Bikefitting

I am Alex. I come from Croatia and have been an endurance athlete for nearly 22 years.
What has led me to pursue a career in bikefitting and coaching was the fact that I went through hell with many of my coaches who used standardized preset workouts without regard to actual available training time, recovery, fuelling or hydration. This has led to me spending 6 months recovering from overtraining where I said enough is enough and started learning about coaching first testing on myself, then on friends and family and finally started taking athletes 3 years ago.
I am currently coaching 33 people of various fitness levels in cycling and triathlon ranging from beginners to World tour cyclists.


It has been a similar story with bikefitting. I had a life threatening accident 6 years ago which has caused significant muscle imbalances in the left side of my body affecting my shoulder, hip and pelvis. I literally flew off a mountain pass at 70 kmh, hit a tree and landed 40 meters below in a meadow. Luckily because of my country boy bones, I only broke my collarbone but as noted in the previous sentence, it has affected other parts of my body. Standard bikefitting methods of motion capture systems have caused my on bike comfort to get worse and worse until ultimately I decided it´s enough. By that point I have spent about a 1000 eur on various “experts” that caused me more and more pain which led to me being unable to ride more than 20 mins a day. From that point on I spent about 2 years studying various medical books, and one that has been a game changer was a paperback copy of a book published in 1981 by 5 doctors for doctors. It took about a year to fully read and understand and during that time I tested what I learned on myself and my family. The book was about the human brain, its priorities regarding human posture, activity learning and overall biomechanical efficiency. In the year it took me to understand the book, I applied what I learned to my own position and things changed dramatically. I learned to correct the imbalances caused by deactivated muscles, to increase information flow in the body and optimize activity learning by the brain leading to a much better overall efficiency of the activity in question. When I was done with my position, I started applying things to friends and family again and the feedback was very good. This has led me to start taking on clients and doing bikefitting as a career. As a comparison, currently, you can receive a bikefitting degree in one to two days/mornings of pressing buttons on a software system of your choice and you can start doing bikefitting. Scary, isn´t it? Bikefitting is a passion and no two people are the same, therefore only the principles remain the same, but the way you get to a result is always different. Our brain and understanding its basic functions is the key to get a good position on the bike, a good running posture and efficient swimming technique. Without the knowledge, you simply can’t get a satisfactory result.

Because of my experience with the other bikefitters I have also decided to offer money back guarantee to all my clients.

This is for several reasons:
1) I want everyone who comes to me to feel safe knowing they will get a result for their hard earned money. YOU SHOULD NOT PAY FOR ANYONE`S ATTEMPTS at resolving your positional problems. Only results matter.
2) When your income is directly linked to your client´s happiness, you are always 100 percent focused. I wanted to keep myself accountable.

When it comes to my own bikefitting methods there is no magical formula and there is no universal recipe. There are only custom made solutions for individual problems. However, that said, two things remain the same in every bikefit.
First part of it is a long interview where we go through the athlete’s sporting background, injury history, problems with comfort on the bike, feelings after particularly long and hard rides, we go through their race results in the past which is mainly for my own reference and pleasure of seeing them beat those results in the next season´s competitions.
Next part is body analysis. Here I go through the athlete´s mobility range, muscle responses, pelvis and hip anatomy, and we do several neurological tests to see if the pelvis misalignment(and this is common in about 90 percent of humans) is caused by a muscle imbalance or a different problem – for example an old injury, difference in the vision between the left and right eye or simply the usual daily habits like sitting in the office, in a car, standing too much and similar normal things that have a significant effect on the muscles and joints in our bodies. Some of these problems date back as far as childbirth.
Third part is getting on the bike. Here I don´t have a formula. I let my client warm up, and during the warm up I observe their pedalling style, breathing rate, pelvis stability, technique and everything involved in riding a bike. Then I start correcting things starting from the most obvious to the least obvious – and in the meantime reassess things and go back and forth until I am happy. There is no decided duration for the bikefit. It is done when I and the client are happy with the position. Duration can range from 3 to 8 hrs, and sometimes more visits are needed but these are extreme cases.

I would like to separate the bikefitting process in several sections:
1) The human brain
2) Foot correction
3) Cleat placement
4) Seat height and setback
5) Bar and STI positioning

  1. Proprioception is the body´s unconscious awareness of itself in space. More specifically, it is the cerebellum´s unconscious awareness of the body in space. Cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls unconscious movement and believe it or not, about 97 percent of our movement is unconscious. For example, we decide to get on the bike and ride, but we do not decide which muscle specifically fires at any given time. Actions like these are controlled or overseen by the cerebellum. Often when people get on the bike during bikefit, they try to focus on pedalling more efficiently but after 2-3 mins revert to their natural pedalling style. This is because you can consciously override the cerebellum, but not for long – the moment I start asking you questions your attention will shift to me and the pedalling technique will go back to its “pre programmed” settings. The cerebellum has around 220 million neural connections to the rest of the body which is more than the rest of the brain put together – and because of this the cerebellum is overloaded with information with more than 3 billion signals flowing there every second. It ignores the vast majority of the information because it simply cannot process it – it´s processing capacity is 2000 signals per second. The signals travelling to the cerebellum contain information about our position in space, relationship to gravity(more on this later) and the load being experienced on any given muscle. The cerebellum then decides which muscles to fire in which sequence to efficiently perform the action needed. Now you are probably wondering how we can do everything that we do if the cerebellum can only process such a small percentage of all the signals? Answer is simple. Evolution. Evolution has dictated a hierarchy of priorities and they are deeply embedded in us. Within this hierarchy there are two categories that are prioritized and those are:

1. 1) Exertion and generation of force – anytime we exert ourselves in some form or another, that exertion is given priority in both the cerebellum and the CNS(Central nervous system). This comes from our survival mechanisms – if we are running away from danger the body will use absolutely 100 percent of its resources and save nothing because survival has the highest priority. Always. To keep in mind is also that stimulus from the lower body is given higher priority than stimulus from the upper body. The reason again, is evolution, if both would have the same priority we would simply collapse if we would try to use our upper body in some way because that action would have the same priority as the force exerted by the lower body and we would collapse at the knees or hips.

1.2) Change in clarity of the stimulus
Change in clarity of the stimulus will always attract processing priority. Good way to think about this is this: You are aware you have back muscles even though you can´t see them or feel them at any given time. Now reach out and touch a muscle – you become instantly aware of it for 10-15 seconds until the change in stimulus dies down. This is because of the huge number of signals travelling to the cerebellum and its processing capacity – priority is only given when there is a need for it.
If you are still awake by this point, the reason why I went in detail with this is the fact that no one knows what their feet are doing on the bike – and we are not even aware we don´t know. The reason for this is our ability to compensate so well using the proprioceptive feedback from the hips, knees and ankles.
There is always a cost for any compensatory response – how high of a cost varies greatly on the individual. There are millions of possible combinations of challenges to our position in space and relationship to the bike. Just think old injuries, leg length difference, muscle imbalance, lateral pelvic tilt. Any and all of these will provoke an immediate response from the CNS and it is very important to remember that every compensatory response increases asymmetry – how much asymmetry again varies greatly on the individual.
My key point in every bikefit is to have optimal biomechanical efficiency and this is achieved again differently for everyone. In short, all imbalances need to be corrected. The closer you can function to bilateral symmetry, the less chance of discomfort and worse case scenario injury. On top of this, when this is achieved, the brain saves resources because the need to compensate for imbalances disappears. You go faster for the same effort. Cycling should not feel like you have to focus and grip the bars in terror just to stay on the bike. You should feel relaxed and apart from the obvious muscle related activity(and pain – think FTP test) you should just be able to get on with it.
I digress – going back to the human feet. Why doesn´t the CNS recognize the feet? The answer is simple. Any activity involving lower parts of the body is overseen but not directly controlled by the cerebellum – that task goes to the CPG or the central pattern generator which is located in the lumbar spine area. It is essentially a simple computer and needs informational input to work which primarily comes from the feet or more specifically from the change in plantar fascia tension. The plantar fascia is located in the arch of the foot and connects the heel bone to the MTP joints(base knuckles for the toes).
When we walk or run, we are using footwear that is soft(at least compared to a carbon cycling shoe for example) and change in the plantar fascia tension is continuous and as it is a change in stimulus and it falls under exertion, it attracts the cerebellum and CNS priority.
When we ride our bikes, change in the plantar fascia is almost non existent because there is little or no contact between the arch of the foot and the typical poorly made cycling shoe insole – regardless of the price of the shoe this remains a constant – weight is always the primary concern with these and even though some manufacturers have made steps to improve things(Specialized and Shimano) from my experience, these are still baby steps and the level of support in them is simply insufficient.
Arch support is the single most overlooked thing in regular bikefits. It is most commonly not needed to actually support the arch, but to create a signal of greater clarity allowing the CNS to better control our activity by giving it more information about actual load, position in space and and relationship to gravity thus removing the need for overcompensation due to lack of signal clarity.

2) Foot correction
Level of arch support is greatly individual. More than 95 percent of people need it but the level needs to be determined individually. From my experience I can recommend G8 2620 insoles and Sof soles – if you can still get them in the EU.
Level of support is determined by first examining the foot(arch shape, position), then inserting the support in the insole, having the client test it while wearing shoes and ultimately on the bike. When standing you should feel the support, but only just.
Then the client is tested on the bike and position is sometimes readjusted once or twice, but not always. If you decide to go for G8 2620s though, do not follow the manufacturer guidelines. They are optimized for running and with cycling you should actually use the complete opposite and have the support as far back as it goes(although the individual solution for individuals of course still applies). One thing to note is to also not fall in the trap of thinking both feet need the same level of support – arch support should feel the same on both feet but that doesn´t mean the height of the support will be the same. Very often it isn´t.
Over the years of doing this I have also come across a minority of people who don´t need any arch support and it actually hurts them – and you might be wondering why. My assumption is( though I can´t prove it) that it goes back to their sporting history background and their childhood. In countries where people still have the good habits of walking around barefoot when they are kids(it often goes into adulthood as well) the percentage of people needing arch support is much lower. Finland is one of those countries although the need for arch support increases in people younger than 40(newer generations have different habits than we did as kids). Arch support is the starting point for foot correction as it allows changes in the plantar fascia tension that allow the CNS to “recognise” feet with perfect clarity.
To get the foot correction dialled in you will need to combine arch support with wedges and shims.

2.1 Wedging
Wedging combined with the individually correct arch support allows subtle adaptations and changes in alignment in all joints up the kinetic chain including the hip.
There are cleat wedges, in shoe wedges and heel wedges.
Cleat wedges are designed to be placed between the sole of the shoe and the cleat. In shoe wedges are fitted under the forefoot of a cycling insole. Heel wedges are placed under the heel of a cycling shoe insole.
The thing to remember is that each of these wedges corrects the rear in a direct or indirect way and all of these should only be used on the bike when the heel is unloaded. Using them to correct your walking gait can jam the joints and cause injury.
What all wedges have in common is that in a cycling shoe we are trying to correct rear foot varus. These 3 types of wedges are also not exclusive to each other and are often used in combination to achieve proprioceptive clarity. In extreme cases, wedges are needed in the daily shoes as well to get the CNS used to the feedback.
I am not willing to disclose in detail how I use wedging because it has taken me years to perfect the method – so you´ll have to book a bikefit for that.

2.2 Shimming
A shim is something I use to correct the shorter leg while cycling. In extreme leg length difference cases it is needed to correct the daily shoes as well(when the LLD – leg length difference is significant).
Leg length difference can come from bone length difference or it can be functional.
Bone length difference is actually very very rare and more than 99 percent of cases I see have a functional leg length difference.
The state of the bikefitting industry, such as it is, does not really focus on this much, however, there are small companies producing shims for Look, Shimano, Speedplay and SPD pedals(mtb type). MTB type is specific as it isn´t actually a shim, it is more of an adapter that mounts in the cleat hole and gives you a slightly higher bottom of the shoe. With SPD you can´t use normal shims because the cleat would come out from the bottom of the sole of the shoe and walking would be difficult.
As mentioned, actual bone length difference is very rare and believe it or not it is incredibly difficult to measure. Most people stand with one of their knees locked out and the other at a slight angle causing inaccuracies in the 2D imaging that is the X-ray.
Functional leg length difference happens when there are factors limiting one leg to reach as far towards the bottom of the pedalling stroke as the other leg and they can be a significantly tighter hip, lower back, hamstrings(or a combination of these), serious injury making control of a major joint involved in pedalling on one side difficult, pelvis asymmetry(can be caused by mechanical or neurological factors), brain injury(concussion or TBI).
On average in Finland, I use shims about 50 percent of the time although my clients are mostly people who haven’t been able to sort out their position with the regular bikefitting systems so my statistical sample is distorted.
Majority of that 50 percent is on the right leg. The why is again a chapter in itself.
The range of shimming goes from 2mm to 12mm(above 5mm the only option is Speedplay). Providing every other positional challenge has been sorted, any remaining pedalling fluency issues have to be resolved with a shim.
How much will vary greatly depending on the individual.
Most people(and this can be verified through any good osteopath or physiotherapist) will have a functionally shorter right leg. Again, the why of that is a chapter in itself. The idea for shimming is to have both legs reach the bottom of the pedalling stroke fluently and evenly as this will help the pelvis stabilize in the saddle, increase power, efficiency and decrease losses caused by activating compensatory responses from the CNS.
One important thing to remember, as you increase the shim stack you are also increasing the distance from the sole of the shoe to the pedal and you are increasing the load from the lower limbs to stabilize the foot. Once you go past 5 mm of shims the cleat on the shim foot needs to be moved back to keep the same effective cleat position as the non shimmed leg. Unlike cleat wedges, shim is exclusively used on one leg.

  1. Cleat placement
    Cleat position is almost as important as everything else mentioned previously related to foot correction. Most of the internet advice you can easily find suggests, in short, to have the cleats way too forward.
    So how do you know where the cleat needs to be?
    Looking at the feet from a mechanical perspective, a foot is essentially a lever but it is not a very efficient one because the pivot of the lever is back at the ankle. What this means for bikefitting is, the bigger the foot, the further back the cleat needs to be to achieve optimal stability and power transfer.
    Having the cleats too far forward engages the lower leg muscles(calves) into a stabilizing effort – and keep in mind that the majority of that effort is wasted simply on that, stabilizing the foot. In other words, having the cleats sufficiently back allows those resources to be saved and used for power production and improving efficiency.
    One other thing to mention is also that under significant load the majority of the riders will drop their heel more than they would under a lesser load effectively changing their cleat position. Another important factor in cleat position is the sport of choice(triathlon, road cycling, track cycling) and the intended duration and intensity. For triathlon for example the cleats need to be placed on around 3 mm more back(again it is highly individual) than for time trialling because triathletes need to run and the calve plays a significant role in that.
    Cleats should always be placed in the centre of the shoe(not to be mistaken with setback) to distribute the load evenly over the strongest part of the foot to eliminate chance of pain and hotspots – never try and adjust the Q factor(pedalling stance) by moving the cleats to their most extreme outward or inward position. It can cause any and all of the following symptoms: excessive pressure on the arch by collapsing the foot under heavy load, knee pain, low back pain, hip pain.
    Q factor plays a role in alignment and isn´t technically part of cleat placement but it is worth mentioning here – very much overlooked during regular bikefits, pedalling stance plays a massive role in alignment and power production especially for people with big thighs and women as the female anatomy obviously differs to men´s a great deal. I once had a client fly in from the UK and during the 4 hour bikefit the only things I changed were the cleats(0 float red Shimano cleats changed to yellow with 6 degree float), standard pedals(53mm) for 59 mm, lowered the seat 5 mm and put it 5mm more back. Everything else remained the same and he could have easily avoided 1000 eur expense by flying here had he visited a competent bikefitter. His symptoms were knee pain, back pain and neck problems. All resolved after.
  1. Seat height and setback
    Getting to the correct seat height is relatively simple stuff provided you have basic bikefitting and observational skills.
    This is something I correct without exception on every bikefit, particularly with people who have visited the usual motion or video capture focused bikefitters. Of these, I very rarely have to raise the seat, about 99 percent of the time the seat needs to go down significantly.
    The record is 65mm for a client who had paid for an aero bikefit and was told that is the optimal seat height for aerodynamics and power production. What the bikefitter forgot to tell him was what kind of a detrimental effect it will have on his power and comfort. Luckily the client in question contacted me very soon after he had the bikefit done and we corrected things before they developed into chronic problems.
    I know for a fact that some high end shops in Finland still use formulas to derive the correct seat height from the inseam. If you have read so far, you understand that is simply not possible. There is also the option of getting to the correct seat height by using a goniometer.
    Goniometer basically just measures the angle of extension for the knee. The motion capture, video capture and the goniometer all derive their seat height recommendations from averages collected on a statistical sample of uknown number and that is their major failing.
    Who’s to say you are average? I certainly don´t think me or anyone else I know are average. I once had a discussion with a Retul system bikefitter about this(the other systems are just as bad) and he said statistical averages are what gives us an advantage and allows us to set the position right, to which I replied:

“Yes, thank you for admitting where the problem lies. Statistics are invariably accurate when applied to large populations, but equally are invariably inaccurate when applied to individuals. Leaving aside for the moment the the question of how good the information your statistics are based on (garbage in = garbage out), find me a single Finn who lives in a household of 2.14 people, owns 0.725 motor vehicles, is 42.5 years of age and has 1.03 ovaries and 0.97 testicles. So, as no one in Finland is average, tell me again why you blindly apply a system based on averages”

and that was the end of the discussion.

Some markers for determining the correct seat height are the velocity of the knee, particularly the rear of the knee under about 85 percent FTP of load and a cadence of 85-90. If you notice the rear of the knee accelerating near the bottom of the pedalling stroke, the rider is sitting too high, at least on that side. If you are unsure about what you´re seeing, increase the load by 5 percent. Now you should have a clearer picture. Saddle height should be changed in small increments of 3 mm, no more, and should be tested back and forth, raising it and lowering it to increase the CNS sensitivy to that activity and achieve better neural clarity. At the end of my bikefit, when both I and the customer are happy, any change to the saddle height(up or down 2-3 mm) feels wrong. That is what you want.
Pedalling technique affects saddle height significantly as well. There are 3 pronounced pedalling styles, which are, in no particular order, toe dipper, when you pedal with your toes pointing down, neutral, no significant angle change during the pedalling stroke, heel dropper, heel is down constantly throughout the pedalling stroke. All of these also affect the seat setback. Worth to mention is that the majority of the toe dippers are women – haven’t worked out why that is yet but am working on it. The toe dippers in men I have seen so far have been brought up by excess saddle height and their compensatory response has been to extend the foot.
The difference in seat height between the toe dipper and the heel dropper can be as much as 40mm all other things being equal. Just one example why formulas and similar things can´t ever work for setting up a human being on the bike.
If you are trying to set your own seat height, I urge you to err on the side of caution and rather have it 3mm lower than 3mm higher. Consequences of riding a too high seat can be severe, while having it slightly too low, although still not optimal, potentially brings much fewer issues than the other option.

Seat setback
This is one of my favourite subjects because it involved a long standing myth of KOPS, or, Knee Over the Pedal Spindle(although pedal axle would be more accurate). Come to think of it, even the name is wrong as it should be tibial tuberosity over the pedal spindle which is the bony bump below patella.
I am not actually sure who the “inventor” of this is, but it has been around since forever and I can only assume it achieved credibility through repetition.
The idea is simple and easily achievable on any bike, and that is to have the tibial tuberosity over the pedal spindle with the foot level and crank arm at horizontal. The idea is when you achieve this, you somehow get magical powers and everything is great. Not quite.
First problem is, given everything you have read so far, do you think it makes sense to prioritize the position and relationship to the bike of one particular body part over all the others? Didn’t think so. I´ve asked many bikefitters why they believe in this but have yet to receive a convincing explanation.
Every action on the bike starts with a signal from the CNS and as we know, the quality of the signal is determined by the information received from the peripheral central nervous system. Nothing happens without this.
One famous physician, Vladimir Janda and a person much smarter than me has divided or grouped the external muscles into postural and phasic muscles. Muscles that act posturally are muscles whose primary purpose is to resist gravity and allow us to maintain our position in space. Primary purpose of the phasic muscles is to generate power for movement. On the bike though things are a little more complex and some postural muscles like calves and hamstrings do act phasically on the bike because they are relieved of the need to help maintain posture such as when standing or walking. 

You might be(again) wondering what has this got to do with bikefitting or saddle setback specifically. 

Everything.

As mentioned before, postural muscles are given higher priority by the CNS than phasic muscles because of evolutionary reasons. When performance is the key goal for bikefitting, we need to find a way to maximize enlistment  of the lower priority power generating muscles without the need to engage the higher priority postural muscles that allow us to hold our position on the bike. 

The only way to do this is to unweighten the upper body(again providing every other positional challenge has been sorted) so that the position is largely self supporting. That way, again, because of our CNS and reasons explained before, the rider can devote all their resources into propelling the bike forward.

Unweighting the upper body is desirable for another reason and that is by doing this, we are effectively increasing the amount of fuel(oxygen in this case) our legs are receiving, because, when the rider is sitting too far forward the muscles in our upper body normally used for helping us expand and contract the lungs are used to help carry the weight of the upper body on the bike(there are 18 muscles involved in this process) so the loss of resources is significant. Think of it as limiting your car´s air intake. The engine will suffer a major performance loss, and so will the cyclist. Water and food aside when riding, the amount of air we can take in significantly affects our performance especially in the higher zones under heavier load. Who doesn´t want to go faster, especially when it’s free?

So, how to set the setback?

Rider´s anatomy and pedalling technique play a large part in this. 

Bikefitters often determine frame geometry by just looking at the person(if they have a long back, longer frames, long legs and short back, compact geo) which is wrong for several reasons. Firstly, having a long back does not mean you have EFFECTIVELY long back. What does that mean? Your muscle flexibility and joint mobility determine how comfortably you are able to extend your spine and rotate your pelvis forward before things start to go south and you start to provoke a response from the CNS further promoting asymmetry. 

The longer the torso effectively, the more weight you are projecting from the seat and the further back it needs to be to minimize enlistment from the upper body. 

Pedalling technique and how it affects saddle setback. All three listen pedalling techniques have different consequences for the saddle setback.

Toe dippers tend to tip their weight forward at every pedal stroke and this increases significantly with the pedalling load – the higher the power, the more of an effect it has. They will need to have their seat further back than thair counterpart heel dropper all other things being equal.

Heel droppers push themselves back in the seat with every pedalling stroke and this again changes significantly based on the load applied. They need to have their seats further forward than the usual toe dipper, all other things being equal. 

Neutral pedalling stroke falls in the middle. 

What is functionality you are asking? In short, you can have the best equipment available to mankind and the best position but if you are not functional you will not be able to relax your upper body and therefore will be losing performance and comfort(performance is a consequence of comfort and comfort cannot be sacrificed if performance is the key).

Too many of my clients have tight hips, lower back and pelvis that cause them to get stuck together and work as a unit instead of moving independently causing instability in the saddle and excess movement from the lower back and pelvis.

On the bike, because of the priorities from the CNS, the rider will do anything(unconsciously) to stabilize their pelvis and in the absence of reasonable functionality they will use their arms in an attempt to stabilize the pelvis causing excessive enlistment of the upper body, suboptimal oxygen usage, higher heart rate for the effort. One of the hardest things for me with my coached athletes is convincing them they need to do body maintenance in the form of core workouts and stretching. Everyone seems to always make an excuse not to do it even though there is empiric proof being functional and flexible offers significant improvement in biomechanical efficiency and therefore in performance.

Back to the topic. During the bikefit I use several tests for achieving optimal seat setback. They are something I´ve worked on for years and it is not something I can disclose, but they are very accurate and of course different depending on the type of bike the requirements are different. TT rides and triathletes will again have a slightly different setback as TT guys don´t need to run after they´re done. 

Bar and brake lever positioning

Bar width is something that has in recent years seen a huge change in trends. It used to be standard to use 44cm bars in basically any size from M to XXL. Lately the trends have shifted into “aero is everything” cyclists have gone as far as 30cm on road bikes and tilting their hoods inwards on top of that.

In my opinion, the bar should only be as wide as your shoulder bones or to be perfectly accurate the acromions.  The acromion is the top outer edge of your scapula (shoulder blade). It forms the acromioclavicular joint with your clavicle (collarbone) and is located above the glenohumeral joint. It also enables your shoulders a wide range of motion and helps transfer force from your arm to your collarbone and shoulder blade. Going up a size rarely causes discomfort but it does affect aerodynamics negatively. Going down a size also rarely causes discomfort but it affects stability and breathing efficiency. Best to use the correct width bar and experiment only during bikefitting performed by an expert where it´s included in the price. 

What I often see with my bikefit clients is that they never use their drops. This happens for two reasons they’re  either too low or too far. Often both. Have a look at a race or sportive – check the bar tape around the STI levers then check the bartape in the drops. Usually it will look unused, and in most cases it is. Using the drops is very important in descending, when riding in crosswinds or when riding hard because it allows for a much better control of the handlebar without excess use of the upper body to do so allowing optimal biomechanical efficiency. 

Symptoms of having too low bars, although these can be caused by many other reasons are pressure in the front of the saddle, neck pain, low back pain, instability in the seat, hand numbness or soreness, pain in the hip area.

Ideal reach and drop to the bars is when it feels like your upper body is relaxed and without any perceptible tension. They should not feel far, nor should the weight on the hands increase. Keep in mind that riding in the drops also requires practice.

Good way to test your riding in the drops is to try and ride the last 30-40 mins of a long ride in the drops – it should not be a problem and you should be able to keep the position well. 

Bar angle is another factor in comfort. There are many types of bars on the market and I am a big fan of the SL-70 model from Zipp because of the short reach allowing the rider to use a longer stem which in turn improves handling and stability. The bar angle should be set so that the rider has unbent wrists when in the drops apart from when reaching for the brakes. 

STI lever position plays also a vital role in comfort. They should never be set level or especially downwards because this increases the chance of sliding especially in hot and humid conditions and therefore enlisting the upper body excessively which we know is a big factor in performance and comfort.

This is very individual and the rider´s functionality plays a big part in this. Often by tilting the STI levers at 3-4 degrees upwards you can help the rider stabilize better in the saddle and therefore increase comfort in performance. Terrain also plays a big part in this as well as riding style. If you live in a hilly country and ride out of the saddle on the hills a lot, tilting the STI levers excessively upwards will cause problems when riding out of the saddle even if it feels good while seated. If this is the case compromise is needed and the position of the STI levers might not feel perfect when seated, but will feel perfect when riding out the saddle. Again, the principle of individual solutions for individuals applies. 

Bikefitting is my passion as you can probably see clearly from the article and is the reason for a major change in my career. I have dedicated my life to helping athletes ride faster, more comfortably, injury free and at their peak biomechanical efficiency. 

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