I have always been intrigued by the idea of a bike fit, but wasn’t sure if I was enough of a ‘Cyclist’ to warrant one. I was also terrified that someone would tell me a I brought the wrong sized bike!
I have tinkered around with the fit of my bike myself. A lot of this has been based on internet research, centred around recommendations on how to make a unisex (read, men’s) bike fit my 5’4″ self. Therefore, I had already changed the saddle, stem and handlebars.
The lovely guys over at Ride25, a site with all kinds of tempting cycling holidays, got in touch and asked if I would like an evidence based bike fit. They were hosting Paul Smith of Cyclometics, a Yorkshire based service, down in London for a week so I went along to find out more and see whether it was something that would benefit a long distance urban cyclist.
*In the interests of disclosure, my bike fit was free, but my opinions are my own. I went through the full process and was not given special treatment or coerced into saying nice things about my experience.*
What is it?
There are many kinds of ways to do bike fits out there. Some take 15 mins and simply involve an experienced purveyor of cycles eyeballing you on a bike and saying it looks about right. This is essentially what happens, or at least the minimum that should happen, when you are trying out new bikes.
Full, high-tech-adjust-everything bike fits take 2-3 hours and involves lots of fancy computers and cameras. These can be done before buying a bike to figure out your ideal geometry based on aspirations, or after, to tailor a bike to your specific riding goals.
In an evidence based, or dynamic bike fit the fitter will talk to you about any previous injuries you’ve had that affect your riding. They take into account medical conditions that you need to adjust for. They they assess your posture and flexibility so they know what range of adjustment your body is capable of. It is only after all this that they put you on your bike.
The fit will look at adjustments that can be made to the bike, but it also includes suggestions for stretches and exercise to help your body with the riggers of cycling. Therefore, an evidence based fit is much more holistic than a simple geometry fit. It also seems like it is a much healthier approach to becoming one with your bike and your rides.
We started with Paul noting down details about previous pain, looking at my flexibility and talking about my cycling goals with the bike I had. This fit was therefore truly tailored to my body, history, bike and goals. For example, I mostly ride my bike 20-30 miles around town and aspire to ride up to 80 miles a day in comfort. Neither I nor my bike are built for speed to high performance.
I have not really have any significant pain when riding in the past. I have some fairly standard body asymmetry which has a minor impact on my bike fit, which I was assured is very normal. I have always felt fairly inflexible but apparently I am actually not too bad, whoop!
The main alteration that needed making to my bike set up was to the height of my saddle. When I first got the bike I had it set fairly high. However, several well meaning people told me that my saddle ‘looked a bit high’ and so I had lowered it. This was wrong.
By looking at the angles of my leg during the down stroke, Paul told me that I was not getting enough extension (it’s pretty clear in the image above). He moved my saddle up 20mm and checked again, but this wasn’t enough. I now have my saddle set 40mm higher than before and you can see from the image below that my leg looks straighter.
Based on the few areas of muscle tightness I seem to experience, a range of stretches and trigger point therapy was suggested. These are things I should be doing before and after rides so as to reduce the strain on my muscles and stop them seizing up.
I quite enjoyed the bike fit. Paul was great at explaining things and making sure I had enough detail to understand what he was doing to the bike (or not doing) and why. He didn’t make me feel like I shouldn’t be there even though I wasn’t looking to go fast. My bike is not the typical bike they get a t fits but that was not a problem.
I have not done a ride of significant length post fit, but I have definitely noticed some changes. I have noticed that I get more out of each pedal stroke now, as I should with a raised saddle. Paul told me I could go up a little higher, but we held off initially as it was already quite a change for my body and my instincts to adapt to.
It is very useful to know which stretches I should be doing based on my specific physiology. I think as I start to cycle further in the coming months these should be really useful.
I think, even though I do not do significantly long rides or race, the bike fit has been of benefit to me as a commuter around London. I can see it being particularly beneficial if you have been having pain when riding, have a long commute or wish to do any other kind of riding at weekends or for holidays. In these situations I think it is definitely worth doing it.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.