Coach Hughes: Points of Contacts, pt. 1
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Intelligent Cycling Training—Equipment

Points of Contact, pt. 1

“What works for one person may not work for another, as physiognomy and riding styles differ so widely.”

Edited by John Hughes

John Hughes is the author of Anti-Aging: 12 Ways to You Can Slow the Aging Process and of the book Distance Cycling. He has written 40 articles on training, nutrition, psychology and medical issues for More about Coach Hughes.
© John Hughes, All Rights Reserved

Points of contact for endurance cyclists [  Part 1  |  Part 2

At the PAC Tour Endurance Training Camp, Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo led a clinic on points of contact. They talked about how to set up the bike for efficiency and comfort, based on their experiences in RAAM and working with hundreds of riders on PAC Tour. They kindly allowed me to write this article based on my notes and illustrated with suggestions by Mileage Challenge high mileage riders.

Lon Haldeman advises that lot of the aches and pains come back to improper bike fit. You want to set up the bike to be efficient, comfortable, and aerodynamic for long periods of time. Start with the saddle position, so that you can deliver optimal power to the pedals. Your saddle height depends on the flexibility of your hamstrings. You want good leg extension, but without your hips rocking. There should be a slight bend in the knee (about 25 degrees) at the bottom of the stroke. Adjust the saddle fore/aft position so that when the knee is at right angles (the pedal is at 3 o’clock), the knee joint is over the pedal spindle. If you drop a plumb line from your patella, it should just graze the end of the crank. Your cleat should be positioned so that the big bone on the inside of the big toe is over the pedal spindle.

When you are sitting comfortably in the saddle in your normal position, put your hands down in the drops. If your stem is the correct length and height, then the tops of the handlebars should block your view of the front hub.

For ultra riders, Lon suggests that a good goal is to spend about half the time on your aero bars; the rest of the time you are climbing (on the hoods or tops) or descending (in the drops). Given this goal, Lon advises setting your bars up primarily for the aero positon. Adjust your aero bars so that the arm pads are the same height as the saddle. (You may need to install risers under the pad supports.) Your back and shoulders should have the same bend, whether you are riding in the drops or on the aero bars. RAAM (and other) riders often start out with their aerobars set very low, for minumum drag. . . by the time they are out of California, they are riding with their hands on top of the arm rests because their backs have tightened up and they can’t get in the low position. Set your aero bars up for long-term comfort - and work on your flexibility.

Fred Matheny from pointed out several important principles when evaluating bike fit:

  • First, fit the bike to your body; don’t bend your body to the bike. Too many people make the mistake of trying to look like the pros, who may have different body dimensions and racing styles.

  • Second, bike fit formulae are guides, not gospel. There is a significant fit window of +/- 1 cm. where you can be comfortable.

  • Third, changes you make in the saddle position won’t greatly increase your power but can increase the risk of injury.

Sharon Harris, a Mileage Challenge rider, observes: “As a smaller person (5’4"), I had a difficult time finding a comfortable long distance bike so that I wasn’t stretched out like violin string. Finding a top tube that fits the typical torso of a woman was a challenge. I really believe that more women would enjoy long distance cycling if they were able to get fit properly on a bike. I was fortunate in that I did not have to go to a custom frame. The 49 cm Merlin fits me perfectly and the titanium frame is marvelous for long distance comfort.”

Rather than trying to evaluate your own position on the bike, have a competent coach or mechanic check out your bike fit. Explain the types of events that you will be riding and have him set up the bike for your events. You don’t want a triathlete’s time trial position for a double century or a 24 hour race.

Lon says that the saddle is something that you straddle, but don’t sit on. Most of your weight should be transmitted as power to the pedals. As we fatigue and apply less force to the pedals, we put more weight on the saddle. Thus, conditioning is critical for comfort in the saddle. In the spring, we think we need "butt miles" to toughen our butts - we really need base miles to build up our leg strength and endurance.

According to Lon, there are three types of saddle pain. The first is caused by pressure from the saddle, which can lead to bruising. You want a saddle that gives a wide range of support, but that doesn’t cut into you. Saddle choice is very personal. Lon’s personal favorite is the Brooks B-17, which is made out of inferior leather and breaks in easily to a comfortable saddle. Give a new saddle a chance; every saddle is uncomfortable at first.

The second type of pain is skin irritation: the diaper rash syndrome which can be caused by friction or wet shorts. With some types of synthetic chamois, you want to stay as dry as possible, so use baby powder to absorb sweat. With other shorts, you need a cream as a lubricant. In general, try to stay away from creams until you start to develop a problem. Ointments are good places for bacteria to grow - try to keep yourself clean and dry so that you don’t get a boil started.

Boils are the third type of problem. They can be caused by infections in the skin or by ingrown hairs, so don’t shave in areas prone to friction. Cleanliness, for example, wiping down with alcohol swabs after showering, is the best prevention. If you do get a boil, cut a pad out of mole foam with a cutout hole around the boil.

The Mileage Challenge cyclists offer these suggestions:

John Lee Ellis: “The best butt protection may well consist of (a) hygiene, and (b) a smooth riding style and a ’light butt’ (balanced weight distribution).”w

Sharon Harris: “For my seat, I’ve used leather Avocet Air 40W for my saddle for the last couple of years in conjunction with my favorite Pearl Izumi Ultrasensor shorts. Neither the saddle nor the shorts are overly padded. I don’t care for gel saddles because they tend to wedge into your crotch and become very uncomfortable. The same applies to heavily padded shorts.”

John Bailey: “Stand up frequently to restore circulation and remove the weight on the saddle by rising slightly when going over bumps or rough roads.”

Holly Elmore: “Learning to shift my body during long rides is essential to comfort. There are at least three different positions to sit in the saddle to give the body slightly different pressure points. Also, riding in the drops or on the hoods gives a different butt position on the saddle. The most important factor is a positive mental attitude. When the pain starts, focus on the beautiful scenery and concentrate on why you love riding.”

Ken Carter: “Bag Balm is helpful for 200 mile rides, but anything longer will allow bacteria to grow and create a rash after a multiple day ride. Cortisone is a better ointment to eliminate friction and kill bacteria. Always wear padded cycling shorts.”

Richard Lawrence: “Two of my bikes are equipped with Soft-Ride carbon fiber beams that absorb any shock of rough roads. I use broken-in Brooks leather saddles that are more comfortable than the gel seats. On back-to-back century days, I wear a different brand of shorts each day, slightly differently, so as not to be sitting on the same seams and pads every day. If after long rides you do develop raw sore spots, use Desitin (with zinc oxide). This is an ointment used for baby diaper rash.”

When Susan Notorangelo first started riding 25,000 miles a year her feet were numb because her shoes were too small. Your shoes should be big enough to flair and wiggle your toes. If the toes are pressed together, then they pinch the nerves between the toes, one of the causes of hot feet. For multi-day tours and events, take two pair of shoes: your normal pair and a pair one size larger, in case your feet swell.

When riding, be conscious of pulling the foot back, so that the toes are away from the front of the shoe, and then lifting the foot to get the blood to the soles. Concentrate on picking your knees up. When you stop at rest stops, take your shoes off and massage your feet.

If you still have problems with hot feet, then drill new holes in the soles of your shoes and mount the cleats farther back so that you are pushing with the arch rather than the ball of the foot. If you adjust your cleats, you’ll also need to adjust the saddle height and fore/aft position. For BMB, PBP, etc., I start with shoes one size larger and have the cleats mounted 1 cm behind the normal position.

Pete Penseyres noted that he’d had knee problems for years, caused by pronation. He finally got orthotics to level the foot, which eliminated the knee pain—if you are having knee trouble, look first at the foot placement on the pedal. Orthotics may also help the toes to spread out, eliminating pinched nerves.

The Mileage Challenge riders are also attentive to comfort under less-than-ideal conditons:

Richard Lawrence: “For cold weather riding, I have shoes that are one size larger so that I can wear thick wool socks plus booties. In hot weather I wear a pair of Lake sandals (Shimano soles and SPD cleats) with no socks—but plenty of sunscreen.”

Holly Elmore: “Since I started concentration on smooth circular pedal strokes, the foot pain has totally disappeared.”

Don Norvelle: “During the early days of the Northern Transcontinental, I suffered from "hot foot’ and experienced foot pain and numbness in my toes due to pressure on the balls of my feet. Lon moved my cleats back as far as they would go. A slight saddle adjustment was necessary to compensate for the new cleat position, but the problem was solved.”

Sharon Harris: “I have a foot that likes to ’travel’ in my cleats, so rather than fight it and risk injury, I ride with Speedplay pedals and find that Sidi Genius shoes fit me well. Sidi shoes tend to run a bit narrower thus generally fit a woman’s foot better than many of the other offerings.”

Your hands should rest on the bars like you are typing or playing a piano, says Lon. Ride with your elbows slightly bent, so that there is no pressure on the hands. If you are on the aerobars, your hand should be relaxed enough to peel an orange.

John Bailey: “Trek Diffuser Gel Gloves have eliminated about 90% of the problem for me. Other hints - bend elbows slightly, keep wrists straight, change hand positions frequently, proper top tube and stem length to avoid too much weight on hands, and don’t put bars too low. Several times an hour extend one hand at a time up behind the back as far as possible and wiggle the fingertips.”

Jim Solanick: “I put some foam under the handlebar tape in the drop position to add some cushion at that point of contact.”

John Ellis: “I prefer gloves with minimal cushioning in the palm—gel or thick cushioning just gets in the way. A useful way to relieve pressure on the palms is aero bars.”

Holly Elmore: “Once I started relaxing my upper body, all those neck and shoulder aches disappeared also.”

Jim Solanick: “Another point of contact is the highway and I try to avoid that at all times.”

John Lee Ellis: “What works for one person may not work for another, as physiognomy and riding styles differ so widely. I am fortunate to be fairly easy on the bike, or vice versa. I still believe, though, that everyone can benefit from a ’light touch’, a smooth riding style, and consciously remaining loose and relaxed on the bike—that certainly includes me, as it is a goal only sporadically achieved.”

Points of Contact[  Part 1  |  Part 2

More information

  • Bike Fit with Andy Pruitt
  • PAC Tour Cycling Camps and Tours
  • Butt, Hands, Feet — Preventing and Treating Pain in Cycling's Pressure Points. 12 pages for just $4.99 from
  • Preventing Cycling's Ailments Bundle — Four articles: Pressure points butt, hands and feet; Preventing and treating cramps, Nutrition to prevent bonking; Mental using sports psychology to solve problems. 56 pages for just $15.96 (a 20% discount) from
  • Other articles by Coach Hughes from


Originally printed in UltraCycling