Arm Pump, Saddle Tilt, Oval Chain Rings, and Cleat Placement for MTB

We ask an expert in bike fitting and biomechanics about oval chainrings, common injuries, arm pump, saddle tilt, and cleat placement.
Photo: Michael Paul

This week we’re re-sharing one of our favorite podcast episodes, and we’ll be back next week with an all-new show.

Dr. Adam Phaneuf is a Doctor of Chiropractic with a degree in Exercise Science based in Bellingham, WA. He’s also a bike fitter and has studied bicycle biomechanics.In this interview we ask Adam:

  • Is it true that cycling is lower impact than other activities like jogging?
  • Do you think mountain biking is higher impact than road cycling?
  • What are some of the most common ride-related issues folks tend to have?
  • Are certain muscles, or body parts, more prone to injury or pain for mountain bikers?
  • Do oval chain rings work for reducing pain? Are there any biomechanical advantages to them that riders can benefit from?
  • How can riders know if it’s their form that needs to be changed, or if it’s something about the bike fit that’s wrong?
  • What is arm pump, and what causes it?
  • Can vibration on the bike lead to any health or pain issues? Can things like suspension stems or seat posts be helpful for some people?
  • How does bike fit change, if at all, based on the type or length of ride we’re doing?
  • What is the ideal saddle tilt for mountain biking? How do you dial that in correctly?
  • Are there pros and cons to trying a more rearward cleat placement for mountain biking?
  • What do you think about the idea of video/online bike fitting?

To learn more or connect with Adam and his team visit or on Instagram @apexbellingham.

A full, automatically-generated transcript of this podcast conversation is available to Singletracks supporters.

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Hey, everybody, welcome to the singletracks podcast. My name is Jeff and today my guest is Dr. Adam Phaneuf. Adam is a Doctor of Chiropractic with a degree in exercise science based in Bellingham, Washington. He’s also a bike fitter and has studied bicycle biomechanics. Also, Adam was on the podcast with us several months ago talking about bike fit. So welcome back.

Thanks, Jeff. Thanks, again for having me back.

So we last spoke in May. And I’m curious to know how things are going is the current bike boom, affecting your business? Or the types of clients you’ve been seeing lately?

Adam 1:17
Well, you know, the bike boom has had a tremendous positive impact on my business, pretty much since the start of the pandemic, and and it’s it rolls on the, I think, you know, I think the whole bike industry is kind of is, is going a little bananas right now. And I’m definitely seeing a lot more first time bike fits. Interesting. I think a lot a lot more people are getting into the sport. I mean, it makes kind of makes sense. There’s a lot of people discovering the outdoors for the, you know, maybe the second time in their life since they were a kid. Right? Yeah, and bikes have been a really good tool for that. And, you know, I get the best part with working with new riders, too, is that, you know, the changes that we make are often really dramatic compared to experienced cyclists. And that can have a really dramatic impact on their race probably keeps a lot more of these new riders in the sport, because they have a comfortable bike it you know, there’s a lot of barriers to even getting into the sport. And then there’s a lot of barriers, barriers to sticking with the sport. So, yeah, I think we’ve have a have a lot of people come in, and they say, Oh, my gosh, I just didn’t know that this could be comfortable. I thought this was just how it was. And then they’re even more stoked on writing, which, which gets me stoked, and it’s really, I mean, even from a trail advocacy standpoint, it’s it’s beneficial for all these new riders to be sticking with the sport. The more people we have representing mountain biking, the better mountain biking is going to be represented in advocacy efforts. And I know that I know, he had people say it clogs up the trails a little more, but, you know, we’re not getting more trails unless we have more support, and more people backing mountain biking. So yeah, I think that in the long run that that all these new riders are, they’re beneficial to have for the sport. We need that new blood.

Jeff 3:10
Yeah, definitely positive perspective. And yeah, I wonder the same thing about all these people getting into the sport right now and wondering whether they’ll stick around and yeah, it sounds like, you know, you’re able to at least help one part of that, like, one of the excuses why people might not to use like, oh, it’s uncomfortable. I mean, nevermind that, like it takes a lot of time. And you know, as other stuff opens back up, people might, you know, get out of the habit of writing. But yeah, that’s cool to hear. Are you seeing people, maybe people too, that are writing more often than they had before? Like maybe people who can work from home now and so, you know, they have that commute time freed up and so they’re writing more but then maybe getting like more overuse type of injuries.

Adam 3:57
Yeah, absolutely. Getting a lot more people increasing their writing volume throughout the week, the you know, with the the advent of a lot of people working remotely. Yeah. And so all those all those small discrepancies in their bike fit become a lot more prominent, the more they ride, right, so if they were just getting out for a quick 45 minutes, a few few days a week, it wasn’t really enough to precipitate the small changes that would be need need to be made with their fit. So yeah, definitely brings those those small items to the surface once they start writing a lot more definitely.

Jeff 4:33
Yeah, interesting. A one of the like, kind of general pieces of wisdom that a lot of us have heard maybe people who aren’t even bikers or their new bikers, is you hear a lot that cycling is like a low impact exercise that you can do, especially when compared to other activities, like jogging. I want to know is that generally true? Like is is cycling, really low impact or are there some caveats to that statement?

Adam 4:59
That’s died from traumatic injuries and certain injuries that are associated with mountain biking in particular, I’d say that it’s generally true, you know, cycling is a non weight bearing form of exercise, it’s low impact, it’s easy on the joints, easy on muscles and tendons. But I know, you know, with the low impact nature of cycling, it does have its benefits in that respect. But it can also have its drawbacks. It doesn’t load muscles and tendons to the same degree as running or traditional ball sports. But it also doesn’t load your bones very much. Right? Yeah. And that, so that has bone density implications over time, over the long haul. So for those who aren’t familiar with that, essentially, you know, we accrue about 90% of our peak bone mass early in life, somewhere around age 18, to 20. So by the time you’re about 20 years old, you’re almost done accruing bone mass, and then it slowly deteriorates. Or I guess that’s a bad word for it, but it slowly decreases over time. And so as we age, we gradually lose bone density. But there are ways that we can manage that diminishing bone mass. And that’s by loading our bones with weight bearing exercise, or, and that can mean higher impact activities, or it can mean resistance training, like lifting some weights in the gym, or, you know, home, cycling doesn’t really fit into that weight bearing category. So in my mind, it is a conversation that I have with a lot of a lot of cyclists that I work with, particularly those that operate at a high level for a long period of time, and all they’re doing is either the writing or the resting, the you know, we usually have a conversation about long term bone health, and work on pursuing some sort of limited resistance training, or weight bearing exercise on an intermittent basis. Yeah, and women are, are at higher risk for low bone density later in life. But men are not exempt from this, either, especially men who use writing is their only form of exercise or activity. So right, it’s Yeah, but aside from that, there are a lot of really, really nice benefits to writing.

Jeff 7:16
That’s interesting, because, you know, we typically think we hear low impact, like, oh, that’s, that’s a good thing. But it can be too much of a good thing. It sounds like, you know, you need some of those impacts to strengthen bones to keep them strong. For my understanding. And yeah, I mean, a lot of the things, I guess, that I think of personally, that when I talk to people, they’ll say, Oh, I used to run, but then I started having knee problems. And so then I started cycling. And so that’s kind of the, like, cycling is the second choice for some athletes. Maybe it’s the one that they like, kind of graduate to, what are some of the like, common ride related issues that folks tend to have? Like, do people tend to bring those same sorts of injuries with them? Like, if you had knee problems while you’re running? Are you going to potentially run into that on the bike,

Adam 8:09
it can definitely occur in that pattern, especially with with the problems, people who tend to have knee pain of kind of some low hanging fruit to look at is their running cadence. And those people tend to are they’re more likely to adopt a low cadence with writing as well. Yes. So you know, there’s kind of there’s a common denominator between running and writing of having a proper cadence, okay, or else you’re going to overload that knee joint, you’re going to overload the tissues that help help move that knee joint.

Jeff 8:41
Yeah, so that’s, like, in practical terms for a mountain biker. That means Yeah, choosing an easier gear. Yep, sometimes, right? Like, yeah, not spinning in that artists gear, you can push, but maybe, you know, moving your legs faster, but in an easier gear.

Adam 8:56
Exactly. Yeah. And some people are more likely to try and grind. And some people are more likely to adopt a higher cadence naturally.

Jeff 9:04
Yeah, I’m a grinder for sure.

Adam 9:08
I think we’ve all been at one point or another. Yeah. You know, other than that, you know, statistically the most common complaints with writing are low back pain and neck pain. I’d say that, you know, your you’d be hard pressed to find a cyclist that hasn’t experienced those at one point or another. You know, I see a fair amount of that. But again, knee pain is a big one. And as well as you know, numbness in varying locations, in particular with with mountain biking, wrist pain, and elbow pain. And definitely a common denominator with all disciplines of cycling is foot discomfort as well, though it’s not as common as you know, low back pain, neck pain, knee pain. I’d say the back and neck and knee pain are probably the biggest ones that come through. Come through my office.

Jeff 9:54
Yeah, is that I mean, is that something just inherent with a bike like we’re asking our body to Do something that’s like not totally natural, but doable as long as we do it the right way.

Adam 10:05
Yeah, and I think that, you know, there, I think that there are, there’s a wide variety of reasons why we experience those types of discomfort, it’s a new sport for you, it’s a new position for you to be in with your body. And you’re going to experience some low level soreness from that, that improves over time. And that’s where a lot of those reports kind of come in, aside from the elite level, where they’re just on the bike for a really long period of time in really aggressive positions. And you’re not going to get away from some sort of discomfort, because it’s in the name of performance. Typically, comfort, helps aid performance. But there again, there are situations where you have to sacrifice comfort in the name of performance. Where people approach me is when they you know, especially new writers, they get out of that they either get out of that initial muscle soreness, discomfort phase, or they have problems that persist beyond that first week of writing. And they they say, this isn’t normal, or this is uncomfortable, yeah. And then that’s where that’s where I usually kind of come into their, their plan for their for writing.

Jeff 11:20

Adam 11:22
Another thing, another common, you know, I know, I mentioned shoulder injury, you know, shoulder discomfort, in particular with mountain biking. And I really think, you know, it’s definitely more particular to mountain biking, because flat bars, they do offer a lot more control. But they also offer an opportunity for us to place our shoulder in a vulnerable or less than ideal position. Interesting. It demands that we have a stable shoulder while we’re providing input into the bike. And sometimes it’s easy to lose that, or we get put in positions where we do lose that and then we have to load other tissues in our shoulder arm that aren’t really used to taking that amount of load.

Jeff 12:07
Yeah. Interesting. So is that the kind of thing where I mean, it sounds like you’re saying maybe drop bars? Are those more like, ergonomically correct, I guess, for writing? Is that gonna give people more comfort? But less control?

Adam 12:22
Correct? Yeah. And I mean, it also depends on the position, or depends on what you’re writing. I mean, I would never say drop bars are going to be are going to be best for writing single track. They, you know, they provide a comfortable position, but they don’t provide a very stable position. And they don’t, it doesn’t attenuate force very well. So it’s comfortable, but it has a ceiling. And there’s a very good reason that flat bars exist. Yes, we can we can attenuate for more force with that position. But it does, it does have its ability to break down as well, it does have a ceiling as well. So

Jeff 12:58
yeah, and it’s these days, there’s so many choices to I mean, there’s there’s flat bars, and there’s curly bars, but then there’s like everything in between. And it’s like, you know, I feel like we have a lot of those choices. And we can make those tweaks to like kind of get the advantages of both to have the control but also have the comfort. Another product that comes to mind when talking about that is like oval chain rings. And that’s something that, at least to me, has been sold as a way to reduce knee pain, also, potentially to like, get a little more power, which I don’t know if that’s true, or if people agree with that. But I’m curious to hear your opinion about like, what oval chain rings are good for and basically how do they work?

Adam 13:42
Well, yeah, oval chain rings are definitely they’ve definitely seen a bit of a popularity increase, especially in the mountain biking world, they kind of have their phase in the road in the road riding world, and some people still subscribe to using them. But you know, beyond beyond, you know, anecdotal evidence, most of the literature is pretty conflicting as to whether or not there’s a performance or even biomechanical benefit to oval rings. Yeah. Conflicting would be the word, there’s really only one study out there that really addresses a loading at the knee with oval versus circular chain rings. And in that study, they really found no significant difference in forces at the knee. Interesting. Again, that’s only one study though the studies are limited, there could be something that comes out down the line that totally changes our opinion on that. But I also looked at I’ve looked at some studies and one study that I came across was it compares muscle activation at the kind of the quad and and hip and it compared oval rings with circular rings. And they they compare to in you know, relatively trained cyclists. So we know that can be applicable to the to the riding population. And so what it found it you know, they He did some, some output tests at high cadence and output tests at a low cadence. And there wasn’t really much of a difference at a higher cadence. But they did find that there were higher levels of muscle activation in these key muscles at around 70 revolutions per minute. So it kind of at a lower cadence.

Jeff 15:19
Yeah, for grinders like me. Exactly. Yeah. Maybe I need to need to reevaluate that. Right?

Adam 15:27
Yeah. And I mean, how much can we really draw from that one study? I mean, that remains to be seen, does this mean that knees could be more tolerant of a low cadence with an oval ring? Maybe, but we really just don’t have enough of enough available evidence to really suggest that or conclude that. And, you know, I’d really look towards cadence as an issue with with a alleviating knee pain, or bike fit as with alleviating the pain, rather than the shape of the ring on the front of your bike.

Jeff 15:58

Adam 15:59
Yeah. I mean, I guess I’m kind of minimalist, I like to use what I what we have in front of us, and make it work with that. But that’s just kind of how that’s kind of how I do things. And that’s, you know, some people, you know, they like to buy gear, and they if they feel if it makes a difference for them, whether it’s placebo or not going to be happy with that, too. I mean, right. And there were, you know, there were a couple other studies that that I’ve seen in the past that, you know, they like compared, like, actual changes in biomechanics with varying oval ring options, because there’s not just one shape of oval ring out there. And not, there’s, you know, there’s a bunch of different options out there, they all are varying degrees of oval ovality, I guess. Yes, some of them are more look more like an oval, and some of them look a lot closer to a circle of symmetric being one of those, like the more aggressive ones, as far as brands go. And so anyway, there really wasn’t a statistically significant difference with oval versus circular. As far as how your body moves, and how knee joint angles change through pedal stroke, yeah, except with the most aggressive with the most aggressive oval rings like that, oh, symmetric ring, okay, I’m not being paid by all symmetric dimension them, but they are just one of the one of the most aggressive brands out there. And again, oval rings, they don’t always have in the mountain biking world, we can get away with it, because we have really good ways of managing chain tension. And a lot of us are running one by at this point. So we don’t really have to worry about changing to, you know, changing a front derailleur around. But in the road cycling world, those more aggressive oval rings, they’re not really feasible to use in a road racing scenario, where you are switching between two front rings, you can have chained drop, and, you know, especially I mean, that’s why you don’t really see it at the elite level, very often is because it’s it’s unreliable with shifting. And I think in general, I just think, you know, as far as all the studies go, there hasn’t been much shown to prove any dramatic benefit between the two. And I think, you know, when you look at the elite level, you know, if oval rings were dramatically better than a circular ring, there would be a lot of people using it at the highest level, right? It would it would be across the board, you know, and we also have to look at, you know, when we are looking at at studies, in general, we have to look at where who’s funding the research, we have to, you know, to determine if there is some bias. I mean, you could have, you could have a company that funds a study, and you know, they want to find something that supports that says oval rings are the best thing ever. But and as far as you know, like that, that argument of power output or that thought, oh, it might improve your power a little bit. Some of the things sometimes we see a little bit of, you know, people who do use power meters, sometimes the power meter isn’t calibrated for the oval ring itself. Interesting. So yeah, without calibrating your power meter, you will see up to a 4% bump in power output, but it’s really just your power meter not being able to read it effectively. Okay. Yeah. And I mean, there’s a lot of people in town here that I know that that do use or rings on their mountain bike, and they feel it provides a more even power through the pedal stroke. And so the the argument is that you’ll have better traction in technical climbing, right? There really isn’t any evidence to back that up at this time. But I’m not going to steer someone away from an oval ring. If they have that sensation, and they like it and it works for them. Yeah. And concurrently. I’m not going to suggest someone go out and buy an oval ring if they have a perfectly good circular ring on their bike. Right, right. Yeah, if they have a strong interest in trying it out. I’m not going to I’m not going to say no, but I’m not going to claim that you need an oval ring to be the best mountain biker you can be, or to have a good time on your mountain bike. Right? Or or prevent pain on your mountain bike.

Jeff 20:13
Yeah. Well, you know, I mean, we’re not, the whole point of this is not to pick on oval chain rings to and I feel like that was a perfect example of like so many things on our bikes and where there’s the first part of it, which is some people have tried it, and it works for them, and they like it. And that’s it, like, good for them, they can go off and do it. And then there’s the other side of you know, there’s research and there’s science behind this. And there’s even a lot of tried and true things like you said, like the round chain ring, like it’s been around a long time. And nobody’s been able to really improve on it in a lot of ways. And so, like the truth maybe is kind of in the middle of exactly a lot of these things and you know, Slike, mullet bikes and yeah, all kinds of other debates that we have outside of even bike fit. You know, is it good or bad? Well, you know, it’s kind of in the eye of the beholder in a lot of ways.

Adam 21:09
It’s true. I mean, and if, when it comes down to it, if you like the way it feels, and you’re having fun, I think that is the core mountain biking right there. So yeah, again, I would not I would not, I don’t really take a hard stance on oval chain rings. Because yeah, a lot of people like them. And some people, they like what they have in a circular chain ring. And then there is there is one little thing with oval chain rings. And there was a study that I read a while back. And it talked about sprint performance. And they did find some some benefit with with an oval ring with sprinting. So you know, for all your BMX track racers out there. Yeah, yeah. But I mean, so I mean, there again, just because the research doesn’t exist now doesn’t mean that it won’t in the future. And I think we have to, we have to keep an open mind with these things and be willing to have our preconceived notions challenged and even proven wrong.

Jeff 22:11
Yeah, yeah, that’s the tension, which is really interesting is between those two things. It’s like, we want to be rigorous and scientific about it. But we also want to keep an open mind and say, Hmm, like, maybe there is something here, and we need to look into it. And I find the psychology side, fascinating as well. You mentioned that for some people, perhaps it’s a placebo effect. And then the question is like, Well, okay, that’s fine. Like people are okay with that. They’re like, it makes me feel better, and I feel faster. So that’s pretty much makes me faster. And so yeah, when we talk about these studies, and we really try to explain it, maybe we’re ruining the magic could be

Adam 22:50
Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of the same thing, where if you, if you like, what you look at in the garage, you’re more likely to get out and ride it and be happy, right again. So I mean, right? If you like the color of your bike, and it makes you feel fast, yes, then might be faster than if it was a bike you don’t even like looking at. I mean, it’s yes, there’s so much to it. And I Yeah, and I think that the enjoyment and Stoke factor does come into play with a lot of things.

Jeff 23:16
Yeah, well, I’m gonna get sort of selfish with this next question and say that I test a lot of different bikes, a lot of different mountain bikes throughout the year. And with each new bike that I test, there’s often kind of this early period with the new bike where it feels uncomfortable to me in one way or another. Usually, though, it kind of goes away after several rides. So I guess I’m getting used to the bike or like the discomfort disappears, like, Is that normal for people to have this kind of like breaking in period with a new bike where their body kind of adapts to the bike? I would

Adam 23:51
say it depends. But in short, yes, there can be a little bit of an adaptation period. So when you hop on a new bike, it’s not going to unless it’s the exact same bike as your old bike, and you’re on a crash replacement or something like that. Yeah, the geometry of the bike is going to be different, your reach numbers are going to be different, your position relative to kind of the position of your body relative to the location of certain key components on the bike is going to be different. You can get your bike totally set up, you know, with the same degree of knee extension through your pedal stroke, but your torso angle, you know how forward you’re how far forward you’re bending. And say your knee position relative to where the pedal spindle is, can differ from bike to bike, even though you have it set up about the same as your last bike, right? So changes your pelvic tilt changes how far how far forward you’re leaning, how much quadriceps you’re recruiting relative to hamstring and glute max. There can be some breaking period with that. And the same thing kind of goes for bike fit when somebody comes in and we make some changes. I say Give us a good six to eight hours on this bike before you make any real big assumptions.

Jeff 25:06
Yeah, six to eight hours of ride time. I guess you’re saying? Yep, six to eight hours.

Adam 25:11
Yep. Yeah, not 68. But six to eight. That’d be a lot a long time on the bike.

Jeff 25:16
I’ll just like go home and think about it over the afternoon. Put put some saddle time.

Adam 25:22
Yeah. So I mean, and yeah, your body has to your body’s adapting to a new position, whether it’s a new bike or a new bike fit. You’re you’re recruiting different muscles at different percentages. And it’s, it’s going to be something that your body is unfamiliar with. It’s just like doing, it’s just a smaller scale of like moving to a different sport or trying a new activity you’re going to have, you’re going to be using different muscles in different in slightly different ways, or slightly different capacities than you were previously. So I’d say it’s, you know, that yeah, and then so the long answer is also yes, that it is normal to experience a little bit of kind of breaking time during, during your first several hours on a new bike.

Jeff 26:07
Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that, too. I mean, I guess, I mean, I have known many people who, when they’re getting a new bike, they’re looking at, you know, keeping certain numbers the same, right, they want like a similar reach, or similar saddle height, and that sort of thing. But at the same time, like bikes, or especially in mountain biking, the geometries are just progressing so much every year. And so you know, maybe you have a Santa Cruz Tallboy and fit you great, and you’re used to riding a bike and riding it for years, and then you’re ready to get the latest model, and it’s going to be different, I mean, it’s going to have different reach, it’s going to have a lot of things about it, that your body is going to have to adapt to. So how do you know when it’s like too much when the bike is really just like not the right fit for you?

Adam 26:58
Yeah, I think that six to eight hour mark is a really good indicator as to whether something is going to persist or not. Okay, if it’s a theme beyond that, you know, first one to two weeks of writing, then it’s probably going to stick around for a while. Yeah, there’s, it’s highly unlikely that that’s going to change unless you change something. And it’s not necessarily again, like the way that I see it as it’s not necessarily a problem with you, or your biomechanics. It’s just you’re not the bike is not matched to your biomechanics, it’s not matched how you move now match your strengths, your flexibility, and it doesn’t mean you need to get a new bike. But it does mean that either this bike is different than your last bike, and we can’t do everything the same way as the last bike, right? Or yeah, or means we need to make a few tweaks.

Jeff 27:47
Yeah, and I imagined that the tweaks are going to be some combination of like, tweaking your form, like the way you’re sitting on the bike, or the way that you’re moving your body, or they’re going to be modifying the bike like different with the handlebar, different STEM or that sort of thing, right?

Adam 28:04
Yeah, you know, cockpit setup is its is its own kind of own kind of animal. And that does change bike to bike. But I’d say with, you know, adapting bike to, you know, riding style or modifying how we ride, I think that you should kind of have a couple of different people in your corner, you should have some sort of professional like some sort of bike fitter, that will be able to address some of the base of the pyramid where, okay, sit looks good. Mechanics, look sound, at least you know, in a in a controlled setting, it’s not the bike, it’s not the way that your bike is matched. It’s not a problem with a bike matching your biomechanics, or, you know, or your, your your dimensions of your body, then another person have in your corner would be some sort of skills coach, more often than not, you know, we are just failing to adapt the bike to our normal biomechanics. And changing those biomechanics can often be an unrealistic expectation. But sometimes it’s the way that we handle the bike that is causing our discomfort. And that’s where working with a skills coach or even a rehab professional can really come in handy. Yeah,

Jeff 29:13
well, for me, it’s, I guess, it’s unusual because I’m always like, having photos taken of me riding a bike or like, you know, videos and, and then of course, I’ve also got my wife Leah, who tells me all the time you look like you’re slouched over when you’re riding your bike, you bend over too much. And then she’s right, you know, like, you do need that, that outside perspective to be like, Hmm, I didn’t realize I was doing that and in becoming conscious of it and, and trying to fix it can alleviate a lot of those issues.

Adam 29:42
Yeah, absolutely.

Jeff 29:44
I would agree. 100%. Well, we’re going to take a break real quick, but when we come back, we’re gonna talk about arm pump, saddle tilt, and other bike fit issues. Stay tuned. The next time you’re shopping for mountain bike gear checkout. singletracks duck Home slash deals. Each week we share our favorite product pics and exclusive coupon codes from our partners. You can also use the page to search for whatever you’re buying from complete mountain bikes to break sets and tire sealant, that single And to get our weekly pics delivered to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter, links to the newsletter and deals page are in the show notes. And we’re back. So one question Adam, I know that a lot of mountain bikers have is about arm pump. So I’m curious to get your take on what arm pump is and kind of what causes it.

Adam 30:38
So arm pump, we’ve all experienced that at one point or another I’m sure you know, it’s, it’s essentially a symptom of certain muscles in your forearm fatiguing. And these muscles, they control your wrists, they control your fingers, things that are too, you know, a lot of joints that are really important, especially in the descending aspect of mountain biking, right. And really the the what what muscles are involved, they vary upon presentation. But it’s almost always a sign that something is amiss in the cockpit setup. And I mean there kind of goes along, it can go along with kind of what we talked about a little earlier with skills coaching, and managing body position, shoulder position, putting yourself in a position where you’re able to attenuate all the forces, the forces involved with descending with more of your body than just your arms and your wrists. But you know, this could have cockpit setup implications as well. The matching terrain selection to your cockpit is super important. So if you’re riding super steep stuff all the time, or you’re writing low angle stuff all the time, you should match your brake angle to that so that you’re not putting your wrist in this non neutral position while you’re gripping and putting loads through your hand and your wrist and your elbow. Yeah. So if if we’re not matching that neutral, you know, if we’re not matching our terrain with a neutral wrist and forearm position, then we’re going to be stressing these muscles extra, essentially. So we’re going to be putting them under load and tensioning them under load too much. And then that’s where we get that arm pump. I also think that well tuned brakes go a long way. So yeah, if you’re just if you’re working too hard, or you’re, you know, your your labor throw isn’t ideal. It’s too short or too long. You can stress some of these muscles as well.

Jeff 32:40
Yeah, when you’re like death gripping, the handlebar is sort of a you know, like you really have to pull the brake levers hard. You’re obviously like, activating those tendons and everything in your arms. And that that’s not good.

Adam 32:53
Yeah. And, you know, again, I can’t reiterate enough how much how important it is to match your brake angle to the type of terrain that you ride, you know, on average, you should yeah, you should have that that brake angle kind of match that upper percentage of, of your most common terrain selection?

Jeff 33:14
Yeah. Do you think most people run their brake levers too high or too low?

Adam 33:19
I would say that there’s two different crowds. There are people who come from a XC background and run them very steep. And that doesn’t necessarily jive with modern geometries. And then there are people who spend a lot of time on Instagram, and follow certain enduro riders that do ride really, really, really rowdy stuff. And they throw their brake levers probably a little too raked out than they actually need. Okay, usually, you kind of end up meeting halfway with that, that current position, what you know what the average neutral position is, but it’s kind of all over the board. It’s all it all depends on you know, some people just like the way it looks to and, and not there in sometimes there’s nothing wrong with that. But I think that mountain biking is more about the feeling than it is how it looks. So yeah, and that’s just a personal philosophy, but, and there are a lot of people who ride truly steep, truly gnarly stuff. And that’s part of again, part of having an honest conversation about terrain selection, and knowing as a bike fitter, knowing what trails are in town, and knowing what they look like and understanding the needs of each rider.

Jeff 34:43
Yeah, it’s good to I mean, when you started off describing arm pump, you know, you mentioned how it’s it’s fatigue is muscle fatigue. And I think we’ve all felt that we can recognize that. But our initial reaction is always like, oh, I need to get stronger. Yeah, and yeah, too. Like getting stronger as I Oh, geez, what do I gotta lift weights now? Or like, you know, I don’t want to do that stuff. But it’s so it’s really reassuring to know that, you know, part of it is cockpit setup you can deal with with some of the pain issues that way. And then also, yeah, just how you’re kind of holding on to the bike and how your shoulders and arms and everything are kind of connected to that. And you can alleviate it that way as well.

Adam 35:27
Exactly. I can’t stress enough how important skills coaching is and how beneficial it can be for the average rider, even just a little bit of time with the skills coach can go such a long way. Yeah. Because yeah, you can have your bike set up totally ideal for what you typically ride. But if you’re not putting your body in the right position in the moment, then it’s kind of a moot point. And I would also say that if you’re doing a really, really, really long descent, your arms are going to be tired at the end. I mean, it’s especially really long, steep, or, you know, chattery descent, there, we have to have some reasonable expectations for how you’re going to feel at the bottom. Right. Yeah, nobody feels fresh after you know, three or 4000 feet of descending. So

Jeff 36:12
yes, this is normal, I guess. Well, yeah, you’re you’re talking about a chattery. dissents. And one of the things that I’m also wondering about is vibration on the bike. And I really noticed this started to do a bit of gravel riding like on you know, a rigid bike and certainly feel a lot of vibration there. And even anytime I watched like helmet cam footage from my own helmet, I realized like how much my head is just shaking around, maybe it’s just the helmet. Hopefully, it’s mostly the helmet independently and my head is not being vibrated to that degree. But what kind of health issues can come from repeated vibration? Like that?

Adam 36:58
Well, yeah, certainly muscle fatigue, like we were talking about excessive vibration, fatigues muscles, and then causes us to, you know, after we, you know, fatigue those muscles, we rely on something called passive stability, which is ligaments, joints, things that, you know, things that are not muscle or tendon essentially. And then numbness can also occur too. I don’t know if you’ve ever used like, a trimmer or anything. I was

Jeff 37:29
just gonna say that leaf blower. Oh, my goodness. Like, hold on one of those handheld ones after Yeah, like 10 or 15 minutes. Yeah, you just can’t even feel your arm anymore. Yeah,

Adam 37:39
exactly. Yeah, your your muscles and nerves will be shot for a little bit of time. So yeah, and the higher the frequency, the vibration, the quicker that fatigue factor occurs. So you know, there’s an we see this a lot more in like cyclocross, especially gravel applications, because you’re running a rigid bike. And in gravel, you’re running riding for hours at a time, and you’re really relying solely on tire pressure, and muscles and joints to handle all the forces that are coming through.

Jeff 38:06
Yeah, so So are things like, I mean, it’s sounds like it’s definitely more noticeable on a gravel bike where you don’t have suspension. So can things that aren’t suspension, like maybe suspension stem or like a suspension? seatpost? Are those legitimate? A lot of times as mountain bikers, we kind of scoff at those and say like, that’s silly. That doesn’t work. But but in terms of comfort, like, can it work? Does it work?

Adam 38:32
Yes, it can definitely work. I don’t think that it’s for everybody. And I think that the technology has definitely come a long way over the last decade. I think there’s a lot more, a lot more out there. The suspension stances, the boats, see posts, are there a good way to kind of take some of the chatter out handle some of those forces, especially, I think they can pay dividends longer into the ride as you get later and later into a long ride. And again, it’s also what kind of gravel roads you’re looking to ride. If you’re writing a lot of washboard, you will probably be very happy that you did it. But you know, not all that technology is created equal. Some stuff is better than others. Some of it is gives you a better just kind of take some of the chatter out, like some of the spring oriented stuff, you know, it takes some of that chatter out some of it like some of it is is air driven, like the b&w components has a has a great little gravel dropper post that has some suspension to it. That’s better for those kind of those hard hits that you’re not expecting and it doesn’t, you know, shred your back. Yeah, but and then there’s, you know, there’s, you know, elastomer based stuff, but again, the technology’s gotten a lot better. There’s a lot more options for people. I’ve also had plenty of individuals for or Sue those kinds of things, because they have had some sort of surgery in the past. And it just takes this takes the edge off for them. Okay. Yeah, makes sense. Yeah. And there’s, there’s even kind of, there’s even a set of, there’s a set of mountain bike bars out there that have flexible kind of has like a bit of a flexible joint to them. And I know, there are people out there that have had, you know, wrist surgeries, they have hardware in their arms and wrists and stuff. And it just, again, it takes the edge off for those people. So I think that the average person, you know, I’m not going to say you need it. But there are a lot of ways to help D load, you know, either like a pre existing condition, post surgical things, or just somebody who is writing a lot of really bumpy stuff, and they’re just not comfortable at the end of the ride. So it’s, and it’s something worth exploring if they are married to riding a rigid bike with a, you know, with whatever tire size that they’re running.

Jeff 40:57
Right. Yeah, yeah, that’s, that’s good advice. Because I think a lot of us, we do tend to dismiss some of these products, just for performance reasons, right, saying like, Oh, well, you’re not gonna have as much control or you’re losing power. Yeah. Yeah. Right. But but it makes a lot of sense in terms of comfort, and even for some people just even to be able to get out on the bike. Yeah, that makes sense. Do you see patterns in some of your clients? In terms of the type of bike that they ride? Like? Are people on carbon gravel bikes, more likely to be experiencing issues than say someone on a steel gravel bike? Can you see that difference in terms of like the types of bikes people are riding?

Adam 41:41
I haven’t seen any trends. Personally, that is a really good question, though. I think I see more of a trend with people running lower volume tires, and having a little bit more discomfort. So making the leap to a higher volume tire can be a great way to add a little bit more of that that plushness to your ride. Yeah, that entire selection comes into play, too. I mean, really, when you’re working with a gravel bike, the low tire and wheel has a lot of impact on your experience. Yeah, you can be bouncing around on a 32 c tire if you want, but it’s you know, there’s there’s a lot, a lot of benefit to that higher volume tire if you are looking for comfort. Yeah, I’m

Jeff 42:26
glad you said that. You cleared up a lot for me. I hear people grapple people talking all the time about their tire size. It’s a big topic of conversation. And it’s always like, well, what’s the biggest tire you can fit in your frame? So now I know. It’s because yeah, they’re like they’re in pain. And they’re like, Can I get a bigger tire please? Like, so? Yeah. Yeah,

Adam 42:47
I’d say my sweet spot personally is around a 47. C for general gravel riding.

Jeff 42:52
Oh, yeah, that sounds big.

Adam 42:54
Yeah, it does sound big. But you know, I’m not I’m not racing gravel, we have a lot of a lot of the gravel riding around Bellingham is not smooth. And having a higher volume tire, both for puncture protection, and in for smoothing out the ride can be really helpful. So it really again, it’s not it. I do not claim that it is the fastest setup, but it is comfortable and hasn’t stranded me yet. So yeah.

Jeff 43:25
Those are important things. Yeah, sure

Adam 43:27
that Yeah, and I know that there. I know some people that run smaller tires, and they certainly do go faster on them, though.

Jeff 43:33
Yeah. Yeah. It’s all about trade offs. Exactly. I was about to

Adam 43:37
say that. Yeah. It’s you’re, you’re making a compromise one way or the other.

Jeff 43:41
Yeah. Well, one other question I have is about how bike fit changes, if at all, for us based on the type of riding we’re doing. So one example for a lot of mountain bikers is like, we have our trail bike that we ride, you know, sort of during the week, or maybe on the weekends for a couple hours at a time with the same fit, same bike fit for that sort of trail bike work for longer riding, like, say, bikepacking When people come in for a bike fit, do you? Do you fit all their bikes at once? Are they able to kind of translate that between their different bikes?

Adam 44:16
A lot of good questions, their bike fit, really, especially with non bike fit. It should match terrain selection, first and foremost. Okay, so if your bike packing route is pretty flat, and doesn’t involve a lot of steep climbing, but your daily daily rides mean a really steep fireroad climb, your fit is going to be different. Your saddle tilt will be different. And the way that we try and balance you on the bike will probably be a little bit different because riding a loaded bike as anybody who’s done some bikepacking will attest, does weight the bike differently and when you know when you’re when you’re fully packed up there. It is a different animal to handle. Yeah,

Jeff 44:57
well that’s interesting because I was I was thinking that, you know, maybe the time was the thing that’s different. But already you’re saying, it even depends on the terrain, right? If you are climbing versus doing a lot of flat stuff like that even affects your fit.

Adam 45:13
Exactly, yeah, and, you know, the, and there are ways that you can make a bike more comfortable. The good thing is with mountain biking is we’re seeing a lot more, you know, we’re seeing a lot more steeper seat tube angles. So you’re generally in a more upright position on mountain bikes, and you could certainly bike pack with with your mountain bike, I’d say there’s some small nuance between the two. But yeah, again, you don’t want to be on a bike that’s meant for aggressive climbing, and then go out for you know, a flatter route on it, where you’re spending lots of time fighting a saddle tilt, that’s not going to support support you.

Jeff 45:52
Yeah, so things even like, like saddle height, that seems to be like kind of a basic thing in terms of bike fit is that going to be the same between all these different bikes that people are going to have set up

Adam 46:04
saddle height, it definitely depends on the geometry of the bike. So if you’re going between bikes, it will be different. When we do change, saddle tilt, it places you in a different position on the saddle relative to the bottom bracket, right. So there will be a small height change sometimes or small for after change. With that, sometimes, you know, depending on the geometry of the bike sometimes is negligible. And we can get away with it. You know, it’s like I’m doing one bike packing weekend on this bike, I’m just going to make it work. And you know, in all likelihood, it won’t create too much discomfort, like kind of like we’ve been talking about, you know, have this theme of kind of meeting somewhere in the middle. And that, you know, the truth is really not on either opposite end of the spectrum, it’s kind of somewhere in the middle, probably get away with it in a lot of cases. But going from bike to bike, transferring measurements can get a little tricky, because you are geometries do change. And that changes the position of your body relative to certain key components of the bike. Right. Interesting. So the short answer is yes. And no, I guess. It depends.

Jeff 47:08
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Well, yeah, you mentioned saddle tilt. And that’s one that I don’t know, I feel like for most people, there’s just sort of this rule of thumb, you know, well, a lot of us just eyeball it, right. Like when we’re setting up a new bike, or we changed saddles. And particularly for mountain biking, I’m curious if the saddle tilt, like the thinking on that has changed with dropper posts in terms of you basically now you only have your saddle setup for climbing for descending, you really don’t don’t care what the angle is, or any of that. Right. So. So what is how do you kind of dial in that that subtle tilt?

Adam 47:48
Exactly. So it’s definitely important to have a conversation with the individual before you even begin the bike fitting process? Or I guess that is the beginning of the bike fitting process is having a conversation. Yeah, and understanding where they’re writing, you know, what they’re writing it, are they you know, are they writing undulating terrain, you know, a lot of flat, flatter or undulating terrain where they’re pedaling through a lot of low angle, terrain, I guess so to say, or are they essentially going up the steepest fire road in town, Steve’s logging road in town, and then writing down something. So having that will help set expectations for saddle tilt during the fitting session, and then also, starting, you know, I think people have different different ideas as to what a neutral saddle position is, as far as tilt goes, so I do my best to get them into a neutral position, and kind of work from there. And, and kind of mimic their, the degree of you know, the degree of pitch that they’re writing up. And also understanding that people, you know, saddles, there’s a lot of, there’s a million samples out there, but they have one on their bike, and they typically want to keep that one. And knowing that everybody’s pelvis is a slightly different width. As far as where, you know, sit bones and pubic bone are. So they’re going to find their ideal position on that saddle in a different spot than somebody else might. It’s, as we all know, you know, saddles kind of sweep outwards as you go towards the back of the saddle. And so you’re going to try and marry that ischial tuberosity. With, with the that specific position on that saddle, where it feels comfortable, where it’s not too narrow, it’s not too wide. And so again, that’s going to vary person to person and, you know, working with working with saddle mapping can help with that. But I think again, having a good conversation beforehand and understanding like okay, well, you know, you’re riding up some really steep stuff, we’re gonna be up Okay, with some negative tilt, some kind of downward nose down saddle tilt, because once we get going up on that steep logging road, it’s going to feel a lot more natural. And that’s where it that’s where it’s important. Yeah. But the XC racer, you know, it’s going to be a lot more akin to a to a road bike, saddle tilted a nice neutral, neutral saddle tilt, especially with the way that a lot of saddles have some have a lot of really good decompression or cut out however you want to talk about it, they, you know, it allows you to tilt forward into that saddle and not experience discomfort like you would with a saddle without a cut out. So it allows for a little bit more wiggle room, and it keeps you happy and kind of that neutral riding or you know, low angle terrain. And then if you do go up a steep kick, then it’s not going to ruin your day, or create numbness or pain there. But if you are if all you do is write up steep stuff, then we can afford to have a little bit of a negative settle till I’ve definitely seen some stuff out there. That’s very, very aggressive. Yeah. And I think and we’ve often raised that nose up, and they find that they are much more comfortable than they thought they could be. But you know it, sometimes we have to kind of go to those extremes to understand what’s comfortable, what’s not, and then meet somewhere in the middle.

Jeff 51:24
Yeah, interesting. Well, I’m going to put you a little bit on the spot here with a question that I just thought of that we have heard a bit about in mountain biking, which is cleat placement. And a lot of riders who ride with flat shoes and flat pedals tend to place their foot more like mid foot on the pedal, versus what you’d normally get from a clipless. shoe. So I’m wondering if you have thoughts on that about a lot of writers, what they seem to be doing is really scooting those cleats farther back farther toward the mid foot. Is that a good thing? Or a bad thing? Or is it just a neutral thing? As long as you’re comfortable? And you feel like you have better control? Then that’s what you should do?

Adam 52:09
Yeah, that’s an awesome question. I’d say that. It depends on the goals that the writer has, you know, if they’re in it depends on how much they want to be able to recruit their calf at a certain period of time. So having that clique kind of right in the middle of that kind of, in between the edge in between the base of your first toe and your fifth toe, kind of having the pedal spindle kind of bisects that area. Works really well for people who want to really recruit calf, you know heavily and have the best pedaling power output. But feel with descending often improves with getting that cleat further back. So yeah, a lot of people and it recruits less calf during your pedal stroke. So if you want to spare your calf for descending, which we use a lot to attenuate for us, when we’re descending scooching that cleat back is something that is, you know, frequently done, at least in my my experience, they you know, it allows you to the further back that cleat is allows you to drop your heel a little bit better on steeper dissents and really mimic some of the that benefit that you do get from a flat panel, right and some of that feel. So it’s not it, you know, you only have so much room to work with, with a clipless shoe. The good thing is, you know, it’s it is of most clipless shoes are fairly supportive in the soul. So you can kind of get away with that wiggle room with where that cleat is, is not going to you’re not going to be hinging your foot over that point. So but yeah, I tend I do tend to err on, you know, with the guys who ride steeper stuff, or yeah, Want to be able to, you know, play around with their bike a little bit more, we can err on that, that more rearward cleat position, especially Yeah, first steeper descending, because it really does allow you to drop those heels, get your center of gravity lower, and you just feel like you’re not we’re constantly recruiting your calf muscles just to keep your foot neutral. Right.

Jeff 54:06
Yeah, that’s super helpful. Well, one final question I want to ask you about is the rise of this idea of like, video and online bike fitting, you know, we’re seeing a lot of things going online, especially with the pandemic, of these zoom calls that we can’t get away from, but we’re starting to see this where like, companies are even claiming they can use like artificial intelligence to help you with your bike fit like what, what do you think about that? Is that something that is here to stay? Is that a technology maybe traditional bike fitters can incorporate or is this kind of something that maybe is not going to work out as well?

Adam 54:44
It’s the worst thing I’ve ever heard of. No, I’m just kidding. No, I think that I think that there are there are a few really good resources out there online that use AI and I think they offer is a really good starting point for a lot of individuals, it’s low cost, it may take a little bit more time to do yourself than an actual bike fitting session session. With, you know, in person, it offers flexibility for people who, you know, can’t get to a bike fitter, they live in a town that just doesn’t have a good bike fitter, and they want that they want something, or they, you know, they aren’t having any discomfort or anything, they just got a new bike, they want to get a basic setup idea. And then those, you know, those, those AI apps, and software’s can really offer a good starting point, in my opinion, some of them will take even take you through like a brief mobility screen. And, you know, I can certainly get on board with that idea. Being, you know, a rehab professional, and but, you know, there are, you know, I think the, there are some drawbacks in comparison to meeting in person, you know, the first thing is, again, you can’t really, you don’t really get to have that conversation with someone to discuss, you know, especially in the mountain biking world, like, what to Randy ride, you know, what are your goals? How have you been feeling on your bike? are we solving any specific issues? Yeah, you know, the, you know, the, the AI can, you know, find certain landmarks on your body pretty well. But yeah, it’s not really good at troubleshooting specific complaints, or dealing with cockpit setup. I think that’s, and there’s a lot of nuance with that with mountain biking in particular. And a lot of them just view things from one side, so they’ll just view you from your right side. And some people have different leg lengths, or they have two different shoe sizes that affect fit. So one size, one side isn’t going to be exactly the same as the other, or you have a previous injury that you’re accommodating for, and an app really can’t know that or, or help you accommodate for that or help you it can put you in this in what it considers an ideal position. But maybe that’s too big of a change for you right now. Or, or they’re, you know, handling individual needs, you know, whether again, whether it’s like a post surgical indication, or shoe sizes, or man, I just don’t feel comfortable on steep terrain that I feel like I should, but I got this new bike, and it doesn’t feel right. To me delving into that nuance, is something more easily done in person.

Jeff 57:30
Yeah, yeah, I mean, do you do a lot of follow up or any follow up as a part of the process where you have somebody you fit them, and then you’re gonna hear from them in a few days or weeks or whatever, and see how it goes?

Adam 57:43
It is a follow up is absolutely a part of the process. So after, after our first session, I say, I need you to get six to eight hours in on that bike. And I want you to accumulate some feedback during that time. And then we’re going to eat at least have a chat, at least over the phone or email. And if you’re happy with it, great. It or if we you know, or in some cases, we’re making an incremental change. And I want to take another look at it and then say, okay, you tolerated this, let’s make let’s change things the rest of the way to what I think you’re capable of, of handling or what would be ideal for you. But we just it just wouldn’t be in our best interest to have a massive departure from your old position. Because it was it was maybe working for you. But it was different enough from this new position that we want to kind of break it up into chunks.

Jeff 58:39
Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, you can’t really give the algorithm the feedback and say, Oh, this still hurts. And it’s like, well, I don’t know what else to do. I told you how to do it.

Adam 58:50
Right. Yeah. Yeah. It’s like my foots numb. Well, your knee angle looks really good. So yeah, but it does. Again, it does offer some good, you know, it takes care a lot of that low hanging fruit with joint angles. And Matt doing a pretty good job with matching of basic mobility screen with with joint angles.

Jeff 59:11
Yeah. Interesting. Well, Adam, thanks again for taking the time to chat with us. Always so many topics to go over with bike fit and mountain biking and really appreciate your help with that.

Adam 59:24
Thanks for having me on, Jeff. This is it’s been a blast. I am always happy to always happy to talk bike fit. And those questions of they were. They were great. I had a great time chatting.

Jeff 59:35
Shucks. Thank you. Well, you can get more information at Apex Cairo You can connect with Adam and find out more about the services that he offers. So we’ve got this week. We’ll talk to you again next week.

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