When you bought your bike, (well let’s say your most recent bike because we’re all aware of the total bikes = n+1 formula right?), did you get a bike fit? If not, then perhaps you should have done. I’m not talking about 5 minutes of seat height adjustment by the pimply kid with the fringe that wheeled it out of the workshop, I mean a real professional bike fit.
A professional bike fit? It sounds like a luxury that you can do without and moreover, it sounds expensive. The cost varies depending upon the level of detail and the amount of time the fitter invests in getting the bike to fit you ‘just right’. As for luxury, I can assure you, it’ll feel like pure luxury the next time you’re out for a spin but I’d suggest that it’s a luxury you can’t do without. If you haven’t had one, you may be wondering why you should have one now, after all, you can ride your bike just fine as it is.
I should at this point, declare an interest. If you read my blog, or look at my web page http://www.gi-tri.com you’ll know that I promote http://www.bike-fit.co.uk which is owned by a great friend of mine, Mike Taylor. The content of his website has some detailed information about the problems that can be encountered while cycling and how a bike fit can help.
Let’s look at some of the issues that can develop if you’re riding a bike that isn’t quite as ‘right’ as you’d hoped:
Problems for your feet – clawing of toes especially when seated climbing/pushing on numbness in toes, loss of toe nails – often the big toe, hotfoot- a burning sensation through the ball of the foot (metatarsal heads), lateral pedalling, a sense that you are driving the pedals around with the outside of the foot, foot numbness radiating from the outside (lateral edge) inwards.
Problems for the lower leg – sore/tight Achilles, calf tightness, calf overload – forcing the rider to change seating position to back off on the calf, calf cramping where the calf is unable to dissipate lactates effectively enough, a sense that there is uneven load on either the outside (lateral) or inside (medial) of the calf.
Problems for the knee – discomfort/pain above or below the knee cap (patella), discomfort/pain to the outside (lateral ligament) of the knee or the inside (medial ligament), knee discomfort post ride, a grinding sensation whilst riding.
Problems for the upper leg – quadricep overload often experienced just above the knee (vastus medialis), a burning sensation in the outer quadricep (vastus laterals), IT Band Syndrome often causing pain above the knee (laterally), hamstring tightness/cramping during or post ride.
Problems for saddle and hips – genital numbness, saddle sores, pain along the perineum, numbness in the glutes, soft tissue discomfort/bruising, tenderness, abrasions, deep tissue pain around the sit bones (ischial tuberosity), constant hunting on the saddle for a more comfortable position.
Problems for the back, neck and shoulders – lower back (lumbar) pain, thoracic spine discomfort, shoulder discomfort – often left sided (this can end up quite debilitating post ride), neck ache (heavy head sensation), head aches due to neck tension.
Problems for the arms and hands – muscle overloading in the arms (biceps & triceps), pain and discomfort at the elbow, fore arm tension (often on long descents), wrist ache, pins and needles/numbness in the hand often radiating from the little finger inwards.
That’s about it. You’d have to be pretty unlucky to experience all of those things but I’ve never yet met a rider that didn’t experience at least one of them.
According to Mike, (and I believe every word he says on the subject of bikes), 98% of the Northern European population (and I suspect that it’s probably also true of North Americans) express asymmetry (often at the pelvis). Bikes are symmetrical, so our very interaction with the bike is bound to throw up issues. One good way of checking for asymmetry is to look down at your quads/knees while pedalling. Do the legs pass the top tube evenly or is one closer to the top tube than the other? If the answer is yes, one is closer than the other then even if you are not experiencing discomfort when riding , then a bike fit would open up power that you are currently wasting or not engaging.
Apart from avoiding discomfort, for the more competitive cyclist, a properly fitted bike can help deliver more power and better aerodynamics, a combination that almost always results in more speed for an equivalent perceived level of effort.
A bike fit can include adjustments or replacement of handle bars, stem, seat position, cranks, pedals or shoe cleats. When it comes to finding a bike fitter, experience counts. Look for one that comes with a good reputation and preferably a first-hand recommendation. In terms of cost, a mid-range fit lasting 2-3 hours with Mike would cost £180.00 or approximately $290.00.