How to Adjust Your Bike to Avoid Common Cycling Pains

Peter Glassford
by Peter Glassford
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How to Adjust Your Bike to Avoid Common Cycling Pains

Successful, lifelong cyclists know how to reduce the frequency and severity of aches and pains by taking care of their body, their bike setup and gradually adding training loads (volume, intensity, hills, disciplines, etc). These three factors are crucial for longevity on the bike.

Here, four common cycling issues and how to minimize them:

BACK PAIN

Back pain can come on suddenly or gradually. It might be due to something off the bike that is aggravated by folding forward (like working at a computer and sitting too much), it may come during the final climb in a hard race early in the season, or it might just be for no apparent reason. The thing with back pain is not to panic, and instead take some downtime and gradually resume activity. It may be helpful to add yoga or mobility to your routine to add variety and relaxation, especially if cycling is your main form of exercise. Often the trick is reducing your training load (volume and intensity) and easing back in.

For bike setup, consider relaxing your position by raising your bars to find a position you can ride in for prolonged lengths of time. You can always bend your elbows to get more aero. It’s also possible your saddle height is wrong, so mark your saddle and see if adjusting it reduces your symptoms. If tweaking your saddle height doesn’t help, then it might be worth looking into a bike-fit and/or shorter cranks to reduce the amount of hip flexion you need for each pedal stroke.

KNEE PAIN

Knee pain is something most cyclists deal with at some point in their career. Consider spending time foam-rolling your quads, feet and hips.

For pain in the front of the knee, consider riding flat/easy for a few rides, perhaps alternating days off with a few flat, easy rides until you find your pain has resolved or improved greatly and does not get worse post-ride. This is hard, but a few easy days often lets the body take care of itself. As a rule of thumb, check your training journal to see if you’ve increased the amount of hill climbing or strength training, running, stair climbing in excess of your normal.

For pain in the back of the knee, consider a slightly lower saddle as this can often be part of the issue. It may also be possible that your saddle is too far back or you could use some flexibility or mobility work to help get into the bent-over cycling position.

HAND NUMBNESS

If you suddenly are riding longer, mostly on the flats or on a trainer, you may find your hands go numb. Work on switching up your hand positions, try thicker bar-tape or grips and aim to stand up and move around more on the bike, like you would in the mountains. Your bars may also be too low, or your saddle may be tilted downward too much, so check in on those two areas of your fit.

PAIN IN THE BUTT

Numbness, chafing, rashes or pressure points around your groin or ‘saddle area’ are among the most frustrating and potentially debilitating experiences cyclists encounter. If you have increased your volume then this not entirely unexpected. Make sure you take some time off and easy days and make an effort to stand up periodically through the ride, especially if the terrain does not make this automatic (e.g., in mountain biking or climbing). Consider a bike fit as not every saddle is for every body. Use your local shops ‘lending’ library or see if friends have saddles they can lend.

About the Author

Peter Glassford
Peter Glassford

Peter is a cycling coach and registered kinesiologist from Ontario, Canada. He travels frequently to work with athletes at races, camps and clinics. He also races mountain bikes for Trek Canada and pursues adventure in all types of movement. Follow @peterglassford on Twitter, or check out his online and in-person coaching at www.smartathlete.ca.

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