Our Comms Manager Jess Fawcett recently had her first bike fit. You can read about the process below:
“You’ll have what you’re given”, “You can like it or lump it”, “Shut up and put up”. Some of the top dad-isms when I was growing up in South Yorkshire. Not that I had a hard life, my dad’s a softy really. Most of these were voiced at the dinner table, as I shunted unwanted vegetables around my plate. However, those sayings all embedded themselves in my mind and I applied them to…everything. I’m handed my lot and I just get on with it. In some ways, I’m content about this mind set; I’m essentially easily pleased and not much bothers me. However, when it comes to sport, it means I’ll push through unnecessary pain and discomfort often leading to injury.
That’s how I got into cycling. Too many years of running on sore hips/shins/knees until niggles became injuries, and I gave in and climbed onto a bike. I’ve cycled now for around 4 years and, in all that time, never had a bike fit. I considered it a luxury, something for ‘serious’ cyclists, for cyclists who race, for cyclists with 17 bikes. Not me. I felt fine on the bike, no complaints really. Just the usual aches and pains that come with spending the entire day (or five) on a bike; a sore neck here, achy feet there. I wasn’t in pain pain…just mild, but anticipated, discomfort. I was liking it and lumping it.
But apparently, it doesn’t have to be that way!
When Soigneur London opened in North London at the start of April, I’d been complaining to anyone that would listen about hot aches down one side of my back. Was it because I’d come back to cycling after a little break (winter) and done too much too soon in my excitement? Or was it my bike set up? A few people had mentioned I didn’t look quite comfortable on my bike so, after all this time, I decided I’d get a bike fit.
Tim Allen greeted me with a friendly smile and the offer of a coffee as soon as I’d stepped into his fitting studio, tucked in the back corner of a courtyard that was surrounded by interesting-looking workshops and offices. The space is large, with the exposed brick walls providing an industrial feel, whilst the fitting jig, turbo trainer and various screens immediately indicated I was in for an interesting few hours. I’d booked in for a 3-hour ‘comprehensive fit’, with the aim of resolving my back ache, whilst also putting me in a position that would enable me to be more efficient; I’d been feeling like I couldn’t adequately get the power out of myself and through the bike.
First things first, Tim needed to see how my current set-up looked, so asked me to simply pedal in a comfortable gear on the turbo. He asked me a few questions and, whilst I blithered on about this and that, he established a number of issues straight away. My pelvis was wonky, causing significant movement in the saddle, I also naturally shunted myself forward, causing a curve in my lower back. This would explain the ‘crunched up, but over-stretched’ feeling I’d described to him initially. He also asked to look at my cleats… Yep. They weren’t evenly placed on both shoes. Oops.
Following this, I was assessed off the bike; posture, stability, flexibility, as well as leg length discrepancy (which I thought I might have, but didn’t – hurrah!). My forward-tilted pelvis was very apparent, as was the tightness in my iliotibial bands (ITB); the latter causing me to cycle with wide knees. Something only stretching and conscious repositioning can fix. Noted.
Whilst I put my shoes back on, Tim transferred my bike position to the fitting jig, which enables him to make a multitude of adjustments quickly and accurately, rather than faffing with my actual bike. It was interesting to see myself cycling on the big screen, particularly when he replayed the videos in slow-motion. My untrained eye didn’t spot half the things he pointed out, but once he explained and then re-adjusted, the difference I could feel was significant. By replacing my saddle with a different, wider model and positioning it slightly higher and closer to the handlebars, my natural seated position was right at the back of the saddle, causing the pressure to be distributed evenly between both sit bones. Similarly, uncomfortable pressure points at the balls of my feet, which I considered normal, since I was forcing all my power through the small surface area of Speedplay pedals, were eradicated by some insoles in my shoes. WOW. Not only was it eminently more comfortable, it may go some way towards improving my power transfer.
Throughout the process, Tim explained everything he was doing, always checking in with me to establish how each adjustment felt. The attention to detail and ability to detect the effect of minor modifications is impressive; certainly not something I’d have the awareness or patience to be able to do. As, although there are screens and laser levels, the outcome came down to Tim’s ability to untangle the mash of explanations I provided about everything he asked, whilst observing and understanding the way I moved on the bike.
The first image shows my original position (please note, the crudely added white lines are mine). The curve of my lower back is quite apparent in the top photo, caused by my tilted pelvis and my unconscious attempts to curl it underneath me. This was straining my back, causing it to ache. You can also see my hand position; initially not naturally on the hoods, but slightly set back, with the brakes just out of reach. The second image shows my final position. Much better.
I went into the process hopeful, but dubious; how different could I really feel? And I came away really pleased. The commute home felt so different to the journey there. I felt more stable, more firmly embedded in the saddle, the balls of my feet no longer hot with pressure. The next day I tested my new set up further by heading out on a 50-km loop around Kent. It usually took around 90 minutes of cycling for the back ache to rear its head, but 90 mins came and went, with no back ache in sight!
The thing about bike fits is, I think a lot of people consider it in the same way I did: A luxury. Something for the pros. However, having experienced one, I wish I’d done it from the get-go. I should have included it in my budget when I chose to buy a bike. I’ve never strolled into a running shop, picked the colour trainers I liked, guesstimated my size then spent the next 6 months running around in mild pain. So why did I adopt that approach to buying a bike? Now I think about it, it seems mad. If you haven’t had a bike fit, I’d strongly recommend one. Whether you’re a novice, a seasoned randonneur or a commuter; it will make the world of difference.