Women's Bike Fit Issues

August 25, 2013

More and more women are taking up the sport of cycling or triathlon and the industry is slowly doing a better job of addressing women's specific cycling equipment. Unfortunately, much of the cycling gear marketed to women is based on modified men's designs (pink it and shrink it) and 'women's specific' usually only truly applies to clothing designs.

The cycling experience for most women ends up being comprised of sore hands, sore neck and chafed or numb pubic area. The selection of bikes and equipment for smaller statures is limited and usually come with steep seat angles, short head tubes or non-standard 650c (smaller circumference) wheels. These designs contradict the morphology of the average women who has a longer femur, more gluteal mass, shorter/smaller feet, smaller hands with shorter fingers and usually pedals more toes down. Unfortunately, the majority of local bike shops sell a bike that is 'close' in size with a stock cockpit to make the sale and this results in a poor position.

It is very important to purchase the correct shoe for shorter feet or shoes based on a women's last because it is critical to be able to move the cleat back far enough back to position the foot correctly over the pedal. It is also important to remember that cycling shoes are not sized like running or street shoes. Get your feet measured by someone who knows how to specifically fit a cycling shoe. We recommend Bont, Shimano or Lake in widths for women with wider feet and Lake or Sidi for women with narrow feet. For insole support we recommend modular e-Soles or a full custom orthotic made by a podiatrist experienced with cycling. Many of the other brands of cycling insoles on the market are expensive for what you get and do not provide solid support due to being torsionally flexible. We find many women require additional fine tuning of their shoes and pedal position in addition to special insoles. We are against external wedging as this has a negative impact on the ankle joint in addition to other factors.

When the foot interface is addressed, the hard and possibly long road of finding the right saddle begins. It is critical that women are supported and stable on their sit bones. A wider saddle that is flat with a subtle center channel is usually the best bet. In general, curved saddles and narrow saddles with too much padding put more pressure on the soft tissue. There are many systems out there to measure sit bone width, but they are not very accurate. In addition, your sit bone width changes as you rotate forward. If your local shop addresses your issues by trying to sell you a fat gel saddle or gloves walk out the door!!!

After you select a saddle that hopefully works, you need to get the fore/aft position correct. Many fitters use the knee over pedal method (KOPS), but this is not ideal and does not necessarily result in a stable pelvis on the saddle. Most fitters using formulas position clients too high and too far forward to compensate for too much reach. An experienced bike fitter not relying on formulas or motion capture software will be able to observe your hip angle and pedal stroke in relation to your foot position and make appropriate adjustments. Don't get sucked into the bells and whistles marketing of motion capture systems or formula fits. They are a great tool that can speed up the measuring and recording process, as well as provide visual feedback, but they do not replace an experienced and knowledgeable eye.

A third factor and perhaps the one that contributes to the most problems in the chain has to do with reach. Due to women's morphology, the average bicycle and shop fit results in sore pelvic, hand, shoulder and neck discomfort. Correct stem length, bar width and drop/shape, saddle and shifters is critical.

In conclusion, for women to enjoy their cycling experience and want to continue to ride it is critical to get a professional bicycle fit from a fitter who understands the unique morphology of women as it relates to bicycle biomechanics. Unfortunately, the majority of local bike shops use a scientific formula based on men's morphology and packages it in a fancy computer motion capture system. A computer program does not indicate a person's flexibility, range of movement, injury history, pedaling technique, perceived feel, type of equipment and its condition or how the body relates to the bike from the feet on up.

If you are a women cyclist or you know a women cyclist or triathlete who is having discomfort on the bike, contact echelonsport today for an assessment and professional bike fit. Our advanced certified fitter and staff MD will address your issues and have you enjoying riding the bike again in comfort. 


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