Ever since I got my bike last year I have tweaked and tinkered with different things to try and get it to suit me better. Previously when out on the bike I’ve suffered with numbness in fingers, toes and the male region. Have I just been riding the bike wrong, or was it something needed to be tweaked?
The first thing to start from is the size of the bike. I look at the guidance from Boardman (I ride a Boardman ADV 8.8) and the size frame I have is ideally suited for someone my height. That’s the first thing checked.
Next I started researching the term Bike Fit after a friend of mine said I should have one to iron out any fit issues which maybe causing my discomforts. A lot of professional bike fit places are around £100+. I wasn’t willing to spend that much on something which wasn’t guaranteed to sort my problem.
The first thing I wanted to tackle was the discomfort from the saddle. Something there obviously wasn’t right and that could easily be contributing to the numbness in my toes too. So I looked into what I needed to know about bike saddles.
I found that the key thing about bike saddles is the width. Too narrow and your sit bones in your bum don’t get the support they need, leading to softer tissue taking the hit on the contact points. Too wide and it can interfere with your pedal stroke and rub in areas not very pleasant.
I found a trick online where you place some cardboard on the stairs, you then sit on said cardboard and bring your knees up as if pedaling on the bike. This left some little indentations in the cardboard where your sit bones are located in you bum. Measure the space between these indentations and add around 25mm and you get somewhere around your ideal saddle size.
I measure the distance between my sit bones and found them to be the same size as the saddle that came with the bike – 150mm. So I set out to get a slightly bigger saddle. Looking at saddle shapes is also something of a minefield. Due to where I was getting numbness I also wanted to try something with a cutout in the middle, just in case pressure there was causing something.
I bought a saddle the right size. I fitted it to the bike and tried it for a month. It was better than the one that came with the bike, but I was still struggling, so I set about a different saddle. Now, I’m not a racer or fast in any respect, I cycle for the enjoyment. I started to look towards touring saddles and that’s where I found my current saddle.
Since buying this saddle I’ve had very little discomfort in the saddle area and it’s been a life saver in my fit on the bike.
Still struggling with numbness in hands and now pins and needles in the feet every now and then, I looked elsewhere at my bike setup.
I flipped my stem as I noticed it was angled from the frame. As my handle bars where as high as they could go (no more spacers) I figured flipping the stem would give a little more height. As I’m tall (6 foot 5 inch) my saddle is quite high – higher than the handlebars.
We already know I weight a fair bit so I figured flipping them stem to bring the handle bars up a bit more would help.
It certainly eased the numbness in my hands, but I was still getting pins and needles after about 25 minutes on the bike.
The Bike Fit
Eventually I gave in a booked in a bike fit with a professional. There is a chap fairly local to me called Andy Bishop. He used to be a pro cyclist a number of years ago and entered some competitions for Great Britain. After injury though, he went into helping others.
I was recommended to him by the friend who originally told me to look at getting a Bike Fit. He wasn’t £100+ like most other places, he was reasonably priced at £65 for a two hour session.
When I arrived for the session, Andy mounted my bike onto a trainer while I got changed into my usual cycling gear. He got me to get on the bike and pedal like I normally would and he watched. Straight away he noticed my feet weren’t quite right when clipped in.
He took a good look at my feet and noticed one foot was pointing in a little more than the other – cleat alignment. What I thought was straight in fact wasn’t. This was the first thing to be corrected. I then started pedalling a second time and Andy took some time looking at the forward/backward position of the cleats, something which he also fine tuned for me.
Saddle Height, Fore and Aft
Next we moved onto the geometry of my setup. Andy took a short video of me pedalling on the bike making sure to record me throughout the whole pedal stroke. From here he took some measurement of angles in my knee, hip and shoulders. From these measurements he moved my saddle up about 3mm.
He also moved my saddle forward 2mm towards the handle bars. Ideally it could have done with another 2mm, but there isn’t that much give on the saddle, so it’s now as far forward as the saddle with allow on the seat post bracket.
Instantly that felt better when I hopped back onto the bike. I had been tinkering with saddle height ever since I had to bike and couldn’t nail it as good as it is now.
Handle Bars and Hoods
Next Andy looked at my handle bars. The hoods of the brake leavers weren’t quite flat, they were slightly up. But the drops of the bars looked spot on. I had previously tinkered with the adjustment of the handle bars – but I’m not bike savvy enough to know you can move the break leavers independently.
So Andy removed the bar tape and started tinkering with the brakes levers a little, making them more flush with the top of the drop handles. He then added a little bit of memory foam (at no extra cost) just behind the hoods and wrapped everything back up.
Again as just with the saddle I immediately felt a difference and felt more comfortable. I was able to flex my arms a little and take some pressure off my shoulders (or so it felt).
I’ve been told that bike fits are fluid and they can change over time. But for now I am the most comfortable I’ve been on my bike since having bought it.