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Aches and Pains of Riding Tuning Your Bike to Fit You.

Article written by Andy Winz

Triathlon ResourceYou’re hunched over, sweat beading down your forehead while your spandex covered legs move around in circles. You’re having a great ride, and then it happens. A small but annoying tingle in your hands and a twinge in your back, it grows larger taking up your entire lower back. Soon your shoulders join in the rebellion that your body is forming. Your knees being to protest and you start coasting and breathing heavily downing half a bottle of Advil when you get home.

Congratulations, you’re a victim of bad fit and positioning on your bike. You can take the easy, albeit expensive way out, and blame you or the bike shop for hooking you up with a bad bike, and buy a new one. Or you can take a few measurements and allen (hex) wrench and in about 30 minutes or so tune your bike to fit you.

Let’s start with the basics of positioning. You’re probably riding one of the following bikes: a mountain bike, a road bike, or a triathlon/time trial bike. Ok, some of your cyber punk messenger types probably have a fixie, but that’s beside the point. Each of these bikes requires different ways of fitting the bike to your body. I’m going to assume that the base frame is properly sized for your body.

Mountain Bike
Mountain bikes are nice upright frames. Flat bars, wide cushiony tires. And if you rock you can blow past the yuppie on the Cervelo P4 like he/she is standing still for a massive ego shattering hit on them. You want your upper body relaxed and about a 45 degree angle. Legs should be almost fully, but not quite extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke. You want your arms to be about shoulder width apart on the bars. A pair of bar ends will give you a more natural hand position, and help on climbs.

Road Bike
Your run of the mill dropped bar skinny tire light bike. Do NOT, I repeat do NOT flip the bars upside down. Not only is this butt ugly, but it also makes using your brakes worthless. And people will make fun of you and call you a “fred”. Bad juju, no cookie for you. You want a more aggressive position on this type of bike. When your hands are in the “drops”, aka the curvy part of the bars, you want your elbows to me more or less at 90 degrees or more. You do not want to feel too stretched out or feel like you’re hunched over. Unless you are a yoga babe, you probably don’t want a low front end with your ass sticking out like a flag. If so, let me know and I’ll gladly ride behind you evaluating your um, position. Legs are the same as for the mountain bike.

Tri/TT Bike.
More or less similar to a road bike, with different frame geometry and aero bars. Fitting is similar. For aerobars, you want the pad to support your elbows and forearms with your elbows at about a 90 degree angle to your shoulders. You want your lower back to be flatish and about 90 degrees to your legs when their extended. More narrow bars are more aero, wider bars are more comfy.
Making the Adjustments.

Almost all bikes now a days can be adjusted with a 4, 5, and 6 mm allen key. Get the good ones from my favorite blue tool company, Park Tools, the official tools of the Smurfs, or Craftsman tools from Sears. I like the “T” style. Have a high zoot frame or gobs of carbon fiber? Get a torque wrench.

Start with the leg position. A straighter leg will be more efficient and more power, a more bent leg royally screws the knees. The quickie way to do this is to put your bare heel on the pedal, extend the leg and mark the seat post where it inserts the frame when your leg is locked. Adjust it here. The more accurate way is to clip into the pedals, or place your foot on the pedal, and adjust the seat post until the leg is in the almost but not quite fully extended position. Pedal a few times, if the bike’s a rocking you need to lower the seat a hair or two. Most seat tubes contain a collar with one or two allen bolts. Usually a 4 or 5mm. Don’t over tighten and you’ll strip the bolts and/or pinch the frame. Under tighten and you’ll get a very hard jolt the next time you ride.

Back pain? Sucks don’t it? The problem stems from the reach on your bike. Reach is how far the distance from the seat tube to the front of the stem, where the handlebars attach is. A lot of the comfort depends on your flexibility, me I’m as flexible as a stick, you might be the afore mentioned hot yoga babe, again I’m available for “consultation”. Unless you want to buy a new frame, the easiest way is to adjust your stem length. Too stretched? Get a shorter stem and vice versa. You can also adjust your hip angle by adding and removing those spacers on the fork. Just make sure that you have enough fork under the stem, other wise things tend to go snap, and not in a good way. On a tri bike a lot of aero bars and be adjusted by bringing them inwards. Just make sure that your knees won’t bash into them. Ouch. A neat trick on road bikes, is to tilt the bars up SLIGHTLY, say a couple of degrees, makes them more natural. Stems generally have 4 bolts on the front of the face plate, tighten like you would a car tire: diagonals. Aerobars depend on the maker.

Butt Pain? Wear padded shorts without undies and use butt butter, chamois cream, body glide, or Vaseline. Remember, the cheeks are supposed to drape over the saddle, not be coddled with one of those over padded wide load spring jobs.

Other Adjustments
On a lot of tri bikes a properly fitted bike had the nose of the seat giving you a pleasant anal probe for the length of the ride. I personally hate this. This is remedies by tilting the saddle slightly down and edging it slightly forward. You will probably need a 6 mm key for this. If you feel your knees tend to always bend inwards or outwards on the bike, adjust the float of your cleats to compensate for this. Angle the cleat in or out on a cant will help fix this. If you’re like me and you feel like you ride on the sides of your feet, a plastic overpriced shim called Le Wedge, yes this is its name, will fix this. Their pink.

Go for a ride, feel the differences. Remember to adjust in small increments not huge ones, and get used to the new position before trying anything new.
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