Comfort is king when it comes to happy road cycling but sometimes achieving this comfort can feel like mission impossible. Happily, with a few tweaks and adjustments to your setup you should be able to enjoy endless miles of cycling comfort and happiness. From common issues to tricks of the trade, this article will shed light on the key areas to focus your attention on in the pursuit of comfort.
Road Bike Setup Mistakes – at a glance:
- Saddle height far too high
- Bike with saddle pointing wildly up or down
- Your reach is too long
- The saddle is causing discomfort
- Pushing a heavy gear
So. let’s tackle some of the biggest issues with road bike setup and get you sitting happily on your new road bike…
One of the most common issues are knee and back pain and they are commonly caused by incorrect saddle height. Getting the right saddle height is probably the most commonly asked question and don’t think it’s just a mistake beginners make, even experienced cyclists can still get it wrong. A saddle that is too high or low can not only impact comfort but also your performance on the bike.
The best way to get the right saddle height is a professional bike fit at any decent bike shop but luckily you can achieve a good result at home with a bit of time and some basic tools. And it’s worth concentrating on your saddle height before diving into other aspects of your bike fit.
The easiest method is to sit on the bike and place your heel on the pedal body. You want your leg to be completely straight. Then when you move your foot backwards on the pedal and if you clip into the pedals, your leg will now have a slight bend in the knee. This slight bend is what you are trying to achieve.
You don’t want to cycle with a dead straight knee or ride with too much knee bend. This method works time and time again and gets really good results with just a few minutes of time required. Feel free to make changes afterwards and be guided by comfort. If it feels right, it generally means it is right. Conversely if it doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to make some small adjustments.
After getting the correct saddle height there are a few more things to check off our list. The next one is the saddle angle. Too often we see people cycling with the saddle pointing nose down, which can lead to sore shoulders and arms as you are pushing yourself back on the saddle constantly, while nose up can lead to discomfort in sensitive areas. A nose down saddle can be symptomatic of a saddle that is too high. Ideally you want to set your saddle so that it is level. You can do this by eye or using a spirit level.
Another common cycling complaint is a sore neck. And the most common cause of this is often that the handlebars are too low and too far away from you meaning you’re overstretching to reach the hoods and drops. There’s actually a lot of adjustment available with the handlebars and the stem, the short tube attaching the handlebar to the frame. And as always it’s worth spending some time experimenting with different setups to find one that provides the comfort you deserve. At this point it’s worth adding that while it’s tempting to copy the professional cyclists and their extreme positions, you have to realise they spend a LOT of time on their bikes and their bodies are adapted and used to such extreme setups. If you ride occasionally we don’t advocate following their lead.
So if you’re getting a sore neck and shoulders it could well be a sign that your handlebars are too low. You can easily raise the height of the handlebar by raising the stem on the steerer tube, around which will likely be a collection of round spacers. Simply use an Allen tool to loosen the bolts, move the stem higher and then tighten everything back up.
Another common cause can be a stem that is too long and causing you to stretch more than is necessary – a shorter stem available from a local bike shop will bring the handlebars closer to your body meaning you don’t have to stretch your upper body as much.
Away from bike fit, other common causes of discomfort can be the saddle itself. We’re all different and hence there are hundreds of saddles to choose from so finding a saddle that suits your requirements is key to cycling comfort. Thankfully saddle manufacturers have made it much easier to pair you with the right saddle and many now employ a fitting service that takes your measurements, requirements and riding styles and suggests the right saddle. You might need more or less padding, a wider or narrow shape or a cutout to suit your needs.
Another reason you might be uncomfortable and struggling with knee pain is that you are pedaling in too big a gear. It’s why modern road bikes have so many gears to allow you to find the right gear that lets you spin a comfortable cadence (the number of pedal rotations per minute) without putting excessive strain on your knees.
To ensure good comfort you want to maintain a high pedaling. An inexpensive cadence sensor fixed to your cranks can be a good tool to ensure you spin a smaller gear and aim for about 90 RPM. This will not only be more efficient use of your energy but put less strain on your knees and so lead to much more cycling comfort.
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