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Think Twice Before Changing Your Bike Set Up

5 Feb 2015
Adrian Spinelli
When was the last time you adjusted your seat height, cleats or changed stems? Why did you do it? What might have happened if you didn’t make any changes at all? In recent years the demand for bike fitting has surged, with cyclists of all levels searching for gains in performance and to assist with injury prevention and rehabilitation. However, adjusting your seat height to relieve a niggly backache might be doing more harm than good.

An abstract published recently proposed a few interesting concepts. Over a 2 year period, a correlation was reported between riders that sustained injury and those riders that more frequently adjusted their position, labelled ‘micro-adjusters’ (Burt, 2014). Similar observations were made with respect to changes in equipment such as pedals and shoes. The study monitored 61 elite developmental cyclists, and the results also indicated that riders who were not injured were also less sensitive to positional change. 

Currently, various bike fitting methods exist for cyclists seeking positional feedback that range from wind trainer assessment to multi-dimensional real time feedback systems.  

Physiotherapists can work in conjunction with biomechanists, particularly at an elite level, to provide a positional opinion. This is largely due to a physiotherapist’s advanced level of knowledge in biomechanics, movement, anatomy and pathology.

Point to point anatomical measurements, power and joint angles all offer feedback that may facilitate positional change through the contact points that provide connection between body and bike. These points include the handlebars, saddle and pedals which are all areas of load and force transference. 

Following an injury, bike position is often scrutinised. Load may be directionally transferred from one body region or area of tissue to another. Examples might include an incremental cleat adjustment in the presence of a reactive Achilles tendinopathy, or saddle height or reach adjustment in the presence of anterior knee pain. 

It is reasonable to question whether some riders are more sensitive than others when changes are made, and furthermore whether greater sensitivity exists between road, time trial and mountain bike geometries. We could also question whether gender, age, or tissue composition and structure also influence the body’s sensitivity and ability to adapt to ergonomic change, for example in the presence of varying degrees of hypermobility.  

The correlation is an example of a very basic level of research, but it certainly poses interesting concepts for future studies. Will it be possible in the foreseeable future to improve injury prevention protocols by recognising individuals at risk through positional change? Future studies will hopefully look to expand on this observation and improve knowledge base in this area. 

In the meantime, seeking the opinion of an experienced cycling specific physiotherapist with bike fit experience is highly recommended, particularly in the presence of injury. 



Burt P. (2014) Bike Position – An Insight Into Athletic Ability to Adapt to Change? Br J Sports Med. 48:576



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