Becoming A Faster Cyclist
Matt Russ - The
competition grade bicycle is not cheap.
Once fully outfitted, you will have probably
spent thousands of dollars.
In order to get the most value out of your
investment your bicycle should fit you like a glove.
The three main considerations in fitting a
cyclist are comfort, power production, and aerodynamics.
You must choose a balance and proportion
of these three elements in order to achieve your optimal
proportion will be based on a variety of individual
characteristics such as the type of cycling you will be
doing, competitive level and experience, muscle
imbalances or previous injuries, and your personal
biomechanics and riding style to name a just a few.
comes first, even for a competitive cyclist.
If a cyclist is very uncomfortable on their
bicycle they can not produce power, period.
I have observed novice cyclists in very
aggressive aerodynamic positions with a low power output
resulting from being so uncomfortable in that position.
By putting them in a less aggressive position
they were actually faster because they could pedal
of course, is relative.
A time trialist must make sacrifices in comfort,
but they will spend a relatively short period of time on
the bike. If
you are new to cycling there is a period of acclimation
as your body adjusts to spending more and more time in
the saddle. Some
discomfort is normal, but cycling should not be painful.
If you are experiencing joint, back, or neck pain
it is time to look at your fit or perhaps your pedaling
soreness or numbness should be addressed immediately.
These issues can often be relieved with a
different saddle type or a simple adjustment that allows
for correct saddle to body contact.
I consider the type of riding the cyclist will do. If you are a recreational rider comfort should be your
This means more upright, neutral, and less
For competitive athletes power positioning and
aerodynamics play a key role in fitting. Consider
how much time you will be spending on your bicycle, what
type of competition you will be involved in, and at what
intensity you will be cycling.
For example: take two hypothetical competitive
triathletes, equal in all aspects with the exception
that one competes in sprint events and the other in
IronMan races. Comfort
would be a greater consideration for the IronMan athlete
that spends hours in the saddle whereas the sprint
athlete's aerodynamics are a greater consideration for
the high speeds and short durations of sprint races.
For time trialists and triathletes aerodynamic
positioning is key as up to 80% of cycling resistance
comes from aerodynamic drag. The forearms may be four inches or more below the top of the
saddle as they achieve an aerodynamic tuck.
Triathletes may spend many hours in the saddle
and then have to run, so this position must be less
aggressive than time trialists even though they look
as each cycle sport requires a unique bicycle, each
sport will have unique fit characteristics.
athletes must achieve the best fit for their individual
riding style and to accentuate their strengths.
Road racers fall on two opposite sides of the
spectrum; climbers and sprinters.
A pure climber prefers a level to slightly
upwards saddle position, shorter stem, and wider bars.
A sprinter prefers oversize handlebars that are
parallel to the ground, a more forward saddle position,
forward cleat position, and shorter cranks.
Most road racers will be fitted somewhere in the
middle of this spectrum.
How you adjust your bicycle for your riding style
can be a process of trial and error.
Before you move or change a component, carefully
mark and measure it's previous position and be sure to
make small adjustments only.
If you are comfortable, but would like to lower
your aerodynamic profile, gradually lower your handlebar
position over time and allow your body to adjust to it.
fact that every person is unique does not make bike
fitting easy. Some
are bow-legged or duck-footed.
Torso length, leg length, and arm length all vary
from person to person and in proportion to each other,
and sometimes vary from left to right on the same
can be rounded, swayed, or curved, and hips vary in
bottom of the foot may angle inwards or outwards.
It is not always appropriate to adjust your
bicycle in consideration of a biomechanical condition,
and knowing when and how takes a great deal of
expertise. For example: a cyclists that is "ankling" or using
the right foot to pedal may be compensating for a left
leg discrepancy. This
may require specific shims or spacers to correct and
special equipment to determine.
If you believe you have a condition that affects
your cycling it is best to seek a professional who is
trained and familiar with biomechanical positioning.
Imbalances, Inflexibility, and Injuries
you are injured, your body compensates for the injury by
using different muscles to do the work of the ones in
the injured area. Even
after the injury heals you may continue to work in a
This may be habitual and can cause a variety of
problems with pedaling mechanics.
Tight hamstrings can lead to lower back problems
on the bike, and cycling in general can lead to muscle
imbalance over time.
Again, it takes a professional to diagnose and
correct these issues.
This may mean adjusting your fit to a more
neutral position while the area is stretched or
you are experiencing an overuse injury a professional
may be able to adjust your fit to alleviate it entirely.
observing how a cyclists looks on the bike is the best
way to determine what needs to be changed.
I use a stationary trainer and a video camera for
shoot the cyclist from a variety of angles and then play
it back in slow motion for both of us to observe.
I also use a power meter to help determine if a
new position resulted in a loss of power.
This type of feedback is invaluable.
what is causing the rider discomfort or power loss is
not the fit, but a correctable bad habit.
It is important to make this distinction.
For example: if the cyclist is complaining of
elbow pain and trapezious discomfort it could be caused
by using a tight, straight arm versus the slight bend
required to absorb road shock, or it could be caused by
a stem that is too long.
the Right Fit
your fit by purchasing the right bike for your size. This may mean doing some research on your own or going to a
reputable bike shop.
Each manufacturer measures frames differently and
the frames themselves can vary widely.
It is important to know the manufacturers
guidelines for frame size to your height and inseam. That great deal on the used bike you purchased may not seem
so great when you find out it is the wrong frame size.
are a wide variety of fitting systems that use ratios,
formulas, algorithms, computer programs, etc..
These are even available online and each of these
has its pros and cons.
important thing to remember is that every fitting system
simply gives you a starting point.
No computer can tell you how your bike should
optimally fit because no computer knows your riding
style, biomechanics, injury history, etc.. This is where the art of bike fitting begins and it may be
trial and error. I
use a variety of methods in fitting a cyclist but my
favorite tool is a device called a goniometer that
measures joint angles.
you are experiencing joint pain or have an overuse
injury, do not wait for it to go away.
Get some trained, professional eyes on you.
A good bike fitting may cost $100 per hour but it
is money well spent if it keeps you on the road pain
free or makes you a faster cyclist.
Russ has coached and trained elite athletes around
the country and internationally.
He currently holds expert licenses from USA
Triathlon, USA Cycling, and is a licensed USA Track and
Field Coach. Matt
is head coach and owner of The Sport Factory, and works
with athletes of all levels full time.
He is a free lance author and his articles are
regularly featured in a variety of magazines and
for more information or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org