Not sure how to tweak your bike for a proper fit? These five questions are a good place to start. – Jennifer Ward
While a proper bike fit is still the gold standard for finding your ideal riding position, there is a quick install method that can make your ride more comfortable. All you need is a little body awareness (or a reflective surface) to run a quick “gut check” of your posture.
If you’re noticing more pain than gain, answering the questions below is a great start. That said, if you’ve already covered these basics and still aren’t comfortable, go for a bike fitting to sort out your continuing problems.
This question is usually the easiest to answer—and to fix. When riding, keep your gaze generally about two meters in front of your front wheel. Not only will this automatically point you in the right direction and help you avoid squirrels, potholes, and broken glass, but it will also keep your neck in a neutral position—which also happens to be best for cycling.
Julie Bates, a Body Geometry Fit Instructor with Specialized, says that having your handlebars in the right position (which depends largely on stem length) will help keep your neck pain-free. She adds that shifting your hands around to the different positions on the handlebars can also help avoid neck strain. Lastly, when shifting your grip, keep your elbows from locking up—try to ride with strong, but flexible elbows that can respond to bumps in the road.
Your spine should always be in a neutral position on the bike. What does this mean, exactly? As Bates puts it, you want your spine to look the same on the bike as it does off of it—maintaining its natural “S” curve. Try to refrain from riding with an arched or rounded back for long periods of time. A quick stretch can feel good on a long ride, but keep things neutral for the majority of your miles.
“The ideal hip angle is when a rider is riding within their body’s range of motion—there they will be the most comfortable, more powerful and efficient, and less prone to injury,” says Bates. Most weekend warriors ride with a hip angle of around 110 degrees, she says, and that anything less than 100 degrees would indicate limited hip flexibility.
Riding in a position that is too upright (i.e. when the angle made by your hips and your torso is more than 110) can cause problems with the lumbar spine, soft tissue pain at the saddle, and pressure in the hands. Riding in a position that’s more aero than your body can handle—remember, we’re not all pros with our own staff dedicated to keeping us performing at our best—can cause pain in the shoulders, neck, hands, spine, knees, and pelvis.
Unless you’re descending a gnarly, technical turn in the drops, make sure you’re keeping a light touch on your handlebars. “White knuckling creates a lot more tension in the muscles, causing them to fatigue quicker. Plus, it’s just not fun!” Bates says. That very same tension can creep through the rest of your body and create fatigue earlier on in your ride.
A key indication that your saddle is the right height is how much your hips rock when you ride. If your saddle is too high, you’ll have to reach for the pedals and your hips will rock up and down, which, according to Bates, can cause pain in the lumbar, thoracic, or cervical spine; knee and foot pain; and even saddle sores. Get a friend to watch your hips from behind—the movement should be minimal.