With all those moving pieces, deciphering just what’s gone awry can be tricky. So we turned to physical therapist and bike fit specialist Kevin Schmidt, owner of Pedal PT in Portland, Oregon to help us troubleshoot cycling’s most common aches and pains.
These fixes are obviously not a substitute for a professional bike fit, but they will get you off on the right foot and may help you pedal pain free.
Common culprit: You’re too stretched out.
Try this: If you’re experiencing neck pain, first establish what a neutral head position on the bike should feel like.
“The goal is for your shoulders to be able to make an angle of 90 degrees or slightly less between your upper arms and torso with your hands on the hoods,” says Schmidt. Anything above that, and your more forward positioned head puts stress on the upper trap muscles that support your head.
With your hands on the bars, tuck your chin in, engaging the muscles in the front of your neck and then look up.
“That motion distributes the pressure through more vertebrae, versus hinging on only one or two segments, lessening stress on the upper cervical spine,” says Schmidt.
Adjust your cockpit accordingly to maintain it. Try a shorter stem; raise your bars or lower your saddle if you tend to run it on the high side.
“People are very quick to go to the stem first, but lowering the saddle a bit narrows the cockpit and brings you closer to the bars, lessening the reach,” he says.
Common culprits: Too much weight on your hands and/or too much (or too little) bend in your wrists.
Try this: Level your saddle.
“The first thing I look at is the saddle tilt,” says Schmidt. “If it’s even a little nose down, you’re dumping too much body weight onto your hands. Make sure it’s level.”
Handlebars that are too low also can cause hand pain. Try a higher rise stem. Then check your wrists. They should have a slight, 10 to 15 degree back-bend, on the bars. Too little or too much can be stressful.
You can do a sight check by looking at the skin on the top of your wrists. Cock them up until you see creases or folds (that’s too far); then straighten just until the folds disappear.