I’m probably the most cynical bloke I know and those that know me well would probably tell you that I’d be suspicious of the Pope if he offered me some bread. So when I got the opportunity to have a professional bike fitting through CycleFit my natural instinct was to scoff that anyone could improve on the ‘perfection’ of my current bike set up, which I’d carefully nurtured through trial and error over the last 20 years. But hey, the offer was there and if only to prove me right I accepted and found my way to London’s Covent Garden – bike in hand ready to be smug.
I’m pretty old school if I’m honest, and although I love a bit of cycle bling I shy away from too much technology, so I really was intrigued to know what could possibly be better than my way of setting up my bike – which constituted lots of old wives tales, a touch of the black arts and lots of miles over the years.
The first thing I realized immediately on arrival is that this was no ordinary bike shop, from the frosted glass windows (which make you feel like you’re walking into an Ad agency) to the carefully selected (and displayed) stock of only a few top end brands, the whole atmosphere is one of considered confidence & pared down no-nonsense quality. But so what, it takes more than a shiny Colnago and a pink Serotta strategically placed to convince me …just.
It’s not just about the bike, Jules works out just how unflexible Nick is.
Cyclefit is the brain child of Jules Wall and Phil Cavell – two like minded guys with years of experience in the bike business and by all accounts quite tidy riders themselves. They’ve created the business following extensive training from Ben Serotta in New York (amongst others) and have found a huge gap in the UK with customers from weekend warriors to world champions. The likes of Nicole Cooke, Tim Don and Roger Hammond have all had the treatment – which is surprisingly unavailable through many of the top teams.
So if its good enough for them its good enough for ‘a set in his ways’ grump like me. As I waited for my scheduled time (sessions are booked 3-6 weeks in advance) I chatted with Tony & Kimberly – staff members whose genuine enthusiasm for the service was infectious as they told how their own personal riding performances had benefited. I was beginning to feel like I was waiting for the start in a race and as the customer in front of me finished his fitting, I found myself wondering whether I could beat his time, what issues he was correcting, did he have a better pedal revolution than me, were my cycling goals better than his…
Pez socks- the ideal fashion accessory for anyone with pro-nating feet!! (about 75% of people apparently…)
The first thing I realized on starting my session with Jules was its not all about the bike, but actually (stating what I now see as blindingly obvious) the rider and his position on the bike. Right back to my schoolboy days I built my bike to look the part first – high saddle, low bars – then jumped on and made my body fit to IT. What these guys do is work out your body bit first, then fit the bike around you – simple, if you know how. So before I even turned a pedal in anger I was on the couch having my hamstrings flexed, legs measured (my right is longer than my left don’t you know) and all sorts of other dimensions taken to build a clear picture of my physique.
CycleFit’s Jules Wall looks pensive as he checks nicks original pedaling style – silk purse, sows ear anyone?
Next up I ride my own bike on a turbo whilst being lazer marked, videoed and observations taken including the confirmation that I had a classic cyclist ‘hunch’ to my back and I wasn’t getting the maximum power output possible for me, because of my position over the saddle. It’s actually quite a cathartic experience seeing your own pedalling style on video versus how you imagine it – I was much more Louis than Lance Armstrong! I agreed with Jules that I needed to straighten my back more which in turn would bring my pelvis forward thus allowing the muscles at the top of my thighs to work to the max and reduce fatigue on longer rides.
I climbed onto the Serotta jig which is linked up to a monitor that gave all manner of info for both my left and right sides – luckily things were fairly even. Jules instructed me to pedal whilst slowly assessing and adjusting the dimensions, essentially, saddle height and position over the bottom bracket, as well as the stem and top tube. Gradually the numbers started to increase as my back straightened to the extent that whilst riding at the same tempo with a hunch there was visibly less RPM than without.
Winter Warmers – these custom footbeds are seriously snug.
The next step, (excuse the pun) was my feet. Jules had told me I had ‘pro-nating’ feet which although minor, would effect the alignment of my pedal stroke. Heated moulds were taken of my feet which were used to shape footbeds, using machinery developed from ski boot fitting, I had custom made footbeds in around 15 minutes, which once fitted into my shoes supported my feet superbly. Back on the jig for a final video and already I was feeling more comfortable with a straighter back position.
A thumbs up from Phil as Nick begins to eat his words.
The eureka moment only really came however when I saw the before and after videos side by side on screen. BEFORE I looked okay-ish, a bit flat at the bottom of each stroke hunched over the bars like every cyclist should do! But AFTER, what a difference a bit of subtle dabbling can make – the straighter back turned and lifted my pelvis and arse (an achievement in itself) to result in a far smoother pedalling style, I looked more comfortable and from what the numbers were saying was going to be more efficient. All in the space of a couple of hours, which I’m happy to admit now, convinced me that perhaps there is something to be said for being a bit less set in my ways.
Phil and Julian from CycleFit surround Ben Serotta alongside the “voice” of cycling Mr.Phil Liggett at the official launch in early November.
On completion of my fitting I was given a folder containing a complete breakdown and summary of my specification with diagrams for the set up for a road and TT bike which are going to be great for me especially next year when I’ve got a number of big events scheduled in Italy, so building up my bike when I get off the plane will now have a little more science to it.
Nick was always going to be a tricky Cyclefit… he has been riding for 20 years (he was a promising junior) and being a cycling journalist has probably heard and read a lot about bike fitting. No matter how much you know about bike fitting though, you can’t ‘fit’ yourself, at Cyclefit we all use each other to set our positions so we would always recommend having your position assessed no matter how experienced.
Physically Nick has very long legs and a shorter (by proportion) upper body, very tight hamstrings and the classic cyclists posture of rolled back pelvis and curved back which made his actual upper-body length even shorter and increased the reach to his handlebars and his back ache.
Once the ‘knee-over-pedal axle’ was established we adapted his posture and as he straightened his back and rotated his pelvis forward his torso lengthened and the bars came towards him – with a little help from the Sizecycle. This change in posture did several things: there was less strain on his upper and lower back, he was able to engage his glutes and therefore generate more power.
We also fitted Sidas custom footbeds in his shoes to stabilize and support his feet and also added wedges to help his feet engage with the pedals and reduce lateral knee movement.
The saddle height we ended up with was the same as on Nick’s bike to within a few millimetres (well done Nick) however we adjusted the fore/aft position of the saddle and also brought his handlebars up a little higher and closer to reduce the reach (Nick was still riding in the same position as he did when he was in his teens and no matter how much we try our body’s become less flexible as we get older).
The adjustments we did make were small but even the smallest adjustment
to a rider’s position can make a lot of difference to comfort, performance and injury prevention.
• UK readers see ‘em online at Cyclefit.co.uk
• US Readers see our report on Bicycle Ranch Bike Fitting
CYCLEFIT According to CycleFit
“CycleFit in London’s Covent Garden, is one of the world’s few organisations that is entirely devoted to the subject of refining and perfecting the human to bike interface. Our own search started in 2001. We had become very frustrated at the bicycle fitting and biomechanical assessment systems available in
Europe. They either seemed to be impersonal data-base driven procedures
based on prescribed averages, or more commonly based on informal
folk-lore and tradition.
The lack of scientific application and understanding of the human body
made cycling appear outdated and obsolete compared to other more
‘switched on’ sports. Even worse, it often left both new and experienced
cyclists uncomfortable and inefficient. Our quest inevitably took us to the USA, which was then (and still is) at the forefront of research into all aspects of cycling performance analysis.
Over the next two years we trained to Advanced level at the Serotta
School of Cycling Ergonomics (www.serotta.com/pages/school) in New York,
and on the Bike Wedge System (www.cyclefit.co.uk/lewedge) by its West
Coast based inventor Paul Swift. We provide our customers with the statistics to set their bike up correctly and – with the help of Serotta and Colnago bikes – we also provide them with the ultimate ride in custom and stock frames.”