Proper Bicycle Fit Helps Avoid Pain, Injury

Improper saddle height, handlebar reach among most common misalignments for riders

SATURDAY, Oct. 14, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Cycling is a great way to get exercise, but improper bike fit can make riding uncomfortable and increase the risk of pain and injury, says the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

The association has made proper bike fit its focus during National Physical Therapy Month in October. There are about 85 million bicycle enthusiasts and competitive riders in the United States.

"The first thing I ask any patient complaining of bicycling-related pain is to bring the bicycle in to check for a proper fit. In most instances, a poor bike fit is at the root of their problem," APTA member Erick Moen, a bicycle racer and coach, said in a prepared statement.

Improper saddle height and handlebar reach, along with pedal and shoe misalignment, are among the most common kinds of bike fit problems, Moen said. He offered the following tips:

  • Make sure the saddle is level, at the proper height, and a comfortable distance from the handlebars.
  • Ensure proper handlebar position, which affects hand, shoulder, neck and back comfort. "Proper handlebar position allows for shoulders to roughly make a 90-degree angle between the humerus and trunk," Moen said.
  • Riders need to have a proper knee-to-pedal angle in order to reduce knee stress. Recreational cyclists should have a 35- to 45-degree angle.
  • Foot-to-pedal angle is also important. The ball of the foot should be positioned over the pedal spindle for the best leverage, comfort and efficiency. Stiff-soled shoes provide the best comfort and performance.
  • After a crash or fall, riders should check their bikes for any problems with the handlebars, saddle, brake hoods, or other parts.
  • Riders should aim to pedal at 80 to 90 revolutions per minute -- 90 to 105 rpms for advanced riders. "Pedaling at this rate will lessen your chance of injury," Moen said.
  • Products such as padded handlebar tape, cut-out saddles, and wider tires can help improve cycling comfort.

"Cycling should be about enjoyment, not pain. Proper bicycle fit will minimize discomfort and possible overuse injury, maximize economy, and ensure safe bicycle operation," Moen said.

More information

The American Physical Therapy Association has more about how to prevent cycling injuries.

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