Madison, Wis. — Quality bikes cost hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. That type of investment should result in a comfortable, even enjoyable, ride. But many bikers encounter aching joints just a few miles down the road.
“Many people assume that pain while riding is normal,” says Brian Bradley, a physical therapist with UW Health’s Sports Rehabilitation Program. “You may start shaking out your hands after just 20 minutes because they’re numb. That’s not a normal part of riding. It means you might not fit well on your bike and adjustments may be needed.”
Many riders have been told a couple of basic tips about positioning on a bike. But, a good fit is more than just whether you can stand over the frame comfortably or reach the pedals.
“People who bicycle for recreation may not think they need a bike fit because they’re not competitive riders. Or, they may think they’ve already had one at a shop when purchasing a bike. But there are different aspects to fitting a bike that can make a significant difference,” Bradley says. “If you’re going out and trying to be healthy, we want you to be comfortable on that bike.”
Anyone can benefit from a bike fit - from recreational riders who hit the roads for fun to competitive cyclists looking to improve their performance – but it can be especially important for those recovering from injury.
According to Bradley, “Bike fitting is a dynamic process. Even if you’ve had a fit previously, an injury may have changed how you ride or how you feel in your usual position and we can take a look at what is happening to your body when you’re on your bike.”
Bike fit assessments at UW Health’s Cyclist Clinic are conducted by physical therapists who are certified bike fitters, including Bradley and his colleague, Jacob Spiro. The combination of knowledge – understanding of muscle and joint function and the requirements needed for cycling - is key when assessing whether a bike’s set up may negatively affect a rider’s health.
Spiro explains that there are common pain points many riders encounter; “Knee pain – especially at the top of the revolution – in the low back, upper back into neck, and problems at the foot or ankle are all very common among riders.” Taking a look at how the body is positioned or moves on the bike can help determine possible causes.
When getting started with a bike fit, the first step is to learn what your goals are for riding, your health history and riding habits.
During the fit, body measurements are taken and, through the use of cameras, fitters can look at how your body functions on the bike. They are looking at everything from whether your legs are tracking straight to determining if the pressure on your feet is balanced, and even whether your saddle is too wide or too narrow.
Because UW Health’s fitters are physical therapists, they are able to make recommendations for adjusting the physical setup of the bike as well as modifications to riding form and even exercises that can help prevent injury and improve the riding experience. By the end of the fitting, you should have an understanding of any issues you may need to work on – like your riding posture or tightness in your legs – and what modifications may be helpful on your bicycle.
“Ultimately, you should be able to ride 2 or 3 hours without any pain,” says Spiro. “Our goal is to ensure you are comfortable for the entire time so you can get the most out of your ride.”
For those who have experienced an injury, a Medical Bike Fit can be a part of the rehabilitation process. For those who are looking to improve their riding, Performance Bike Fits are also available.