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What is the proper cycling posture?

two person riding bicycles.

Your sitting position on the bike is crucial for your well-being while riding and as individual as you are. Setting the right sitting position for you is a complex issue because it is influenced by many factors. In addition to your body and the adjustable sizes on the bike, your feelings or any complaints while driving also play a role. A sitting position that suits you and your bike type is a basic requirement for having fun cycling. Read here how you can create a harmonious unit with your bike in the future.

How to ride a bike properly

The right cycling posture on the bike not easy to find for everyone. That is why we will show you which criteria you have to consider in order to ride a bike healthy and without pain.

General

The different types of bikes with their respective properties allow a wide range of possible sitting positions. For example, in the city and trekking area you will find bicycles with a moderate sitting position, in the mountain bike and racing bike area you tend to find a sporty sitting position. The decisive factor for a good basis is the frame size that fits your body size, followed by other parameters, such as personal preferences, physiological conditions and possible complaints.

For this it is important that you know some parameters of yourself that you can measure relatively easily alone or with the help of a second person. The bicycle manufacturers usually offer their models in fine increments of frame sizes of 2 or 3 cm, so you are guaranteed to find the right frame for your body size. By choosing the right frame size, you have created the best conditions for you to be able to adjust your bike perfectly to you.

How to sit on a bike - What is right/wrong?

The first indication is your feeling: are you not comfortable on your bike or do you even have complaints while riding? Do you suffer from neck or back pain after long trips, do your knees or wrists hurt, do you get numb fingers or feet? Then it is time to get to the bottom of it, because pain or other complaints are clear signs of an inappropriate bike or an incorrectly chosen sitting position.

Even if you ride a bike without complaints up to now, a check of the sitting position can make sense. The area between “symptom-free” and “optimal” is wide and the longer and more sporty you drive, the more interesting it is to approach your optimal sitting position. With an optimal setting, you not only drive symptom-free, but also powerfully and efficiently for longer, while your body needs a shorter recovery phase after exertion than with an inefficient sitting position.

How to find the right sitting position yourself

Finding a good sitting position for yourself is not that difficult. After choosing a suitable bike, follow the next three steps:

  1. Measure inseam: A central value of your body is the inside leg length, or also called inseam. It determines the frame size when choosing a new bike and helps determine the correct seat height. 
  2. From the inseam you get a very good indication of the seat height, which is the most important measure for optimal power delivery. The seat height is measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the top edge of the saddle. Seat height = 0.885 x step length (cm)
  3. To find the right frame for your proportions, you should also choose the height / length ratio of the frame to suit your body. This value indicates whether you tend to be long-legged or short-legged. Example: With a step length of 81 cm and a height of 1.78 m, you are exactly in the middle with a factor of 0.45, so a standard frame would be the right choice for you. Long-legged people should rather choose a comfortable frame, short-legged require sporty-stretched frame. Proportionality factor = inseam (cm) / height (cm)

Based on this data, you can already make a good preselection for the frame sizes in question. Most manufacturers give recommendations for the correct frame size and body size on their model pages. But even with on-site advice, it doesn’t hurt if you know your measurements.

When choosing the right frame size and setting the correct seat height, you need to be careful. A lot of the complaints can be avoided if your bike is properly adjusted to you. In addition to poor power transmission, incorrectly selected seat heights often cause knee pain, as well as hip and back problems.

Basic Settings

Spirit levels, plumb bobs and rulers are very helpful tools for determining your sitting position and if a second person can be there to measure it makes it even easier. The saddle should be set as horizontally as possible during the initial adjustment. Only after the saddle height and offset have been set correctly can you adjust the saddle incline during a test ride.

After you have adjusted the seat height according to the instructions described above, you can sit on your bike and put one foot on the pedal. The crank should stand horizontally and point forward. Your foot is properly on the pedal when you stand on the pedal axle with your ball of your foot or big toe joint. If you now drop the solder on the side of the knee joint towards the floor, you can see the offset from your knee joint to the pedal axis. If the knee joint is not exactly over the pedal axis, the saddle can be moved forwards or backwards in the clamp.

The saddle frame usually has a scale and an adjustment range of about 5 cm. If this adjustment range is not sufficient, another seat post with a so-called offset can provide more space to the rear. Conversely, exchanging a seat  post with an offset for a straight seat post can bring additional centimeters to the front. Caution with spring-loaded seat posts: There, the set seat height changes when sitting!

We recommend: Before the measurement, feel the exact pivot point of your knee joint and mark it with a pen, just as you can transfer the position of your big toe joint to the shoe using masking tape and pen. This ensures that you always measure in exactly the same place.

Contact points with the bike

Sitting, kicking and gripping … these are – to put it simply – the essential activities on your bike. This also refers to the contact points: the buttocks, feet and hands are directly connected to the bike and determine the feeling that your bike gives you. Now that you have made the most important settings (seat height and saddle offset), the handlebars, grips and saddle are additional parts to optimally adapt your bike to you.

Handlebars & Grips

The selection of handlebars is pleasantly large and you can find them in different widths, offsets and heights, on the bike they can also be adjusted by the stem clamp in the angle of attack. The choice of grips can also have a decisive impact on comfort and grip, but the selection of grips should only be made after choosing the right handlebar.

As a first clue: your shoulder width determines the handlebar width, the bike model determines the handlebar shape. The more upright you sit on your bike, the more curved the handlebar should be to ensure a natural posture of the arms and hands. The curved handlebars perform their function just as straight and narrow racing handlebars if they allow you to hold your arms and hands naturally on your bike. Kinked wrists and punctual loads usually lead to pain or numb fingers.

Handlebars with appropriate pre-bend, ergonomic handles and other handle options on the handlebars, e.g. by mounting bar ends, can help you ride a bike comfortably and without any complaints.

Saddle

Saddles are also available in numerous widths, shapes and degrees of hardness, the art here is to find the right model for you. A crucial factor in the choice of saddle is your sit bone distance.

Basically, the saddle should be wider the more upright you are, so that the pressure can be better distributed. On the other hand, the saddle can be narrower in a sporty, stretched sitting position because the pressure is distributed over the buttocks and arms. The upholstery and shape of the saddle are other variables to influence the feeling of sitting.

The fact that every second cyclist – and especially men – has sitting problems makes it clear how important it is to choose the right saddle. Wrong saddles often cause numbness or painful pressure points in the perineal area. Here it is important to know that the soft saddles often cause the bigger problems than the saddles with a stronger padding, which have a greater support force.

Complaints and causes

ComplaintsPossible Causes
Knee pain inside/outsideSaddle too high or
too low
inappropriate foot position on the pedalX or O position of the legs when pedaling
Knee pain frontSaddle too lowSaddle too far forward or too far back
Numb handsinappropriate handlebar widthHandlebar too low or too far forwardimproperly set levers
Numb feetSaddle too highbad fitting of the shoesinappropriate foot position
on the pedal
Neck paininappropriate handlebar widthhandlebars too deep or too
far forward
wrong saddle slope
Back painHandlebars too low or too far forwardSaddle too highwrong saddle slope
Numbness in pelvisunsuitable saddleinappropriate saddle adjustment