If you are someone who enjoys puzzles – I don’t mean jigsaws, I mean conundrums, figuring things out; pause a moment and consider the puzzle of the bike fit.
Is the seat height right, what about my knee bend, body position, frame size, wheel size, cleat position? – the list is exhaustive. As a nonprofessional athlete, and just dipping my toe (literally) into the world of triathlons, I considered bike fits to be for those with a), lots of money, b) an obscenely expensive bike and c) a Bradley Wiggins fitness level and commitment.
Oh how wrong could I be…
I’d always biked; a mountain, a hybrid. I even had an old style road bike and set them up so my knees didn’t bend too much, I felt I could push the pedals round strongly and I could sit with my back pretty straight – good enough I thought. I would come out of a long bike ride with the odd ache and pain, but think nothing of it as I’d not plan to get back on the bike till a few weeks or months later. I then had the bright idea to sign up for a triathlon – which of course has required me to spend a little more time on the bike. Even after completing an 80mile ride I thought… hmmm this is not a bad fit for a bike which I bought second hand for £200.
I’d started training with a fantastic local personal trainer Matt Butterworth at Kensington Studios who recommended that I get a bike fit. I cast my mind back to the 80 mile ride – flashes of lycra overtaking me, definite back soreness; maybe I could use a bit of help to maximize my power on the bike and improve my technique.
I popped in to Personal BikeFit in Kensington and had a chat with the owner, Spencer Wilson – he had a quick look at my bike, suggested some immediate changes and booked me in for a Bikefit – a 2 hour slot – 2 hours??? What on earth can they change on a bike taking 2 hours. Well – this was a learning curve for me.The list below is from their website and this is exactly what Spencer did during my session – plumb line and goniometer in hand with real time video to show me what he was looking at and what I looked like.
- Cleat position: a hugely important interface between bike and rider (no cleats, no problem)
- Cleat wedging: power transfer, knee tracking and hot foot elimination
- Saddle height: maximizing power output and comfort
- Saddle fore and aft: precision alignment of knee and pedal spindle
- Handlebar width: bike handling, comfort and control
- Stem length: optimized core stability, comfort and torso positioning
- Stem stacking: with stem angle, fine tunes saddle/handlebar relationship.
At the end of the session I tried out the watt bike which demonstrated the symmetry (or lack of) with which I used each leg, particularly under stress… a hill!!I came away, not only with a great fitting bike, but also some training advice and riding techniques to try over the next few weeks and an invite to return with any problems. And not least, extremely impressed with Spencer’s knowledge and his dedication to my fit. He fitted the bike I had, to me in the most optimal way, without trying to sell me a bike or make me think that I needed to invest a huge amount of money in new kit. One of the immediate differences was that of a shorter stem on my handlebars which gave me better, safer control weaving in and out of London traffic and better control on ‘high speed’ downhill bends.
As the Foot and Ankle Specialist at Kensington Physiotherapy, I had particular interest in how the foot position on the pedal, or foot pain affecting the position of the foot, affects the loads through the knee, up into the hip and back. Fascinating stuff…..There are many bike fit systems out there, several of which use 3D software, but they don’t take the place of a skilled fitter who takes your personal shape, size, fitness, flexibility and bike riding into account.
In conclusion, if you spend any time at all on your bike and have noticed that you shift around, feel slightly out of control or get sore feet, knees, back or shoulders, you would benefit mightily from a professional bike fit. It may well be worth popping in to your local physiotherapy practice for a check over. Then at least you can get off your bike and sit comfortably whilst completing your jigsaw puzzle.
Thanks for reading,
Jane Baker MSc