BICYCLE: WHERE TO START? THE FIRST STEP IS ABOUT THE POSITION IN THE SADDLE

An ultralight bike nourishes everyone’s dreams; even more if it is one of those ridden by champions. When it is time to choose, it is very easy to get carried away by emotions and make a decision based on instinct more than on good sense.

Riding a bike, especially when it becomes a passion that absorbs you several hours a week, does require the machine to suit you from the point of view of its fit, i.e. how well it is tailored to you. Like a tailored suit that is made to fit individual customers, a bike needs to be appropriate in terms of its proportions too. Sometimes, even better than in the bike shop, an expert in biomechanics is the right person to consult. A specialist technician able to provide guidance, based on objective anthropometric measurements and overall body assessment to highlight leg-length discrepancies, imbalances or any joint rigidity that do not allow our body to reach the comfort necessary to sustain long training sessions.

 

(Alberto Contador and his shifted-forward pedalling position on the bike).

 

There are different theories about what a rider’s position on the bike means and over the years there have been different trends and schools of thought. Nowadays pro riders pedal in a position that is more shifted towards the front end of the bike compared to what happened in the past, when the trend was towards a more backward position in the saddle. This forward shift of the pedalling position allows for the muscles to be smoother while working, more agile and able to reach a better spinning technique, that makes better use of the quadriceps torque. There is probably some cross-pollination with triathlon: and from that the search for maximum aerodynamics.

(An example of rare elegance and top aerodynamics. Michele Bartoli pedalling style, with his back almost parallel to the road).

 

We must always keep in mind that pro riders are exceptional athletes who, over many years of training, have become whole with their bike. It is unreasonable to try to reproduce the position of a cyclist who has a muscle structure and flexibility that are totally different from those of an amateur rider.

 

A good position in the saddle, through bike fit, is needed to ensure the best performance, the right comfort on the bike and most of all to to avoid tendon and muscle problems that are caused by a repeated, wrong, motor tasks.

 

How to proceed? First of all, by statically measuring your body’s proportions. Begin with your height, using a simple measuring tape or, if this is done in a specialized centre, with the appropriate device. Next, the measurement of the distance from the floor to the perineum. This will help determine the saddle height. Then the measurement of the bust, from the perineum to the sternum (curiously, this part of the bone structure is called ‘manubrium of sternum’ [Latin/Italian: handle]). The measurement of the shoulders is instead used to establish the width of the handlebar. It is important that the handlebar is not narrower than the shoulders because, otherwise, the thoracic capacity and, more importantly, the ventilatory capacity could be compromised.

 

Then it is time to move onto the dynamic part of the bike fit, by actually positioning the rider in the saddle. The athlete could already be given a position based on his/her anthropometric measures, obtained in the first part of the assessment. But fitting the rider over a simulator that provides the theoretical ideal position is a more scientific way to do it.

(There are different methodologies and schools of thought to give a cyclist his/her position in the saddle).

 

A few markers are strategically placed on some anatomical points of the rider’s body (shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, ankle). As the rider pedals on turbo trainers in front of an infrared camera, his/her image is gathered, processed and displayed on screen by the software. Thanks to this process, and to the analysis of the angles, the fitter assesses and adjusts the fit taking into account the pedalling movement, the motion of the joints and the smoothness of the pedal stroke. And, very importantly, it is verified that the position on the bike is the most efficient you can get, because avoiding any waste of energy is now essential.

For those who never had this kind of examination, major changes in the bike set-up could be required. It is also good to keep in mind that after the biomechanist’s assessment and, especially, after changing the bike set-up, the first few rides should be done at slow pace to ensure that our body has time to adapt to the new posture and to avoid conditions and problems related to the changes.

Complementary to the bike fit, it is also a good time to adjust the cleats of the cycling shoes. But we will talk about this soon…