Special Focus on Stationary Bikes
Most of us learned to ride a bike as a kid, when proper “form” meant you might get more airtime jumping off the sidewalk curb. Just me? 🙂
With the rise in popularity of spinning and cycling, many of us have found our way back to the bike and nowadays, there’s endless options to spend more time in the saddle. But, if we don’t pay attention to some of the details surrounding our posture and technique, we could end up stuck on the sidelines.
These ‘details’ can be easily addressed by working with a Bike Fit Specialist. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Bike Fit expert, Jim Escobar. Jim is a member of Team Wilpers Virtual Bike Fitting. He works with riders on their stationary bikes (like Peloton) over a virtual platform (like FaceTime) to help cyclists find a more comfortable ride. Additionally, Jim is the owner of ProTriFit in St. Augustine, Florida where he performs in-person bike fittings.
Jim has over 20 years of industry experience. From his own triathlon and road racing days to covering the Tour de France as a reporter, Jim has seen it all. On top of that, he is a Certified Bike Fitter from Retül University, Guru Academy, F.I.S.T. Fitness Institute Slowtwitch, Certified USA Cycling Coach and Certified USA Triathlon Coach.
There are endless cycling topics that I’d love to nerd-out to with Jim, but for this Q & A we chose to look at proper positioning in the saddle. Whether you’re new to cycling or a well-oiled machine, I know you’ll find a few great take-aways in our discussion below. I personally learned a ton and couldn’t wait to share with all of you. Check out our interview on Instagram Live or read below for a synopsis.
Matt: How does one go about sitting on the saddle properly?
Jim: To sit on the seat properly, the athlete must first engage their core, similar to the effort to sit up straight (i.e., think of having dinner with the Queen). Engaging the core lets the pelvis tilt rearward, then allowing the sit bones to become more prominent. Once the core is engaged, we want the athlete to roll their upper body forward to reach the bars (i.e., think ‘punch to the stomach’ or ‘belly-button on a string being pulled through the back of your shirt’), while keeping their weight on the sit bones, and not on the soft tissue.
Matt: Why is this important?
Jim: This is important as having the weight on the sit bones / sitz bones (ischial tuberosities) will allow the power to be successfully transferred to the feet and the pedals. It also allows the rider to not have too much pressure on the soft tissue area (perineum).
Matt: What are some simple ways to reinforce this during a ride?
Jim: To make sure the rider is engaged and has their weight on the sitz bones, they can check that they always have a bend in their elbow. This ensures that they are not leaning on the bars, but rather just resting on them. A light grip and a bend in the elbow is a great way to make sure a rider is sitting properly on the saddle.
Matt: How does being properly fitted for your bike play a role.
Jim: Once we have the ability to sit properly on the seat, we must then make sure our fit on the bike is correct to allow us to maximize our efficiency and comfort. With a bike fit, you can be assured that your seat is set at the correct height, allowing the most efficient leg and ankle extension. Each athlete will have a different point where they are efficient, i.e., some riders have a lower seat height/less leg extension, while others have a taller seat height/greater leg extension. The fore/aft position of the saddle is best adjusted by keeping the knee just behind the center of the pedal (just in front of the 5th metatarsal). The handlebar height will be set based on the riding style. For riding a Peloton bike, I suggest keeping the bars higher (as there is no aerodynamic penalty for higher bars), as it helps to open up the rider’s hip angle, which typically allows for more power. The Bike Fit Team at Team Wilpers can assuredly help all athletes find their most efficient and comfortable position.
Matt: What causes one’s hips to rock too much?
Jim: Typically, rocking of the hips is caused by the seat height being too tall. This causes the legs to overextend to reach the bottom of each pedal stroke, pulling the body from side to side.
Matt: What amount of pain is appropriate (and in what location ) vs. inappropriate and should be fixed?
Jim: A certain amount of ‘discomfort’ is normal as we acclimate to a proper seat position. We will feel sore or tender directly over the sitz bones. This discomfort will ease after several rides, until the body becomes accustomed to the pressure. Pain such as numbness or chafing is not acceptable and should be addressed. Numbness can be caused by too much pressure on the perineal (soft tissue) area. The saddle may be angled upward, or the athlete is not sitting properly; with their weight on the sitz bones. Chafing can be caused by the saddle being too wide for the rider, or just the rider’s legs are wide and rubbing against each other. To remedy this, a rider should use cycling shorts with a chamois, and apply chamois cream to the affected areas.
Matt: What should one look for in a good bike saddle?
Jim: A good saddle is one that supports the rider firmly, yet still offers a degree of cushioning. It should be the proper width to provide a foundation for the sitz bones. The best way to find a saddle, is to try many saddles, as our butts are the best judge of a good saddle.
Matt: Which is better, padded seat or padded shorts?
Jim: 100% – a good pair of cycling shorts are better than a padded seat. The cycling shorts move with your body and provide the support only in the areas that need it. A seat pad often has too much gel, which then moves away from the sitz bones (as these bones are pointy and seem to break down the gel at the point of contact), and allows too much motion on the saddle.
A good pair of shorts will fit snugly and provide compression for the muscles. Be aware that different manufacturers size their garments differently, so you may be a Medium in one brand and a Large in another.
I want to thank Jim for sharing his time and expertise with our community of riders. The importance of proper saddle positioning cannot be overstressed and could make all the difference in the comfort of your ride. Team, we’re on this journey together and I hope that by partnering up with experts like Jim, we can all keep riding together for years to come. There’s nothing I enjoy more than receiving your letters and feedback and hearing about your accomplishments both on and off the bike! Until next time, train hard, train smart, and alway have fun!