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Symptoms of a Bad Bike Fit – And How to Fix Them

By Christopher Ashley

Paying for a bike fitting isn’t cheap, but we always recommend professional advice if you’re concerned about pain when riding. But if the problems are niggles rather than concerns, here’s how you can fix them yourself.

Charlie Chaplin knees

When pedalling, your knees point outwards much like Chaplin’s famous waddle. You may not feel any pain, but you look daft and you’re wasting energy. And your thighs feel the burn when you climb. Don’t worry, you’re not a wimp – this is a sure-fire sign that your saddle is too low.

The solution to this problem is to raise the saddle height in small increments until your legs remain parallel to the frame through each revolution of the cranks. Pedalling at any cadence becomes easier. Enjoy the extra watts!

Aching hands

You’ve looked at YouTube videos on how to place your hands on the drops but your hands are aching twenty minutes into your ride. Some indefinable force wears you down quickly and the handlebars are set up correctly, so you must be a wimp, right? Wrong – let’s look at your saddle.

If your saddle is too far back on its rails, or tilting down even slightly, the chances are your centre of gravity is too far forward and your hands are bearing too much load. With your saddle level and correctly positioned, it will take the strain off your hands.

Pain in the neck

Keeping your eyes on the road is an absolute necessity, so if your neck is aching and the temptation is to rest your neck by drooping your head, you’re a risk to yourself and other road users. The problem is that you’re over extending yourself.

When you’re riding a century and your neck gets tired half way through, it’s probably just a matter of building up your core strength – but if it’s a new bike rather than your lack of experience try a shorter stem.

Wobbly hips and lower back fatigue

There’s a fine line between fatigue and pain, but if your lower back feels it, and your hips are rocking side to side, it’s probably because your seat is too high. Lower the saddle 3 millimetres at a time and cycle a flat circuit for about 10 minutes. If you’re still rocking lower again.

If you end up cycling like Charlie Chaplin (see above) you’ve lowered the saddle too far. Getting it right is tricky because you’re not looking for a positive result – you’re searching for the absence of a negative result. You’ll need to cycle a hundred miles before you can be sure you’ve got it right.

Knee strain

Strain in the back of your knee, or irregular sharp pain in its side, it’s likely your saddle is too high – so adjust the height as you would for wobbly hips. But another area you may want to check is your cleat or shoe position on the pedal.

Your cadence shouldn’t be characterised by pointed toes. Watch the pros and you’ll notice they push the pedal through the heel – this properly engages the calve muscle, pulling more power from the hamstrings and glutes, mitigating the risk of knee stress.