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I have been fitted on different bikes many years ago and was never completely satisfied to the point that I am not moving around in the saddle. I have since gotten a different bike with slightly different geometry and think that has exacerbated my discomfort a bit. When setting up my new bike, I referenced my fitting as a guide to adjust the seat height and fore/aft. The cleats remained the same at that point in time, though I have made adjustments since then.

My observation when biking is:

  1. I always feel like I want to be further forward over the pedals, so I slide up in the saddle, sitting more on the nose which then seems to be a little uncomfortable since I'm sitting on a smaller area.

  2. My right foot is always uncomfortable. My right foot slightly longer than my left ~ 6 mm. I have moved the cleats back to the same position on both shoes, but had them at one point compensating for the difference in length, so the right shoe had the cleat a little further forward. I had them originally positioned to try to be over the pedal spindle. I feel like when I'm pedaling that I must be pointing my right knee outward which then also means instead of me pushing straight down onto the pedal, I'm pushing at an angle. I noticed that today when I focused on keeping my foot flat / straighter that I had much less foot pain. I believe I have a dynamic leg length discrepancy in which my right leg appears to be longer, but once my back is adjusted, my legs are physically the same length.

  3. I have my saddle high enough to where my leg is almost fully extended, but not so high that my hips are rocking.

  4. I feel like the reach is okay when riding on the hoods, but in the drops, I feel like I need a longer stem as otherwise, it feels compressed. I feel like I have a longer torso and shorter legs where I should probably have a longer stem. On my other bikes I was fitted, I had a longer stem than the factory-installed one.

I'm hesitant to get another fitting because I think it is more than a one and done type deal. I'm not racing, so I'm not concerned about losing watts, but I'm hoping I can be comfortable to where I feel dialed in and am not wanting to move forward or backward.

My questions are:

  1. Should I adjust my cleats so that the ball of my foot is always over the spindle?
  2. If I feel like I want to be further over the pedals, should I slide my seat forward?
  3. If I slide my seat forward, then the reach will be further compressed and I will definitely need a longer stem to feel comfortable which is fine. Will that affect the feel of the bike as well?

EDIT: Clarified my foot / leg length.

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    Gut feeling, you should deal with the leg length issue first, with a cleat spacer, then adjust the rest. Otherwise there's probably no position that's comfortable for both sides at once. A decent bike fitter should be able to do that, but a specialist rather than a salesperson
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 15:52
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    @ChrisH I think he is saying that his right foot is longer, rather than his right leg being longer. But if the OP did mean a leg length discrepancy (where you'd consider shims if it's a structural difference, rather than a functional one), then consider clarifying the wording.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 17:30
  • I clarified in the post, my right foot is longer. My right leg is functionally longer most likely due to a tight lower back and an imbalance there.
    – John Doe
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 20:27
  • @WeiwenNg I should read more slowly, but much of my comment still holds - get a proper fitter to make the structural adjustment then do the rest
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 20:28
  • I feel like when I'm pedaling that I must be pointing my right knee outward... Do your feet feel flat when you're pedaling, or do they feel like they're being twisted? Like one side of your foot wants to be higher or lower than the other? That could be pushing your knee outward. Maybe you need to shim your cleats? Seemingly especially on the right side. Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 22:14

2 Answers 2

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I wrote a guide to adjusting your saddle height and fore-aft position here. It outlines a tests you can use to check for fore-aft position. Basically, if you can ride hands free, just go out on the bike, take your hands off the bars, but keep your torso in the same position. If you can't hold yourself up and you don't have a deficiency in core strength, then you should be able to maintain your torso position. If you can't ride hands free, then you need to borrow a smart trainer. Aside from that, if you feel like you need to be further forward to get adequate power, then yes, you should move the saddle forward - but remember to use that test to confirm if you've gone too far. I think that most people shouldn't need to move around on the saddle, and certainly the nose isn't meant to be sat on for extended periods.

If you don't move your saddle a lot, your body might be able to adjust to the same stem length. You could see if you like it without changing the length. The bike shouldn't feel massively different unless you go way outside the norm, e.g. stems shorter than about 80mm or longer than about 130mm.

You've correctly identified one of the indicators of the saddle being too high - your hips will rock. Also, you will ankle your foot down at the bottom of the pedal stroke because you can't otherwise reach the pedal. The issue is that sometimes, people with better physical function can compensate in such a way that hip movement isn't obvious. You need to consider finding a good professional bike fitter in this case - I am assuming that you bought bikes at a store and a sales rep did a basic fit. No offense to them, but they won't have the skills to fine tune bike fit. In fact, I don't either, but I hope I will point you in the right direction.

In your second paragraph, you might be talking about two different forms of asymmetry. You mention one foot being longer. You also mention a functional leg length difference. Functional means that your femurs and tibias are the same length, but because of something related to your muscles, you have a discrepancy. If this isn't what you mean, do clarify. That said, asymmetries are what you want to see a bike fitter for. People on the internet won't have the resources to help you unless they're extremely well-read.

You mention what I assume are chiropractic adjustments. Definitely keep doing those as long as you benefit from them. However, sometimes, the muscular imbalances that pull our posture out of whack can be corrected by strengthening exercises or stretches. A competent bike fitter should be able to recommend appropriate ones. If you already go to the gym or you have done so in the past, you could consider doing some compound movements that work on lower back and other core muscle strength, e.g. deadlifts, kettlebell swings, the Palloff press - this isn't an exhaustive list, but it hopefully shows what movements I'm thinking of, rather than doing leg and back extensions.

I think that you definitely don't need to put the center of the cleat over the ball of your foot. I think that most endurance cyclists benefit from cleats put further back (but remember, this is similar to adjusting your fore-aft position). This video explains why.

You mention that you don't want to see a fitter because it's not a one and done deal. That is true, because the body is complex, and when you change a parameter on the bike, other parameters may also change (as you saw with saddle setback affecting stem length). This is why we can benefit from expert guidance. I think that most fitters will bundle a first session plus a follow up (because they need to confirm if the changes they suggested actually helped). They may charge less for repeat sessions (e.g. one fitter I know charges $300 for a first session plus a follow up, and $150 for repeat sessions with the same athlete; as long as the position isn't massively different it can be the same person on a different bike). Given that you suspect physical asymmetries, even if they're functional, and that you are wondering about adjustments to multiple fit parameters that may interlock, I would have to recommend a bike fitter.

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  • Wow, very thorough. Yes, the fitter said it is a functional discrepancy. My lower back is generally very tight and my doctor has said the same that I need to stretch more. The takeaways for me are: stretch, check the fore/aft position, try a longer stem, and finally see a fitter. While riding on a trainer, it is very tough to say whether something is good, the real world is so different like how climbing feels different in the saddle and hands because of the gradient.
    – John Doe
    Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 20:34
  • First ride after adjusting my right cleat back and it feels more neutral. I felt like I wasn't fighting to figure out a position front/back or side to side on the saddle. I usually sat off-center. I will ride with this setup for a while and go from there taking notes to see what I've done over time.
    – John Doe
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 3:06
  • I think my body adapted, so I am moving around again :(. I did notice that when I first made the change that I think I need to move my left cleat back some even though I don't have foot pain in that foot.
    – John Doe
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 20:45
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Specific to foot placement:

As a starter, the shoe should be "snug" around the foot but not compressing the toes. This is because toes tend to swell, and the instep will compress slightly after 30-60 minutes requiring a re-tighten of laces.

Then the cleat should be under the ball of your foot. Some people like the cleat slightly aft of that; its all personal preference.

However the angle of the cleat should be such that your knees/ankles/hips don't feel out of position at any point in the rotation. That is, it should be a neutral-feeling angle. Your knee and heel should not touch/rub the frame or cranks at any point in the crank rotation (it may be possible for your toe to touch the front tyre at low speeds for smaller riders)

Once your shoes are dialed in, then move on to saddle height/angle and saddle fore-aft position. Then you move up the body to length of reach and bar positions etc.

Do consider all of this is an iterative process, and it takes time to get used to a position. I routinely swap between two road bikes with fairly different geometry, and the first ride after a swap feels a bit short/long in the reach, but subsequent rides feel quite normal.

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    Then the cleat should be under the ball of your foot. Some people like the cleat slightly aft of that; its all personal preference. Given the OP has stated he has one foot that's longer than the other, I'd also think some thought should be given to having the cleat in the same position on the foot relative to the ankle instead of the ball, or the toes. So it could very well be farther back on the longer foot. I'd think that would help make both legs closer to being the same functional length. Commented Sep 4, 2023 at 22:06
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    Yes, that is what my reasoning was as well. Having it directly under the ball would affect functional length which would then cause a difference in rotation between the 2 legs and possibly explains why I'm pushing down at an angle. If only I could shorten my foot :).
    – John Doe
    Commented Sep 5, 2023 at 1:15
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    Yes, I commented above as well. That seems to have made a big difference in comfort.
    – John Doe
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 3:11

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