Cycling in Comfort: Avoiding Aches and Pains

Cycling is excellent for your health, whether it means commuting to work or riding for pleasure or competition in your spare time. It’s ideal for improving cardiovascular fitness. While it doesn’t burn calories as quickly as running, it’s a low-impact form of exercise which is gentle on the joints. As long as you don’t have a severe medical condition before taking it up, it can only do you good.

Although you’re unlikely to injure your joints by jarring them when cycling, many people do experience aches and pains when they take the sport up or if they push themselves hard. For beginners to the sport, joint pains are often related to the way their bike is set up and their position on it. This article looks at different ways to stay comfortable when cycling.

Clip-in Shoes

A common cause of knee pain comes about when cyclists use clip-in shoes. More specifically, the position of the cleats attached to the shoes and pedals often unnaturally bend the knee inwards or outwards if poorly adjusted. If this forces your knee to track in a different way than it usually does, you will feel pain after a few miles. The fore and aft position of the cleat is also important. The ball of your foot should usually be positioned over the pedal axle.

Saddle Position

Knee and back pain on a bike is often a result of incorrect saddle height. If it’s too high, you may suffer lower back pain as it forces your hips to rock from side to side. If it’s too low, you will bend your knees more on the pedal stroke. As a rule of thumb, if you sit on the saddle while the pedal is near the six o’ clock position in line with the seat tube, you should be able to stretch your leg out straight, with your heel on the pedal without bending your knee.

The fore and aft position of the saddle is also vital. Another guideline says that the bony part of your knee should be directly above the pedal spindle (or ball of your foot) when the pedals are horizontally aligned. A saddle which is too far back may cause back pain or aching hands, as it moves the centre of gravity forwards. Generally, the less flexible your body is, the more you are likely to ache if you stretch yourself out on the bike. The length of the handlebar stem also affects this. A more upright position is better for bad backs.


For cyclists who know their ideal bike set-up, and who have ridden long distances regularly without pain, adjusting the bike is less of a good idea when problems arise. Issues such as knee pain often occur when cyclists suddenly exert themselves more than usual or begin riding again after a few weeks off. In these instances, gradually increasing distance or intensity helps, as does riding at high cadences in easier gears.