Adjusting your bike to fit your body is something that I’m sure every rider, even the most recreational, is aware of the importance of. Like many, I’ve spent my riding life tweaking my saddle height, swapping stems and nudging cleats until it feels ‘right’.
What’s ‘right’ though?
“Well, it’s when your legs fully extend with the heel on the pedal and your back’s nice and straight, isn’t it?”… “No wait, my friend said it’s when your knees are a little bit bent and your arms are straight.”… “The guy at the bike shop told me “it’s when your handlebars overlap your hub so that you can’t see it.”
We’ve all heard the conspiracies on how your bike should fit, but to truly know what’s ‘right’, you should have a professional bike fit; exactly what I finally got around to doing after 10 years in the saddle.
So, off I headed to newly opened Service de Velo in Botley, Hampshire – home to one of the few bike fitting services in the UK using state of the art Shimano Dynamics Lab technology. The same piece of kit is used by World Tour team Giant Alpecin. And they seem to know their stuff.
After much standing around in my now ill-fitting kit (It was christmas, alright?), drinking coffees and perusing the exotica queuing up to get into the workshop that Mark, SdV’s owner has already gained a waiting list for; we got down to business.
“Shoes off, you’re in my house now”, barks a smiling Mark in his ever-charming manner.
Standing on the body measuring jig I’m reminded of the back of my bedroom door at home where my height has historically been documented using a ruler and pencil. A far cry from this 10-point piece of kit which provides Mark with the initial X/Y data to build a perfect picture of my body.
These measurements can also be used to determine someone’s correct frame size from a bank of about 3,000 different bikes on the bike fitting system – pretty handy if ordering online or after reassuring certainty before you commit.
Fitting simulation v1:
This is when the clever bit really begins. Before any changes are made, the exact measurements of my bike are plotted onto the fitting bike. The centre of my saddle and handlebars are noted with the exacting accuracy that a laser provides. With these points of reference, a millimetre perfect diagram of my bike is drawn up with the dimensions recorded for later reference. The fitting bike is then adjusted to these specs, my saddle is installed and off I pedal.
After a short while Mark asks me to find a comfy cadence – around 90rpm is my sweetspot – and to hold this at a steady effort: the first test. Throughout this I’m reminded to keep my eyes fixed only on the cadence on the screen ahead and not to be distracted by the rest of the data… the screen in question is crammed with dynamic power graphs and stats. Fat luck, Mark.
For the next test I’m told to maintain 90rpm once again, but to ramp the effort up to a much higher intensity – something which mimics a long climb effort. This one is, of course, much tougher. Cue plenty of sweating and stifling my heavy breathing; I didn’t realise I was getting a spin class thrown into the deal!
With the two tests complete it’s a chance for a glug of water and another coffee whilst we analyse the variation in my pedalling technique at the different effort levels.
Mark determines how my power is being expended, scrutinising the whole pedal stroke to find the braking forces that I apply on each rotation of the pedals. Now he can begin forming a plan of attack for how we can minimise these.
According to the data, I actually pedal more efficiently when riding at the higher intensity, with fewer braking forces recorded as I pull throughout the up-stroke, maximising my efficiency. The first of many revelations for the day.
This information leads Mark in his first adjustments of my position. He quickly tweaks the jig, pulling me further forward, lifting the bars slightly, re-aligning my cleats and lowering my saddle – essentially reversing my ‘ego fit’ of a slammed stem, silly-high saddle and superman stretch.
Take note, kids.
Fitting simulation v2 (+ v3, v4, v5…):
On I hop and, low and behold… it’s comfier!
I repeat the same tests; steady for a minute, hard for a minute, all at 90rpm. I do them a few times, just for accuracy (so i’m told).
The numbers show that Mark really does know his stuff – my power increases for both tests as many of the braking forces are eradicated, revealing a much more even, fluid pedal stroke. Happy, but by no means content, Mark has me on and off the jig a further three times to make small changes.
Happy with my new position, it’s now a case of the alterations being translated onto my bike. This bit’s super smart! The final measurements are tapped into the machine and ‘zap!‘ – a lazer moves, casting it’s red dot onto exact reference points on my bike, showing how far to adjust the particular item.
All extremely quick and precise, there’s no chance for human error here.
To achieve the required position I need a slightly longer stem (130mm) and an inline seat post.
Mark also recommends that I get hold of some arch supporting insoles to stabilise my pedalling further. All duly noted and will go on my shopping list come pay day.
I leave not only with a heap more confidence in knowing that my bike now fits me correctly, but also some invaluable new understanding of my pedalling style.
Upon my first ride, it all feels a little different. Being further forward on the bike means that cornering tends to happen a little quicker than before, I can’t help feel that being lower on the saddle is less efficient and I’ve already been victim to a little Instagram abuse at my newly non-slammed stem too.
But I’ve been given a warning that this is to be expected. I’ve ridden in my previous position for two years – my muscles must adapt and my mind let things go. The figures don’t lie and nor does my pace – i’m quicker on all but a few of my favourite climbs as I think back to the pedal analysis – dropping my heels slightly and concentrating on the full revolution.
I couldn’t recommend getting a bike fit enough. Anyone, at any level of cycling can take something from this; whether getting fitted for a new bike, trying to improve your TT personal best or to sort that niggle in your back out.
You might have to get in the queue for Mark though…
Find Service de Velo here.
All photos courtesy of ItsAllWhatYouMakeIt.