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Old 05-17-11, 09:37 AM   #1
Wheelmonkey
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Saddle Positioning

So I've struggled with cycling related neck and shoulder pains for quite some time. I like to think I'm in good physical condition (not overweight, strong upper-body, etc.). My legs, butt, and other parts of my body can handle being on the bike all day long, but it's typically my neck and shoulders that begin to hurt.

On another thread about Brooks Saddles I noticed people were discussing tilting their saddles so that the nose is pointed upward, and that this take weight off of hands, pressure off arms, and thereby creates less tension on the upper body when riding. I don't have a Brooks (yet), but would this be true for all saddles? Could this be the cure to my problem!? It makes sense to me and I'll be trying it out, but just wanted to check in with some of you folks about this issue.

Thoughts???
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Old 05-17-11, 09:43 AM   #2
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I toured for about two years constantly having problems with my ulnar nerve and numb fingers. Adjusted (almost) everything on my bike from saddle height, stem length, gloves, double wrapped bars, new bars, bought a bike with a shorter top tube.. anything you can think of. Some of the things lessened the problem but none really cured it.

On a lark at the end of last summer I tilted the nose of my brooks up a bit and haven't had a wrist/numbness issue since. Plus it's ridiculously more comfortable.

Strange how 'such a little thing can make such a big difference' ( morrissey)
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Old 05-17-11, 10:02 AM   #3
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Tilt up means you don't slide forward, on the saddle.
so then needing bracing against that slide, that pressure is reduced.

If you can push the saddle back, add to setback,
that will bias your weight onto the seat, and off the bars, some, too.
the adjustment range of the saddle may need to be supplemented
by purchasing a different seatpost.

then, perhaps, shorten the stem reach an equivalent amount,
change the stem, extension dimension..

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Old 05-17-11, 11:09 AM   #4
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Move and/or tilt your seat back a smidge,raise your handle bars a smidge.That should take some of the weight off your hands

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Old 05-17-11, 11:21 AM   #5
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neck and shoulder pain.
AFTER ensuring your posture is good, check around and get feedback from others, racers, non-racers, shop, reference materials, consider developing a stretching routine you can do on the bike while riding so that you aren't getting into a fixed position that is overstressing a few postural muscles.
My gut sense is that neck and shoulder pain comes from holding the same position too long, especially one that might already be overstressing a few small groups of muscles with marginal posture. Is it possible your back is arched and your head is having to look up too much? Either way I doubt the seat angle is the issue but it could be. For me seat angle is obvious if it's right or wrong within a few hundred yards. I'd suggest becoming aware of your posture BEFORE things get painful and begin doing anything to alleviate it through movement/stretching or even off the bike rest and stretching. I wonder if what you do to "ride all day long" involves pushing into pain with a more rigid posture trying to ignore feedback that your neck and shoulder aren't happy. Shoulder rolls, windmilling arms, twisting torso while coasting, anything to break up what might be a posture that has been fixed for too long in one position.
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Old 05-17-11, 12:15 PM   #6
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I agree with Lee's assessment, but would add from personal experience that going from a bike with just a little too much reach (seat to bar distance) to one with even just a few centimetres less will mean that you will be able to easily and comfortably change hand positions from top of bars, to hoods, to drops--so that you will get you both the added position changes good for neck, arms, shoulders, but also less weight on your hands to begin with.

the slight seat tilt idea is good, but it could very well be that a shorter stem could be the deal breaker. I believe a slightly shorter "cockpit" is absolutely better than one too stretched out, especially for the wider variety of comfortable hand positions without having too much weight on the hands.

with threadless stems, trying a bar stem that is 10 or 15 or 20 mms shorter is a cheap, easy try. Well worth doing along with the other stuff.

good luck trying things out. I also agree with seat angle being pretty quick to show up as ok or not. Bar reach is easier to fool us I find.
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Old 05-17-11, 02:50 PM   #7
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The best change I've ever made is to raise the height of my handlebars. I still use threaded forks with quill stems, and the only manufacturer of high stems is Nitto. There are extensions made for threadless forks which also allow for a higher stem.

Some of the old Rivendell readers and catalogues explained why higher bars are more comfortable. I believe it is also available on the Rivendell site, www.rivbike.com . I remember reading that Grant Peterson thought that 95% of all bicycles did not fit properly.
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Old 05-17-11, 05:10 PM   #8
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Wheelmonkey, It's common with early season rides to have some neck and shoulder pain, but it should fade to a non issue fairly quickly. If the saddle's nose is too low and causing you to slide forward this will cause shoulder ache as you're constantly working to stay properly positioned on the saddle.

My touring bike has an old CODA saddle I'd replaced on one of my road bikes. Funny thing is that with a slightly shorter cockpit and slightly higher handlebars than my roadies, it is a wonderful saddle that I have the nose adjusted slightly higher than my road bikes and it has a bit of a trough in the middle like a Brooks does when broken in and none of the 'soft tissue' areas are adversely effected. There maybe something to what the Books fans write and say.

Try just tilting the nose of you saddle up a notch or two and see what happens.

Brad
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Old 05-17-11, 05:15 PM   #9
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Arnie Baker, in the 'pain troubleshooting' section of his Bike Fit book, suggests that neck and shoulder pain are caused by a too-low torso angle (resulting in neck craning) and/or reach too great. Solutions include:

- Ride more upright. Ride on hoods or tops.
- Reduce reach by raising and/or shortening stem.
- Vary position.
- Check seat fore-aft.
- Avoid tilting saddle nose down.

Good luck!
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Old 05-17-11, 05:50 PM   #10
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Moving your seat back decreases hand pressure? That sort of seems counterintuitive to me...but I have elbow pain and it's all the way up, perhaps this is my problem?
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Old 05-17-11, 08:11 PM   #11
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Great great comments everyone! Thanks a ton!!! I'm going to begin by adjusting my saddle then go from there. If it's still a problem I'll pop into my LBS and ask them to take a look at my form and position and give me some insights. I don't think I'm curving my back, but maybe...??? Keep the comments coming if you've got 'em. They are really helpful!
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Old 05-17-11, 10:32 PM   #12
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Moving your seat back decreases hand pressure? That sort of seems counterintuitive to me...but I have elbow pain and it's all the way up, perhaps this is my problem?
By moving your saddle aft, you are moving the weight of your butt back. This weight will help counter-balance the weight of your upper body, relieving your hands, wrist, arms, shoulders, and neck of this duty. Try this: stand upright and note the position of your behind. Now, bend forward at the waist without moving the position of your butt. The result is you fall forward. On a bike, you support this forward weight with your arms. Next try bending forward and allowing your butt to move backwards. The result is your rear will counter-balance your upper body and you can maintain that bent position without falling forward. That is the dynamic you should try to capture when dealing with your saddle fore/aft position.
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Old 05-18-11, 10:50 AM   #13
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By moving your saddle aft, you are moving the weight of your butt back. This weight will help counter-balance the weight of your upper body, relieving your hands, wrist, arms, shoulders, and neck of this duty. Try this: stand upright and note the position of your behind. Now, bend forward at the waist without moving the position of your butt. The result is you fall forward. On a bike, you support this forward weight with your arms. Next try bending forward and allowing your butt to move backwards. The result is your rear will counter-balance your upper body and you can maintain that bent position without falling forward. That is the dynamic you should try to capture when dealing with your saddle fore/aft position.
Statics tell us that it doesn't work the same on a bike as on one's feet, simply because, when seated, one's weight is on one's butt, not on one's feet. Pedaling properly, there should be almost no weight on the pedals. One should feel as though there were a layer of air between the sole of one's foot and the shoe. Standing of course is another matter, but that's not the subject under discussion. Rather than use some random method of saddle positioning, it's better to use KOPS: drop a plumb bob or other weight from the bony protrusion below one's knee cap, in the front. This should approximately bisect the pedal axle. Using the protrusion in front of the knee adds a little setback that has been found helpful for long distance riders who wish to bring into play more of their leg muscles.

I disagree about the common wisdom of raising the bars and shortening the reach to increase comfort. Look at it this way: You are sitting on your butt. The center of gravity (CG) of your upper body is somewhere in the middle of your torso. Thus a couple (torque) is created. As we know, torque is force X distance. To prevent the torso from dropping around the butt pivot, we must counter this with another torque. Again, force X distance. It's easy to see that if we increase the distance from the butt, the force required is less. Thus more reach reduces, not increases, pressure on the hands.

There is a limit on how much reach is desirable, which will vary with the body proportions and ability of the cyclist. Some elbow bend is always desirable, and the average tourist isn't as thin or muscular as a racing cyclist, so less hip bend is called for. Many long distance cyclists find that for every centimeter the bars are raised, they should be moved forward two centimeters. To see why this might be, bend forward at the waist, putting one's torso at about a 45 angle to the horizontal, the normal long distance position. Put a slight bend in your elbows. Now rotate your arms, pivoting of course at your shoulders. Observe the arc through which your hands move. Lower down, they move mostly forward. If one's bars were at the height of one's shoulders, movement would be entirely upward. At normal bar height, this approximate 2:1 ratio is observed.

This is the reason that one's arms become tired more quickly holding the bar tops than with hands on the hoods, if one maintains the same torso angle. Of course it is also possible to sit almost upright and use high bars and a close reach. This definitely does take the pressure off one's hands, but it greatly increases wind resistance and is much harder on the back, which must then take axial instead of bending loads. Most long distance riders find the 45 torso angle to be a good compromise. Photos of The Position here: http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread...1#post12207030
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Old 05-18-11, 02:23 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy View Post
I disagree about the common wisdom of raising the bars and shortening the reach to increase comfort. Look at it this way: You are sitting on your butt. The center of gravity (CG) of your upper body is somewhere in the middle of your torso. Thus a couple (torque) is created. As we know, torque is force X distance. To prevent the torso from dropping around the butt pivot, we must counter this with another torque. Again, force X distance. It's easy to see that if we increase the distance from the butt, the force required is less. Thus more reach reduces, not increases, pressure on the hands.
Torque may be reduced but it is inefficient, biomechanically, and uncomfortable to support one's upper body with outstretched arms. For example, it is easier to do a push-up (pivoting around the toes) with one's hands positioned directly below the shoulders versus, say, hands up by the ears. Also, the OP cites neck and shoulder pain, not hand pain, which is usually indicative of reach too great, torso angle too small, or bad posture (arched back, hunched shoulders).

Quote:
There is a limit on how much reach is desirable, which will vary with the body proportions and ability of the cyclist. Some elbow bend is always desirable, and the average tourist isn't as thin or muscular as a racing cyclist, so less hip bend is called for. Many long distance cyclists find that for every centimeter the bars are raised, they should be moved forward two centimeters. To see why this might be, bend forward at the waist, putting one's torso at about a 45 angle to the horizontal, the normal long distance position. Put a slight bend in your elbows. Now rotate your arms, pivoting of course at your shoulders. Observe the arc through which your hands move. Lower down, they move mostly forward. If one's bars were at the height of one's shoulders, movement would be entirely upward. At normal bar height, this approximate 2:1 ratio is observed.
Consider the photo of the two cyclists below. If the "Road Cyclist's" bar was magically disconnected from the stem and he raised himself up still gripping the bar to duplicate the torso and shoulder angles of the "Recreational Cyclist", the arc described by the bar would be UP and IN because sitting more upright involves increasing the trunk angle and decreasing the shoulder angle at the same time.


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This is the reason that one's arms become tired more quickly holding the bar tops than with hands on the hoods, if one maintains the same torso angle.
Most riders do not ride on bar tops with the same torso angle as when riding on the hoods or in the drops. I don't know why anyone would. The series of photos you linked to show you maintaining roughly the same torso angle regardless of your hand position which is confusing to me. I've never seen anyone else ride drop bars like that. The beauty of drop bars is when you change your hand position, you also change your shoulder and torso angles. Varying position (hand, shoulder, torso) is an important key to long distance cycling comfort.

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Old 05-18-11, 03:07 PM   #15
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<snip>The series of photos you linked to show you maintaining roughly the same torso angle regardless of your hand position which is confusing to me. I've never seen anyone else ride drop bars like that. <snip>
Really?



Quite comfortable for climbing. Opens the chest. Just because Eddy did it doesn't mean we can't do it.
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Old 05-18-11, 05:16 PM   #16
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on steep climbs, this "hands on flat part of top bars" like in photos above is how I naturally climb. Part of it is that I find it helps having the "pull" on the bars as I force, it helps "brace" my legs pushing if that makes any sense, moreso than if I am in the hoods where I definately feel the lack of bracing compared to this. Dunno if the "opening of the ches" plays a part, but I do know its my natural go to position for hard climbing. (and of course another option of hand position that I use on and off riding regularly as well for a changeup)
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Old 05-18-11, 05:48 PM   #17
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Quite comfortable for climbing. Opens the chest. Just because Eddy did it doesn't mean we can't do it.
Climbing! Of course you're right. I missed the captions of your photos. My mistake, sorry. I was referring to more of a 'cruising on the flats' situation where one would move one's hands back from the hoods to the tops and also sit up a bit at the same time to give hands and back a break.

Also, I feel very confident that I can't do what Eddy did.
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Old 05-21-11, 07:54 PM   #18
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I'm very grateful for all the posts! Today I was out for a 75-miler & took the advice from many of you. I adjusted my seat so the noise pointed slightly upward. I also made a conscious effort to stretch while riding. EUREKA! Hardly any neck/shoulder pain, & what there is is pretty mild considering the distance of today's ride. I do not think I'm too stretched out on my bike, so I didn't really mess with that. My butt did hurt more, but thinking about it that's probably because I'm putting more weight on that now. It's gotta go somewhere, right? I can deal better with the butt pain though, so it's a good trade off. Thanks all!
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Old 05-21-11, 10:24 PM   #19
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glad to hear!
and btw, 75miles or 120 km is a heck of a distance, so its pretty normal to be sore somewhere, especially early in the season. May you continue to be successful with riding position and with adjustments you do in the future.
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