Why it's important to make sure your bike is set up properly

Setting out on a bike tour of France? Robert Hicks explains why having your bike set up correctly and properly fitted should be on your to-do list before you head off.

having your bike set up properly

These people have had their bikes fitted properly – why shouldn't you? Photo: Adam Bowie

Riding a bike for any amount of time can require a fair bit of effort and place a lot of stress upon your body in order to maintain position, and propel the bike forwards. That's why if you’re not set up on your bike correctly, you run the risk of developing injuries – especially if you're riding long distances at a time.

Let’s put it into context: the majority of cyclists have an average cadence of between 80 and 90rpm. This means that on a leisurely three-hour ride, you'll spin the pedals over 16,000 times. Your body is very stubborn – it doesn’t like to be pushed and pulled in directions that are uncomfortable. If the body isn’t sitting comfortably, problems such as knee issues, back pain and even trapped nerves can arise.

Preventing cycling injuries

Cycling also has the tendency to expose pre-existing aches and pains, as your body spends long periods of time in an unusual posture while putting strain on your arm and leg muscles.

While most cycling insurance policies covers you for any identifiable physical injuries that arise while you're on the bike, it’s far better for you to prevent these injuries from developing in the first place. Having your bike fitted properly is the frst step.

A lot of cyclists are put off whenever the words ‘bike fit’ are mentioned as many bike fitters are labelled as glorified, over expensive bike salesmen. However, if you find the right bike fitter, they'll supply you with the right advice for your cycling needs. They'll also be able to adjust the bike to help alleviate any pain or discomfort you may be experiencing.

Choosing a good bike fitter

It can be rather tricky to distinguish between a good and bad bike fitter; the key is knowing the identifiable qualities of a reliable bike fitter.

A good bike fitter should only be interested in you, the issues you have and what you want to achieve – it's not an opportunity for a sale. They should be personable, inquisitive and thorough while demonstrating a good understanding of the problems you face and what needs to be addressed.

While it goes without question that each bike fitter should have a deep understanding of cycling, sport science and anatomy, it’s imperative that they are able to converse in a simplistic manner that is comprehensible to a bicycle novice.

Far too many bike fitters provide complex advice as they are eager to impress with fancy 3D cameras and computer programs, leaving cyclists unable to transfer the information into practice. Remember, you are in investing in the bike fitter as well as their services.

What to expect from a thorough bike fit

Remember, no two cyclists are the same height, weight or shape, so there is no one size fits all.

A thorough, 60-minute bike fit can vary in price – or even be free: as at yor local bike shop, or ask other cyclists for recommendations.

Here's a bike fit blue print:
* Meet and greet: A sit down chat to discuss injury history, riding goals and the pain experienced during cycling.
* Observation: Bike position, height and size of bike, riding style, pedalling technique and cleat position analysed.  
* Evaluation: Discussion of your overall bike position in relation to your issues.
Solution: Small adjustments made on the bike and exercises to try off the bike to help build and condition the body. No good bike fitter should make drastic changes straight away as that could cause further complications.
Follow up consultation.

These are simple steps that could make a big difference to how you feel on the bike, while also reducing the chances of injury. A bike fitting could give your peace of mind that your body and bike are in the best possible shape to take on the miles together. 

Robert Hicks writes for the UK’s largest cycling magazine, Cycling Weekly and their sister titles, Cycling Active and Cycling Fitness. He is also head content writer for Insure4Sport, who provide specialist insurance for cycling coaches and teams. They also have a leisure cycling plan for cycle touring and commuting.

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