How to Make Sure Bike Riding Doesn’t Hurt

Get-Fit Guy explains how to properly adjust your seat height, handlebar height, and seat fore-aft to make bike riding more comfortable.

Ben Greenfield
2-minute read

How to Make Sure Bike Riding Doesn’t Hurt

A while back, I was in Spain, competing in the ITU Triathlon World Championships.

One thing I noticed is that many, many people ride bikes in Spain. That’s great! We’d probably have fewer issues with obesity if people in the U.S. rode as much as folks do here. But it got me thinking: Could it be that knee pain, low back pain, numb hands, and other issues are holding people back from riding their bikes more?

If riding a bike seems to hurt you somewhere, then here are 3 steps to a quick "self fit" to ensure your bike riding is more comfortable:

  1. Seat Height

    A seat that is too high will simply affect your ability to produce optimal power. A seat that is too low will put excessive force upon, and eventually injure, the knee joints. The best way to get the correct seat height is to sit on the seat and extend your leg as far down as the crank allows (make sure you’re clicked in if wearing bike cleats). Fully extend the leg by locking the knee back. Make sure your foot is parallel to the ground. If your toes have to point down with the leg fully extended, then your seat is too high. If your heel has to point down with leg full extended, your seat is too low. 

  2. Handlebar Height

    A general recommendation is 1-3 inches below the height of the saddle, but will vary depending on your back flexibility. You should be able to maintain “softness” or a slight bend in the elbows, without feeling too much pressure on the palms of your hands. If using aerobars, make sure that:

    a) your forearms are level when viewed from the side, with your ears above your elbows

    b) the elbow angle is 90-110 degrees

    c) the width of the elbows is comfortable

  3. Seat Fore-Aft

    With the crank at 90 degrees, a straight line from the front of the knee should drop near the center of the pedal axle. Your seat tube angle is the adjustment that will affect fore-aft position. Ranges fall from 72 to 78 degrees, with triathletes usually riding at a higher angle. The higher the angle, the more the hamstrings are involved in the pedal stroke, and the easier a high cadence becomes. But it becomes less efficient as the seat position moves farther forward to push over the top of the pedal stroke.

A good strategy if you’re adjusting your bike position is to use an indoor bike trainer, so that you can constantly mount and dismount your bike as you make small changes in the set-up.

If you have questions about bike fitting and bike riding tips, then ask away at the Get-Fit Guy Facebook page.

Related Content:
Bike Manners
Bicycle DUI
How to Train for a Triathlon

Bike adjustment photo from Shutterstock

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.