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Position & Technique

How to Perfect Your Riding Position & Technique

By Ed Pavelka of

Cycling is full of prodigious numbers-the distances ridden, the calories consumed, the tires trashed. Another statistic that can seem astounding is the number of pedal strokes made.

Let's suppose it takes you six hours to ride a century and you pedal at the rate of 90 rpm throughout. As you cross the finish line, you will be making pedal stroke number 64,800.

Whoa, that's a lot! But it barely registers on the scale of what happens during a full season. For example, during the year in which I had my biggest mileage total, I figure that I got there by pushing the pedals around approximately 13,340,000 times.

Can you say, repetitive use injury? You can see why cyclists are good candidates, especially if we aren't pedaling from a nearly perfect position.

Your body and bike must fit together and work together in near-perfect harmony for you to be efficient, comfortable, and injury-free. The more you ride, the more essential this is. If even one thing is out of whack, it's a good bet that it will cause a problem during thousands of pedal strokes.

Fortunately, it isn't difficult to arrive at an excellent riding position. But it does take time and attention. You need to be careful with your initial bike set-up, then conscientiously stay aware of your body and the need for occasional refinements. As time goes by, your position will stabilize and you'll be riding in a smooth groove.

The following guidelines come from my experience and the advice of various experts. One is Andy Pruitt, Ed.D., the director of Colorado's Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. Andy has probably solved more position problems than anyone during his years of work with elite cyclists.

As you work on your riding position, always remember Pruitt Rule No. 1:

Adjust your bike to fit your body. Don't force your body to fit the bike.

Begin by standing on a hard surface with your shoes off and your feet about 6 inches apart. Using a metric tape, measure from the floor to your crotch, pressing with the same force that a saddle does. Multiply this number by 0.883. The result is your saddle height, measured from the middle of the crank axle, along the seat tube, to the top of the saddle.

Add 2 or 3 mm if you have long feet in proportion to your height. If you suffer from chondromalacia (knee pain caused by damage to the underside of the kneecap), a slightly higher saddle may feel better. However, it should never be so high that your hips must rock to help you reach the pedals. If this formula results in a big change from the height you've been using, make the adjustment by 2 or 3 mm per week, with several rides between, till you reach the new position. Changing too fast could strain something.

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