Did you know that in addition to fitness and nutrition I also offer professional bike fits? Well I do. Full disclosure, I’m a part-time recreational cyclist at best and my personal preference is for off-road. I ride an entry level 26er hardtail… Yep a 26er, remember those? Anyway, the fact that you are likely a more serious cyclist than me ought not to put you off because I have a very particular set of skills, skills that I have acquired over a long career… Don’t worry I’m not going to hunt you down and kill you like Liam Neeson.
My background is in fitness, I am a personal trainer, Reformer Pilates instructor, kettlebell coach and performance nutritionist. I know a thing or 6 about how the body moves and performs and it’s this knowledge that enables me to see things that computers and lasers sometimes miss. In a moment I’ll give you a case-study to prove my point, but first, let me explain what a bike fit is. My studio is based in Carling Building in Hitchin, alongside a few other fine local businesses, including Wakelin & Son‘s coffee shop and we all know that bikes and coffee are a great combination.
What does a bike fit involve?
The bike fit process can take up to three hours so allow for that when booking in with me. But this depends on how much adjustment is involved and if we end up having to experiment with numerous saddle types that can take up a lot of time. More straight forward fits take about 90-mintes to 2 hours.
You need to bring your bike (obvs) your riding gear, shorts and shoes at the very least, and your good self (also obvs). Once you’re in the studio with me and I have set up the bike and taken the starting measurements I will conduct a brief interview with you to determine your riding experience, riding style, pain/injury history and what your goals are regarding what you wish to get from the fit. But, if you expect to get into the same position as Mark Cavendish because you are the same height as him I can pretty confidently tell you that’s not going to happen based on the fact that you are not Mark Cavendish and everyone is biomechanically unique.
To determine what is biomechanically possible for you we have to go through a very specific assessment process. This is the process designed by Andy Pruitt and Specialised. I follow their process but have included a few personal tweaks based on my own experience and understanding of biomechanics. This assessment looks at posture, hip and Hamstring mobility, core stability and (this bit is really important) foot anatomy.
Our feet are incredibly important for movement and if there is instability, unusual stiffness or misalignment in any area of the foot or ankle this can have a hugely detrimental impact on your knee health while pedalling. The knees are slaves to the hips and ankles and if there is poor alignment the knee will compensate bad biomechanics. Knee pain is common for cyclists and I have never had a cyclist come away from a bike fit complaining that their knee feels worse.
What about the bike
Once the physical stuff is out the way, I get you on the bike. The first thing to check is the knee angle (yep, again the knee is an important consideration). It’s this knee angle that actually determines the optimal saddle position.
So, I check foot and cleat placement, saddle fore and aft and knee angle. The knee should ideally be at around 30 ˚ of flexion with the foot at the point of terminal extension (POTE) and the kneecap should be in-line with the pedal axle. If the knee is too far in front of the axle this can cause a shearing force through the knee joint. If the knee is too far behind the axle, you may lose power on the downstroke.
Once the knee angle is sorted and the saddle is at the correct height and fore-aft we look at the rest of the bike. Without giving too much away here, adjustments may be made to the stack height of the handle bars, we may change the bar stem for a longer or shorter one or even change the bar width (usually to a narrower one). Although non-of these changes are a given, it’s all highly specific and it’s not uncommon for a person to come out from a 2-hour bike fit having only had to invest in a pair of footbeds.
This leads me to the cleats. The last thing we look at are the cleat positions, again, to ensure the knees are safely aligned. Minor adjustments to cleat placement aren’t uncommon but having the correct level of arch support in the shoe is essential. If there is movement of the foot within the shoe, there will be unnecessary movement of the knee joint. Therefore, we need to stabilise the foot to protect the knee. Having the correct level of arch support also increases contact between foot and pedal and makes the pedal action more efficient.
Adel contacted me after reading a blog I had written about corrective exercise. She was a pro cyclist who was competing in enduro mountain bike competitions. She had previously broken her back while competing in track cycling for Team GB. Adel’s issue was pain in the lumbar (lower back) which was becoming unbearable on 4-hour off-road races. Having had several professional bike fits without success she said I was her last hope. No Pressure then!
The bike fit took the full three hours, we looked at everything, I even did some additional core and spine assessments on her, she was extremely strong and already trained with Olympic style weight lifting off the bike. I think I went through the whole fit process twice and barely made any changes to the bike, having returned every setting back to its original state when nothing had changed how her back felt.
Then, I took one last look at her spine alignment on the bike and something twigged. The pain she was experiencing was in the lumbar region of the spine, around L4/L5 (if memory serves me right) where she had had the surgery. I noticed that her spine was in a very slight hyperextension. This was such a small degree that a healthy spine would never have noticed it, but due to her injury history I wondered if the sensory feedback she was getting could be changed by straightening the spine out more.
I lowered the handlebar by 5mm. Her riding position look a bit odd after this, on mountain bikes you tend to be fairly upright, it’s unusual to lower the bars on a mountain bike. The subtle adjustment in position was enough to put her lumbar spine into a more neutral position and her discomfort was immediately reduced.
A month later she went on to win a national championship in her age group.
I can’t take any credit for that, she’s an incredibly determined and powerful athlete. But, that one small (and somewhat unorthodox) adjustment made enough of a difference to her comfort level that she was able to perform at her best.
That’s pretty much it. A bike fit is a very worthy investment and many have said it’s the best money they have spent on their bike. But, of course, if you want to be a really great cyclist then taking your nutrition and strength more seriously should be taken into consideration. You can’t outride a bad diet. Here’s a couple of older blogs that will improve your understanding there:
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