Over the last few weeks, I”™ve noticed a number of riders in my classes that were setup incorrectly on their bikes.  I found this odd only because these riders had been positioned correctly on their bikes a few weeks earlier. What happened?

I talked to 3 of the riders. Two of them said that another instructor told them that they were too far away from the handlebars and then proceeded to move their seats forward.  The third rider told an instructor that she wanted to be in a more aero or aggressive position on the bike so the instructor moved her seat back.


TERMINOLOGY: It is common to refer to the settings related to the seat (height, fore-aft and saddle tilt) as the “drivetrain”. The handlebars, including height and fore-aft are often referred to as the “cockpit”.


NEVER change the drivetrain to compensate for the cockpit! NEVER! Those that know me are probably reading this in shock. Not because they didn”™t know this, but because I used the word “never”. Those of us that coach and present on scientific and medical topics avoid words like “never” and instead use words or phrases like “in many cases, it is often found, some instances, etc.” We use less definitive words not because we are unsure, but because we understand that science changes with research and we also respect the immense complexity of the human body. However, in this case, the word is definitively NEVER.

Without going into a 4-hour rant on biomechanics, here are 3 reasons why we should never compromise the drivetrain to compensate for upper body position:

(1)  Our feet are “fixed” to the pedals and any change to the hip, knee and ankle position will greatly impact the angles and articulation of the joints.  On the other hand (literally), our hands can move, shift and adjust with minimal impact to our mechanics.

(2)  Our legs are in motion (mechanically) and our upper bodies, including our hands and arms, are not.  Even a slight change in saddle position can have and exponential impact because of the thousands of rotations our legs will experience during a single class.

(3)  The legs are manipulating mechanical forces. Not only are they applying forces to propel the bike (figuratively), they are resisting and controlling the momentum of the bikes weighed flywheel.  Making changes to the seat height or fore-aft position will alter the angles of the legs while they are under force and “may” place the joints and surrounding muscles at risk.

So What Can We Do?

As always, it depends.  It depends on the bike and which options are available. It also depends on what the rider can physically do considering their strengths, weaknesses, flexibility and mobility.  In my next article I”™m going to address how to determine the optimum cockpit length and height (handlebar height and fore-aft position), but for now, here is something to consider:

Avoid Using Specific Hand Position Cues for Drills

With the inception of indoor cycling came numbered hand positions (i.e. position 1, position 2 and position 3). Besides not being something we do as cyclists, using handlebar numbering systems like this can often predetermine a set of positions for an indoor rider that may not be appropriate for them. Instead, provide guidelines for best hand placement based on comfort, power and safety.

Here are 3 examples:

(1)  We recommend using the outer (wider) part of the handlebar for better balance and stability when standing.

(2)  If you are taller, you may find that gripping the handlebars farther away from you is more comfortable.

(3)  Placing your hands closer to you and closer together can put you in a position to generate more power when climbing seated.

Regardless of how you address the upper-body position and comfort of the rider, never disturb the integrity of the drivetrain and mechanics of the legs in the process.

There, I said it again - “never”.

Originally posted 2011-12-22 09:02:03.

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