Cycling: Why Bike Fit Matters

A cyclist will perform at least 5000 revolutions if they are riding for an hour. If the bike is set up incorrectly, this can create pain. Plus, an incorrectly fitted bike will have detrimental effects on cycling power, endurance and performance. Having your bike fitted by a specialist can illicit up to 15-20% improvements in cycling performance. The outline below is the four most common areas that are set up incorrectly.

Let’s work our way up from the bottom.

Foot position/Cleat Position

Previously the cleat position was in line with the first metatarsal head (the big toe). This would mean that the first metatarsal head would lay directly over the pedal axle. However, recently there has been a change to suggest the pedal axle should be under the third metatarsal head (the third toe) which allows for greater transfer in power. This can be roughly ~20-30mm back from the first metatarsal head. This is extremely individualised as each person has a different size foot and needs to be measured individually. Bad foot positioning has been shown to lead to iliotibial band syndrome (ITB syndrome) and achilles tendon issues, thus indicating that proper foot positioning is important.


This is an important part of bike fit. The simplest way for determining basic seat height is by checking that your heels stay in contact with the pedals throughout an entire backpedal stroke.

If you lose contact with pedals, or you feel like your knee is buckling, the seat is too high. If you’re rocking your hips to reach the pedals, this also means the seat is too high (Note: rocking side-to-side can also be a sign of pelvic/core instability if it still happens with the correct seat height).

In the cycling position, the knee should have a slight bend at the bottom of the pedal stroke and should not be going into hyperextension.

Next is the seat position. If the seat is too far forward but at the right height, you will feel way out over the pedals, it will put more pressure on the quadriceps and you will have more weight through your hands. You may also feel hunched over.

If the seat is too far back but at the right height, you will feel far too backward. This will be more hamstring dominant, you will feel no weight through the hands, and the push down at the bottom of the stroke will feel weak, elongated and inefficent.

With saddle height, start high and slowly lower it down till it feels like it is at the right height. As for the seat position you can essentially play with it by moving it forward and backward till it feels natural.

Have someone look at the saddle position while you’re on the bike to get a better judgment as sometimes it’s hard to tell if your positioning and joint angles look correct yourself.


Now we will move towards the front of the bike and look at the stem. Some people prefer an upright position due to back issues or flexibility issues. A spacer can be placed to lift the stem higher to compensate for this. If you are stretched out this will create an arch while increasing back pain and force which is seen typically in low stem positioning. However, there is a trade-off, this stem position is for more aggressive riders as it allows for higher performance.

Handlebar positioning

Lastly, we will look at handlebar positioning. Essentially you should be in a comfortable forward position that does not strain your back, neck, shoulders or wrists. Elbows should be relaxed at ~30 degrees. Shoulders should be neutral. If the handlebars are too far forward, the shoulder blades will protract too far and can cause pain and tightness through the mid-back. If the handlebars are too close, you will feel hunched and cramped for space. This can place too much weight on the hands leading to numbness in the hands or forearms.

What are the benefits of a properly fitting bike?

  • Increased performance, speed and efficiency
  • Decreased strain and excessive loads into the body which can decrease knee, hip, back and neck pain
  • Decreased risk of hand and arm numbness
  • Decreased risk of sciatic pain (nerve pain down the leg)
  • Ability to ride longer with more comfort
  • Injury prevention

If you are getting pain while cycling, BOOK NOW to see one of our physiotherapists. They can assess your pain and discuss whether the fit of your bike could be contributing. Although our physios are not bike fitters, they can help reduce your pain and can refer you on to a bike fit specialist with specific things to ask for.

Read more……

To learn more about the difference between rehab and prehab, read our blog HERE
To learn more about measuring exercise intensity, read our blog HERE
To learn more about why it’s important to do preventative rehab, read our blog HERE

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