My bike fit was undertaken at the Cyclefit studio at Pearson Cycles, 232 Upper Richmond Road West, London SW14 8AG. For more information visit their website.
The Man-Machine: one half is a complex mechanism of joints and moving parts, the other is a bicycle. One is endlessly adjustable and adaptable, the other is a cyclist. The ideal is a perfect union of the two separate entities, working in harmony and efficiency – except the reality is usually much different, involving wonky knees, sore backs, and cricked necks.
I’ve come to the new Cyclefit studio at the new Pearson Cycles shop in Sheen to iron out a few glitches and doubts I’ve had about my own riding setup. And it’s very early into the session that I become aware of just how little thought I’d previously put into getting my bike set up correctly and to how my body sits and moves when it’s on it. My first surprise was really just how much discomfort I was willing to accept as part of trying to ride a bike quickly – and that these discomforts could so easily be eliminated without compromising on speed.
The bike fit, perhaps unfairly, has garnered a reputation of advocating comfort over speed, practicality over style. Stuart Jeffreys of Cyclefit who will be doing my bike fitting, admits this perception has been reinforced by the type of customers they often see – many returning to sport after years of a sedentary lifestyle, backs hunched in front of computer screens. It’s these cyclists, and others who encounter obvious problems – perhaps caused by poor flexibility, or by previous injuries – can most easily see the significant benefits of having a bike that fits their body properly. But almost everyone – including experienced cyclists – can benefit from one too.
The session started with a chat about my riding, what sort of hours I do on the bike, and a little about my own expectations of what I was hoping to get out of the fitting. A few days earlier Cyclefit had sent over a questionnaire to fill in, so Stuart already had a good idea of where I was coming from. For the past year or so I’d become aware of an awkwardness in my left leg – at the bottom of the stroke it felt as though my foot was searching or reaching for the pedal, and despite endless cleat adjustments the discomfort stubbornly remained.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect bike fit,” Stuart warned me from the outset. There are so many factors to consider that any fit will require the interpretation of data through an experienced eye, and balancing this with the needs and expectations of the client. He also made it clear a bike fit is not about producing extra watts or refining aerodynamics – it won’t magically make you ride faster. But it makes sense that a rider who avoids injury and can ride without discomfort is likely to be a fitter and more efficient one.
After our preliminary chat Stuart measures me up and asks me to do some simple stretches so he can gauge my flexibility and core strength. Fortunately I’m able to touch my toes and my general flexibility compares well to the average cyclist – unfortunately that’s not really saying much. Stretching is for most of us something we’re aware we should do, but rarely actually bother with. For more serious flexibility and core strength issues Stuart is a big advocate of Pilates as a way to help remedy any problems.
Measuring and analysing
The SiCI fitting jig at Cyclefit is almost endlessly adjustable, with interchangeable saddle and handlebars. The power output from each leg can also be measured independently to ensure both are balanced, and any discrepancies can be rectified.
It’s when assessing my feet that Stuart starts to realise why I might be having issues with my pedal stroke. While measuring my arches whilst I both sit and stand he sees a discrepancy between each foot, with the arches collapsing slightly more on the left. But before suggesting any changes at this stage, he replicates the setup of my current bike on the fitting rig and gets me up and pedalling.
The jig is designed to make adjustment of each variable quick and easy, and it also has the facility to measure the power output from each leg. After a few minutes to get settled, Stuart is able to employ several means of analysing my position – the first of these is by eye. Straightaway Stuart can see my bars are too low and too wide. Stuart points out how my back is struggling to stretch into such a low position, and how my arms are locked straight down – by moving the bars up slightly my elbows will naturally bend to compensate, making things more comfortable without making me sit up any higher on the bike (and so not ruining my sleek aerodynamic shape!). Simple really.
Next he looks at the power being generated from each leg, and in my case things are reassuringly even – just a one or two percent favouring of the right which is well within the bounds of acceptability. However this belies a rather obvious problem with my left leg which Stuart spots straightaway. Attaching little sticky dots to my leg, knee and feet, Stuart films a side-on view of me pedalling so we can play it back and analyse how I’m moving.
Software from Dartfish helps to plot the angles and movements of my pedalling action, and again it identifies how my left heel is dropping too early. These are all signs which point towards my left foot causing the problems. In the past I’d endlessly fiddled with the cleat positioning on my left shoe in an attempt to get comfortable, but it seems the issue lies not just with the cleats, but also with the insoles and with the actual shoes themselves.
Leg to toe
Stuart explained that even expensive and otherwise good quality cycling shoes are almost always sold with sub-standard insoles. My Mavics were no different, and offered very little in the way of arch support. sSoles offer a customisable insole which can be tailored to each individual foot. Combined with a slightly different cleat position, plus the addition of cleat shims underneath the shoe, my feet immediately began to feel more supported and more connected to the pedal.
However there remained movement of my left heel within the shoe, which was now more obvious to see now the rest of the foot was being kept securely in place. Stuart put this down to the Mavic shoes not offering the right heel support for my particular shape of feet. He went down into the shop and brought back up several pairs from different brands for me to try – this wasn’t a sales pitch, but a demonstration of just how the contrast in shapes is really quite surprising. He recommended looking at the heat mouldable options from Bont and Shimano as these can both be tailored more closely to feet that are not neatly catered for by regular models.
Best foot forward
With my eSoles in place, I was back on the jig riding in Stuart’s recommended setup. The adjustments to my feet made such a noticeable difference to not only my comfort, but to how smooth my pedal action now felt. A nifty laser measuring device confirmed my knees were now tracking better (that is not sticking out in either direction but remaining pointing forwards during the stroke). My shoulders felt far more relaxed with the bars coming up slightly higher, and moving my saddle a centimetre lower but further back meant I was sitting on it correctly, and not too far forward as I had been previously.
After the session Cyclefit provides a report with all the necessary measurements needed to match this new setup on your own bike. Assuming these aren’t drastic it should be possible to achieve these changes without going to any great expense – and of course they’ll come in very handy when purchasing a new frame or bike. The eSoles are not included in the price, but are relatively inexpensive and bring so many benefits to make them a very wise investment.
I came away from the session feeling a lot more confident that my bike was fitting ‘right’, and that I won’t be inadvertently knackering my knees from misguided cleat positioning. Even though there were no major adjustments made, the small tweaks added up to a much greater whole. The eSoles were a revelation in themselves!
Happy feet. And knees. And back.
For such beneficial changes to be felt by someone who didn’t have any major problems to begin with, I can see how valuable a good bike fit can be to someone having to curtail or even avoid riding just because of discomfort. If you’re looking to save watts through aerodynamics then this isn’t the place to come, but equally Cyclefit won’t have you riding around with a stack of spacers and a flipped up stem if that’s not what you need.
The session is not cheap, and for most isn’t a real necessity – but it’s not just for those with significant problems or injuries either. I enjoyed the experience and found the changes to be beneficial. And in the context of buying a new bike, a couple of hundred pounds spent on significantly improving the comfort of your riding experience is money well spent.
A Cyclefit session at Pearson Cycles costs £195 and will last approximately three hours. Fittings on your own bike, and shoe and cleat only setups are also available – see the website for more details. Optional – but highly recommended – eSoles are an additional £65.