Bike Fitting Basics For Common Problems

20 September, 2017

Whether you are riding to the corner store or across the country, you should be comfortable on your bike. There are common issues I often hear other cyclists, including myself, suffering from like neck, back, or knee pain, saddle sores, or hand or foot numbness. Knowing these issues rise from improper bike fit, I met up with my bike shop for a bike fitting session to discuss these issues along with their causes. I was told that if I am experiencing any of these afflictions "Your bicycle probably doesn't fit you right." From there I spiraled down into a rabbit hole of how to properly adjust a bike to ride comfortably. 
While a good bike fit can help prevent cycling afflictions, it also helps improves pedaling efficiency and aerodynamics that actually make you faster. I thought since I was getting all this knowledge that I might share these insights to help you know basic bike-fitting principles to help you get performance and comfort right on your bike with just a few adjustments.
Adjusting the Bike Saddle
Your bike seat should be level to support your full body weight and allow you to move around on the seat when necessary. Too much upward tilt can result in pressure points. Too much downward tilt can make you slide forward while riding and put extra pressure on your arms, hands and knees, which can lead to injury.
To adjust the seat height, wear your biking shoes and riding shorts and place your heels on the pedals. As you pedal backward, your knees should fully extend in the down position. If your hips rock side to side the seat is too high. Now when you move your foot into the proper pedaling position, with the balls of your feet over the pedal, you'll have a slight bend in your knees.
You can also adjust the seat forward and backward (fore and aft position). With your feet on the pedals so the crank arms are parallel with the ground, the proper position will put your forward knee directly over the pedal axle. Dropping a plumb line from the patellar tendon makes this adjustment a bit easier to see.
Handlebar Adjustment
If the handlebars are too high, too low, too close, or too far away, you may have neck, shoulder, back, and hand pain. A proper reach allows you to comfortably use all the positions on the handlebars and to comfortably bend your elbows while riding. There are other, more advanced adjustments you can make, such as changing the handlebar width or height.

Bicycle Adjustments for Common Pain Problems
Because your body is asymmetric (one leg or arm may be slightly longer or shorter than the other) an ideal bike fit is often a matter of trial and error. The slightest imbalance can lead to pain. Here are some common complaints and possible solutions.
Knee Pain
Knee pain is usually associated with a seat position that is too high or low or far forward or back. Improper bike shoe or cleat position can also cause knee pain.
A seat that is too high will cause pain in the back of the knee.
A seat that is too high will also cause your hips to rock side to side, which may cause discomfort.
A seat that is too low or too far forward may cause pain in the front of the knee.
Improper foot position on the pedal (or improper cleat alignment) can cause pain on the inside or outside of your knees.
Individual anatomy may also result in knee pain. Cyclists with slight differences in leg length may have knee pain because the seat height is only adjusted for one side. Shoe inserts or orthotics can help correct this problem. Another cause of knee pain is using too high a gear. Try to use a gear that allows you to pedal quickly, from 70 to 100 strokes per minute.
Neck Pain
Neck pain is another common cycling complaint and is usually the result of riding a bike that is too long or having handlebars that are too low. Tight hamstring and hip flexor muscles can also cause neck pain by forcing your spine to round or arch, and your neck to hyperextend.
Foot Pain or Foot Numbness
Foot pain or numbness is often the result of wearing soft-soled shoes. Special shoes designed for cycling have stiff soles that distribute pressure evenly over the pedal. This also helps you pedal more efficiently. Foot pain can also be caused by using too high a gear, which results in more pressure where the foot meets the pedal.
Hand Pain or Hand Numbness
Hand pain or numbness can be prevented by wearing padded cycling gloves that provide cushioning. You should ride with your elbows slightly bent, not straight or locked. Bent elbows will act as shock absorbers and help absorb the bumps in the road. Changing hand positions on the handlebars can also reduce pressure and pain.
Saddle Sores
Finding a bike seat that fits you well is imperative. There are dozens of bike saddles designed for every rider and riding style. Saddles come in a variety of materials from gel to leather. There are women-specific saddles that are shorter and wider to accommodate a woman's wider pelvis. Others have a center cutout to relieve pressure on soft tissues. You should try several to find one that fits you well.
Your cycling clothing can also cause saddle sores. Cyclists typically wear shorts made without seams — and no underwear — to eliminate sources of chafing and pressure points. Cycling shorts also have padded liners that provide more comfort than street clothes. Be sure to always remove shorts, clean and dry yourself right away after a ride to prevent bacteria buildup and infection.
Read more about common Female Saddle Issues here.
I can properly say that I've experienced most of these issues (minus saddle sore) before getting my bike fitted. I'm a tiny woman so finding a bike my size was half the challenge before my bike shop took my comfort into their hands. I'm extremely grateful for this experience and highly recommend that if you're having these issues, please call or visit a bike shop that does a bike fit. Price ranges run between $150-$300 and take less than 2hrs to asses. It's an investment but if you're spending a lot of time on your bike, your comfort matters as it may help prevent injury down the line.
Image Courtesy @AdaptiveHP

En Route Event

06 September, 2017

The latest women's ride EN ROUTE will take on the Hudson Vallley area starting this Saturday, September 9th. Hosted by Bikeway and myself as a Machines For Freedom Community Leader. En Route Saturdays will tackle 40-100km rides on trails, hilly and flat routes with a mid or post ride cafe stop.

For routes, rides, and event updates, check regularly on EN ROUTE's Facebook page and EN ROUTE's Strava club page.


8:30 am - Meetup
9 am - Rollout
692 Route 6
Mahopac, NY 10541
(845) 621-2800

These rides alternate between trails, hilly and flat routes, 40-100 km, with a mid or post ride cafe stop. For Sept 9th route, check out our Strava event link.

The Fine Print
We're a laid-back group and encourage all levels of experience. If you’re unsure whether or not one of our rides is for you, please contact us or come along to a Saturday ride. No rides on rainy days.

This is a 'no drop' ride with a social but average pace of 13-16 mph. Please note all of these rides are not supported and are undertaken at your own risk.

We recommend you cycle on a road bike and are a confident rider with cleats. Please also bring a helmet, carry a pump and tube for any punctures and nutrition to get you through the ride if you require it.

*DISCLAIMERBy signing up for a road ride, or any other event organized by this group, you are acknowledging that you are aware of the risks, dangers and hazards associated with any outdoor activity and freely accept and fully assume all such risks, dangers and hazards. In addition, you further agree to release and discharge the Organizers of all liability arising from your participation in the group activities. Release Agreement here.

Staying Motivated To Cycle

31 August, 2017

It's almost September, and September is a month full of changes: changing leaves, changing temperatures, new routines, new chapters, and warmer kit. But what if September also gave you the chance to focus on a new cycling goal. When it comes to goal setting, there are very few undertakings that are more challenging than maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle throughout seasonal changes, especially after the initial motivation of spring and summer training wears off and your cycling goals have been checked. With all cooler days ahead, how do we keep motivated and inspired to cycle during the changing seasons?

Personally, I've struggled with staying motivated since moving to the North East. Fall is bearable but winter is hard on me and staying in bed and indoors is a lot more enjoyable. I enjoy watching nature change but I personally have had to develop goals over the years of living in seasonal climates to help me stay motivated to keep fit and active as cooler weather settles in. Last year I joined a spin class 3x's a week to help me keep strong for the warmer season ahead, however, this year a new challenge is needed and I've got my mind set on a few goals ahead of me. To help you get in the mindset of goal setting for the cooler seasons ahead, here are a few tips to help you stay motivated to cycle.

Set goals: Nothing will motivate you more than trying to achieve a goal. Don’t just say, “I want to reach x amount of base miles this season.” Add more fun to it and make yourself accountable.  Find a local ride, do a fall bike tour, join a half century or century ride, or any active event and sign up for it. For example, Rapha does a Braver Than The Elements and Festive 500 ride that keeps us pedaling to meet our goals while finishing the year off strong. Start with a small goal or one that’s difficult to even imagine as reachable, be accountable by setting goals on Strava and just do it

Make it a priority: Ask yourself: “How do I want to feel when I wake up in the morning? Would I rather be caught up on my favorite late-night TV show but wake up tired? Or, would I rather go to bed earlier so that I may rise refreshed and energized to get a workout in?” I really struggled initially when training for my first century ride earlier this year. I had no idea how to fit in my workouts into my already busy schedule, while simultaneously living up to my family, career, and home-owner expectations.

However, it was very important to me, and I was highly motivated to find a doable solution. I was never a morning person but realized it was the only time I could get my outdoor rides in before sunset. It wasn’t easy at first, but slowly I got used to a new routine.

Schedule a regular workout time. Some of the most committed athletes work out very early in the morning. No one will schedule a meeting at 4 or 5am. It will be just you and the road, and no one will bother you. If mornings are hectic for you, then see what time of the day will work better for you and commit to it! Many workout routine people I know have early job commitments, so mornings are not an ideal time for workouts, yet they find time in the evening after their jobs and obligations.

Don’t let the weather stop you. I don’t like cold and can’t stand snow (anything below 60˚F is considered cold for me). However, I live in the Northeast, where ice and snow go with the territory. I never let the weather be a barrier to my training plans. Some of my most memorable rides happened after big snow storms when the sun is out and the skies are clear. If I am not up to dealing with the weather, then I take my rides indoors and enjoy listening to music or watching a favorite show on BBC.

Don’t waste time. Make your rides count. If you are out of the door, then get a good ride in. Get going with a plan, and do it!
Surround yourself with active people. Get to know active people at your local cycle club or gym. Join a group or ask your local bike shop about group rides. You will make a lot of friends that will keep you motivated and from whom you will learn. You can also find and join an active group on many of the social networking sites like Strongher or Strava.

Keep it simple. The more you complicate things, the higher the chance you will lose interest. Want to try cyclocross? Rent a cyclocross bike and go out and ride to try it. No need to worry about ideal gear or finding the latest and greatest gadget advertised in magazines, or reading about and searching online for the ultimate training program. Just start riding some trails, and you’ll figure out the rest later.

Use social media. Many like to use social media such as Instagram, Twitter, or more fitness specific ones such as Runkeeper, Strava, DailyMile to post their workouts. Telling your followers about your workouts makes you feel accountable. Also, many find motivation from reading others’ workouts.

Mix it up. By nature, we need change to keep motivated. If you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you will get burned out. Start riding trails or different routes, or try to challenge yourself differently on a ride by maintaining a faster speed or doing hill reps. If you belong to a gym, look at the group workouts they offer and try something different. It’s a great way to challenge yourself and stay motivated at the same time.

Reward yourself—buy new gear. Who doesn't love NEW KIT DAY! When training for long hours, one of the methods that have been proven to keep athletes motivated is new gear. The smell of new cycling shoes or that coveted GPS Garmin watch can get you going. Even loading new music into the iPhone can spark your workouts.

So start thinking of yourself as an athlete and not a spectator. Set a goal, mark it on your calendar, and have fun with it. You’ll quickly realize the benefits of better health, more energy, and more happiness on and off the bike.

Image Courtesy @masmela

Bike Talk: The Female Saddle Issue Debate

23 August, 2017

You may have read in a previous blog post on Things Only Cycling Babes Know and wondered what I meant by #9: "Not shaving "lady bits" is the best prevention for saddle sore..." It has become well known in the community that female cyclist suffer most from saddle issues such as saddle sore, labial swelling, numbness, and infections like Vaginitis and UTI's. While these affliction's are quite common in female cyclists it seems too embarrassing for our community to speak up about it. While there are different thoughts of cause and effect of female grooming and saddle issues, it's important that our community has a dialogue about these issues that affect our bodies health on the saddle so that we can  help each other find solutions.

There seems to be two minds about female grooming and saddle issues, the first being that grooming is correlated to saddle issues and the second that grooming is not correlated to saddle issues but rather hygiene. The first thought, spurred by British Cycling, has their olympic women's team taking world-class expert advice to advise against bikini waxing, shaving, and hair removal creams. The rule to not groom was encouraged when the team had been suffering from saddle soreness and warned that a lack of pubic hair was contributing to this issue - a problem hampering the team's performance. Apparently, not grooming has lead to better performance and less saddle issues.

The second thought of saddle issues comes from a term the women's cycling community has liberally used to describe saddle discomfort as "Flap Mash", taken from Emily Chappell's article in Casquette magazine, The Truth About Saddle Sores. In the article, Chappell interviews journalist and writer of Saddle, Sore, Molly Hurford, who's professional investigative conclusion has lead her to believe that grooming is not the issue while its more about labial asymmetry and keeping yourself clean by getting out of your shorts soon after a ride and avoiding chamois cream if you don't groom all your hair.

Personally, I have no issue with pubic hair but I do think it has become a political statement and for others a fashion statement. I also believe there is a societal obsession with making women's bodies "better" or "cleaner" for public consumption. The beauty industry has tapped into this offering loads of products and services to achieve "perfection" and the cycling industry is no fool to this either. While women's cycling products are coming up by the dozens, I do not doubt marketing strategies to appeal to saddle comfort while also trying to keep their female customers happy. I'm not arguing that we should go au natural but rather that we take precautions on caring for our lady bits that can affect our overall health and enjoyment on the saddle.

If you are suffering from saddle issues, don't ignore it. Regardless of what school of thought you side with, what's important is to help you address these issues. Here are some ways to help you manage your lady bits health on the saddle.

Chamois cream:
Using a lubricate like chamois cream helps to reduce friction between our skin and cycling shorts. You can find women's specific brands of chamois creams that are developed specifically to help women maintain a healthy pH balance while fighting bacteria build-up. I personally am a fan of HER Chamios Butt'r and apply on my chamois and areas of the groin that may rub on the saddle or shorts. I've been using this product for years now and have never had an issue but every woman is different, so try a few till you find what works for you! For more on chamois cream, read up on the Best Chamois Creams from TWC.

I hear from a lot of women that they suffer from inner-thigh chafing. This happens when the sides of the saddle rub against delicate skin. You can address this by using anti-chafing gels such as Lanacane that provides a barrier on the skin from bibs or shorts rubbing on the skin. Also keep in mind that shorts with seams can also create chaffing and rubbing so try to look for shorts that don't have seams around the chamois and your sensitive areas.

Quality Chamois and Kit
From the positioning of the chamois in the shorts to the seam positioning and fit, all these can have a major impact on saddle comfort. A common mistake by cyclists is that they wear underwear under their shorts. This prevents the technical fabrics in the chamois from functioning properly and will trap moisture to the skin, risking bacterial infection so go commando, this is what chamois is for. When looking for quality chamois, look for seamlessness and take note of zig zag threading in the chamois. Machines For Freedom claims that "polymide-carbon threading makes chamois fabric ultra fast drying, bacteriostatic, and reduces heat gain during long hours in the saddle." I would also add that their bibs are my absolute go to's, quality doesn't even go far enough about how great they are from how they look, feel, and perform on the saddle.

Grooming is a personal choice. While waxing or shaving may look nice on the beach, it can become a nightmare for irritation, friction, snagging, chaffing, and infected bumps. While it seems that maintaining a trimmed nether region is preferable to avoiding saddle issues according to Total Women's Cycling on the subject intimate grooming, if you're going to shave or wax, keep in mind to take care of delicate skin after removing hair to avoid follicle infection with a layer of antibiotic ointment and don't forget to apply chamois cream on the chamois and on your lady bits too.

Saddle Fit
Prolonged pressure between the body and saddle is obviously an issue for "Flap Mash"and while resolving it with our bodies natural barriers is one way to handle it, perhaps a change in saddle and positioning on saddle is needed too. Although finding the perfect saddle is a challenge, there are numerous bike shops that have saddle libraries for you to test. Keep in mind that although one saddle might work for a handful of ladies, it may not work you. I highly recommend getting a saddle fit along with a bike fit. This will help you manage your sitting position (60 degree horizontal recommended) on the saddle and save you a lot of trouble from these afflictions.

As one woman out of many, my saddle experiences have not been as bad as many others for all the years I've been riding. I have a before and after cycling personal routine to keep my lady bits healthy from diet, supplements, and hygiene and it has served me well for many years. One issue I use to come across more as I started road cycling is numbing before I bought my Selle Italia Diva Flow. I've seen many women with this saddle and they also boast great comfort on it. For most of the part, your saddle comfort is based on the type of riding you do so do your research and start here on How To Choose A Saddle.

So, to groom or not to groom? While saddle issues are no fun, it's important that we learn to care for our bodies on and off the saddle. The debate between grooming is one that will linger between experts, journalists, and the industry but it's up to us to decide what is right for our bodies. Their is no one-size fits all solution and while speaking up about our personal afflictions is embarrassing, it can provide great comfort knowing how to care for yourself and that you aren't the only woman that suffers from these issues. As far as if you should groom... well, that's up to you.

Image Courtesy @MachinesForFreedom

Guide To Conquering Climbs

17 August, 2017

Hills, some people love them and some seem to hate them. Climbing isn't everyones favorite but many seem to ask, how do I improve my climbing skills? When I began cycling, I had no idea there was wrong and right way of climbing, I just adjusted my gears, set my mind to it and rode up with searing pain in my legs. When I began road cycling, I discovered that climbing was an art and much of your skill is in your mind as in your bike and body. Today, developing my climbing skills have helped me to become an enthusiastic climber so to help you overcome your climbing fears, here are a few tips to help you conquer the mountains.

Positive Thinking
I put this one first because self doubt seems to be the biggest challenge most of us face when looking up a hill. Climbing is as much a mental effort as it is physical. One way to help you muster up the courage to climb is by speaking to yourself positively. I have a mantra I use when I climb "I can to this. I am strong. I can conquer. I got this." These short out spoken affirmations help me to not just control my thoughts but also my breathing. When your mind, breathing and body are in sync, you are much likely able to achieve and conquer a climb.

When climbing, you'll be breathing hard but you shouldn't lose control of your breath. When climbing, try to sync your breath with each pedal while keeping your effort at a comfortable level. You'll want to keep your breathing in check as your effort level will be influenced by how you control it.

Loose Hands
I remember someone telling me to climb like I was pretending to play a piano on the to of my bars and to focus my pedaling with my glutes (while sitting). You don't want to move your entire body into a pedal as you need to distribute your weight and effort into the back of your legs, were the pedal power is. So relax into a climb by tucking but slightly flaring your elbows, loosen your face grit, and relax your shoulders down and back as you pedal and breath in sync while keeping your fingers playing your bar tops like a piano.

Depending on your bike, having the right gearing is key to attempting even some of the biggest climbs. Not using your shifts properly can either drop your chain or break it so you'll want to know how to properly use your shifts. For climbing, shifting in a gear that you can spin easily into before you go up harder can help you as you begin to feel increased pressure in your pedal, as the pressure increases shift again. To conserve your energy on a climb, keep your cadence high and use the easiest gear that will allow you to maintain your momentum going up, you'll need to keep this in mind on long rides. For more tips on using your gears, read up on this article on How To Use Your Gears Cycling Uphill.

Pedal Push
Speaking of pushing, your heels are your power. Keep your feet flat and push with your heels as if you're scraping them into the ground, as apposed to your toes. By pushing through your heels you transfer all that power from your glutes, hamstrings, and calves into your pedal stroke. 

Weight Balance
Shifting your weight on the saddle while climbing is also an art. Shifting your weight forward and back on the saddle can provide you a fresh set of muscles to use and prevent them from burning out. While sitting on the back of your saddle balances your effort between your quads, glutes, and hamstrings, moving forwards emphasizes the use of your quads, while leaning in or "gnawing" on your bars will help distribute weight to the front wheel and prevent it from losing traction with the road as you pull on the bars to help move power on your pedals. Standing up out of your saddle will help push your weight into your pedal. When standing out of your saddle, shift once into a harder gear, keep your weight centered in the bottom bracket and your hips over the saddle, placing your hands on the hoods, gently pressing side to side into the bars. While you'll be using all your body weight to climb, the standing position uses more energy and speeds up your heart rate, so it's advisable to stand only when you need to. 

Know Your Limits
If you find that climbing hills is just too much or painful, there is no shame in knowing your limits and walking it the rest of the way. Pacing yourself on a climb is key, even if that means setting up goals on a climb like reaching a post, stopping for a bit and focusing on the next goal. 

It's always helpful to have someone who is skilled to ride with you to give you tips. Once you've built your skills, you can then focus on building your strength and speed to help you fly uphill. The best way to get better at climbing is to just get out on your bike and climb up as many hills as you can. Doing reps can really help you overcome your fears and build your strength and confidence. Best thing to keep in mind during your training is to work out your weaknesses, once you're able to work them out, you'll be a climber in no time.

Image Courtesy: Machines For Freedom
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