The Importance Of A Good Bike Fit

Written by Mark Van Thournout


As a physiotherapist who sees a wide range of cyclists, I get many common questions regarding bike fit, injuries associated with biking, and if it is really necessary to have a bike fit completed. I go into more detail on what to expect in a bike fit HERE, but below I wanted to cover some common questions that I get asked.

How Do You Know If A Bike Fits You?

This is a great question, and probably a longer answer than you want, as “fit” can have a few different layers of meaning. A bike can “fit”, but not be optimal for a rider. I think determining whether a bike fits a person or not depends on 3 factors:

1) Is it comfortable?bike riding angle assessment

2) Can the rider produce power?

3) Is the rider aerodynamic?

I think of comfort as the foundation of a good bike fit – it’s hard to produce power if the rider isn’t comfortable. It’s also difficult to be aerodynamic if that position can only be held for 5 minutes due to comfort. Different people want different versions of this – some are happy to just ride in comfort, and not care about aerodynamics or power, while others need to optimize their position to be race-ready and squeeze out every last watt they can.

Fitting also needs to address the issue of frame size – the chart shown below is a good example of how multiple frame sizes of the same bike could potentially fit the same rider. A 6’0” rider with an inseam measurement of 31”, could potentially fit on a medium or large frame depending on the integration of different stem lengths, seat height, etc. However, both seat height and stem length will have implications for how the rider’s knee and hands feel, so this is why a customized fit can go a long way toward finding your perfect bike measurements.

bike fit chart


The good news here is that even someone who buys a secondhand bike off Kijiji or from a friend can potentially still fit on their new bike nicely with proper adjustments! There are plenty of adjustments that we can do during a bike fit to make a bike that seems too small fit like a larger bike. With this being said, however, there are limits to how short or long we can buy components, meaning not every bike can fit every person.

Figure 1. From

What Are The Top Three Injuries Associated with Biking?

Similar to runners encountering high amounts of hip and knee pain, there is also a pattern of injury in cyclists, with knee pain, back pain, and hand/wrist pain comprising the majority of issues.

phisiotherapist explaining knee joint

  • Knee pain typically comes from poor alignment of the knee with the pedal. Typically, this includes changes in seat height (which changes the amount of bend in a rider’s knee) or changes at the cleats (which changes the position of the rider’s foot.)
  • Back pain while cycling is usually due to the amount of forward bend of the trunk in the rider’s position. This is usually managed with a combination of seat changes and handlebar changes.
  • Hand and wrist pain is often due to a forward tilt of someone’s saddle. If the saddle encourages the rider to lean forward, there will be increased pressure through the hands and wrists. Hand and wrist pain can usually be mitigated by levelling the seat, changing the location of the handlebars, or encouraging the use of padded cycling gloves.

What Causes Cycling Injuries?

Cycling is a very repetitive sport! The vast majority of injuries in cycling are overuse injuries. Small deviations in form while riding can add up – A rider who spins at 90 rpm for 1 hour will complete 5,400 pedal strokes. This can lead to injuries that don’t necessarily bother a rider right away on the bike, but increase in pain with longer and longer rides. Bike fitting plays a large role in overuse injury prevention by minimizing the role of these small irritable movements that can add up.

Outside of biomechanical factors, plenty of other considerations should be taken into account to prevent overuse injuries. This includes things like:physiotherapy for bike injuries calgary south

  • Stress
  • Sleep
  • Hydration
  • Nutrition
  • The speed at which someone ramps up their training volume
  • Change in cycling environment (there is usually a spike in cycling-related injuries after the snow melts as people start riding outside, as well as after the first snowfall trigger the start of trainer riding season)

Although most cycling injuries are of the overuse variety, there are still traumatic injuries in cycling! Most people know a cyclist who has broken a collarbone or a wrist after a fall. Bike fitting also can play a role in preventing traumatic injury. For example, a rider whose hands sit behind the brake hoods will have a decreased reaction time on their brakes as they need to shift their hands forward to reach the levers, compared to a rider who is snugged up against the hoods and can instantly brake. Stem length can also change how a bike handles, as the perceived axis of steering will be different on a shorter vs. longer stem.

How Do I Know If I Need A Bike Fit?

I think there are three categories of people who would greatly benefit from a bike fit:

People who want to go fast!

  • This is the classic view of what a bike fit is. Formerly reserved to pro racers and those who are looking to maximize wattage or fine-tune their aero position, a bike fit is a great option to help make the most of every last bit of power that goes through the pedals.

Someone managing an injury.

  • I love working with people managing an injury who want to continue riding their bikes. There are plenty of levers that we can pull to change pain – whether that comes from the bike fitting side, or physiotherapy side (or both!). Whether it’s back pain, knee pain, foot pain, or neck and shoulder pain, bike fitting can address a wide variety of injuries and help people to ride, even through the injury.

Someone whose fitness has changed, for better or worse.

  • I’m guilty of this – I had a fit on my triathlon bike that I loved – until I went back to university and had a child. My bike fit felt awful after I lost a lot of fitness. The bike hadn’t changed, but I changed. A thorough bike fit helped me get back on the bike in a new, comfortable position. The opposite is also true – people who fall in love with cycling and start riding with every free hour tend to be able to adopt more aggressive fits than when they started.

Concluding Remarks

Whatever your current or future biking level may be, or if you simply want to learn more about how a bike fit might benefit you, call today to book your complimentary discovery session HERE to chat about how we can help you. The perks of working with a physiotherapist for this is that we can help guide you through the process of whether there may be more going on than just how your bike is fitting.

At Peak Health And Performance, we offer a wide range of treatment options including massage therapy to address a variety of conditions and help you get back to your daily activities pain-free. Some of the common conditions we can help with include:

  • Poor posture
  • Connective tissue issues
  • Knee injuries
  • Joint pain relief

For more information on other services offered by Peah Health, click HERE.

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