Do you need a specific gravel bike fit? | weekly cycling


Gravel bikes often have a different geometry from road or cyclocross bikes; Does that mean you should also get a bike specifically designed for gravel?

We turned to bike fit professionals to find out and learn how to tune your fit at home.

First of all, no matter what type of riding you do, it’s always a good idea to have a suitable bike. Placing your asymmetrical body on a rigid, symmetrical machine for hours on end can cause discomfort or pain, and a professional can help you find what works best for your body.

While our experts were happy to give you some tips for setting yourself up at home, it’s important to note that there’s no real one-size-fits-all approach to getting a suitable gravel bike. Like most bike fits, they are unique to you, the type of riding you plan to do – be it bikepacking, gravel racing, mixed terrain, long vs short, etc. – and the specific geometry of the bike you ride.

A note on gravel bike geometry

Natalie Collins, bicycle fitter, physical therapist and owner of Pedal Fit Bicycle Fit Studio and Physical Therapy in Denver compares today’s gravel bike design to the early days of mountain bike design.

“I feel like it’s 1985 in terms of gravel bike geometry,” she said. “They’re similar to cyclocross bikes, which have pretty aggressive geometry and gear ratios because you’re going to race them. But the “gravel bike” category [encompasses] pretty much anything else.

People who ride gravel bikes use them for pavement, dirt, singletrack, and bikepacking, but these subcategories aren’t always clearly delineated as they are with types of mountain bikes, for example. So bike choice matters a lot in this broad category, but can be confusing for riders unfamiliar with all the geometry and component jargon. Consulting a professional can be beneficial if you’re choosing a bike before you really know what kind of gravel riding you want to do, or if you’ve experienced pain or discomfort on your gravel rides.

“Generally speaking, compared to road bikes, gravel bikes tend to have slightly longer and slacker geometry than road bikes and even cyclocross bikes,” said Chris Balser, bike fit pro at Bicycle Fit Guru in Minneapolis.

So while it might seem reasonable to transpose the measurements from your road bike to your new gravel bike, there are a few additional things our experts take into consideration when fitting a customer to a gravel bike.

Fit tips for gravel bikes

1.) Opt for an agile position (not necessarily upright)

(Image credit: future)

“When riding off-road, you rely more on the contact points—your feet, saddle, and handlebars—for balance and control,” Collins explained. So for DIYers, she recommends shortening your reach about a centimeter from your road bike measurement as a starting point for better handling.

Balser offered similar advice. “The easiest DIY conversion – and this is really general – would be to move the saddle back one centimeter while maintaining your saddle height and raise the handlebars one centimeter while maintaining the same reach of the tip of the saddle to the stem.”

Sliding your seat back increases the distance between your legs and the pedals, so you may need to lower the seatpost slightly to adjust for this stretch. Maintaining the same reach measurement while moving the saddle backwards may also require a shorter stem, or perhaps just swinging it from a negative angle to a positive angle.

This is where consulting a professional can be beneficial. “Just because you want to ride a lot longer doesn’t mean a more upright position is entirely appropriate for [your] body,” Collins said. When someone decides to move to a more upright position, it’s often a good idea to switch saddles to adjust the angle of your pelvis.

If you try to increase your trunk angle without adjusting your pelvis angle in the saddle, your body may try to compensate on its own.

“The shoulders will come up, the neck will drop forward, the back will round out and there will be a lot more weight in the hands,” Collins said. This position is a recipe for sore backs, arms, and wrists, especially on uneven terrain.

2.) Choose the right saddle for you

The Brooks C17 is a popular gravel saddle for good reason.

(Image credit: future)

As with any bike fit, choosing the right saddle for your anatomy and flexibility has a big influence on your comfort and efficiency.

According to Collins, the key is knowing how you should sit in a saddle and finding a seat that allows you to do so.

“You should be able to put your pelvis in a neutral position and feel like the saddle is cradling your seat bones without putting pressure on the midline of the perineum,” Collins said. “You should get 60-70% of that weight through the bones, and only about 30% on the perineum.”

But a number of Collins’ clients come to see her in the wrong saddle for their bodies.

“I find a lot of people end up sitting too far back on their seat bones and then using their hands a lot to push back and round their back to relieve pressure on their perineum,” Collins said.

In addition to being uncomfortable, this position contributes greatly to muscle fatigue.

“That [position] it’s so much more work for the hands, feet and groin, especially on washboard roads and loose terrain – you’re just going to be tanked by the time you’re done.

Balser sees a lot of Brooks C17 saddles on his customers’ gravel bikes, and he thinks this is a great option. “It’s more like a hammock – it absorbs impact better than something that has a plastic or carbon shell.”

3.) Check your crank length

Evil Chamois Hagar Gravel Bike

Crank length difference affects pedaling efficiency

(Image credit: Cycling Studio)

“What I find is that generally a gravel bike will have cranks that are about five millimeters longer than a road bike of the same size,” Balser said.

For many of his customers, this difference in length affects their pedaling efficiency.

“A rider should not be pulled down into the saddle at the bottom of the pedal stroke or pushed out of the saddle at the top of the pedal stroke.” These symptoms are usually the result of cranks that are too long or a saddle that is too low.

A surefire way to tell if you’re being pulled down by the pedal stroke is to point your toes down.

“A lot of people know it and they don’t know it,” Balser said. “At some point in the pedal stroke, their knee stops extending and their toe hits.”

Set up your phone to film yourself on the trainer for a quick self-check.

You could potentially fix this by simply lowering your saddle, but Balser then suggests another test to make sure it’s not a crank length issue: set your bike up on a trainer and pedal backwards.

“If your foot stalls relatively hard at the top of the pedal stroke, that resistance also exists when pedaling forward,” which means your crank arms are probably too long.

This resistance comes from exceeding your functional range of motion and moving your pelvis vertically out of the saddle to compensate. Not only do you lose power, but bouncing around in the saddle can create saddle sores and back pain. If you lower your saddle and still feel a stall at the top of your pedal stroke, your crank arms may be too long.

4.) Reconsider your handlebar flare

A flared handlebar could do more harm than good

(Image credit: Jered Gruber)

Many gravel bikes currently have much wider bars than a similarly sized road bike, often with lots of flare in the drops as well. In theory, wider is more stable, right? However, Collins and Balser consistently see customers with pain from this type of handlebar.

“In drops it’s great, but riding on the hoods rotates the wrists outward, which isn’t optimal in terms of comfort or control,” Collins said.

If a customer arrives with a very flared handlebar and complains of wrist pain, changing it to a more neutral hand position usually helps solve the problem.

“Your barbell width should be within two centimeters of your shoulder width measurement,” Collins advised. Wider, and you create a triangle with your arms, as opposed to a rectangle. “Your triceps are supposed to act like the suspension of your upper body, but they can’t do their job set up like that.”

She often finds that people end up dropping their wrists inward as they hold on to the hoods, unconsciously trying to narrow their elbows and shoulders to a comfortable width, and this compensation often causes all the pain and tingling. in the arms and wrists. If you’re concerned about wrist pain, but are really serious about having a wide bar, a safer option would be to get a gravel bike with a flat bar.

5.) Move your cleats back

(Image credit: future)

Balser prefers to position the lugs on the back of his gravel runners’ shoes.

“Terrain inconsistency increases the likelihood that you can force the [calf] build muscle by climbing a hill or hitting a bump if you are riding [with your weight] too far ahead of the cleat,” he said. This will keep your center of rotational force lower and help stabilize your calves.

Collins does something similar with his clients, starting with their road shoe cleat position.

“We would bring your studs back maybe two millimeters (so, moving the foot forward) to improve stability and [reduce] foot fatigue as you do a lot more standing on the bike,” she said.

As with all bike fits, your gravel fit is very personal and depends on the type of terrain you will be riding on. While our two experts have plenty of DIY tips, these tips are meant to provide a baseline for dialing in your cut. If you are unsure or experience pain on the bike, it is recommended that you consult a professional. They’ll help get you where you need to be so you can keep riding longer, happier and healthier.


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