Bike set up for optimal cycling biomechanics
PhysioPlus NI is now offering 90 minute bike fits. This will involve an individual physical assessment to determine and address any predisposing factors both for injury prevention and performance enhancement along with specific measurements to ensure your bike is set-up correctly for you.
Most cycling injuries occur either traumatically (from a fall off the bike or a collision) or from overuse (often related to poor bike set-up)
For every cyclist, correct bike set up is essential in enhancing performance, preventing injury, and ensuring comfort.
Cyclists are pre-disposed to overuse injuries due to the amount of time spent in the saddle.
Knee pain is the most commonly reported overuse injury related to cycling, followed closely by lower back and neck complaints. Many of these injuries can be prevented or addressed if the bike is correctly set-up for the individual athlete.
Knee pain in cycling is often caused by incorrect seat position. A seat that is too high or too far back will increase knee extension (knee straightening) and irritate the iliotibial band which may be felt as pain on the outside of your knee. A seat that is too low or too far forward will cause excessive knee flexion (knee bend) and may irritate the underside of your kneecap and cause pain at the front of your knee. Asymmetry of the body can also cause knee pain. Cyclists with slight differences in leg length may have knee pain because the seat height is only adjusted for one side. Shoe inserts or orthotics may help correct this problem.
Lower back pain
A poor bike setup with a high seat and / or low handlebars can cause ‘slump’ postures causing the spine to be quite curved which can put more strain and irritation to discs, ligaments and the sciatic nerve. Decreased back and lower limb flexibility can also lead to pain and dysfunction. Over a long period, a curved spine on a bike will result in muscles working inefficiently. This can cause spinal stability muscles to quickly fatigue, causing pain and injury in other muscles and parts of the body which are required to compensate. Cyclists who use the incorrect muscles for stabilisation and power production
will often suffer lower back, hip and knee pain. A seat that is too high or poor lumbopelvic control will also cause your hips to rock side to side, causing lateral movement through your lower back. Excessive side to side movement is both inefficient and increases the risk for overuse injuries in the back, hip, groin and knees.
Neck and upper back pain can be caused by poor positioning of the handle bars as well as incorrect bike size. Sudden increases in training volume can result in stress to structures unaccustomed to prolonged cycling postures, especially ‘slumped’ postures. Tight lower limb muscles can also cause ‘slumped postures’.
Cycling performance is affected by the interaction of the environment, bike, and athlete. Altering the relationship between any of these variables can impact performance, comfort, and injury. Although we may not be able to control the environment, we can change the relationship between the bike and the athlete. Changes in how your bike is set-up can alter joint angles, muscle lengths, and muscle moment arm lengths, thus affecting the tension-length, force-velocity-power relationships of multi-joint muscles and the effectiveness of force production. In other words, changing your position on the
bike can improve your cycling efficiency and performance.
In general, there are three factors to consider when setting up your bike: seat height, seat fore/aft position, and reach.
If the seat is too high, lower limb muscles are forced to work beyond their optimal length-tension relationship and therefore power output will decrease. If the seat is too low, there is a resultant increase in knee flexion which increases the load put through the knee, potentially leading to knee pain/injury.
Seat Fore/Aft Position
The fore/aft position of the seat has a big impact on knee loading. A seat too far forward can lead to increased compression forces on the knee. Conversely, a seat too far back results in over lengthening of the glutes and hamstrings which inhibits force production.
Reach is largely dependent on the type of cycling, how much priority is on performance versus comfort, and athlete specific variables such as flexibility. Therefore, there is more variability in finding the correct reach position. In general, with good positioning, the athlete should be able to maintain a flat neutral spine, shoulder blades back, a slight bend in the elbows, and relaxed upper limbs.
Although the importance of correct bike set-up has been widely acknowledged, the real challenge is in finding the correct cycling position considering all factors whilst allowing for the individual differences of each cyclist.
So whether you are concerned about pain which is aggravated by riding, or if you want to improve your performance we can help.