Preventive Insights On Shoewear And Bike Fit For Cyclists

Christopher Corwin, DPM, MS, AACFAS

Although cycling can provide impressive exercise benefits, a lack of proper bike fit can lead to adverse biomechanical effects for the lower extremity. Accordingly, this author provides an overview of bike fit adjustments, discusses keys to correct footwear choice and positioning, and summarizes the benefits of working with a bike fitter.

The triathlon is one of the fastest growing sports in the United States with many races selling out months prior to the event. Some popular events such as Ironman Florida and Ironman Lake Placid fill the available number of registration slots on the day the race registration opens, one year ahead of the actual race. Many runners are moving to the sport as a progression from road races and see it as a natural extension of the spinning or cycling that they were already doing as cross-training for the running races.

   The addition of a bike to an exercise program can provide great cross-training effects, improvements in strength and flexibility, and a way to supplement cardiovascular fitness without the impact and pounding of running. A bike can also be a means of relative rest in a running program.

   Even though the bike can be beneficial for improving performance and overall fitness, it does come with potential pitfalls. It is important for the athlete to have at least a basic bike fitting. Local bike shops often perform this service as part of the purchase of a bike.

   More extensive fittings may include careful measurements of joint kinematics, segment lengths and sometimes even videotaped imaging while one is riding on a stationary trainer. This is to evaluate motion of the hip, knee and ankle in multiple planes while locked into the bike pedals. The assessment also includes an off-the-bike prior medical history of any injury or limitations in motion. On the bike, the bike fitter would measure, evaluate and adjust positioning of the foot, ankle, knee and hip as necessary.

   There are many different bike fitting systems that are often proprietary to a particular bike company or to people who have been specially trained in that system. They vary somewhat in their measurements or philosophy of fitting. Some companies will take a number of anatomical measurements and then recommend a particular bike brand that possesses the geometry to match the anatomical measurements. Other bike fitting systems fit the existing bike to the rider. Even though there are many different ideologies of bike fitting, there are a few basic tenets that the fitting systems have in common.

   The bike fit can occur with any type of bike. One can use road bikes, triathlon or time trial bikes, mountain bikes and hybrid exercise bikes for the basic fitting process.

   The fit for road bikes and triathlon/time trial bikes often occurs in the same manner, but they vary in their geometry and setup. The major difference is that with triathlon bikes, the seat tube tends to be more vertical to allow the rider to lean forward onto the handlebar at a very aggressive aerodynamic angle to reduce drag. This reduction in drag can shave seconds or minutes off the race time depending upon the course distance.

   When fitting a bike, it is important to remember that there are only five contact points with the bike: both feet, both hands and the seat. The seat or saddle comes in many different shapes, styles and cushioning levels. The choice of a saddle is mostly based on personal preference and is usually the result of some trial and error. In terms of bike saddles, bigger and more cushioned does not always mean more comfortable. A narrow, firm saddle that fits appropriately may be much more comfortable than a larger, softer one.


Awesome article Doc!

I just started cycling on the road seriously and wish this article would've been put up last year. It would have helped me a lot.

I'm currently looking into getting into mountain biking in the next few months and was wondering if you had any tips for a beginner in that realm.

Great read and thanks!

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