls the [knee] joint apart” on the upswing portion of a pedal stroke, says Running Away Multisport fitter Anne Barnes. If the saddle is too high, this stress becomes greater and “the knee is what’s going to complain first.”
The fix: Get a good bike fit right away to prevent knee problems by nailing your ideal seat height. If the back or center of the knee hurts, the saddle may be too high.
The cause: Pedal pressure through the ball of the foot can reduce blood flow through the foot, creating numbness or hot spots.
The fix: Traditional bike fit dogma says the pedal axle should be positioned under the big toe joint, but Ignatz believes pressure in that location impinges blood flow. Instead, he moves the cleat rearward so the axle lines up with the pinky toe joint.
It’s not (always) about the bike
“A good fitter will listen to the athlete’s problem and then ask a lot of questions,” says Fritz Tomasello, fitter at Edge Cyclesports. “Many times a triathlete’s pain [on the bike] can be caused by a change in training or equipment that is unrelated to bike fit. New shoes, either cycling or running, can aggravate an injury. The best fitter I know, Hank Iglesias, once told me, ‘The best tools a fitter has are your head and your hands.’”
Aaron Hersh is the Senior Tech Editor of Triathlete magazine.