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Bike Fit Problems and Solutions

by Jim Langley

Jeannie Longo-CiprelliThis article is about solving cycling aches and pains caused by problems with the way your bicycle fits. For a complete step-by-step guide to fitting your bicycle see my bike fit article.

Philosopher Ivan Illich, in his essay Energy and Equity, wrote:

Man on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories. The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man’s metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well.

That’s pretty remarkable. Yet, what Ivan doesn’t mention is that if this most-efficient machine isn’t properly adjusted, you could suffer serious discomfort such as a numb bum, burning feet, stabbing knee or back pain, sore hands, achy shoulders and a stiff neck. Yikes!

And with these afflictions, instead of zipping down roads and trails effortlessly (like the great Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli in the photo), you may well wobble along like a top-heavy wheelbarrow.

Don’t panic, though. Just check my handy-dandy troubleshooting chart for solutions to your bike-fit problems, dial in your ride and you’ll be spinning along the way Ivan intended in no time.

Likely cause
You’re always having to scoot backwards on the seat
Stem is too long so you pull yourself forward when you’re riding without realizing it; saddle nose may be tipped down too much
Install a shorter stem; level the saddle
You’re always having to scoot forward on the seat
Stem is too short so you feel cramped and push yourself back when you’re riding without realizing it; saddle nose may be tipped back or the seat may not be far enough back on the rails
Install a longer stem; level the seat and center it on the rails
Lower back hurts
Stem too low or too long; must strain back to reach bars; or seat may be too high causing rocking when pedaling
Try raising the stem/handlebars; still hurts?; try shorter stem; check and adjust seat height
Neck hurts
Stem too low; must crane neck to see
Raise the stem/bars
Hands hurt
Stem too low; too much weight on hands
Raise the stem/bars
Front of knee hurts
Seat too low, straining knees
Raise the seat
Back of knee hurts
Seat too high, overextending legs
Lower the seat
Numb bum all the time
Too much weight on the seat
Try a lower handlebar position; check seat height as it may be too high
Suffer "hot foot" on rides (painful burning sensation)
Shoes too tight, or cleats too far forward on your shoes
Loosen shoe straps or buy better fitting cycling shoes; move cleats back on your shoes
Achilles tendon hurts
Pedaling too much on your toes; cleats too far forward on your shoes
Keep the balls of your feet over the pedals when you’re riding; move cleats back


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