Archive for “bike pain”

How A Bike Fit Can Address Aches And Pains

Posted in Bike Fitting with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2012 by hypercatracing

Photos provided by Victor Wang Studios (

No matter the distance you ride, you should be comfortable on your bike. If you experience pain in your neck, back, or knees – or have saddle sores or numbness – your bicycle probably doesn’t fit you properly.

The 3 key areas that an experienced and qualified bike fitter will address during a fitting are feet, seat, and hands – the areas where the rider makes contact with the bike. There are a number of issues that will affect the physical relationship of rider and bike. For example, your body may be asymmetric (one leg or arm slightly longer or shorter than the other), and even the slightest imbalance can lead to pain. While it used to be true that addressing these asymmetries meant a bit of trial and error, the properly outfitted modern fit-studio has the tools (like Retul, 360 degree viewing, wedges, shims, and 2D and 3D video with motion capture), and most importantly, the experience to address the most common issues with more precision providing greater long-term results. Finally, in addition to addressing any pain or discomfort, a bike fitting will also improve your pedaling efficiency and aerodynamics, actually making you faster.

Let’s first talk about proper vs. improper positioning of the feet, seat, and hands, and how this may cause pain or discomfort for the rider.


In general, cleats should be positioned for a neutral foot. The cleat should be under the ball of the foot, and oriented so that your toe and heel point forward and in-line with the frame. The position of your cleat can have a direct effect on knee alignment, and if there is any pain in the knee a fitter should be consulted to have your positions assessed.

Shoes should be snug, but not tight. They should fit like a sock, conforming to the foot shape while able to expand a little without constriction. The arch should match your natural arch and prevent your foot from rolling inward. This fit can be achieved with insoles, inserts, or arch supports.

Pedals should be of a width (stance) that allows the foot to rest directly on top of the pedal and be fully supported.


Your bike seat should be level to support your full body weight and allow you to move around on the seat when necessary. Too much upward tilt can result in pressure points. Too much downward tilt can make you slide forward while riding and put extra pressure on your arms, hands, and knees, which can lead to injury. To adjust the seat height, wear your biking shoes and riding shorts and place your heels on the pedals. As you pedal backwards, your knees should fully extend in the down position. If your hips rock side to side the seat is too high. When you move your foot into the proper pedaling position, with the balls of your feet over the pedal, you should have a slight bend in your knees.

You can also adjust the seat forward and backward (fore and aft position). With your feet on the pedals so that the crank arms are parallel with the ground, the neutral position will put your forward knee (patella tendon) directly over the pedal axle (often referred to as KOPS).

Keep in mind that issues like saddle sores can be alleviated through proper positioning, but may also be an issue with the saddle shape, clothing or another issue. These can and should be addressed in a fitting session.


The location of your handlebars can cause multiple issues. Handlebars may be too high, low, close, or far away. If so, you can have pain, strain, soreness, excessive tightness (or all of the above) in the neck, shoulder, back, and hands.

Unlike a saddle, there is no hard and fast “rule” that tells you where to set the handlebars up, as too many variables are employed in the final location. Variables like frame geometry, usages, style of bike, experience of rider, flexibility, components, and so on all play a part in the final handlebar location. The one constant is that the handlebar’s position should be properly set up relative to the saddle, and this must be addressed first no matter which bike we are talking about.

A generic rule of thumb to cover multiple bike styles and handlebar configurations is that a proper reach (distance to the handlebar from the seat) allows you to comfortably use all the positions the handlebars provide, and to comfortably bend your elbows while riding. To properly support your upper body, the handlebars must also be the proper width for your shoulders and placed at an appropriate height. Too high and you will increase lower back issues, too low and neck/shoulder issues will arise. For all bikes, handlebars come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and a good bike fitter will have multiple varieties to test in order to determine your appropriate shape.

Now let’s talk about some common aches and pains that cyclists have, and how these may be addressed by a bike fit or technique.

Knee pain is most commonly associated with saddle position. A saddle that is too high or low, too far forward or back, can cause issues. Improper bike shoe or cleat position can also cause knee pain.

  • A seat that is too high will cause hip rocking and pain in the back of the knee.
  • A seat that is too low or too far forward may cause pain in the front of the knee.
  • Improper foot position on the pedal (or improper cleat alignment) can cause pain on the inside or outside of your knees.

Individual anatomy may also result in knee pain. Cyclists with slight differences in leg length may have knee pain because the seat height is only adjusted for one side. Shoe inserts, wedges, shims or orthotics can address this problem. Another common cause of knee pain is using too high a gear (mashing). Reducing the gear and increasing the cadence will reduce the stress on the knee.

Neck pain is usually the result of riding a bike that is too long, or having handlebars that are too low. Check for signs like high shoulders, straight (not bent) elbows and craning of the neck. Handlebar width also plays a big role. Bars that are too wide will cause pressure in the upper back between the shoulder blades, while bars that are too narrow or extended will cause forward rounding of the shoulders. Tight hamstring and hip flexor muscles may cause neck pain by forcing your spine to round or arch, as well as cause a hyper-extended neck. Improper saddle position can create these problems as well.

Foot pain or numbness is most commonly addressed by proper footwear. Issues such as hot foot, numbness and arch pain can be addressed through cleat positioning, insoles, orthotics, shoe tightness (width or over clamping), and pedal choice. Pedaling technique and gear choice also play a role in foot pressure.

Hand pain or numbness can be alleviated or lessened by wearing padded cycling gloves. Riding with your elbows slightly bent, not straight or locked, is always a key. Bent elbows act as shock absorbers and help absorb the bumps in the road, they also serve to relax the shoulders and neck area. Changing hand positions frequently on the handlebars can also reduce pressure and pain. Finally, check your component positioning. Brake and shift levers should be positioned in comfortable alignment of your wrists, with the proper reach to work the controls.

Understanding that the pain described above is not normal and can be addressed with a proper bike fit is the first step in getting faster on the bike. The old adage of “no pain, no gain” does not apply in the context of bike fit and cycling. Address issues like numbness and pain and you’ll be motivated to ride further – your performances will reflect your hard work!

Philip Casanta (USAC Level II Coach) is the lead bike fitter at Hypercat Racing, based in Ventura, CA. Phil has been helping athletes optimize their bike fits for over 20 years. Phil works extensively with triathlon, time trial, road, mountain and cyclocross athletes. Retul and F.I.S.T certified, Phil’s expertise combines experience with art and science to produce the optimal fit for athletes based on their individual needs, biomechanics and athletic pursuits. Learn more at

This was an article I wrote earlier this year and was originally published on the blogs of Training Peaks and USA Cycling.


Understanding Bike Fit – Knee Alignment

Posted in Bike Fitting with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2010 by hypercatracing

As mentioned in common bike fit issues part 1, knee alignment is very important to a proper and efficient fit.  Poor knee alignment at best is inefficient and does not allow for good power transfer and at worst will cause injuries.  Correct knee alignment is effected by a number of factors, listed are the 3 most common I come across in the studio.

  1. Cleat position –  The location of the cleat on your shoe will affect your knee tracking.  Cleats have multiple positions: for, aft, side-to-side, rotation (toe in-out, heel in-out) and tilt.  Where your cleat is located on your shoe not only affects the comfort of your foot but also the alignment of the knee as it travels throughout the stroke.  Note: A worn or broken cleat will perform incorrectly and cause the symptoms of poor cleat alignment.
  2. Foot position – Where your foot sits in relation to your hip.  While many times the foot-hip position can be adjusted via the cleat position it is not always the possible, such as when the pedal spindles are too short or the crank width too wide. The hip-foot relationship can also be effected by your stance (distance between feet) on the bike  or the Q-factor (distance between cranks).   A significant discrepancy between the width of your hips and the spacing between your feet when engaged to the pedals will cause the knees to be poorly aligned throughout part or all of your pedal stroke.  Many times an athlete will feel their foot is pushing in or out on your shoe when the hip and foot are out of alignment
  3. Saddle Position – Saddle position directly affects knee tracking.  Having the saddle too low tends to force the knees and foot in at extension (bottom of stroke) and out at flexion (top of stroke), giving the visual impression of looping when looking at the knee from the front.  Saddle too high tends to have the opposite effect. 


  • Other factors – More common contributors to knee alignment: 
    • Pedal choice.  Pedals come in different spindle lengths, width of platform, support and float (ability of the cleat to rotate in the pedal).  Your pedals need to allow for proper foot position relative to your hip. 
    • Shoes.  Shoes need to be supportive and hold the foot in the right position, if they are worn out or incorrectly sized they can cause a misalignment of the cleat position.
    • Insoles.  Some athletes need different support within the shoe to keep the foot aligned.  having the wrong or a worn insole can allow the foot to become misaligned. 
    • Orthotics. Using orthotics made for a different sport will cause issues, it is very rare that orthotics made for running are correct for cycling.  If you need or choose to use custom orthotics it is best to have them specifically made for your cycling. 
    • Wedges. Wedges are used to account for Varus and Valgus foot tilting.  Wedges are a fantastic tool for solving fit issues, however they can also be a problem.  Over wedging is more common that under wedging, however both are a problem.  If the foot is over/ under wedged the cleat and/or whole foot will be misaligned and cause the knee tracking to be affected. In many cases this will cause pain and/ or discomfort and in extreme cases injury.
    • Shims.  Different than wedges a shim is designed to deal with leg length discrepancies (LLD).  LLD’s come in both functional and anatomic.  a functional LLD is generally not fixed by shims, however a true anatomic LLD is.  If not assessed properly placing shims for a functional LLD or the incorrect length for an anatomic LLD will cause issues at the hip that will translate to poor knee tracking. 

Common Bike Fit Issues – Part 1

Posted in Bike Fitting with tags , , , , , , , on May 13, 2010 by hypercatracing

Frequently I get requests to see what a typical bike fit looks like.  On the surface this seems like an easy to produce video with some clever editing.  The problem I keep running into is the phrase “typical”.  Out of the couple hundred athletes I fit each year, none are exactly alike, and as such none are typical.  There are however “typical” or common issues that arise with almost every fit and I have listed those here.

  • Soreness in Neck, shoulders, lower back and hands
  • Feeling of being crunched
  • Feeling of being too low
  • Feeling of reaching
  • Cleat position
  • Knee alignment
  • Saddle position

Out of all these “typical” issues that generally are the reason for someone contacting me in the first place, the number one most common/ typical issue is knee alignment or tracking.  There are a variety of reasons for the knee not tracking correctly all of which lead to an inefficient pedal stroke and loss of power.

here are my top 5 reasons for knee alignment issues

  1. Cleat position (location on shoe)
  2. Varus/ Valgus foot tilt (natural angle of the ball of foot)
  3. Pedal stance (position of the pedal relative to crank arm)
  4. Incorrect pedal
  5. saddle position

4 of the 5 reasons all stem from the shoe/ pedal interface.  In future blog articles I will go in depth for each one of these issues and the ones listed above.  For now I offer up these two short videos that demonstrate a typical client before addressing these common issues and after the initial fitting process.

When watching these videos at the same time, notice the after adjustment (bottom) video leg speed.  This higher cadence is typical of an adjusted and more efficient athlete and was unsolicited.