Is your bike optimally set up?
By Eamonn McColl
Cycling can have excellent cardiovascular and muscular effects on the body but, like any activity, it can also lead to injury if technique and biomechanics aren’t correctly employed. In cycling, there is an intimate relationship between body and machine, and so it is vital that your machine is properly fit out to suit your specific parameters in order to get the best outcome from your body and stay injury-free.
Injuries related to tumbles are unfortunately an unavoidable aspect of cycling; where bike fit outs can help relates more to the gradual onset, niggling injuries that can worsen over time. Such injuries may manifest as head, neck and shoulder pain from a poor upper body posture, as well as excessive weight-bearing through the upper limbs on the handlebars (Eddie Merckx, winner of multiple Tour De France titles, likened his force applied through the handlebars to that of playing a piano). Another common issue can be pain at the front of the knee, typically due to an excessive ‘power’ phase effort through the top of the pedal cycle and coasting through the rest of the cycle, thereby being too reliant on the quadriceps when riding. According to biomechanical principles, the most effective force producing phase of pedalling is when you are pulling the pedal across the bottom of the cycle (generating a force vector that propels you in a purely forwards direction, which is the obvious goal of all cyclists). If your bike is not setup to allow this to happen, and as a consequence you’re pushing hard with quads through the top of the pedal cycle, you are increasing risk of knee injury while also losing easy power.
Perhaps the most common injuries amongst cyclists are those of the lower back, hips, and gluteal regions. With poor bike setup comes excessive pelvic shift when riding, and this can lead to overuse injury due to the highly repetitious nature of the activity.
What does a bike setup involve?
You and your bike will be measured and alterations will be made to position you in the most efficient and safe posture on your bike. Like any activity, changes can take a while to get used to, and you will likely be advised to have a 2 week period of reduced mileage to allow for your body’s adaptation to the new setup. Exercises will also be prescribed to target weak areas as identified during observation on the bike in your assessment, to enable you to ride more powerfully in the new setup.
Bike setups will not only assist in keeping you injury-free on your bike, but they will also make you a more efficient cyclist with no change to your riding intensity. Anybody doing regular riding should consider getting their bike properly fitted out.