One of the most important comfort factors on a long distance bike ride is how well the bike fits.
What is “bike fit”?
In this context it is making the rider as comfortable as possible on the bike. Other disciplines take a different approach, for example a time trialist might give up a lot of comfort in search of better aerodynamics. But on long rides, the key to success is comfort. All my (limited) experience is with drop bar road bikes with no suspension so this is what I’m writing about below.
There are three contact points between the rider and the bike. These are the saddle, the handlebars and the pedals. All of the riders weight is born on these points. The key is that the weight is born appropriately by each of the pedals, saddle and bars.
As a ride progresses the balance of weight will alter. For example, if you are a fast rider over shorter distances initially there will be more weight on the pedals and less on the other contact points. As the rider tires less weight is on the pedals and so more on the saddle and bars. The bike has to be comfortable to a rider that is not pressing on the pedals as much as on a shorter ride.
Reach and saddle height
The parameters on the bike that can be adjusted to give better fit are the reach and the saddle height.
The reach is the distance from the saddle to the bars. Usually the rider stretches their arms to hold the bars. Holding the top of the bars is nearer than being down on the drops. Reach can be adjusted by having a larger bike with a longer top tube, by using a different sized stem or by adjusting the saddle backwards or forwards. The stem size is usually in the range 80mm to 130mm. Going outside this range will make the steering feel odd. If the stem is too short it will feel twitchy.
Stems also come in a number of angles of “rise” which will raise the bars higher above the ground.
Saddles can usually be adjusted fore and aft by a total of 25mm. This has to be done with caution as it will also effect the distance to the pedals.
Saddle height is more usually altered by raising or lowering the seatpost.
Stem and Saddle adjustment
When making adjustments, do small alterations and then do a test ride to check if there is any improvement. A small adjustment in saddle height is 5mm or less. A small adjustment in reach is 1cm or less. Note that all the points are related. If a problem pops up, think “what did I alter last?” often a change from a few days/weeks ago can suddenly cause a problem. Remember that altering one bike setting can have unintended consequences. For example, fitting a shorter stem alters the position on the saddle. Some saddles slope so the height of the saddle is also unexpectedly altered.
I only use “clipless” (that’s clip in) pedals for long distance riding.
The only pedal fitting adjustments I ever make is moving the cleats back as far as they will go! Having the cleats further forward can give better leverage and more efficient transmission of power. But having the cleats near to the centre means that the pressure on the pedals is spread out better. I Also use pedals without “float”. I try to set the cleats so they are at a neutral angle compared to my dangling foot.
Initial basic setup
First do the saddle. Raise the saddle until the backside can just about lift a tiny amount off the leg with the pedal fully down and the foot on the pedal. Next, consider the bars. On “A head” systems it is difficult to raise the bars but the starting point should be with the bars level with the saddle.
Problems and what to adjust
|Shoulder and Neck Pain||Aching in shoulders and neck after a certain distance||Alter reach, usually reduce it||flip stem to raise bars, fit shorter stem, move saddle forward|
|Saddle pain||pain in buttocks/sit bones||shift some weight to bars/pedals. Raise saddle or lower bars or saddle is too narrow, use wider saddle||raise saddle and/or raise stem|
|Leg rubbing||pain in upper thigh||reduce friction||Shave Upper thigh, wear better shorts, use narrower saddle|
|Saddle pain||pain in frontal/perineum||move weight to sitbones||Drop nose of saddle, use saddle with cut out hole, use Adamo saddle|
|Wrist pain||ache in wrists||Reduce weight on hands||raise bars, use gel bar padding, use padded mitts|
|Numbness in fingers||lack of sensation in one or more fingers||Less pressure on hands||raise bars, use gel bar padding, use padded mitts|
|Knee pain||pain in front of knee, persists and gets worse with distance||Less stretching movement in knee||saddle too high, lower saddle|
|Knee pain||pain in back of knee, persists and gets worse with distance||Ensure knee moves over full comfortable range||saddle too low, raise saddle|
|Achilles tendon pain||pain in Achillies tendon immediately on cycling||Do not over stretch tendon||saddle too high, lower saddle|
|Hot foot||burning sensation in ball of foot||reduce pressure on ball of foot||ensure shoes are not too tight. Wear appropriate socks. Move cleats towards rear of shoe|
|Lower back pain||aching in the lower back, especially when climbing or pushing hard||Muscular response from leg effort||Probably not a bike fit issue|