My dad told me that “the right tool for the job” would save me time and hassle. The same applies when it comes to your bicycle! The wrong seat height can cause knee pain and the wrong handlebar stem height can cause neck and shoulder pain or numbness. If you’ve considered dusting off your old bike, or you’re already riding this season, here’s a PT’s simple guide to correctly adjusting and sizing your bike. Today we’ll review:
- How to correctly set your seat height
- What type of bike is best for you
- How often/much you should ride
Set Your Seat
The most commonly incorrectly adjusted item on a bike – the seat! The height of the seat will determine how much your knee has to bend and straighten, how far your hip bends, and how much your back-bends as you grip the handlebars.
Quick and easy method
Find the bony prominence on the outside of your hip joint (usually a few inches below your belt line). Stand next to your bike and line up this prominence with the seat. Adjust the seat if necessary and test it out!
The partner method
Find a willing family member or buddy, get on your bike and take a short ride around your driveway or neighborhood. As you pedal, your knee should have no more than 10-15 degrees of bend in the most straightened position. When the pedal is in the 6:00 position, your leg should not be completely straight. Ask your partner to spot you and give feedback so that you can keep your eyes on the road. Rinse and repeat until the desired height is achieved.
What Bike is Best?
There are dozens of subcategories of bikes, but let’s keep it simple. Most bikes fall into one of three categories: road, mountain, or hybrid. Here’s what you need to know:
These bikes are for going fast on the road. If your only concern is speed and efficiency and you’ll remain on well-groomed pavement, this is the go-to model. If you have neck or shoulder troubles, this frame style isn’t ideal. The handlebars are typically dropped low and cause rounding of the shoulders and awkward hyperextension of the neck. Unless you wake up late for your bike commute or want to beat your last lap time, this bike isn’t my first recommendation.
This style is built to navigate rough terrain. Buffalo’s roads might qualify as such. These bikes come with shocks that help absorb the impact that your body will otherwise have to handle. I recommend mountain bikes with front-wheel only shocks – only the professionals or weathered off-road riders need more suspension. This is the most forgiving frame type and most people can ride this style of bike. The largest downside is efficiency – the wider tires and suspension make you work harder to get the same distance as a road bike.
These bikes are the best of both worlds. They have the relaxed geometry of a mountain bike that keeps riders more upright, but they have slightly more tread on the tire to help absorb small bumps and keep good traction on the damp or gravel-covered road. They can’t keep up speed with road racers or mountain trekkers, but they can do everything in-between with ease. I recommend this type of bike for the individual looking to casually ride roads in Buffalo.
How Much Should I Ride?
So your bike seat is set correctly and you have the right bike for your needs. If you haven’t tuned up your bike in the last year, it’s not a bad idea to take it into your local shop or your handy friend for a quick once over. Next stop: time to hit the road!
To avoid overtraining and allow your body to acclimate to the new exercise, it’s your best bet to progress slowly. Going 0-60 and finding the pain that you didn’t have before is a surefire way to hang up your saddle for the rest of the season. Start with 10-minute rides every other day and work up to 30 minute rides 2-3x/week over the course of 4-6 weeks. Don’t hesitate to stretch or foam roll beforehand. Here’s my favorite stretch prior to biking:
This stretches your calf and hip flexors. You’ll feel it most where you’re tightest; everyone’s different!
- Stand by a wall or counter
- Place one foot in front of the other and keep both feet straight
- Bend your front knee forward and keep your rear heel down
- Return to your start position and repeat
Check out this quick video for a few tips about how to adjust your bike:
If you’d like to learn more about bicycling or would like to speak directly with one of our Physical Therapists, you can schedule your free appointment here.