It’s not just about throwing your leg over the bike and there you go. Sometimes, being just a few centimetres off with your placement can lead to serious back, neck or leg pain that lasts far longer than the ride itself, and will continue to hinder your performance. Something feel uncomfortable? Check that you’re not making one of these 5 mistakes:
1. Your hands/fingers feel numb/tingly at some point
Generally, this means you’re putting too much strain on your arms.
Possible cause: Handlebars are set too low. Or it could be that your seat is too far back or angled down, which means you’re putting more weight and pressure on your arms than you should be. The wrist is bent at an uncomfortable angle, putting pressure on the nerve and compressing it, which leads to numbness and/or a tingling sensation in the fingers.
Solution: For the average rider, the angle of the saddle should be between 0% and -3%. You should avoid going less than -3%, as this is an unnatural posture that’ll cause a great deal of your bodyweight to be held up by your hands, eventually causing them to go numb.
Dropping the handlebars can be more aerodynamic, but not if it causes you injury and impedes your performance. Pro cyclists can often be seen with lower handlebar heights to aid in increasing aerodynamics, but they have incredible core strength to support their body and undergo rigorous training to achieve this. Thinking about trying it out? Make sure you can support your upper body with bent elbows. If not, you’ll end up locking your arms and the pressure will be placed on your joints and palms, rather than your arm muscles, which will lead to injury.
2. Your lower back is in pain
There are a lot of things that can cause back pain, but the likeliest cause is the position of your saddle. A difference of just a few centimetres can impede your energy output tremendously.
Possible cause: Your saddle is positioned either too high or too low. Too high, and you’ll end up arching your back to reach the handlebars, which puts pressure on the lower parts of the back and can lead to injury. Too low, and you’ll be reaching upwards, taking most of the shock of the road through your back. Riding big gears could also be to blame, try instead to ride with lower gears and increase your average cadence to between 90rpm and 110rpm.
Solution: The ideal solution would be to go for a proper bike fitting at a specialist, where a whole host of factors relating to your body, your bike and how you ride will be evaluated to get you the perfect comfortable fit. If you don’t want to see a specialist, you can try adjusting your stem for a shorter or higher rise until you find one that’s comfortable. If you’re going this route, make sure to keep track of the changes you make. Make small adjustments; write down what you’ve adjusted and by how much, and remember to make one adjustment at a time and test the results so you can be sure of what you did that worked.
3. Your knees are killing you
Despite cycling being a fairly low-impact sport, knee pain is one of the most common injuries among cyclists.
Possible cause: Knee pain can often be attributed to various causes, depending on where the pain is.
Anterior (front of the knee) pain: Most likely due to overuse, and the natural structure of the limb. The quadriceps muscles attach to the shin bone via the patella, so the forces of pedalling are transmitted across the patello-femoral joint whenever we bend our knees, essentially squashing it back against the thigh bone. Do this too often, ie overtraining, and you’ll likely see inflammation in and around the knee joint. Bike-specific problems that you should be aware of include a saddle that’s too low or too far forwards, as well as big gears and long cranks.
Solution: Anti-inflammatories and physiotherapy, and cutting back on training until the pain subsides. Adjusting the saddle height and position may also help.
Posterior (back of the knee) pain: Most likely cause is overextending the knee in your pedal stroke due to the saddle being too high, resulting in strain being placed on the tendons.
Solution: Adjust the seat height; lower the saddle so that the centre of the pedal axle is aligned with center of the ball of your foot. Professional bike fitting is recommended.
Medial & lateral (sides of the knees) pain: Usually the result of badly placed cleats.
Solution: If you’re new to cleats, one tip for getting a good starting position is to sit on the edge of a table with hips, knees and ankles relaxed at 90 degrees. Look down: whatever angle your feet naturally dangle at should be replicated by the cleats. Make sure you find cleats with the right amount of float – too much or too little can both cause problems.
4. You’re getting saddle sores
Most cyclists will have to deal with this problem at one point or another, even if riding with the absolute best, most comfortable chamois. What is a saddle sore? Generally, it’s an area of inflammation that looks like a pimple or an ingrown hair, and it’s basically the same thing: a bacteria-filled pore. They can be incredibly painful, especially in the more sensitive areas.
Possible cause: Seat position; if your seat is too far from your handle bars, you’ll end up perching on the tip of the saddle with the frame not supporting your weight. It could also be that either your saddle or your shorts lack sufficient padding to make it a comfortable ride.
Solution: Make sure your saddle is positioned close enough to the handlebars to be comfortable. Also, check that it’s not tilted too far up or down. Try to adjust your riding position frequently; stand up out of the saddle every now and then, or adjust how you’re sitting. This will help decrease the constant pressure on any one specific spot. Lastly, Skimping on the essentials is never a good idea, and while a good-quality kit may be expensive at the outset, it’ll save you in the long run.
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