After a long winter, most people wheel their bike out of storage, pump up the tires, oil the chain, and start pedaling.
Spending only a few extra minutes on an efficient and ergonomic bike setup will give you much more out of your summer rides.
Ergonomic Bike Setup
Most people know how to ride a bike, but few know how to set one up in the way that’s best for them.
And beyond the how is the why. That’s where I come in.
I’m an ergonomist with a background in biomechanics, six years in bike retail, and 12 years of active riding – recreationally and competitively. So, I have a pretty solid understanding of the why and the biomechanics behind it.
In retail, you always try to get someone on the right bike for them. I’m not trying to sell you a bike, though I would like to help you get the most out of the one you have.
The gist of it is, an efficient and ergonomic bike setup will let you maximize comfort and efficiency. A comfortable ride can make biking the best part of your day; a poor setup might mean you’re more likely to grab those car keys.
Here’s what you need to know:
Give yourself lots of time to get your bike set up right. Don’t try to do it all first thing in the morning and expect to still be on time for work.
You have five points of contact with your bike – grips for both hands, the pedals for the feet, and the seat. If you don’t get these right, your bike might as well be an ornament.
This is particularly important if you are commuting. Your hands could be numb, strained, and worn out before you start typing for the day; you don’t want your seat to be uncomfortable and then have to sit in a chair for eight hours.
The Importance of Ergonomic Biking
An ergonomic bike setup aims to keep your centre of gravity over the middle of the bike – which is, depending on the design, often right in front of the seat.
It is possible to move the seat slightly closer to, or further from, your handle bars. But in most cases it’s best to leave it centred and adjust the height.
As a basic guideline, start with the seat close to waist-level. From there, you can go up or down a bit until you find your comfort spot. Seat height may also depend on the type of bike you are riding. Generally, mountain bikes sit a little lower than road bikes.
Raising your seat too high leaves you leaning too far forward. This puts extra strain on your hands and wrists as they support more of your body weight. At the same time, you’ll also lose some pedal efficiency – your feet have less pedal contact if you are sitting too far up.
But sitting too low also has its problems. Not only does it leave you leaning back, it brings your knees up towards your chest mid-pedal, taking most of the power out of your rotation. If you feel like your foot can barely reach the ground when you are seated, don’t worry – that’s normal.
Ideally, you want your knees coming parallel to the ground at their maximum height and then pushing forward for close to a full leg extension. You should feel that the full rotation is easy, comfortable, and natural.
Road bikes often are designed with very narrow saddles to allow for maximum rotation of the legs with minimal resistance.
Some people find these uncomfortable and want cushions or wider seats. The problem is, you’re not in a chair. Cruiser bikes typically come with such seats. And, while they might offer a smooth ride, they’ll be a lot more work on your commute.
For a more comfortable feel without sacrificing efficiency, a nice set of cycling shorts are a great option. They’re sleek, aerodynamic, and have some cushioning built in to soften your ride.
Remember, the seat should hit your sit bones. These are in slightly different places for men and women – one of the reasons women’s seats don’t look the same as men’s.
Your hands should always stay comfortable, even on a longer ride. If you find you’re going numb, try wider grips that relax the hand positioning. On bikes with suspension, you may also need to adjust the rebound control to reduce hand vibration.
Select pedals that have ample grip to maximize the power transfer throughout each pedal stroke. Higher grip pedals increase riding efficiency while reducing rider fatigue.
For a more complete power transfer with each cycle, use clipless pedals and cycling shoes. When installed properly, a clipless setup will allow your power to transfer throughout the entire pedal stroke, increasing efficiency and minimizing fatigue.
Ergonomic bike setup: Getting ready to ride
Check your tire pressure with a pump before doing anything. Pushing into the tread with the base of your palm might indicate your tire is low, but you really don’t know where you’re at without reading the pressure.
It’s extremely common for people to run their tires too low and only fill them at the beginning of the season. Not only is this harder on your rims, it also slows you down. Check your rims and your tires and keep the pressure inflated within manufacturer recommendations.
When it comes to breaking, you should be able to pull your brakes with one or two fingers – usually the index and middle finger – and not hit your knuckles. If you can’t, they probably need adjusting.
Breaking with the middle finger frees up the index and thumb to handle shifting. For the most part, you should be able to keep your hand relatively open.
When you’re cornering or going downhill, you’ll grip tighter. But otherwise, keep the hands nice and relaxed.
We want to be comfortable and ready to work when we get to the office. Road bikes often have handles that allow you to alternate positions during your ride, offering great opportunity for posture breaks.
Comfort and Safety
It should go without saying by now: always wear your helmet. But beyond that, wear it properly.
You want your helmet to sit a finger width or two above the eyebrows. If it’s too far back, you won’t get protection from a frontal impact. If it’s too far forward, you can’t see. You’ll have similar issues if it’s off to one side, as well.
Most helmets now have an adjustable dial at the back. Use this to get a nice fit and adjust for growing hair and cold weather caps.
As for the strap, the ‘V’ on the ear piece should fall just below the earlobe, and the buckle about a finger width below the chin.
What you wear should be as important as what you ride. If you are on the road, you want something indicating you are a cyclist. Reflective clothing is great for this and it’s even better if it shows cars which way to go around you.
The most effective area for reflective stripes is on your legs. Leg movement distinguishes you from a motorcyclist in a driver’s eyes. This is also why it’s crucial to use tail lights that flash and don’t only shine red.
A good set of cycling gloves protects your skin and helps minimize hand vibrations. If you are biking to work, you don’t want to strained your hands before you start working for the day.
A whole ergonomic bike setup might seem like a lot to get through, but it is worth it. Biking should be fun, comfortable exercise. If you put a little more into it, you’ll get a lot more out of it.
Feel free to reach out with any questions you have! Enjoy your summer riding and consider joining a local riding group (such as one of the two run by EWI Works staff!).
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