Tweaking Your Fit
Proper fit, has been discussed, written about, studied, and experimented with for decades. There are wind tunnel tests, charts and computer programs, Fit-Stiks® , theories, and formulae. Greg LeMond, Lance Armstrong, Eddie Merckx, and every other professional rider have had their fits analyzed and debated ad naseaum.
The good news is that much has been learned by all these theories. The bad new is, they are rarely 100% accurate for an individual rider and may even offer erroneous solutions to serious issues.
It has always been our belief that cycling enjoyment begins with proper fit. One of the first things you need to think about when looking for a fit professional is what kind of fit you want and need. Be aware that certain fit systems have been developed for the racing community, sometimes overlooking the rider who is looking for comfort or resolution to a specific problem as the first priority.
Regardless of the reason you ride – commuting, recreation, long distance events, or competition – improper fit can result in pain, injury, discomfort, and loss of power and efficiency. Eventually, unresolved problems cause riders to hang up their wheels and look for another sport. Not good!
How does one determine good fit? Excellent question!
First, find someone you trust and who has a proven success record. Ultimately, YOU are the one who will actually be able to determine if the fit is correct – not a computer program or theory. EVERY RIDER is unique physically. Applying averages taken from data that is supposed to be “typical” only works for the few who are typical; and, even then those methods only apply during the very preliminary stages of the fit process. Most find they are not so “typical” after all.
For example, if you consistently experience knee pain during or after your ride, it could be a result of:
Saddle too high or too low
Saddle too far forward or back
Frame seat angle to steep or shallow
Cleat/pedal adjustment incorrect
Previous injury (not necessarily to your knees either!)
None of the above
That’s just ONE example. You may not easily be able to determine what is necessary to achieve the results you want. Trying a myriad of changes can not only become confusing, but may lead to more problems in other areas, with disastrous results.
Another example: You always try to push yourself off the back of the saddle. 99 percent of the people who do this tell us that they have pushed the saddle as far back on the rails as they can and that they need to move back even farther. Stop and think about that for a moment. FLAWED THINKING! In fact, as your body tries to seek the perfect place for your buttocks, you keep moving that perfect place farther and farther away. Soon, your neck and arms are on fire, you are no closer to the solution than when you started, and your poor butt is still not in the right spot. If you are always pushing yourself off the back of the saddle, MOVE THE SADDLE FORWARD. Go ahead – try it. Be aware however, that this may affect other aspects of your fit, for better or for worse.
The Case For Leaving Well Enough Alone
Recently, we have had several riders who have come back from “bike camp” where well known and highly respected fit specialists were on hand to offer advice. In one case, changes were made to a pedaling style with not-so-perfect results; in another, the rider came back confused, not knowing exactly in which direction to take the suggestions.
While we have an enormous amount of respect for and confidence in these experts, we find there may be something going on that goes beyond good fit, creating pain and other problems.
It is one thing to take a young, athletic rider and “mold” him or her into a great cyclist – correcting faults in pedaling style, position, training, and even eating habits. In fact, everyone can benefit from some of each of these things.
However, to take an older cyclist – perhaps in his or her 40’s, 50’s or 60’s – and make even incremental changes, without regard to old habits, past injuries, or tens of thousands of miles of successful pedaling on a bike, may do more harm than good.
I think it is important to ask the rider his or her goals. Someone who is taking the time to train for Paris-Brest-Paris, who needs to complete hundreds of kilometers of riding within specific time constraints, needs to be as pain-free as possible.
Pedaling motion may change dramatically as the hours he or she sits in the saddle tick by. How knees and ankles, hips and feet move in the first 50 miles may not be how they begin to act in the next 50. By artificially restricting or changing a pedaling technique, pain and ultimately permanent injury may occur.
The old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a good one when dealing with a success. For the majority of riders, a position that does not offer comfort will never lead to efficiency, endurance, or power. The time wasted fidgeting for a better position will eat up the seconds supposedly saved by a “better position”.
Proper Fit Is A Process
There is no magic to the fit process. An experienced fitter, however, can make it look and feel like magic. He or she has the benefit of hundreds, perhaps thousands of fits and, combined with the knowledge of cycling, frame design, and body dynamics – can ask the right questions, make the right adjustments, and offer you the results in a positive, reassuring way. In most instances, you will feel the benefits immediately. And, while an experienced fitter may be able to correct all kinds of problems, there are ALWAYS situations that are difficult to resolve and from which we are always learning.
Paying a professional for his or her time and expertise to make your cycling experience more enjoyable may be much less expensive than continually trying different saddles, bars, stems, or even bicycles. If you are unsure of a particular professional fitter and want to know about his or her credentials, ask for references of people who have had their bicycles fitted and call those people.
Finally, think about what it means to be fit on your bicycle. Flexibility, injuries, even your eyesight may play an important role in what will work for you now. No matter how much you want to be competitive – whether racing in a duathlon or riding with your club – an uncomfortable position will hinder your results.
Copyright DBLPromotions, Inc. 2003