Finding The Perfect Riding Position: Balancing Goals In Bike Fit
By Justin Goulding
Compromised handling can ruin an otherwise fantastic position
It would be convenient if there was a single perfect riding position, or even a perfect position for one rider, or even a perfect position for one discipline for one rider, unfortunately this just isn’t the case. Bike fitting is a balancing act which considers all the elements of riding a bike to try and find the position that works best for a rider, at a point in time, based on their needs and goals. The part of bike fitting that tends to get the most attention is the biomechanic element; tuning a position to help a rider’s body move well and injury free. However, bike fit can actually be much bigger than this and tackle a rider’s whole relationship with the bike.
To help explore this in more detail we’ve broken it down into the five (often related) key elements that need to be balanced to meet the goals and needs of a rider.
Though every rider that reads this list will place varying importance on each item depending on their riding goals, we think considering the importance of these five elements to you can help anyone find a better riding position.
Nothing ruins a perfectly good bike ride like being uncomfortable on your bike. Whether it’s lower back pain, saddle sores, or numb hands, they can all put a damper on your ride pretty quickly. Having a bike that is properly adjusted to you is the best remedy to all of these issues, and as such is one of the top reasons many riders seek out a bike fit.
When you think about the most comfortable bike you can imagine, it’s likely something pretty upright with a big comfy saddle. Fantastic, we’ve found the most comfortable riding position, but there’s a good chance that a big heavy dutch bike and being bolt upright isn’t going to meet many of your other riding goals unless you’re just heading to the grocery store, commuting to work, or grabbing a pint at the pub.
So comfort is relative, it depends on the rider, the bike, and the type of riding they’re doing. While being comfortable should be a goal for every rider, it’s always good to recognize what level of comfort you’re looking for, and what you’re willing to sacrifice in other parts of your fit to get there (or vice versa). For all you performance junkies out there, just remember that if you’re not reasonably comfortable you’re probably not performing at your best. It takes energy for the body to manage pain and discomfort.
Preventing injuries seems like a bit of a no brainer, but like everything else there is a balance to be found. For most riders, minimizing the risk of injury is an easy choice that doesn’t have significant impacts on any other elements of their fit. For some riders, typically those looking to eke out every ounce of performance, there may be positions that help them perform a little bit better, but place them at higher risk of injury. These positions are usually fairly extreme in nature, but can be made effective through significant work off the bike including strengthening, stretching and monitoring of their physical health. However, this gamble of trading performance for injury prevention can be a risky one. Nothing negatively impacts performance as badly as an injury that keeps you off the bike or forcing you to scale back your training for recovery.
At the end of the day, no matter how you like to ride your bike for whatever reason, producing power and pushing it through the pedals is what helps propel us forward. Whether you’re looking to maximize your power output, or just make riding feel as effortless as possible, your position on the bike has an impact on how you produce and transfer power through the pedals.
Maximizing your position for power output may seem like another no-brainer for any rider, but it inevitably comes at a cost. Very upright positions, which may be the most comfortable, don’t allow riders to optimally engage all key muscle groups, which limits power output. Very aggressive positions, especially aero positions as on a triathlon or TT bike, may optimize aerodynamics and overall performance, but also tend to have a negative impact on power production. Given these two extremes, finding a position that balances power production along with other fit goals is generally the best approach.
For many riders, aerodynamics aren’t even a consideration, while for others it might be one of the driving factors of their position. What makes aerodynamics an even more challenging element to consider in your fit is that it’s still very hard to measure. This is especially true for anyone (almost everyone) that doesn’t have access to a wind tunnel. Though there are a number of products on the market that let you collect some of your own aerodynamics data, this still requires a somewhat rigorous and involved testing process to find meaningful results.
For better or worse, the general rule of thumb that drives most rider’s choices around aerodynamics is that lower and narrower is faster. While this may generally be true, the pursuit of both these goals at the expense of almost everything else has led many riders down a path that damages their performance, puts them at risk of injury, and negatively impacts their ability to handle their bike safely. While the world of marginal gains and aero improvements has generated significant performance improvements in cycling. The sometimes dogmatic pursuit of these goals has arguably done more damage to many rider’s positions than good.
One of the most overlooked aspects of dialing in your riding position is how it impacts your ability to handle the bike. Depending on the type of riding you’re doing, this can make or break your enjoyment of riding. A riding position that has your weight well distributed and appropriate to your riding style will help instil confidence and improve stability on the bike.
Your riding position and bike setup impacts your handling in a few ways. Though we will delve deeper into each of these in future posts, these are the key factors of your setup and position that can significantly impact your handling (both in and out of the saddle).
Weight distribution (front to back)
Setup of Controls (brake/shifter location/angle)
Building an understanding for how each of these can impact your handling of the bike can be a big step to finding a perfect riding position for you. There are reasons for each of these to be impacted when seeking to achieve other goals in your fit, so understanding the implications to handling (if any) will help you make the right choices to achieve you goals.
Perhaps most importantly, it can be very hard to feel the impact of any of these changes on your trainer or in the fit studio. This is why it’s so important that going out and riding your bike is part of the fit process. Finding a better riding position doesn’t stop with joint angles and bike measurements, it involves the best part of riding a bike, which is how it feels.
Finding Balance in Fit
Inconveniently, the relationships between each of these goals isn’t always clear and finding a balance between competing goals can be challenging. We recommend for every rider going into a fit to write down what is important to them for each of these elements and even consider which ones you’re willing to compromise on first. The truth is that there is often (always?) give and take when finding the right position. Be it between one of the five goals outlined above, a limitation of your bike, or more intangibles like aesthetics, compromise is normal. Luckily, the human body is incredibly adaptable and perfection isn’t necessary to find a position that will help you get the most out of every ride.
Justin is a lifelong cyclist that has spent the past 15 years in the bike industry across a variety of roles. His diverse work in sales, procurement, fitting, instructing, and planning cycling infrastructure is all driven by a desire to help more people experience the wonder of cycling. He brings this breadth of experience to building MyVeloFit into a company and service that not only provides bike fits, but one that enables more people to get the most out of cycling.