View Full Version : figuring out fit

05-29-2007, 07:54 PM
My new bike is the best bike fit I've ever had. It's just even the best is giving me some trouble. Figuring out what what changes to make is complicated by my core muscles being out of shape. And the problems all seem to interlock.

1) It's hard for me to get and maintain a clear airway that lets me breathe from my diaphram. A fairly aggressive low over the top bar position works, but squishes delicate bits. Ow. A very upright position works well, with the least squishing of delicate bits, but then I can't reach the handlebars except with the very tips of my fingers. This would make sharp turns problematic. A moderate in between sort of position works for an airway, but is the most effective at squishing the delicate bits.

2) Even in the moderate position, I can't seem to find a way to have neutral wrists on my handlebar. Since I'm an active computer user, handspinner and knitter, I'm trying to prevent carpal tunnel by using good biomechanics. And well, this isn't good and if I have to brake a lot, it hurts. I get pain in the web between my thumb and forefinger if I do a lot of maximum force braking, or I get pain along the tops of my forearms if I stay alert and do minimum force braking.

3) It's hard to keep my sit bones where they belong on the saddle. It's kind of banana shaped in profile, with the comfy spot for sit bones being raised, and a raised nose, and a not coated in squishy stuff low curve between the two. All of the good airway positions produce maximal squishage of delicate bits if I try to maintain my pelvis where it should be for comfy sit bones. And it takes a fair bit of core strength to force my pelvis where it ought to be. The saddle seems to want it tilted forward in a way that constricts my airway, and it tends to push my pelvis forward of the spot that's broad enough for my sit bones.

The saddle on my bike is a bit narrow for my sit bones, but not stupidly so. It's got some kind of squishy material under the cover, with the most squishy stuff on the nose. The handlebars are a standard flat mountain bike bar. As my core muscles are getting stronger, the bike is getting more uncomfortable, not less.

From a practical standpoint, the airway issue seems most important. I can't bike if I can't breathe :). I can see at least 6 changes I could make that might help, and I'm not sure which is best to start with. (New handlebar, adjust brake/shifter position, adjust handlebar height, new saddle, adjust saddle position forward/backward, add gloves to support my wrists)

05-29-2007, 08:32 PM
If it's your core, there's a simple solution, start doing core exercises. Do them as often as you can. I do 40 crunchs 3 times a week. I was doing two sets of them until recently when I hurt my back lifting something heavy. (oops) and now I'm working back up to where I was. Does it make a difference? Not sure. But that's what they tell me!

05-29-2007, 09:11 PM
It's not just my core. As my core gets stronger the bike hurts more, not less. And my core is getting stronger. I did 6 miles today and was using my core muscles to get good positioning most of the trip. Before now, maintaining core support on a 2 mile ride was hard.

If it were just my core muscles, I'd expect the bike to get more comfortable as I get stronger.

05-29-2007, 09:15 PM
See if you can get ahold of a copy of "Andy Pruitt's Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists" by Andy Pruitt.

It is a wonderful book that goes step-by-step through the fit process (making the bike fit YOU, not some ideal imaginary rider) and also goes step-by-step through pains and what can be adjusted to address them.

Several TE'ers have used this book and liked it.

(and off the bat I'd say you need to get a new saddle, raise your bars, and maybe switch to albatrosses.)

05-29-2007, 10:13 PM
From a practical standpoint, the airway issue seems most important. I can't bike if I can't breathe :). I can see at least 6 changes I could make that might help, and I'm not sure which is best to start with. (New handlebar, adjust brake/shifter position, adjust handlebar height, new saddle, adjust saddle position forward/backward, add gloves to support my wrists)

It sounds to me like everything that's wrong starts with the saddle for you. If you sit where you can breathe, you hurt. Staying in the place where you can breathe sounds hard to do. I'd start with the saddle. If your bones aren't back far enough, move it forward. Make sure that it's not at some goofy angle. The top should be mostly flat as I understand it. Mine was angled "nose down" just a hair, and I couldn't stay put on it! And be SURE to tighten that bolt enough so that it doesn't scooch backward as you ride! (ask me how I know THAT!)

Getting your butt happier on the bike can make a difference for your hands, cuz you'll be willing to put pressure on it, and that will take a load off your hands!

I'd also have a close look at the brake levers -- maybe they can be adjusted so that they're at a better angle for maintaining a neutral wrist position. Maybe they can also be adjusted for reach, and the cables may need a bit of tightening? Also look at the hand grips -- are they positioned correctly? On my comfort-beast, they had a flat side that should have been mostly horizontal for the heel of my hand to rest on, but someone had put them on angled downward some. Rotating them helped a LOT.

The good thing about making adjustments to start with is that they're free! You may still find that you need to spend some money on new stuff to make your bike comfortable, but remember to give each adjustment some time before you decide they didn't do the job and you need to do something else, unless the change makes things worse! (something hurts, it may need to heal before the change that helps obviously did the trick!)

Nothing ickier than an aching bottom on the bike! Makes for one heckuva ride! My sympathies!

Karen in Boise

05-30-2007, 10:44 AM
*scribbles notes for her next library trip*

I went to my local bike shop and showed them how the saddle was messing with my airway. They did a rough adjustment for me, so I'll get some miles on the adjusted saddle and see how that goes. The ride back from the shop felt better, because it was easier to stay where I should be for comfort and breathe at the same time. Still not easy, but another 30-40 miles to build up more core strength and I can reevaluate.

05-30-2007, 11:09 AM
Regarding keeping neutral wrists -- have you looked at how well the handlebar width suits you? I recently switched out my handlbars from the 42s that came on my bike to 38s, and it made a big difference -- wrists are better positioned, shoulders/arms feel more natural, and I feel more in control of the bike. Also you might look at different drop shapes (traditional vs a wide variety of ergo shapes), this could affect your wrist position as well.

I wasn't able to understand from your post exactly what problem you are having with breathing -- it sounds like in most positions, you can breathe OK but your saddle is uncomfortable. Can you describe this issue more specifically? Is there a position that actually makes it difficult to breathe?

Good luck with all of this!!!

Edit: Sorry, I didn't read that you are riding a mountain bike. Guess my handlebar suggestions are not all that helpful then -- though you might still look at size, or -- I don't know anything about mountain bikes -- but maybe more of a "riser" bar would shift you into a more comfortable position? Could your reach be too long?

05-30-2007, 02:53 PM
Ok, there's two main ways to breathe, and there isn't a sharp dividing line between them. A lot of people use elements of both styles. Many people breathe by lifting their shoulders to expand their lungs. Other people breathe by using their diaphram and other core muscles to expand their ribcage.

If you breathe with your core muscles (which I do), you need to keep your torso straight. No compressed tummy, no slouching, no flopping. Bad posture and doing aerobic activity will leave you gasping for air or feeling suffocated. My bike was set up so the easiest and most comfortable way to sit in the saddle made it very hard to have good posture, because good posture would smash anything delicate into the padding. Ow! So just imagine me curled up on my bike like the woman in the TE banner, except I'd be gasping for air. The saddle move seems to be helping tho :)

Switching breathing styles isn't a good choice for me, since I'm using a backpack for most carrying and this way of breathing is a good way of strengthening my core.

I think I'll put handlebar adjustments down as the next thing to try.

05-30-2007, 03:44 PM
Here is a handlebar suggestion for mountain bikes that many people don't think about anymore because it is out of vogue. When I started riding mountain bikes, or shortly thereafter, bar ends were in vogue. I can't ride a mountain bike without them now. They allow you to rest your hands a bit - I don't have carpal tunnel, but do have problems with insufficient tendon support at my wrist, so having this different position is key for me. They do not have to be long bar ends, they can be just about 4 or so inches long and they do the trick. They give you a different position for when you are climbing, etc. You do have to get out of them to brake.

Another suggestion with a mountain bike is to try different grips that will help your hands. Some grips are smoother, some with more friction (rougher); some larger in diameter - so give them a try to see if some other grips might help you.


06-13-2007, 09:31 AM
The good news: I think I've got the saddle in about the right place. Much easier to keep my body in the right position so I can breathe. The biggest immediate pain issue is the handlebars, and they're too low. Not sure by how much yet, but I can experiment.

The bad news: The Pruitt book isn't available at the Madison Public Library, so I'll get myself a copy soon.

I'm still getting saddle sores, so I'm going to replace my saddle when I get my handlebars raised a bit. Having it in the right position makes it clear that it's too narrow for my sit bones, and the chafing is due to it being too pear shaped. The rubbing is in places where the saddle is the only thing that can rub. So I should fix that. Having it in the right position has also made it clear that I'm a lot stronger than I thought tho... I'm now able to comfortably use the biggest chainring on flat ground, and I can climb gentle hills on the second chainring. I can even do this when I'm carrying a 40lb load of groceries!

five one
06-13-2007, 11:22 AM
Andy Pruitt's book is available as a download on www.roadbikerider.com.

Andy Pruitt's Book (roadbikerider.com/bookstore.htm#Andy_Pruitts_Medical_Guide_for_Cyclists


I've ordered several ebooks (including this one) from RBR. It's quick,easy, and inexpensive.

06-13-2007, 11:45 AM
A few tips here:

06-13-2007, 12:24 PM
Is this a women's only forum?

Either way, I have done hundreds of fitting/positioning services for women and have a bit of advice. First, it takes a long time to truly understand the science and art of bike fitting. A good bike for and position requires both. But there are some basic principles that can make you understand what is important. In response to your specific question, breathing is very important (obviously). and the ability to breathe correctly will rely on all aspects of a bike fit. Yes, ALL aspects of a fit. We do pulmonary testing with athletes in different positions to test this and it does make a difference. The ability to take in and deliver O2 is the basis for aerobic activity, so it is a top priority. This requires a position which allows for a proper spinal position. Without this position/posture, an athlete is limited. Keep in mind that a bike can be adjusted to match the riders body but without correct body positioning and posture (biomechanics) the rider can be limited.

In general, a bike fit is all based around the bottom bracket of the bike. From this point, the saddle will be adjusted up/down and for/aft for the proper placement. Before doing this, cleats MUST be adjusted. This is VERY important. Once the saddle is in the proper position, THEN the front of the bike is addressed. The front is always based relative to the saddle and not vice versa. There are various positions for the front-end set-up and this is much more subjective then saddle/cleat positioning. Best advice is to work with a skilled professional to customize your needs.

Core stability is important and can make a difference with comfort, especially with saddle comfort. Pore core stability has been shown to increase vertical displacement of ischial tuberosities (bones you sit on) during pedaling (great increase in women vs men) which causes discomfort. So addressing core is very important. Think "Kegal" more than "crunches" for correct exercises. As far as which saddle is right for each person... there is no easy answer. With each person's anatomy, we can determine an approximate width that might work for them, but there will always need to be some trial of different saddles to see which is perfect. But without proper fit, proper position and posture, proper cleat adjustment, pedaling technique, core stability, the chances of being comfortable and obtaining optimal performance is limited. Luckily, these things are all very easy to address!

Best of luck,


06-20-2007, 11:52 AM
Got my hands on the Pruitt. Got my hands on 2 used saddles from my LBS. And... it looks like I may have a winning combo.

I did the math to get an idea of what sort of bike geometry I ought to be on. I'm 5'6", with a 29" inseam, and a wingspan of iirc about 5'8". This means I should be on a men's frame (which I am) and I logically shouldn't need the handlebars higher, since they're level with the seat. So, I'm now doing stretches for my back and leg muscles to get more flexibility. I'm also working in shoulder and neck rolls. I have better wrist position, and I'm not putting as much weight on my arms.

The two saddles were chosen to be as T shaped as I could get, with the firmest seats I could get, and narrow noses. One has a shorter nose than the other, so I could play around with just how long a nose I need. I plonked one of the saddles on my bike (turns out it's the short nose one). A 6 mile ride in shorts that previously had left me in agony left me with no saddle sores and no agony. Well that and a conviction that I need to push my speed more to continue building my core *g*. I'm now comfy enough that I feel like I can push for more distance and not hurt myself. I can have comfy wrists, a comfy butt and air!

06-20-2007, 12:58 PM
It sounds like you are now on the right track and close to where you need to be.

Happy riding!

06-20-2007, 01:33 PM
great news! glad it worked out for you!