Anyone who started riding a bicycle as a child has gone through their share of bikes that they've outgrown. As a child grows taller, and their bone structure and body composition changes, their bikes can't keep up. But when the body stops growing taller, does this mean we can finally have a permanent bike and stop adjusting our bike's fit? If you want to have the best bike fit for your body type, the short answer is "no." Although we stop growing taller at one point, our bodies are still continuing to change. We may get fatter, fitter, stiffer, more flexible, or older. On the bright side, if you feel your bike fits you well and if you've had your bike fitted by a professional, it's unlikely that you will need to get a new bike altogether. Instead, be mindful of when your body changes due to factors such as age or fitness level, so that you can retest your bike fit accordingly.
Photo by Daniel Knoflicek on Unsplash First, let's start with the basics of how your bike should fit. Keep in mind that, although these are the general rules of bike fit, you may need to deviate from a "standard" fit to properly suit your body composition and flexibility. Bike Height: When buying a road or commuter-style hybrid bike, make sure there is a couple inches of clearance between the top tube of the bike and your crotch. If riding a mountain bike, make sure there is at least two inches of clearance. Seat Height: Your knee should be in the 6 o'clock position when your leg is at its most extended (when the pedal is pushed all the way down and right in the center of the bike). If your knee is not in this position, adjust your seat height. Saddle Tilt & Position: Typically, the saddle should be titled so that it is parallel to the ground. To test out the position of the saddle, pedal into the 3 o'clock position and pause there. In this position, your knee should be aligned directly above the ball of your foot. You're obviously not alone — unless you're one of the outliers who become more flexible as you age via the practice of yoga or another flexibility routine. Most of us lose flexibility as we age. We may feel stiffness and new aches and pains from seemingly mysterious causes. If you are noticing any discomfort while biking or feeling stiffness, aches, or pains in daily life, consider adjusting your bike. As we age, a gradual loss in flexibility and power can prevent us from holding an aerodynamic position as well as in our younger years. Serious cyclists often have a long bike stem so that they can stretch their body into the most aerodynamic position possible. However, if you are starting to feel uncomfortable, you should try shortening the stem to see if this will fix the issue. Shortening your bike's stem can provide a more enjoyable ride since there will be less strain on your back. This new adjustment can prevent injury and help you ride at your best. If you are still having discomfort, it may be worth it to get your bike professionally fitted. It's always a great idea to have your bike periodically fitted, so that you can continue riding in ideal posture as your body changes.
Cycling is a great way to gain fitness and slim down, however, some people who are starting a cycling routine as newbies (or returning to cycling) may have extra fat in their abdominal region that can force the legs and knees outward while riding. Additionally, pregnant women may start to feel uncomfortable in their normal riding position as their bellies continue to expand. If your knees and legs are pushed out while cycling, it can cause knee pain which can lead to injury if ignored. Your knees should be bent in the 6 o'clock position when you have pedaled into the bottom center position (the position in which your leg will be at its most extended). Make sure to adjust the saddle so that you can get to this 6 o'clock position. Then, take a look at the stem of your bike. If you have belly fat, leaning too far forward can place extra stress on your back and further attribute to your knees being pushed outward. Shortening and raising the stem of your bike will put you into a more upright position, which will make your ride more comfortable and help eliminate the strain on your back and neck. As you start losing weight, make sure to periodically check your bike fit again. You may find that you can start to lengthen the stem and adjust the seat for a more aerodynamic position.
According to an article in the online cycling magazine, We Love Cycling, many people have a hard time recognizing the symptoms associated with improper bike fit and make the sport much more challenging on their bodies and more uncomfortable than it should be. Burning quads, aching hands, sore knees, a tight back, stiff neck, and wobbly hips are all signs of improper bike fit, according to the article (Ashley, 2017). If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, review the "bike fit basics" section of this article, or better yet, take your bike in for a professional fitting.
Making adjustments to your bike as your body changes will allow you to cycle with enjoyment for as long as possible. An improper fit will attribute to a less enjoyable ride and a greater risk of injury, which will deter you from wanting to hop on and stay fit. Don’t make cycling harder than necessary — check your bike fit today so you can cycle at your best.
About the Author: Dr. Scott Gray is a Fort Myers, FL based Sports Injury Specialist and owner of Back In Motion Sport & Spine Physical Therapy - SW Florida’s leading physical therapy clinic for orthopedic, sport, and spine injuries.