THE RIGHT SIDE BIAS

by on April 15, 2011
Last updated: December 19, 2012

I started fitting people to bikes more than 20 years ago.  16 years ago I decided to make it our main business rather than an adjunct to our bike shop.  In that time I’ve learned a lot about how humans relate to bikes. There is no formula and there is no ‘system’ that works for the broad spectrum of cyclists.  There is only individual assessment and individual solutions to individual problems.  There are some common threads though.  Note that I said ‘common’ and not ‘universal’.  One of the more common is what I call the Right Side Bias.

No one that I’ve ever seen sits on a bike seat with perfect symmetry.  Everyone favours one side over the other to varying degrees, ranging from near imperceptible, if the rider is exceptionally functional, to very obvious if they are not.  (See this link for the worst I’ve seen.)  So to different degrees, every one sits with one hip lower, further forward or drops one hip more than the other side.

This lack of on seat pelvic symmetry is a big deal.  The pelvis is the foundation of a position.  On a bike everything on a human body hangs from or extends directly or indirectly from the pelvis.  If the rider sits with one side of their pelvis more forward than the other, or if they sit with one side lower than the other or drop one side in comparison to the other, the compensatory effects of that on bike pelvic asymmetry ripple outwards to the periphery having a negative effect on every other action the rider performs on a bike.

Which means any, or any combination of the following occurs:

  • One leg will reach a greater distance to the pedals than the other (assuming of course that they are similar lengths to start with)
  • The plane of motion of one or both hips will be challenged, in turn meaning unnecessary loads on the ITB on one (usually the side opposite the hip drop) or both sides
  • The plane of one or both knees will be challenged
  • One side of the lower back will be more heavily loaded than the other
  • One side of the torso will have to extend more than the other in an effort to reach the bars
  • One shoulder will be thrust further forward than the other to reach the bars.
  • One shoulder will sit lower than the other
  • One hand will bear more weight than the other when gripping the bars
  • And so on ad infinitum

What I  still find surprising, is that almost to no one realises this unless someone tells them. We seem to impose a mental fiction of symmetry on our actions on a bike which doesn’t really accord with reality.  Overwhelmingly, most riders favour their right side in the sense that for something like 90% of riders, it is the right side of the pelvis that is lower, further forward or drops more on the pedal down stroke. It is for this reason that any bike fitter who pays attention to their craft will tell you that more people complain of left knee pain than right knee pain. At some level, a lot of us are wired up in such a way that the right side is protected and far too often the left side is sacrificed, at some level great or small.  Some people display a difference in patterns of flexibility that functionally shortens the right leg in more cases than it does the left.  There are additional reasons for this Right Side Bias that I can only speculate about.  Digestive upsets and food intolerances seem to be part of the picture in some cases.  Cerebella hemispheric dominance patterns in others; but there are still a large number for which I don’t have an explanation that I am happy with.  I can show it exists but am less certain as to the ‘why’.

Handedness / footedness doesn’t seem to play a part because as large a percentage of left handers appear to exhibit a right side bias on a bike as do right handers.  Handedness is not an absolute anyway, but a spectrum…  Which will be post topic for another day.

Below are 6 examples from my files.  2 different perspectives of each of 3 subjects.  Often one perspective is not enough to determine the full story as you will see.  In each case I have placed marker pen dots on the subjects back.  These dots do not represent anatomical landmarks but are merely there to catch the eye and make it easy to discern the extraneous movement.

Explanatory Note:  I use a couple Sidea SB4 indoor trainers for fitting.  One of their features that I find useful is that when the bike is locked into the trainer with rear tyre contacting the roller, the bike is still free to move through a 15 degree arc either side of vertical without the tyre losing contact with the roller.  This means that any poorly controlled movements of the rider are exaggerated in video footage.  Please keep this in mind when watching the clips below.

The clip above, at first glance shows what appears to be poor general stability on seat with a moderate  right side bias if you don’t know what the visual cues are.  Not so, it is worse than that.  Have a look at the clip below showing the same subject but from a different perspective.  Take special care to look at the bottom of the screen view.  You will see  the legs of my shorts and the rear tyre of the subjects bike.  Use them as references to see just how much the subject is favouring the right side.

Much worse than he looked in the first clip isn’t he?

Below is a gent who rang me one day with a horror story.  He was suffering from chronic knee pain.  He had done the rounds of health professionals and had ended with an orthopaedic surgeon who told him that the Q angle (effectively the relative angle of upper and lower leg at the knee) was too great and that the only solution was to have a wedge shaped section of bone cut out of his tibia so as to ‘realign’ upper and lower legs to take the pressure off his knees.  This is major surgery.  After a lengthy conversation where it became obvious that the problem only occured when riding, not walking, and where he was quite prepared to explore non surgical solutions, but felt he had run out them where he lived, I suggested that he hop on a plane and come to Sydney.  Click on play below.

Okay, from the view above, he’s not flash but it gets even worse below.  Have a look at how far this poor gent tilts to the right.

As it turned out, there was nothing wrong with the Q angle of his legs.  There wasn’t a full positional fix either, just a large improvement in incidence of knee pain.  Last time we spoke, the combined efforts of a good chiropractor and physiotherapist were bearing fruit.

Next, a more subtle one below.

Hands up anyone who thought this young lady was generally unstable with a minor preference for rocking to the right more than the left?

For a clearer picture as to what is going on, click on play below.  Same woman, different view.

As you saw, she is one of the 10% who has a  bias to the left.  She is generally unstable (great flexibility, poor functional stability) though the left side bias wasn’t as obvious in the first clip.

The whole point of this post is to highlight what many people mistakenly assume they can take for granted; functional symmetry.  Almost all THINK they sit squarely on a bike seat.  In reality no one does, but for the functional ones it is hard to pick and in a performance sense, doesn’t matter.  If you are serious about your cycling, you should be serious about the way that you function and equally serious about being flexible enough and stable enough to be ‘hard to pick’.  You don’t need to be a Pilates master or a Yogi, but you need to be adequate.  The problem is adequate means well above average.  Don’t let that deter you because the ‘average’ in our society is woeful.  So if woeful = average, reasonable = adequate.

No client has ever told me that the problem(s) that brought them to us were caused by legs that were too strong or cardiovascular systems that were too efficient.  Always the basic issue is a structural one, though often exacerbated by a poor position.  Everyone is keen to train their ‘engine’.  That’s great, but if performance at low risk of injury is what you are after, it should be a priority to train the ‘chassis’ too.

Have fun.

Note: There is a left sided version of bias too. It is not rare but is far less common.

COMFORT + EFFICIENCY = PERFORMANCE 

Note: Often, more specific answers to your questions can be found in the Comments below or in the eBooks section and FAQ page.

To learn more about bike fit products offered by Steve, click here.

Do you have a bike fit success story? Please go here to share.

Thank you for reading, return to the Blog page here or please comment below.

Find more like this: Bike Fit, Pelvic

Comments are closed for most posts not part of the subscription blog. If you have a question or comment, Prime members can use the Prime Q&A.

123 Responses to THE RIGHT SIDE BIAS

  • “train the chassis”. I like it.

  • Matt says:

    steve do your 2 bolt cleat shims work with speedplay frog cleats?
    also do you have longer cleat bolts that will work with frog cleats as
    the bolt head is smaller and shaped differently.

    thanks

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Matt,
      No on both counts unfortunately. What has stopped me
      developing a Frog shim is that they are so different and there hasn’t been
      enough demand to date. Speedplay are developing a new 2 bolt cleat mtb style
      pedal and when that sees the light of day, I’ll reassess the situation.
      **

  • Yuri B says:

    Hi Steve, if you are looking for more topics to put here – you can consider to re-publish your Bicycling Australia articles here, on pedals, handlebars, saddles, frame geometries,etc.

  • Ericj076 says:

    hi steve,

    i’m trying to figure out if i should shim my left shoe or not. i have an 18mm short tibia verified by xray and do drop my left hip significantly when i have no shims.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZZ5Q__rBxA

    when i shim 5mm, which is what i was told to do from my professional bike fitter (who used Retul, but acknowledged it was merely a tool in his box rather than an end-all, be-all magic solution), i think my hip drop is less pronounced but there is still a rocking motion.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7VLQraTC4w

    the other problem is that the shimming feels incredibly awkward. without shims, my legs spin fluidly. with them, i feel like i have a hitch in the left pedal stroke. not sure if i just need to “get over it” because i’ve been pedaling asymmetrically for 10 years, or if the hitch is a sign that it’s not the solution.

    my retul report after the fitting showed that, even with shims, my left hip still had more vertical motion (44m) than my right hip (27mm) and the left foot had 20 degrees of ankling while the right had 11 degrees. so asymmetry still seems to be pretty apparent.

    without shims, my right thigh nearly touches my belly when i use a stem with a lot of drop but the left thigh doesn’t even come close. with shims, they are a lot closer to touching my belly.

    my pain only comes with high effort cycling (80% or higher) and is comprised of left calf spasms, left achilles pain, and the left lateral/distal hamstring attachment pain. nothing on right side ever, no back pain ever.

    i’m using esoles and do some strengthening, mostly single leg stuff. not a ton of core. my athletic trainers have me doing kettlebell swings, dead lifts, turkish getups, and rope work like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJg6DXrKqB0.

    i use an ISM saddle which i love. used to use a standard saddle and would sit with my pelvis off to the left. not sure if that was to take pressure of the perineum or because i was subconsciously “correcting” for my LLD.

    the other factor that comes into play is that i had a running-related upslip on the left side of my pelvis that was undiagnosed for 6 years. prior to that, i was a fairly elite amateur triathlete. have not been able to run or ride much without pain since. the upslip has been corrected now, but occasionally i’ll have a re-upslip or an anterior rotation that gets addressed by a local athletic trainer. i do not run much any more (except in triathlon races) due to recurring left achilles/calf pain with running. so i still race but i usually get hurt and need a month to recover afterward.

    am experimenting with a 3mm full-length shoe insert in casual use from my athletic trainer. i think it makes my calf feel less stressed, but i feel like it causes my left hamstring to be tight/sore at the proximal insertion, which is a pain i’ve never had before i used the insert. my left hamstring has always been less flexible than the right – retul guy put left hamstring flexibility at 65 degrees and right at 78 degrees while laying on my back. have been working only recently on the left side flexibility after reading your posts.

    do you think this is a leg length issue, a core stability issue, or a firing issue? this has been ongoing for 7 years and i’ve had numerous bike fittings from “world renowned” people. no fitter has ever paid attention to my pelvis that i know of.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Eric,
      While I’m sympathetic to your plight, you’ve sent me a 600
      word history / question with 5 video clips to look at. This goes far beyond
      what I’m prepared to do for free via the Comments section. Additionally, you
      are missing some crucial perspectives that would enable me to advise you
      properly.

      What I will say is this. Is the 18mm difference in femur length also the
      difference in leg length?
      Have you addressed the 18mm difference in femur length off the bike?
      As in do you have built up shoe on the left foot for walking?

      If you don’t, you have spent your life training your body to function
      asymmetrically. Like most of us, you spend far more time off the bike than
      you do on the bike meaning that the way that you function off the bike
      (uncorrected substantial difference in leg length with consquential
      compensatory patterns evoked, all of which work by *increasing *asymmetry)
      sets the scene for how you function on the bike. To gain an effective
      solution on the bike, your functional symmetry off the bike needs to be
      addressed as a starting point.

      If you do elect to proceed further, contact me privately via
      pedalpushers@bigpond.com

  • duane dickey says:

    Hello Steve,
    Where would i find one of these indoor trainers you speak of? I’v searched and can’t find them. Thanks, D.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Duane,
      I’m about to leave for an Easter holiday and won’t be back
      until the 27th. I’ve had my Sidea’s for over 10 year but should still have
      their contact details at work. Once I get back I’ll pass them on.

  • jason says:

    Hi Steve,

    I naturally sit asymmetrically on the saddle, with the crack of my butt about 6mm to the left of the saddle midline.

    When I force myself to sit centered, while a little unnatural for now, the bike actually feels more centered (easier to ride no hands, for example). At the same time, however, I feel more pressure on my left sit bone. I assumed this meant that my left sit bone is larger, but after reading your blog I wonder whether it is a roll or yaw of my pelvis.

    Now here is another observation for comparison: when I sit on a flat-seated wooden chair with my feet held off the ground, I also feel more pressure on my left sit bone. On the bike saddle, shifting left compensates for uneven sit bones, but this is not the case for a flat-seated chair.

    So, my questions are: do you ever encounter people with uneven sitbones, for example as they are drawn in the figure at the top of this blog entry? If so, how do you differentiate between asymmetries of the bone vs tilting of the pelvis? The remedies for asymmetrical bone I have thought of are i) rolling the saddle by shimming the rails (I think a couple degrees would do it) or ii) switching to a conformable saddle such as Brooks leather type. Got any others?

    Thanks for your blog! Jason

    For completeness, here are the causes for my off-center sitting that I have rejected:
    * systematic chamois cut, fit or degradation
    * leg/glute mass asymmetry
    * bike/saddle asymmetry
    * genital asymmetry
    * favoring saddle sores or scars
    * favoring leg by strength or handedness
    * skin sensitivity asymmetry

  • Steve Hogg says:

    G’day Duane,
    I’m not back at work yet but contacted an email acquaintance, Darren Crisp re Sidea as I’m chasing a few small spare parts for mine. ( see http://www.crisptitanium.com/crisp_inglese.htm ). Darren provided the following info:
    http://www.sideaita.it/sb4/sb4particolari.htm

    It is their specific website for the trainer. If you click at the bottom of the page RICHIEDI PREVENTIVO PERSONALIZZATO it will open up an email page for you to request a quote or ask a question.

    The main company website is: http://www.sideaita.it/ , there is a lot there.

    sidea@sideaita.it is the email for quotes and info request.

  • Steve Hogg says:

    G’day Jason,
    Do I ever encounter people with uneven sitbones?
    I read somewhere once that 0.5% of the population have what is known as a small hemipelvis; 1 in 200. I’ve seen it but for fit clients at least, it seems to be a lower incidence than that . I’ve had fit clients who were aware of the problem before ever I met them and the asymmetry had been verified by x ray or similar. I remember one in particular because firstly, he was a radiologist and secondly, he had had the hamstring on one side torn off the ischium taking a chunk of bone with it. It was reattached but an osteophyte developed subsequently leaving him with an ischium that hung 16mm below the other. There is a larger (though still very small) number where I suspect it but don’t know it.

    How do I differentiate between asymmetries of the bone vs tilting of the pelvis?
    If I suspect a small hemi pelvis, I do as you did; I sit the subject on a flat wooden stool with their legs dangling without weight bearing and check from the rear what the relative heights are of their sacro iliac joints and iliac crests. If they are not even, then it is likely that that there is a size difference between each ilium.

    How do I get around the problem?
    If it looks genuinely like a bone size difference, the method I currently use is to fit an American Classic J post. These can be tilted to either side of the long axis of the seat by 6 – 7 degrees before the seat rail clamping bolt is tightened and then locked in that position. The bolt torque needs to be checked from time to time though. This solution only works for frames that take a round 27.2mm or 31.6mm post. In between sizes can use a 27.2mm with Wheels Manufacturing shim to make it fit. If using an integrated seat mast or a proprietary non round post, then the solution (once an x ray or similar confirms what the problem is) it to build up the appropriate side of the seat to square the pelvis. Anything suitable can be used as a trial and once the ideal heigh tof build up is confirmed, I get the seat recovered with extra height of dense foam placed on the appropriate side. I have only ever had to do this a handful of times in many thousands of fit clients though.

    Before trying any of these solutions, it is imperative that you have a scan or x ray to determine whether there is a difference between right and left sides of the pelvis. Most people who experience what you have related have a functional or measurable leg leg length difference; not an obvious pelvic asymmetry of bone size. At least that is my experience to date.

    • Jason says:

      Thanks Steve,

      I added 2.5mm to my left Speedplay cleat and this has pushed me back to center on the saddle (I just used an old baseplate, in fact). It has made not only my rides but the whole of my days better. For many of us a relaxing, distracting ride is the foundation to a good day. Amazing what a little chunk of plastic can do.

      I realize now that small leg length differences could have big impacts on sitting squarely. As an analogy, when we build a wheel, first we worry about roundness, and once that is achieved, then we worry about trueness. This is because, with opposite-side spokes being nearly parallel, an epsilon adjustment in spoke length causes an epsilon change in roundness but a *larger* lateral displacement in the rim. Well, legs are also nearly parallel, and while they have more ability to compensate by bending then a spoke does, the geometry is very similar. So difference in leg length is probably *amplified* in its impact on where we sit on the saddle.

      I think I have more work to do to figure out what exactly I have fixed, and if this shim is actually the best solution. But for now, with limited time, it is an improvement at least.

      I admire your unparalleled diligence in this field.

      Jason

      • Steve Hogg says:

        G’day Jason,
        I’m happy for you that you’ve got a result, at least for the moment. And thanks for the positive thoughts. Don’t rule out the possibility of further adaptation on your part from the effects of the shim. You’re right about small leg length differences (whether functional or measurable) potentially having a large impact on ability to sit square on the seat. This is why approximately 70% of clients of mine leave with a shim. I don’t pretend for a moment that 70% of people have a measurable LLD but it is fundamental for performance, injury reduction and comfort that the pelvis be as square as possible on the seat.

        Best of luck.

  • duane dickey says:

    I’ve received a response. Trainer discontinued.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Duane,
      That’s a pity. It might explain why they are slow with
      spares. Both of mine are more than 10 years old, still going strong and have
      been really good. I need some cosmetic spares but can live without.

  • Bill says:

    Steve can you comment on he videos above. I know the second gentleman was having pain where the others also. What did you do to fix them on the bike and did that change there movement pattern from the rear or just help them compensate. A related question. Dose riding to high for years cause an exaggeration of this dominance to one side and lead to lateral pelvic tilt? Thanks Bill

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Bill,
      I’m at home at the moment without access to the detailed records I keep so I’ll answer from memory. Firstly, all 3 people had a problem, which is why they sought help. The clips are ‘before’ shots, not ‘after’. I didn’t keep the ‘after’ footage as I only took these so the client in case could visualise what was happening and what I was seeing. In each case it was ‘news’ to them. When there is a fundamental instability of the pelvis when ycling, it affects every other aspect of the riders position because the pelvis is the foundation.

      Each leg will reach a different distance to the pedal through a different plane of movement. One side of the torso will reach further towards the bars than the other or one shoulder will be thrust further forward or one elbow is more locked than the other and so on and so on. So pelvic symmetry on a bike is a big deal.

      However, NOBODY sits *perfectly* squarely on the seat. With functionally superior riders, the tendency to pelvic asymmetry will be hard to see and near imperceptible. With the whole pelvic instability thing, often it is impossible to know which is the chicken and which is the egg. That is: Is the way the rider functions off the bike cause them to sit like this on the bike?
      OR
      Is the way the rider functions on the bike cause or play a major part in their issues off the bike?

      My feeling is that it is usually the former because there is a rough correlation between how people function off the bike and how they function on the bike. There are exceptions though, where it is the other way around and that I can only speculate about.

      Basically, with each of the 3 clients highlighted in those clips, I could not get them sitting perfectly squarely. What I was able to do was to moderate the basic pattern noticeably. So they were still doing the same thing (because of left / right postural, functional and neurological imbalances but to a much lesser degree. I can’t change people, I can only change the way that they relate to the bike. What I’m saying is that if Quasimodo wanted to be bike fitted, he would still be a twisted hunchback post fit, but would be able to ride further or faster or both before the onset of pain because I would identify and remove (if possible) or moderate (if not possible to remove) any challenges to his position.

      My aim is always to allow the rider to do what they want to do at the intensity they want to do it 99% of the time without unnecessary pain or discomfort. If the rider’s ambitions exceed their functional abilities, then there is work to be done by them to improve how they function generally and I give a lot of advice about that. Twisted and bent people off the bike don’t suddenly turn into symmetrically functioning athletes when they get on a bike.

      To answer your question re pelvic tilt. Possibly but don’t know in your case. 96% of the bike fit clients I see have a lateral pelvic tilt when standing. In 90% the pelvic tilt will disappear (if no LLD) or moderate noticeably (if there is an LLD) if the client does nothing more than stand tall. That is lift their chest and extend their neck. To do this causes extension in the lumbar spine and a hollowing of the abdomen. In turn this causes the deep abdominal muscles that provide indirect support for the lumbar spine (which has limited direct support) to engage. Once that happens, the proprioceptive info from the lower body arrives at the cerebellum ‘louder and more clearly’. The lumbar spine is the conduit for proprioceptive feedback from the pelvis, legs and feet. If lumbar support is compromised, the signals are still generated and received but not in a way that the cerebellum pays attention to because those signals don’t stand out from the massive oversupply vs processing capacity. If the lumbar spine is supported the ‘CPU’ is acting with more complete info and lateral pelvic tilts improve markedly because of this greater awareness of what the lower body is doing. This can also be done through the feet or through changing visual processing (with coloured filters) in most cases but THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT EXERCISE THAT EVERYONE OVERLOOKS AND IGNORES DAILY, IS TO TRAIN THEMSELVES TO STAND AND SIT TALL.
      Otherwise gravity beats us down into our own personal version of postural dysfunction increasing any tendency to asymmetry along the way.

      Assuming the rider does improve their standing and sitting posture off the bike, which all should do anyway if they want to live a long healthy life, they won’t be able to maintain that lumbar support on the bike because (possibly Olympic gymnasts aside) they will need to flex their lumbar spines to reach forward to the handlebars. That means that to gain clear proprioceptive feedback from the feet through which we transfer power to the bike ( and in standing posture are our means of interacting with Planet Earth) the cant of the feet and the arch support of the feet must be (individually) perfect to ensure that accurate receptions of proprioceptive info. That is where my testing protocol comes in because it is the only way to achieve certainty with this matter. I’m keen to teach it but it is hard to learn and I will only pass on to the ‘right’ people. I’m talking to a few at the moment in the U.S and something may happen there. Not sure yet.

      • Bill says:

        Steve thank you very much for the reply. I have posted stand and sit tall reminders at work and at my sons work space.

        If you assume the cant and foot support are correct.(Big if ) If the rider still functions like one of the riders above with the dropping right pelvis can I assume there is only a couple of possible problems? 1. The seat is relatively to high for the right leg. (functionally tight or literally short), pelvic asymmetry( functional or anatomic), or a combination of both? That if the issue is the seat height it should significantly decrease if the saddle is dropped low enough.

        Thanks
        Bill

      • Steve Hogg says:

        G’day Bill,
        Working on the assumption that foot correction is ideal on each side, there are a finite number of reasons that a rider will continue to drop the right hip. They fit into 3 categories; Positional Challenges, Functional Challenges and Neurological Challenges.

        Positional Challenges that may play a part are:
        Seat setback being grossly too little or too much. Seat height being too high. The reach out or down to the bars being to great. Any combination of the above.

        Functional Challenges that will cause this are:
        Tighter hip flexors on the right side; particularly the psoas. A much tighter hamstring on the right side. A jammed up right sacro iliac joint. A shorter right leg. A noticeably smaller right foot giving a functional LLD.

        Neurological Challenges that will play a part or be the cause are:
        A pattern of left cerebella hemispheric motor control dominance; i.e. an overt and obvious ‘wired in’ tendency to favour the right side of the body. Any major muscle groups that don’t fire properly on the left side leading to autonomic tendency to favour the right side. The spatial awareness component of vision from one eye (usually but not always the non dominant eye) not being processed well leading to a skewed awareness of the riders’ position in space and a whole lot of other stuff that I see from time to time but
        that is relatively rare.

        I don’t want to make this seem more complex than it is. I find that a large part of this with many people is poor flexibility in key areas. How flexible are you? Are there any obvious differences between range of motion in hips and lower back between sides?

        Do you stretch often? On a 1 – 10 scale, how hard do you stretch?

      • Bill says:

        Steve
        Thank you for the great reply. I have fixed the seat height issue which is now 20 mm !! lower than my previous fit. (I filmed myself from the rear at old seat height and it was unbelievable how much movement there was. You could read the label on the seat on one side. I rode thousands of miles like this over the past several years with various pains. When I was fit they never looked at my hips just pulled out the goniometer) Your video update on seat height was great. It might be useful to also see a normal but I think I have it from videoing the obvious change between my new and old.
        I suspect as you have suggested that poor flexibility with tight hip flexors, ITB, and psoas is contributing as especially the psoas and rectus femoris is tight both sides and much of my ability to touch my toes is from a flexible low back not hamstring flexibility. I was stretching daily but for short periods and falling into stretching to hard. I have increased stretching to twice daily and decreased intensity 3 to 4 out of 10 for 30 to 60 seconds as well as using a foam roller.
        Regardless of how low I go with seat ht the hip still drops just not as far and have resorted to a 6 mm Shim on the side opposite the hip drop which makes me feel more even. I now have no loss of fluidity through either pedal stroke but can not get both feet to feel solid and square on the pedals. I suspect this is because of the hip asymmetric movement? I will keep working at it. I am though riding more pain free and a little faster.
        Thanks!
        Bill

      • Steve Hogg says:

        G’day Bill,
        I’m really happy for you that you got a result or at least a large improvement in comfort and fluency. Yes, keep working on the stretching. Keep the intensity low and the duration of the stretch reasonably long.

        Your experience with seat height is what I see every day with fit clients. I won’t say all are too high, just most.

        You probably don’t need to stretch twice a day. More likely 3 times a week for a whole of body routine. If I haven’t mentioned it previously, Flexibility for Cyclists available from ww.humanperformancecenter.com is a good value and great program. Get the strap that goes with the book.

        Re the continued by lesser right hip drop. It could be any number of things. Time and again I see this tendency moderate or disappear in people who take their stretching seriously. As well as increasing range of motion, every time you stretch a proprioceptive charge is sent up the spine to the brain in effect saying “Remember me?” from the area being stretched. The more information the CNS receives from any particular part of the body, the more space the brain devotes to that area. The more body aware we become, the squarer we sit on the bike. In the meantime, it sounds like you have done the right thing with the shim. If you are pedaling more smoothly and are experiencing less discomfort, you are certainly on the right track. At least for now.

        Best of luck and keep it up. It is never too late to start the process of structural self improvement.

  • Megan says:

    Another approach to look at postural asymmetries or muscular imbalances off (and on) the bike would be to visit a massage therapist trained in neuromuscular technique for a postural analysis. This will identify the imbalances that we all have for all of the reasons that Steve has explained and can help with the proipreceptive retraining and lengthening of short muscles.

    If a muscle is “locked short”, it will stop it’s opposing muscle from firing (think quads vs hamstrings or hip flexors vs glutes). When this happens, other muscles who are only meant to be “helping” take over the movement pattern, they get stressed and the cycle of compensation continues. In addition to this, the opposing inhibited muscles can become “overstretched”, developing trigger points which refer pain to other areas of the body and prevent other muscles from functioning properly.

    You cannot strengthen an inhibited muscle that isn’t firing properly until the short opposing muscle is lengthened and the inhibition removed, until this happens through remedial massage or stretching, you are trying to work against spinal reflexes and neurological laws!

    • Steve Hogg says:

      Hear hear!!!

      You’ve made me realise my own shortcomings Megan……….even more than my
      wife Margaret. I’ve had about 3 massages in my life and forget to mention
      massage therapists far too often when suggesting people seek help. I have
      seen the before and after of numerous clients who were fortunate enough to
      have found superior massage help and the differences can be large.

  • Matt says:

    Hi Steve,

    I guess this might be the best place to ask this question, as I have a feeling that the answer could be related to this post…

    Watching Le Tour (and practically every other race broadcast on EuroSport – much to my wife’s dismay), I notice that when you see the shot back to the group from the leading bike, a large number of riders pedal knee-in (and to-in) on the left side. Some that spring to mind as really obvious are Sastre, Horner, and Hoogerland (and lord only knows how Stefano Garzelli manages to ride more than half a mile without crippling injury). But there’s a long list of people to just tend to that side a little. And seemingly none that I notice do so with only the right side.

    Given that the aforementioned guys have obviously got quite handy at pedaling their bikes, is this something that only needs correcting in some people? Do you think [know] if some of these guys have an extra regime of stretching and strengthening to try to try and prevent ITB problems?

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Matt,
      Good question. My wife has banned me from cable TV (for
      obvious reasons) so I can’t comment about the riders you mention
      specifically. Often when a riders pedalling technique on one side is
      unusual, it is a compensation for what they are doing or not compensating
      for on the other side. This isn’t the case 100% of the time, but certainly
      in the majority.

      What your observation highlights, and my own experience with the pros we see
      is that as a group they have the same structural and functional deficiencies
      as the rest of the cycling population. But they are self selecting. If they
      couldn’t do what they do, they wouldn’t be there doing it! We don’t get to
      see the ones who functioned similarly but fell by the wayside. They also are
      protected by age to some extent. All of us can do things at 25 that we
      struggle with at 50.

      Is it something that only needs correcting in some people?
      No, but there is a spectrum of individual experience. One of the things
      about bike fitting that constantly amazes me is that if I see say, 20 riders
      with the same basic issue, 1 will be in such pain that they can’t ride much
      at all. At the other end of the spectrum will be another who exhibits the
      same degree of asymmetry but isn’t even aware of it because there is zero
      pain, with the rest scattered along the continuum. What makes the experience
      of the extremes at each end differ so much?

      I’ve been pondering that for more than 20 years and am no closer to an
      answer.

      I had a pro from a well known team comment to me earlier this year that he
      couldn’t believe how many of the pro peleton sat askew on their seats. My
      reply was “Well, so do you”.

      Some of this stuff can be addressed with a good bike position and an
      increase in proprioceptive clarity from the feet but much of it can only be
      addressed off the bike. My experience is that the people who do need to
      address underlying structural issues of this kind off the bike fall into 4
      categories.
      Category 1 doesn’t really give a damn because nothing hurts enough (yet) for
      them to bother.

      Category 2 is the largest and they are the ones who are trying to do
      something about their issues once identified but struggle to find health
      professionals with enough interest, insight or both to help them.

      Category 3 are the lucky ones who are highly motivated and / or lucky enough
      to find health professionals with the interest and insight to advise and
      help the resolve their problems.

      Category 4 are the ones for whom a degree of their problems are permanent
      and a result of congenital or developmental issues. One Cat 4 problem that I
      see from time to time is where the S1 vertebra is fused on one side to S2
      (as it should be) but not on the other side. A person formed like this from
      birth will never sit squarely on the seat and can only attempt manage their
      problem, as it will never be totally resolved.

      Do the pros stretch etc. The info I get is that plenty do and plenty don’t.
      The ones that do often marvel at how the ones that don’t get by without it.
      Again, self selection is the only answer that makes sense.

  • Kevin says:

    Steve,

    I have a right side bias which is obvious to me because my right knee extends about 1-2 cm further forward than the left on the top of the pedal stroke. A few years ago I had a bike fit done with a very reputable bike fitter and for some reason he thought I had a LLD and added a few mm of shims under my left cleat. I should point out that he made me a set of custom footbeds because I have low arches and canted my Speedplay cleats. Nevertheless, I still have a noticeable right side bias. My question is if I never had a LLD and only a RSB would the shims under my left foot make the RSB better or worse and how can I truly know if I have a LLD? Also, I should I begin to address the RSB? Thanks,

    -Kevin

    P.S. I have not pain issues and ride 4-6 days a week 3-5hrs/day in mountainous terrain. I no longer race but would still consider myself extremely fit.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Kevin,
      Knowledge is power. Before suggesting anything, I think you should establish once and for all whether you have a leg length difference. A scan or X ray properly taken will determine that. Once you have done that, get back to me and let me know the result and we’ll go from there.

  • i started cycling again the last couple of years and knew i was out of shape as when i cycled out of the road i was starting to increase my breath, panting. I thought more cycling was needed and picked up a little knee pain, thinking it was old age and arthritis (50 a couple of days ago) At the start of this year i trained every day for 10/20 mins exercises and since cycling have found i can travel further and have forgotten about my leg pain. It seems strange to train with leg squats put the body under pressure and yet the pain has moved on. Reading your blog puts it all in to perspective that regular exercise is the key and now i need to add stretching to my list.
    Thanks Steve on a helpful and informative site

  • Danny says:

    Hi you recently helped me with a fit issue but i am still having a problem
    with my left knee hitting the top tube and my left ankle kicking out at the bottom of thr pedal stroke from three oclock to nine ish.
    I have had a standing xray and there is a 3mm diffrence at the ball joint the right leg is shorter so i was wondering if the shorter leg is pulling me across the saddle and there for actually making my left leg shorter?
    I have read that its not worth shimming a minor leg lenth difference and you should move the cleat forward on the shorter leg does this sound ok or would i be better shimming the cleat?

    Thanks for any info great blog!

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Danny,
      I don’t agree with what you have read. A small leg length
      discrepancy is one part of the picture and it is only small if the standing x ray is taken attentively. That is if care was taken to ensure that you were standing with knees locked out and torso extended. I’ve seen multiple x rays of the same person return values of the relative discrepancy in leg length difference that varied by up to 10mm. Sloppy work is common in all fields and while what I am saying may not apply to your x rays it has to be considered as a possibility.

      In addition to the apparently small discrepancy, there is the effects of common asymmetries that most people have as well as any forced upon you by a life time of compensating for the difference. These things may add or subtract a functional component to the measurable difference. So ensure that any measure you take such as shim use allows you to feel like you are pedaling evenly between sides.

      With the possible exception of midfoot cleat position, I am not a fan of differential cleat position as a measure to accommodate a difference in leg length. My experience is that it is far better to use a shim. Small differences in cleat position on each side, relative to foot in shoe, make disproportionate differences to our muscle engagement patterns on each side. You imply that the longer left leg is the problem leg. Read the posts on seat height. As the post above explains, most people when presented with a
      Challenge to their position from any source will compensate asymmetrically
      with the great majority favouring the right side at some cost to the left
      side. Too high a seat height is the most common easily avoided Challenge I
      come across.

      Best of luck.

  • Martin B says:

    Hi Steve,

    I’ve just come across your website and I’m amazed at how much information you make available to the public…

    The more I read and listen to bike fitters the more confused I get. I’ve been riding/racing for approx 5 years and it’s only just recently somone suggested putting a shim in my left shoe as my left leg is shorter than my right as I broke my right femur years ago (traction increased the length slightly). However there didn’t seem to be a lot of science behind the reasoning or how thick the spacer should be.
    I’ve also had my pedal stroke analysed and again the left side is less effective than the right and the spacer didnt improve that. However after reading some of your articles I focused on the right hip position and as if by magic my pedal stroke evened out.

    So firstly thanks again for making your articles available on your website. Secondly as I live in Brisbane how do I find a bike fitter that I can trust and really understands and can address these small problems.

    Regards

    Martin

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Martin,
      Don’t be amazed. What is on the site is conceptual stuff that works. However it only the tip of the metaphorical iceberg when it comes to individual cases. I’m glad that you found an improvement after acting on what you read or deduced from the site.

      Re Brisbane; I get a steady stream of clients flying down which leads me to believe that the state of bike fitting there is not what it could be. Not touting for biz but there is no one up there I can recommend first hand.

  • Marc says:

    Steve,

    Do those with “right side bias” and/or LLD (short right leg) typically benefit from a lower saddle? (As a way to eliminate the compensation for the right side bias/LLD?) Or at least until they have adapted to sitting more squarely on the saddle…

    Because wouldn’t some with a right side bias/LLD continue to favor the short side which is usually the ride side even if the short leg is shimmed? (if the saddle were a bit to hight)?

    Marc

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Marc,
      I’m not sure how to answer the first part of your question. Lower compared to what?
      The correct seat height is the correct seat height whether it be high or low when compared to some other frame of reference.

      Re your second question; yes, often when there is a right side bias which is at least in part driven by a lifetime of functioning with a shorter right leg, shimming the cleat works fine but doesn’t address any of the mechanical differences (tighter right hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors; tigher left side low back and QL) and neurological differences (left cerebellum motor control dominance) that are common by product of a shorter right leg. These can be in part addressed with a high quality bike fit but really need to be addressed separately off the bike.

      • Marc says:

        Steve,
        Sorry for the confusion…What I meant by “lower” is would it benefit lowering the saddle if someone continues to favor their right side (after being shimmed for short leg.) Could a saddle height that is too high be the cause of “right bias” issues?

      • Steve Hogg says:

        G’day Marc,
        Absolutely. If the seat is too high, it is rare to see a rider sit squarely on the seat and overextend both legs equally. The great majority of the time, they will hang towards one side, most often the right and overextend the other leg even more so.

        In your case, you’ve mentioned having a shorter right leg. I’d suggest doing this. Read “How To Avoid Bike Fit Hell” and use those steps. Then start with the fitting posts; the Foot Correction series, Seat Height, Seat Setback, Cleat Position and lastly Bar Position and work through them methodically. That will take a while and numerous little experiments, so keep a diary as suggested in Bike Fit Hell.

        If you are methodical and don’t rush, you will get somewhere. At the same time, work to identify structural differences between left and right sides and get a quality stretching regime in place to tackle what you find. If you have a short leg, it would also be a good idea to experiment with a heel lift in your walking shoes on the short legged side.

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    Hello Steve
    I have slowly but surely been making my way through your blog.
    I am a 43 year old male and have been struggling with some issues for a couple of years now including pain above my pelvis on the right side; intermittent ITB pain at the right knee and ongoing tightness across the right hip and up to the spine on that same side.
    I race endurance MTB and also took up road racing just this year.
    I have tried to adjust my saddle height going by your method but am obviously not skilled enough to be able to notice the “loss of control that you mention”. However I am well aware that I sit to one side on the saddle as I can feel greater pressure on one side.
    Is there another way I can assess my saddle height?
    Video camera?
    If so, should it be set up from the side, behind, both or some other position?

    Thanks in advance for your insights.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Stephen,
      Self assessment can be tough depending on the person
      and the issues. Yes, by all means take some footage. You will need views from front, rear, overhead rear and each side.

      What you are looking for from the rear is pelvic movement, whether it is more pronounced on one side than the other and whether you sit centred on the seat.

      What you are looking for from the sides is to compare degree of leg extension and fluency between sides. Additionally any differences between arm and shoulder position are important.

      What you are looking for from the front is whether the knees track vertically or not.

      From what you have said, you either have functionally or measurably shorter right leg OR you are dropping the left hip.

      • Stephen Mitchell says:

        Thanks for the response Steve.
        I have had a few “fits” up here in QLD and these have been inconclusive about the different length legs. 1 has suggested that I do have a shorter leg but he ended up packing out my left shoe (BG fitter). The others have not felt that either of my legs were any shorter.
        None of the “fits” gave me any improvement and 1 BG fit was basically unrideable. I have to agree with a comment ou made to Martin someewhere else in your blog where you indicated that you had nobody up here you would recommend.

        Sounds like I need to get someone to be my film crew over the weekend or else get myself on a plane to see you.

      • Steve Hogg says:

        G’day Stephen,
        I’m sorry to hear that. Quality bike fitters are hard to
        find, and not just in Queensland. The one thing I would suggest is that you provide feedback to the people you weren’t happy with. If you don’t, they believe they’ve done the job well because no one tells them otherwise. Feedback is necessary for people to learn.

        Let me know if you get stuck.

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    Thanks again Steve.
    Will let you know how I get along.

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    Steve
    Just back from a masseuse I was recommended.
    He tells me my QL, TFL and whatever muscle/tendon it is that joins into the front of the hip are all stupidly tight and so we are working on this.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Stephen,
      I assume you are talking about the iliacus. If the TFL,
      QL and iliacus are super tight on one side (though you don’t say which) you won’t be able to sit squarely on the seat until they are freed up.

  • tom says:

    Hi Steve

    I sit to the left of the saddle by about 2cm (yes 2cm!). Its alot, and I am amazed at how I simply can’t sit square on the seat! I have had a retul bike fit which was utterly useless in my opinion.

    Is there anyone in the UK with your knoweldge who can help me out?

    I have seen a physio who didnt really help much. I seem to be fine from all the assessments he did off the bike. Its only when I get on the bike that it becomes obvious.

    Would really like to find a solution. Which people: chiros, physios etc… would you suggest that I see.

    From previous tests (no x-rays etc..) no 1 has mentioned a LLD.

    Thanks

  • tom says:

    Thanks Steve

    Would you advise I go and see any other profesionals (such as chiro, physio) ahead of going to see sherritt? Or would it be better to see sherritt straight away?

    Thanks

    Tom

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Tom,
      that’s an open ended question because I don’t know enough
      about you to know why you sit off centre so radically. Where are located?

  • tom says:

    I am located in London. I am just afraid that I go and get a bike fit and come away with a recomendation to go and see a physio etc…

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Tom,
      do you know any good physios, chiros etc?
      If so, by all means give them a try first.
      If you don’t, ring Scherrit and talk to him. He may be able to point you in the direction of someone competent. That conversation with him will also help you determine whether you want to see him for a fitting session.

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    Steve
    Just wanted to give you an update.
    My Chiro and Masseuse (who both work out of the same office) both believe that they know what the overall issue is with my back and are working together to get it sorted.
    I have already noted a marked improvement to the “pain” in my back.
    But I have also been watching my shadow while riding and have noticed a substantial “hitch” upwards of my right hip while riding.

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    Hi Steve
    By hitch I mean that I see it move upward (toward my shoulder) as my knee on that same side moves up through the pedal stroke.
    I dont see this on my left side.

    • Steve Hogg says:

      G’day Steve,
      Something is awry. Do you have full range of movement in
      that hip, knee and ankle?
      If yes, then I would guess that your right sacro iliac joint is jammed up. When that happens, the low back, hip and pelvis on that side tend to work as a unit rather than semi independently.

      • Stephen Mitchell says:

        Steve
        That hip tends to pinch on the side when riding.
        If I had to say where I would suggest that this pic is close but it is perhaps a little higher than this pic shows.
        http://www.sports-injury-info.com/image-files/hip-pain-snapping-hip.jpg

        Before I talk to my Chiro I will set my bike up on the trainer and watch myself in a mirror (or get someone to video me) to confirm that what I see in the shadow is actually happening.

      • Steve Hogg says:

        Steve, what you’ve circled is your ITB. If it is firing up on the right side, then you are dropping the left hip. This may also explain the right hip rising on the right up stroke; the left hip is dropping at the same time. Very likely and worth checking out.

      • Stephen Mitchell says:

        Had my wife look at me on the trainer tonight.
        She tells me that I lean to the left and that my left hip drops slightly (one as the result of the other I guess).

      • Steve Hogg says:

        G’day Steve,
        The challenge now for you is to find out why. Either your
        seat is too high (common) or some other factor is the problem. If not seat height, the most common reasons are poor flexibility or asymmetric flexiblity and / or lack of foot correction. Either of those will cause you to attempt to compensate, and as you read the site, you’re probably sick of me saying that all patterns of compensation increase any tendency to asymmetry.

        Read the seat height posts and if you’re convinced that isn’t the problem, find a good structural health professional and have a global assessment to find out what is going on and plan a solution path.

      • Stephen Mitchell says:

        Cheers Steve
        Have just been through your seat height method and have dropped my saddle about 15mm (also installed a new set of Speedplay according to your recommended setup instructions at the same time).
        Flexibility is described as hyper flexible by my masseuse and Physio.
        At the moment that leaves foot correction but I really have not done much riding at all since changing the seat height.
        Should this see an immediate change?
        We are still working on my QL, TFL, Psoas and SI joint issues so I am unsure whether to continue further with fit or get the back sorted out.
        Chicken/Egg.

      • Steve Hogg says:

        G’day Steve,
        ‘Hyperflexible but with TFL, psoas, QL and SIJ issues’ sounds to me like posture and stability are your major issues and that should be and I hope is, the major thrust of your treatment and rehab regime.

        As you say, a chicken and egg situation. It is not possible to be definitive without personal contact and knowledge of you but I would encourage you to keep riding and sorting out your position providing:
        1. That you are not causing yourself pain.
        And
        2. That riding isn’t setting you back on your road to self improvement.

      • Stephen Mitchell says:

        Thanks for being so generous with your time and answers.
        I am really enjoying your blog and have gotten a lot out of it.
        Unfortunately, like others, I am probably partly to blame for the amount of time you are having to devote to it as I have been promoting that people read it before they go and get fitted by BG, Retul etc.

        Ordered a set of e-Soles from you last night so there is another step forward.

        Somewhere I have a copy of your Sitting Pretty DVD’s. Time to find them again.

      • Steve Hogg says:

        G’day Steve,
        When I decided to update our site into it’s present format, I didn’t think it would take so much of my (and Jason’s time). I’m going to have to find a way to reduce the time commitment needed in answering questions. Not sure how yet; all ideas welcome.
        However, thank you for your positive thoughts and for spreading the word. It all helps.