Position on the bike is all important, we know that, but why? Here we ask Aaron Strong from Steelsprings Performance about positioning, the what, the why and the how.
RC: First of all tell us about how serious right position on a bike is. What stands to be gained/lost by right/wrong position?
Aaron: Bike position is super important to many aspects of riding a bike. I see some shockers out there and know that a lot of cyclists aren’t optimising their positions. Some reasons for a good bike fit include:
Injury prevention – a poor bike fit can cause injuries. The very nature of cycling is so repetitive that even small mistakes can get magnified because of the fact that incorrect movement is being repeated 80+ times per minute.
Power Generation – if you are getting serious about going faster on a bike then optimising your bike fit is crucial. If you are not stable and haven’t got your key pivot points in the right place then it is very hard to generate power when you need to.
Comfort – an often overlooked component when looking at bike fit, especially if you look at the younger generation, many of whom have a misconception that slamming the stem looks cooler and somehow magically makes you more aerodynamic. At the end of the day, if you are comfortable on your bike, you’ll want to ride it more. Cycling rewards time on the bike, so that is a win.
RC: What are some of the common mistakes people make when it comes to position on a bike?
Seat height – I see a lot of real newbies who are probably on their first bike since they had a BMX at school and there is a big trend towards having the seat too low. I also blame spin classes for this trend. The load this puts on the knees is tremendous. If you want to only load up your quads then this is the position for you. The opposite extreme is when the saddle is so high you can barely reach the pedals when cranks are at 6 O’clock. This usually has the impact of destabilising their pelvic stability, which in turn isn’t great for maximising potential power output. Load on Achilles tendons are also increased.
Handlebar width – a general rule of thumb should be to match handlebar width with shoulder width, so this is a highly individual measurement. Most people just ride the bars the bike came with. If the bars are too wide for the individual then unnecessary loading of the wrists, neck and shoulders occurs.
Fore / Aft position of saddle – too far back was a trend exemplified by some stylist Italians in the 80s and it looks cool but doesn’t help with pelvic stability and therefore power generation. Some people can get away with this if they are as flexible as an Olympic gymnast. Too far forward just screams triathlete. I’ve never really understood this though, as riding with your seat too far forward tends to overload the activation of the quadriceps, which are quite important when running.
Bike Frame size – you can compensate for some discrepancy here by changing seat height, stem length and seat position fore and aft but at some point, it just isn’t going to be doable. I see a lot of cyclists who got a bargain bike on TradeMe without any comprehension that size matters and I have to tell them that the bike is the wrong size. That doesn’t usually go down well.
Crank length – again modern theories on this have changed a lot. There used to be an urban myth that longer was better, but really crank length needs to be matched to the individual. I see people on ridiculous length cranks compared to their leg length all the time. Again, it isn’t something a new rider considers. It’s just what came with the bike. This is what irks me the most. How can a bike shop get away with selling an XS bike with 175mm cranks?
RC: What is the ideal saddle height?
This is highly individualised, so I’d look at leg length, how that leg length is made up (Femur vs Tibia length) & flexibility. To get a starting point I’d use a Goniometer which can measure knee extension angle when the foot is in the 6 O’clock position. 30-40 degrees is ideal.
RC: Are there any times when you would change things like saddle height, stem length etc depending on the type of ride you are taking on?
Aaron: Not often. Usually only for extreme events or the more obvious, time trials. If someone is riding a 1000k endurance event for instance, then comfort has to become number one priority, aerodynamics and power production might become secondary considerations. If someone is hitting the local 16k TT, then they either have a TT specific bike or we try to make use of clip on bars on their road bike. For either option you can throw away many of the conventions talked about with road bike fit. Aerodynamics and Power production become the key focus. Comfort barely gets a look in.
To find out more about Steelsprings Performance coaching run by Aaron and Toni Strong click here.