Has anyone ever told you “oh, that pain you are having? You just have to get used to that.” Or, are you avoiding riding your bike because it’s uncomfortable or downright painful to ride? Are you experiencing pain in your neck, shoulders, back, legs, or in the seat area? Join the club! Most of us have been there. I have not met too many folks who can just get on any old bike in any old position and bang out a 2 hour ride without discomfort of some kind. So is it inevitable? Do you have to suffer to ride a bike? No! The answer is just no!
The best “upgrade investment” you can make on your bicycle is not even on your bicycle-it’s you that should get the investment. The way you can get more performance and enjoyment out of cycling is to be properly set up on your bike for comfort, efficiency, and performance. These days there are lots of people offering “bike fitting”. So how do you make sense of it all? What are the things you need to know ahead of time to find a good bike fitter and, ultimately, a great bike fit?
Let’s start with you-Why are you riding to begin with? What type of cycling are you most interested in? Mountain biking? Road Riding? Long distance? Racing? Gran Fondos? The way that you use your bike will be the main driver in how your fitter will approach the fit.
Where are you in terms of how much riding you have been doing and how much you expect to do going forward? What is your current physical condition and fitness? Are you dealing with any injuries of health problems? All of this information will be gathered by a good bike fitter. If your fitter is not taking all these things into consideration, how can he possibly get you where you need to be?
So now I will give you a recounting of my own bike fitting experience. First a disclaimer-I am an experienced bike fitter with a lot of work with clients of all types under my belt. They say the cobbler’s children are the ones who always go without shoes, and in my own case I have not had my fit checked in an awfully long time. At my store, Cycle Craft, I have invested a significant amount of resources in having the best fitting studio on the eastern seaboard. I have also partnered with one of the best fitters in the business, Tim Dougherty, the man behind “Fit First Solutions”. Tim and I started working together several years ago because we both believe that starting with the bike fit before spending tons of money on equipment is the best way to approach any cycling endeavor. That is how I came to move our business into the concept of Integrated Athletics. Our goal is to provide our clients with a holistic approach that balances and optimizes the body and the machine.
Okay, disclaimer out of the way. Now some background. In earlier posts I have been recounting how I have come to understand the importance of athletics in maintaining a healthy life as I start to get older. I have been riding bikes virtually all of my life and I dabbled a bit in competitive cycling when I was younger but I never pursued it with any real focus. At 55 years old I made the decision to use competitive mountain biking and cyclocross racing as a way to keep me focused on the training. There is a saying that goes “professional athletes train in order to race but amateur athletes race in order to train”. This is true for me. Clearly I won’t be headed for the Olympics and there are no professional contracts in my future! My sole reason for participating in our local race scene (aside from the fun and camaraderie) is to give me a reason to maintain a healthy lifestyle and keep making time to ride. Over the years I have been great at finding reasons to put everything else first and my own well-being second. That had to change.
As I started this past winter to get a little structure into my athletics it has become obvious to me that, in addition to just riding, I would have to work on some general fitness issues (more on that in another post) and as I ride more that I would need to address some fit issues. Specifically, the entire right side of my body is “off” in a way that makes my right leg hurt in various spots when I ride for more than 20 miles or so. I also have a number of core weaknesses and muscle imbalances that create leg and hip issues.
As this post is about fit though lets focus on that. With Tim Dougherty as my fitter I had a high level of trust that we would be able to identify some of the things going on but more importantly how to address them. Here’s what we found out:
After a thorough physical evaluation it is no surprise that my gluteus medialis muscles are pretty weak and that my psoas muscles and hamstrings are “tight”. Short is really a better way of saying that. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that these are very common conditions in cyclists! It appears also that I have a functional leg length discrepancy that may be a major contributor to my issues.
After the physical evaluation I got up on the Guru Dynamic Fit Bike. This machine is really the best way to manage a fit as it provides a way for us to make positional changes in real time while pedaling the bike. The DFU is the only fit bike currently available that does this. Tim also set me up with a series of reflective body markers for use in the 3D motion capture system made by Fit4Bike to accurately capture my pedaling dynamics and measure my movements with millimeter accuracy. There are several motion capture systems available to fitters these days but none with the level of accuracy of the Fit4Bike system.
So Tim gives me the good news-I am not that far off! With my set up the way it was my hips were moving up and down in the vertical plane and forwards/backwards in the horizontal plane. This was leading to my legs tracking in a way that was causing me to lose some power in the down stroke of my pedaling and also creating the discomfort I was feeling in my right side. The data shown by the 3D motion capture system clearly illustrates the problem.
The corrections we made were to move my seat up and back slightly and to raise my right leg slightly with a shim under my cleat. Low and behold I am feeling much more stable in my pedaling and the data on the screen was confirming what I was feeling as my hips were moving much less than when we started. We went through several variations of the adjustments until we zeroed in on the best combination. Here is a screen shot of the fit data.
So now that I have my new set up dialed in on my actual bike, it’s time to check it out on a ride!
This picture is actually from the middle of my first ride with my new set up. Big improvement!
There may be some fine tuning needed after street testing the new position but that is part of the process. Our goal is to fine tune my mechanics to give me the best overall combination of comfort and efficiency. Bike riding is fun but being uncomfortable or in pain is not. If you have any questions about how you can integrate athletics into your life get in touch here.