Bike Fitting

As part of upgrading by bike, I was offered a professional bike fit from Windmill Wheels, near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire (UK).  If you have the option of going for a proper bike fit, go for a proper bike fit.   Over the course of the last month, I've gone from "it would be nice" to "wow, that was good" to "that's essential!  So glad I've done it!"   And this is why........

Andy conducting a bike fit at Windmill Wheels.


A "Bike Fit" costs

I confess, I'm a bit stingy on the cash front; I've never really been massively flush with cash, as sometimes seeing a "buy this service...." compared to "buy this item...." has been a bit of a choice and normally, I would side towards the item.   My logic is that an item is a tangible, physical thing which I can't make myself then an item is something I own, use and invested in.   So services normally come as a lower preference because sometimes you can do them yourself.   Why pay a plumber to fix a simple leaky joint when I have a wrench?

Bike Fitting is one of those services which I haven't been skeptical of, but I always saw the price of the fit a bit of a barrier.   I have seen various "bike fit" services on Wowcher and Voucher-esque sites and had a few friends use them but reporting back had been a little.........underwhelming.   The "basic bike fit" I had in buying the Genesis was really rubbish and this probably biased my opinion too.   Maybe because the service was a freebie or voucher purchase rather than a full paying customer so a more basic service given?   Regardless, I've always wanted a professional bike fit, just never had the budget to allocate to it.

So when going to spend money on a new dream bike, my thoughts were that although I wanted a bike fit, my budget cap would be directed towards the physical item.   Setting aside money for the fitting service could make the difference between mechanical or hydraulic brakes.   A bike fit may not find out anything new, while hydro brakes will serve for decades.   But with Windmill Wheels, in buying the Enigma, I had;
"Free bike fit as part of the Enigma purchase........."
When I purchased the Enigma from Windmill Wheels, I had the offer of a free bike fit thrown in.   Now the skeptic in me and from my own bias based on other purchases and my job, I would say "yeah, they take the profit from the bike and the bike fit is a sweetener, no real cost except a bit of their time to preserve their margin and give me a warm, cared for feeling" (this may have been true of other shops I've bought from). 

I was completely wrong and this is why I would encourage others to look at getting a professional bike fit.

The process.

I agreed to purchase bike and at the time of purchase/collection, I would be fitted and set up. 

NOTE: this is slightly backwards as normally you'll bike fit and then a frame size is suggested, built up, fitted and then purchased.

First fit.

I arrived and Jack was my fitter for the afternoon.  Pretty quickly I was changed into my skinnies, we had the Evoke on the direct drive turbo and me spinning while he watched and measured how I sat.   Over the course of the hour, we switched stems, changed saddle height and position and made a number of minor adjustments.  Of the minor adjustments, up front we made minor changes to cover my most common hand potions.   But most notable was the drop in my saddle height compared to the Genesis and what I had previously used on the Concorde.   Over 20mm straight away with the intention that it would go lower!  It felt weird to begin with (a bit like riding a kids bike with your knees coming too high) but I was open to what Jack was telling me and followed his logic and numbers.  The reason for these changes - power flow, pelvic rotation and leg length.   Essentially, with the saddle height I had been using my legs was being overly extended in three ways:  (1) my legs was going too straight so I lost power through the power phase of the stroke; (2) to accomplish and draw back at the bottom of the stroke I was having to point my toes down, lengthening the limb length; and (3) I will have been rocking my pelvis on the saddle.  The effects of this will be that my achilles tendon will have been stretch too much, my knee will have been already extended at the point in the pedal stroke where I need greatest power, my calves were then having to power through the bottom of the stroke and by rocking my hips I was using my lower back rather than glutes and thighs.   Bad technique! 

I followed his advice and it was time to work with it and see what difference it makes.   If my muscles could adjust without the shock, I'd improve power output straight away and then drop lower later.   With the first fit completed and the bike finalised, I bought the bike and now it was up to me to really test it.  I was offered a follow up fit a month later to see if any improvements would be required.

At this point, value to me?  Immense!  With a new bike, time to put in the time and km's and see what a bike fit does.

First Fit evaluation

Now with no data, pain scores or any other discernible metrics apart from my own word, the most immediate noticeable difference was that after doing 350km Skeg and back ride, the following day I felt fresh.    As in I could function normally, the legs felt tired but not sore, lower back was fine, glutes were worked but stress free and my calves felt good.  It didn't feel like the long rides I'd done previously.   I could honestly say that I could have ridden again or done "normal life" without much hassle.

In following rides (I scratched a 400km with around 6,000m climbing at 300km, a 140km weekday evening ride with Matt and my Everesting ride), similar!  The "morning after" slow recovery rides with legs trying to return didn't appear.   Even after Everesting, my legs were fatigued, but not destroyed in the way I would have expected.

Second Fitting.

The step change from previous Genesis/Concorde positions to post fitting Engima position I thought would account for maybe 90% of the required changes.   In a way, I think I was right as in the second fit the majority of the fit was confirmed as correct, but the "value added" bits are what really interested me.

This time, Andy had me set up again and we went through the fit that Jack had done.   In saddle positioning, reach and nearly all other measurements, Jack was spot on and this is seen in the comfort I had in the major Enigma rides I had done.  Confirming Jacks comments on "you could do with going 5 to 10mm lower on the seatpin," I went lower and it doesn't feel shocking or bad - more like a natural progression.   As my pelvis drops towards the bottom bracket, my ankle can then drop further and flatten the foot at the bottom of the stroke rather than being extended and having a power loss or having to roll the hips to get the ankle down.   This has flattened my hip position giving less rotation on the saddle and stress through the lower back.  Increased power; increased comfort.

Now the really interesting discussions and analysis started when Andy started to address the feet and work upwards.   The idea is that by beginning with where the human/bike power interface is and working up, the lower body can be fitted and isolated from the upper and all power should be conserved going into the pedal spindle.  From looking at my cleat position, I'm near spot on - or at least within the scope of where I should be for greatest efficiency.  Andy had my feet measured and sure enough, I'm not symmetrical with the difference between ball of feet to back of foot differing by 10mm!   With the shoe/cleat combo I use, this isn't massively detrimental, but not something I'd really investigated or been aware of.   Cleat position is something I'll track more closely in future though - cleat positioning can lead to hot foot which I have had at various points for various reasons.   My asymmetrical feet are not something that really goes through my mind on a daily basis, so news to me. 

Next was to look at my knee positioning.  Riding normally, saddle at the corrected height, hips staying within normal movement, Andy used a laser line to track my knees.   Sure enough, left knee falls central while the right knee orbits a little.   Minor, but every time I push down my right leg will adjust and fall not massively incorrectly, but not the most efficiently.  To look at why, we started to look at the support under my right foot arch, and there you can see the ligament alignment down the shin and top of foot has a waving route.  With each push through the power stroke, this alignment at the pedal is losing power as the ankle rotates.   To correct this, I can look at an insert to support the arch, rotate the foot in the shoe and give it support and correct the alignment.  This will then increase the power transmission as the entire sole becomes the pressure point rather than the outer edge of the foot and then rotating before a greater portion of the foot engages.

So by the end of the second fit, I had discovered the following:
  1. Optimising the saddle height with the correct knee bend angle will correct for over extension of the leg, stops trying to power by calf and instead use the thigh and glutes which greater efficiency.  This increases power output, stops ACL stress and isolates the legs from the lower back, giving greater comfort.
  2. Correct the feet (particularly right foot) will increase and spread the contact patch in the shoe, prevent the right knee tracking out and put power more vertically at the point of greatest power in crank rotation.

Summary.

Why has this made me a massive convert and champion of bike fitting.

More power!!

The modifications I've explained split into two parts - the famous 80:20 split.   The first fit maybe made 80% of the difference and has given the largest impact.   Lowering the saddle and doing the initial tweaks will have improved my riding most.   If I've saved or improved my efficiency by 20 Watts, scale that over 16 hours give roughly 17 kcal per hour or 272 kcal of food.   Addressing the remaining 20% (foot fall, knee position etc) could release another 10 Watts.  Gaining 30 Watts for positioning would give and extra 425ish kcal on a 16 hour ride and at 69 kg, it's an additional 0.43 W/kg!   That's power for climbing, fighting winds and going faster.  I'll take that!

Greater comfort

I confess that on the scratch 400km ride, my legs were empty.   There was no glycogen, no energy, no power, no more movement.   But physically, I felt free of movement and good.   I had no back pains, no strains, little worries about my ACL.......  And the next day my legs felt as if they needed "re-filling" but no soreness or aches.   That's a massive difference in terms of robustness.   Riding isn't supposed to be a painful sport, this has vastly improved it.   In my 300km with climbs, it was a good test for going into Everesting and a pointer towards other events I have lined up which will be longer.   If I can get off empty at 300km, I can ride on further when fueled.

Long term physical damage protection

I'm on the bike around 600 hours, 10,000 miles per year.   I ride far more hours than I drive and cover more distance.   My body is my motive power for commuting to work; my hobby; what I've used for charity; what my kids abuse and has chasing them around; and what my wife hugs for comfort and support.   In a way, it's a bit important.   If I carry on riding these distances and times, it's not the crunchy car clutch I should be fretting over because ultimately that's mechanical and can be scrapped and replaced, it's my tendons and joints that will cause my physical pain, limit what I can do and effect my long term health going into middle and old age.   Riding with a bad position is only going to hasten damage with lower back problems from hips which rock and roll to much; stress being put through the lower leg when it should be going through the thigh and glutes; and poor weight distribution affecting wrist pressure.  In a way, the bike fit is as important to my long term health as my diet, eye tests, doctors check ups or any other health check.

Going forwards.

My second fit is yet to be tested in anger - that's the end of this week when I ride TransWales.  What I am confident in is that the Enigma is the near optimal fit for me.   Or rather, the Enigma is optimal, my shoes/insoles arn't.  Riding the Enigma with the bike fitting done should be rinsing out as much performance I can mechanically get - the rest is my physical and mental strength.

But what about my other bikes?   Without question, the Genesis needs addressing.   The seat pin needs moving, the positioning modified to as close to the Enigma as possible and it needs to be done as soon as possible for comfort, power and long term damage limitation.   48hrs later and I'm on the phone to Mercian to see if they can have a look at it at the end of this week.   The tandem will also need address over the summer too.

My recommendations.

Get a bike fit!  If you're buying a super bike from scratch, bike fit then pick and spec the bike.  If you're buying off the peg and only doing low mileage you may get away with shop fit, but anyone looking at more miles, I'd say the fit is essential.

My advice is to take your time and listen to your fitter.   Both Andy and Jack were brilliant at talking me through the process, reasons and suggestions to what, where and why.   Understanding the reasons and how this translates through the mechanics, comfort, power, sports science and application makes you appreciate the knowledge a good bike fitter has (and what you are paying for!) rather than a picture, check, dispatch type of Halfords bike fit.   That experience, knowledge and ability to identify foot arches. spot a pain point before you even think of it and modify your position has a cost, and it's worth it!



NOTES:   I was bike fitted at Windmill Wheels as part of the purchase process and although I had this Free of Charge as part of the purchase, I found the bike fit a real eye opener.   I have not been endorsed or payed by Windmills Wheels to write this and other bike fitters are out there - I've written this purely the blog, inform others and record what experience I've been through.

Should you want to follow in my (higher right arched) footstep and pedal strokes, you'll find Windmill Wheels information at: https://www.windmillwheels.co.uk/bike-fit



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