Riding through pain: Signs that your riding position needs changing

Getting the correct bike fit is its own science, even if you choose not to get a professional fit, here are some pointers that something isn’t quite right

ClockUpdated 07:14, Friday 29th September 2023. Published 18:30, Thursday 28th September 2023

Cycling as an endurance sport often leads to riders spending prolonged periods of time in a fairly static position. Even if you aren't participating in an ultra-endurance race like the Transcontinental Race, a poor bike set-up can cause you grief. Although the legs are spinning, everything from the hips upwards remains in a fixed position.

This does mean that any slight issues with your riding position will become amplified as the duration goes up. Here we have our top signs that you might need to change your riding position in the aim of solving these issues before they lead to long-lasting injuries or a loss of enjoyment for riding.

Read more: Should every cyclist get a bike fit?

Saddle sores

From time to time saddle sores cannot be avoided and they are particularly prevalent on long, wet rides or very hot and sweaty rides. If they are becoming a regular part of your riding then something isn’t quite right and there are a few things you can do that could offer some relief.

Firstly, having your saddle height a little bit too high can cause your hips to rotate as your legs are at the bottom of the pedal stroke. This repetitive metronomic rocking of your hips will create friction between you and your shorts on the saddle. By reducing your saddle height so that your hips are stabilised the friction will also subside and could alleviate any contributory factors that were causing saddle sores.

We are also all different shapes and sizes and the standard saddle that came on your bike might not be the one most suited to your body type. You want to make sure that the saddle you are using puts most of your bodyweight through your sit bones rather than the soft tissue. A lot of bike shops will be able to help advise on what saddle you need, with devices to measure your sit bone width to best pair you up with an appropriate saddle.

Numb hands

The sensation of numbness in your hands whilst out on a ride is one of the sure-fire ways for the enjoyment of riding to ebb away. The tingling sensation or complete numbness can be prevented in most scenarios with a little bit of bike fit consideration.

Having a riding position that is overly front-heavy will put too much strain on your hands, causing the pressure that leads to numbness. Although having a slight nose-down position of your saddle can be a good thing, an aggressive angle will put too much weight on your arms and hands. This is something that becomes increasingly important the longer the duration of your rides.

Another factor that could be the cause of numbness in your hands is the reach to the bars being too long. Having a stretched out position will put a lot of strain on your core and over time your core muscles will fatigue and begin to put more and more of the stress on your arms. Having a slightly shorter stem fitted will bring your bars closer to you, creating a more balanced weight distribution.

Tight neck and shoulders

The issue of tight muscles around your neck and shoulders can be traced back to your handlebars and how you interact with them. If you are riding with very low bars with an exaggerated saddle to bar drop, you can find yourself with tense posture trying to hold your head up for extended periods of time. Raising your bars up will reduce the stress on your neck by changing the angle of your body.

The current trend of super narrow bars has marked aerodynamic benefits as well as allowing easier navigation of a bunch by being able to slip through smaller gaps. Using narrow bars can put added stress on to your shoulders as it takes more input from the rider to stabilise the bike. Moving to a slightly wider bar, more inline with your shoulder width, will provide a more relaxed fit that will minimise the strain on your shoulders.

Knee pain

Knee pain is quite possibly the most complex issue experienced by cyclists and our advice here at GCN would always be to seek professional guidance on any knee pain as it not an area to risk long-term injury or damage. With that being said, there are a few common things that can cause knee pain whilst riding.

Similarly to saddle sores, setting your saddle height too high can cause knee pain. As your leg is forced to over extend to complete a pedal revolution, your IT band or hamstrings will be put under repetitive strain. This can lead to issues where the tendons, ligaments and muscles join, which in this case would be at the knee.

Equally having your saddle too low can cause excess pressure on your knee cap that can result in long-lasting knee pain. Also things off of the bike such as incorrect squat technique can also exacerbate this issue as too can any movement involving bending at the knee that is done incorrectly.

Lack of power uphill

If you are finding that, as the road points to the sky, your power plummets and you find yourself wanting to jump out of the saddle to push out the watts, you might need to address your saddle angle.

Read more: Saddle angle, have we got it all wrong?

As the gradient of a climb increases and your bike points more upwards relative to the horizontal plane, the more your relative saddle angle will be in a nose-up position. Having your saddle effectively pointed upwards will cause your pelvis to rotate backwards, this will inhibit optimal power production. To combat this you can try tipping the nose of your saddle down a degree at a time to see if this helps with your power production.

It is important to note that any changes in bike position should be done gradually with small changes until you find the correct set-up for you. Making big changes in riding position can lead to injuries as your body has adapted to your current position.

If there have been any issues that you have suffered from that you have managed to address, let us know in the comments section below.

To keep up to date with the latest tech news, features and prom bikes, check out the Tech section on the GCN website, linked here.

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