I recently wrote a post on Instagram about the importance of bike set up indoors. Some may say that it matters much more on long rides outdoors. I agree to a point: what if you take multiple indoor cycling classes a week spending in excess of 5 hours riding indoors? Indoors or outdoors it’s all about comfort, safety, injury prevention and enhancing performance.
Your indoor cycling instructor should go through a bike set up demo in every class. They should also take time to walk around and adjust any major issues regarding the set up. If they do not mention it, please approach them and ask to check your set up.
Your indoor bike set up will change if you change bike types across various gyms. Some may have limited adjustment options. You can only do your best even though you know sometimes it is not ideal.
First and foremost, from the point of view of knee and back safety, get the saddle height right followed by saddle’s fore and aft to ensure the knee joint is not put under an unnecessary stress nor are you impeding your performance. The handlebars’ position indoors is mainly about comfort. Outdoors we would also consider aerodynamics.
Always take a few minutes to adjust your bike when you come to an indoor cycling class. Ask your instructor for help or feedback. They should all be able to give you the general guidelines. Some instructors with a special interest in this area may even use tools, like a goniometer.
Accept that there will be days when you feel you need to go higher or lower a notch, closer or further. It may be because your back or shoulders feel tight or you may have to accommodate an injury. Or it’s early in the morning and the usual set up just feels a bit off. Know your standard numbers so you can set up quickly but bear in mind that they are not set in stone.
This is even more true when it comes to an outdoor bike. Many places offer bike fitting services. These can be long sessions you take your bike to. They cost a pretty penny, too. I paid over £200 for mine a few years back.
These sessions may be more or less scientific, depending on the place. You put your bike on rollers or in a turbo trainer, then they (may) attach sensors to various points on your body like ankles, knees, hips and off you go pedalling. The info is then fed through the software and the optimum position angles are calculated. Your bike gets adjusted to the new specifications (they even cut off a few inches of the sides of my handlebars on my hybrid bike) and you get a report to take with you. This way if you need to pull your bike apart, you know how to set it back up exactly as it was. Done and dusted, right? Well, not exactly.
Things to remember:
- The optimum set up achieved during this type of one-off fitting will apply only to this bike (frame size etc) and your body as it is (current injuries or lack of them).
- If you change your saddle, start using saddle padding, change shoes (different cleat position) etc. the numbers will no longer apply.
- If you get more flexible or less flexible due to an injury, the numbers need to be revised.
These points will matter to outdoor riders who put serious miles in or compete in events. But even if you take part in sportives for the fun of it, when you start riding for a few hours at a time you do want to get your bike set up right.
Athlete’s Lab in London Cannon Street have got a top-notch fitting service for their members. Stefanie who is responsible for that service on top of having a Masters in Sports Biomechanics is a member of International Bike Fitting Institute (it does exist!). This studio uses actual road bikes with turbo trainers in their sessions. What sets them apart is that the highly qualified specialist observes you, works out your optimum set up but then treat it as a a work in progress: your set up is adjusted to allow for all the points mentioned above as you come for your sessions.
The take-away here is: one off set up is great but it will not set you up for life.
It is a good idea to find a biomechanics coach/specialist who is into cycling and have them review your position every so often.
If you cannot afford that, you can do a few things yourself. Get someone to film you ride or watch you and give you feedback in terms of your form. You can look up the things to watch out for when setting a bike up, but remember that one size does not fit all. Different torso lengths, arms’ length, hip and back flexibility, etc. make it a moving target. Get the principles right, then customise them to your body.
Always pay attention during the ride to how your body performs. Are your shoulders tense even though you were not riding for hours? Painful wrists? Are your knees clicking when you ride? Do you have pain in front/behind/on the side of your knee or both? What about after the ride?
When you collect all the information, look for a physio or even better a Pilates instructor with a special interest in cycling. Get an assessment off the bike (and on it, if possible) and see if you can both work out ways to ease any discomfort and sort out any niggles before they become injuries and turn into long term issues.
Parkside Hospital in Wimbledon offers a bike fit service with a physio who is a Pilates instructor. You get a biomechanics assessment on and off the bike (no sensors or software used so I assume they simply watch you ride). You are also given an exercise programme to help with any existing issues or help prevent any future ones. It’s £120 a pop. I have not used their service myself but I have contacted them and I know the physio doing the assessment is not a cyclist herself but has worked with many.
If an idea of an one-off assessment does not appeal to you and you would rather pinpoint what holds you back or why you always end up with an injury after a race, maybe work on your back flexibility, I can definitely recommend Pilates. And to be very specific, if you are in London, Bonia from BeMotion Pilates that I have been working with for a long time. An indoor cycling instructor herself, she has been working with one of the ladies who rode the TDF 2019 route with the InternationElles, the all-female team, last month. You can check their website here.
To sum up, indoors or outdoors bike set up should not be ignored. How much time and money you want to spend to perfect it, depends on your goals and the size of your wallet.