Bike Fit 101: Common mistakes I see during a Biomechanical Bike Fit

We’ve endured a long, cold, wet winter but, alas, a new cycling season is upon us! Some of you have persevered over the winter, determined not to lose your gains. Others are starting fresh, ready to build on last season’s success. But for many of you, this is all new! A new challenge, a new adventure- you are ready to begin cycling. I am excited for all of you to get on your saddle and start pedalling towards your goals.

Since I’ve offered the Biomechanical Bike Fitting service at Burrard, I’ve seen a lot of different bikes come in through the doors. Some are brand new from the store. Others are used, bought online through Craigslist or Kijiji. Whatever the case may be, I will do my best to fit you to your bike. A thorough bike fit is always recommended to highlight and correct all problem areas, and ensure a biomechanically sound ride. Today I want to share a few common bike fit issues that I see here at Burrard Physio:

Mistake#1: Wrong Bike Frame Size

This is a problem that is almost exclusive to those who have purchased their bikes second hand, online or through a friend. When purchasing a used bike it is easy to think to yourself “I’m roughly the same height as this person, their bike shoulder work for me.” Word of advice: Proceed with caution! People that are the same height may have significant differences in inseam, torso, and arm length. If you happen to buy a bike frame that is too big or small we may run into issues “growing” or “shrinking” your bike to achieve proper biomechanics. In some worst case scenarios it may mean that your bike is un-fittable and you will have to get a new one all together. If your committed to getting a Craiglist discount, your best bet is to first go to a bike dealer and get your inseam and rough size measured so you know the rough ballpark you should be looking at.

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Mistake#2: Not clipped in

A lot of people come in with flat pedals or cages on their road bikes. I can understand the fear associated with being clipped in to your pedals on your bike. After all, everyone’s worst nightmare is tipping over while slowing to stop at a red light. Although it takes a bit of courage, clipping in is an important first step in ensuring a proper bike fit. When you aren’t clipped in you cannot access muscle groups that can improve your cycling power and efficiency dramatically. It can also lead to repetitive strain of active muscle groups that are doing all the work. Not to mention your foot placement will be different each time you put your foot on the pedal- this also leads to poor biomechanics and decreased efficiency.

Mistake#3: Saddle too high (or too low)

When I first started cycling I thought it was the cool thing to do jack my seat post up high and really get my knees into full extension…after all, it’s what I thought I saw when I watched the cyclists in the Tour de France! What I didn’t realize was the Tour riders needed a long seat post to accommodate for smaller bike frames, and if I really slowed down their pedal stroke I could see their knees were close to going to full extension. I get a lot of clients who come in and assume that’s the position they should be in on a road bike. And interestingly enough, they are the ones that seem to get knee and back pain, even after shorter rides. Getting the right saddle height is very important for a biomechanically sound ride.

Mistake#4: Saddle not providing support

There are hundreds of saddles on the market and it can be quite overwhelming to choose the “right one”. As a general rule of thumb; Listen to your body. Do you feel like your buttcheeks are falling off either side of your saddle? That’s not very optimal. Are your bits constantly being squished? Probably not a good thing. However, if you butt is sore after a few hours of being in the saddle I wouldn’t consider that a five-alarm fire. Rule of thumb: The weight bearing (bony) surfaces of your pelvis should feel supported and non-weight bearing soft tissues should not feel crushed.

About the Author: Thomas Zhou is a physiotherapist at Burrard Physiotherapy and provides Biomechanical Bike Fitting services. He is a cycling enthusiast and has completed multiple Fondos including the Whistler Gran Fondo. He is currently training for the Victoria 70.3 Half Ironman.

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