A bike that is too big or small for your body can lead to injuries in the knees, hips, back, shoulder and neck. Where most people make the biggest mistake is spending a lot of money on a new bike without knowing if it fits properly.
In most cases, you won't need to go out and get a brand new bike—but if you have had injuries in the past, you might need to make a few adjustments. Use these tips as a helpful guide to getting started.
Many riders adapt the way they ride based on the geometry of their bike instead of adjusting the parts on the bike to fit their body. In addition to this, many riders also worry about the "look" of their bike or try to match the position of their favorite pro.
A proper fitting bike allows the rider to be in a position that is efficient, aerodynamic and can allow long hours in the saddle without creating overuse injuries. This is based on the individual's unique measurements and riding style.
The human body is very adaptable and will learn to work in even the worst riding position over time. There are even some very successful cyclists who have ridden in very unorthodox positions. But the damage done by a bad riding position or misaligned pedal stroke may not be noticeable for a long time. How often have you noticed a pain in your knees or hips that's only noticeable when you put in extra miles?
The goal of a good bike fit is to set the saddle, handle bars and cleats in a position that allows you to turn the pedals efficiently without damage to your joints or bones, and to avoid undue fatigue. When a riding position fits you, your bones can absorb more of the stress required to turn the pedals and support your body, while your joints can work and track within their normal range of motion.
The Right Fit
A precision bike fit is one that's based on the length of your bones and the position of your joints used to pedal the bike. In order to get a precision bike fit, any part of you that's involved in pedaling should be accurately measured.
More: Preventing Saddle Sores
Short of using an X-ray machine, the best way to get those measurements is by locating and marking areas on the body that can be used to identify the position and shape of the rider's bones and joints. Using these marks, the rider's ideal position can be determined based on the size and shape of the bones and joints in the rider's legs, hips, torso, shoulders, arms and feet, and how all these body parts can work together to pedal the bike.
Cyclists with multiple bikes face an additional challenge—a consistent position from one bike to another. It's important to avoid changing your riding position frequently because muscle memory is a very big component of a smooth and powerful pedal stroke.
If you're changing your position every time you ride, your muscles may be trying to pull up before you reach the bottom of the pedal stroke or push down while your foot is on the upstroke. This lack of coordination can impair performance and lead to joint, muscle and other connective tissue injuries.
A good bike fit is one that can be transferred from one bike to another while maintaining accuracy and precision. Remember that your position should be constant—no matter which bike you ride. So, frame geometry shouldn't have an effect on your riding position. Your butt should still be in the same place relative to your feet and hands.
The type of riding you do should also be considered when determining your riding position. The requirements of road, mountain and time trial/triathlon riding will result in completely different riding positions. Aerodynamics, bike handling, sprinting and climbing requirements all have an effect on your riding position.
Shop for the Right Fit
There are many good fitting systems that use different landmarks and biomechanical measurements and calculations in order to determine the rider's ideal saddle, handle bar and cleat position. When selecting someone to do a bike fitting, keep in mind that the more precision there is, and the more factors that are included in determining your position, the better.
I'll admit that there are probably one or two gurus in the world that can look at you and tell you exactly what needs to be changed, but the rest of us need to do some measuring to get it right.
More: 16 Cool Cycling Tattoos
I would recommend that you look for a system that determines your ideal riding position independent of the bike or equipment being used and look for a bike-fitting professional who will take into consideration other factors including riding style, biomechanical imbalances, physical differences from one limb to the next and neuromuscular issues that may not be fixed by even the most precise setup.
If you're planning to have a professional bike fitting, keep in mind that your current equipment may not allow you to achieve your ideal riding position. The seat post or saddle may not allow for the amount of adjustment required or the top tube on your frame may not give you the ideal reach to the handlebars. The bike fitter will aim to get you in the best riding position, but it will be up to you whether make the recommended changes.
Also remember that it may take time for you to adapt to the new riding position. Plan a period of low-intensity riding after making any changes to your riding position, especially if the changes are big. Never change your position right before an important event.
There's good reason for riders at every level to have a precision bike fitting done. A cyclist who gets out only once or twice a week will still want to be sure that the time spent on the bike is well worth it. And riders who compete or puts in a lot of miles will also want to be sure they're riding as efficiently as possible, without putting themselves at risk for overuse injuries due to misalignment or imbalance.
Remember, your bike should fit you, not the other way around.
More: Aero on a BudgetReady to ride? Search for a cycling event.
BJ Basham is an USA-Cycling Expert coach working with The Peaks Coaching Group and an experienced Wobble Naught bike fit professional. For any questions about coaching, bike fitting or the Wobble Naught Laser Precision Bike Fit system, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.