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Pedal Science Blog: Don't Reach Too Far!!

Welcome to Pedal Science, the weekly bike fitting blog by Nick Thomas of The Endurance Coach. This week we look at the subject of HANDLEBAR REACH and cycling performance. 

One of the most common problems we see when bike fitting is the rider over reaching. This can be attributable to one or more of the following potential causes:

  1. The frame is too big
  2. The stem is too long
  3. The saddle is positioned too far back
  4. The rider is sitting with a slumped posture

Over reaching can lead to excessive tension in the lower, mid and upper back musculature with resulting fatigue and discomfort. The discomfort leads to loss of power and the longer an event is the more debilitating this discomfort can become.

We determine the correct reach by achieving a 90 degree angle at the shoulder when the hands are resting on the hoods (Note: this is done as part of the entire fitting process and not an isolated measurement). At 90 degrees shoulder angle the rider can relax and weight bear correctly through the bars – by doing this the unnecessary tension is released throughout the back.

Reach is often reduced once the saddle height and/or position have been improved, especially if it has been brought forward or lowered. Many people also tend to sit in a slumped position which posteriorly rotates the pelvis, drawing the rider backwards – the result is they then can’t reach the bars properly. This is usually a combination of inadequate postural endurance and/or complete unawareness, both of which can easily be addressed. A bike which initially looks too big can appear dramatically different once the person understands how to sit on the bike correctly.

There are two main ways you can assess whether you’re over reaching or not:

  • The compensation most people make when over reaching is to rest their hands further back on the hoods to reduce the distance between the bars and the saddle. This is visible when riding and tends to become more obvious as fatigue increases.
  • In an optimum riding position the centre of the front wheel should be at least partially obscured as you look down. If your posture deteriorates and you slump back in the saddle your head is further back and the centre of the wheel becomes more visible as you look down.

These two observations are excellent for anyone to constantly reassess riding position throughout a ride.

If the rider is still over reaching once the rear part of the bike has been adjusted and posture has been improved the frame is either too big or the stem is too long. A stem can be shortened accordingly but there is a limit to how short it should be as handling is compromised the shorter it gets.

Correct riding posture should be established before any adjustments are made to increase/decrease the reach. Only after correct saddle height and position have been established should a change in stem length be considered.

Nick Thomas is the resident bike fitter at The Endurance Coach. He is a fully qualified bike fitter and expert in lower limb mechanics, holding a BSc (Hons) in podiatry. You can contact him using the email address: or see more about his fitting services by GOING HERE.

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