A bike fit can make all the difference. Photo courtesy of Clifford Lee
by Clifford Lee
Summer has just begun and the road and mountain bike seasons are in full swing, but for those of us dedicated to cyclocross, the off-season is ending and training programs for the fall are coming together as the cyclocross bike is tuned up. Admittedly, my cyclocross bike never gets a rest and I’m always looking to tweak it to gain performance. In order to gain more performance, should I get a pair of carbon wheels, new tires, a sealed cable set, ceramic bearing bottom bracket? I hope that by reading Cyclocross Magazine, you will gain some insight to where your hard earned dollars should go.
While on a road ride in the spring, I pondered my equipment choices and training regimen for better performance this season. A friend mentioned that I should have my bike fit checked. He thought my saddle position looked a bit low and since we’ve discussed bike fit incessantly for years, I should look into a professional service for an objective opinion.
In Cyclocross Magazine Issue 5, we have an article on the importance of bike fit written by David Perez, PT, with a sidebar by Andrew Yee. I re-read those articles, and now see that my fit experience parallel’s Yee’s. I felt comfortable and efficient on my bike.
I have been riding seriously, and racing on and off, for the past 30 years and like many cyclists have tried several fit philosophies, based on what I’ve heard or read, constantly tweaking my position for better comfort, power, and control. You’d think that after riding so many years at a high level your bike fit is dialed in for the best comfort and efficiency. I was intrigued by what I might discover about the process and my present bike position.
I was shocked that a professional bike fitting can cost hundreds of dollars and range from two to five hours! This happens when you’re in the bike industry and do your own wrenching: you miss the value of a professional eye to bike fitting when buying a bike from a good local bike shop. I also found the range of experience, training, and technology varied amongst the “bike fitters”, and although most fit studios are incorporated within a bike shop, a few stand alone bike fit studios exist, and the number is seemingly growing.
Look carefully and do your research when picking a bike fitter. Photo courtesy of Clifford Lee
I looked for someone with some credentials and who used more than a tape measure and plumb bob. If I was going to pay, I wanted to see some knowledge and technology at work! I settled on 3D Bike Fit here in the San Francisco Bay Area, a stand-alone bike fit studio. Kevin Bailey, a former helicopter pilot, left his lucrative career to do this because of his passion for riding and bike fitting. Now, that alone might make me consider him, but I actually chose him because he has a host of certificates from several different bike-fit training programs and employs some technology to objectively analyze position related to ergonomics plus production and transfer of power. I elected to go the Full Monty and chose the top level fit package, setting me back $345 and scheduled for four or five hours!
After an extensive interview process including a posture, anatomy, strength, and flexibility screening, Kevin simultaneously employed Retul motion analysis and Specialized Body Geometry video analysis to evaluate my bike set-up and riding position. My bike is put on a stand, cameras are aimed at front, rear and sides, and sensors are attached to the bike and me. After my present position is recorded, I start pedaling and my power output is measured. Using these objective tools, Kevin altered my position to optimize the leverage, range of motion and hence, the recruitment and power of the muscles used for cycling. This not only included the feet, legs and lower body, but back, upper body and arm position as well.
After each series of changes, the new position is evaluated subjectively and objectively, and Kevin was very good about explaining the goal of each change. I ended up with a change of saddle to allow better forward hip rotation, increased saddle height by 5mm, saddle forward by 10mm, lower bar drop, narrower bar width and longer stem extension. That effectively shifted me up and forward, opening up my leg angle and putting more weight forward. I could see the how the changes affected my body position and power development by watching the video and looking at the numerical analyses.
Lee gets a full bike fit to help his cyclocross season. Look carefully and do your research when picking a bike fitter. Photo courtesy of Clifford Lee
I immediately found that I can apply more power and climb better in the saddle using my gluteus more and feels even better after the adaptation of a few weeks. My level of control in corners both on uphill dirt switchbacks and on a road or dirt descent is improved dramatically due to better weight balance.
In cyclocross, where the ability to apply full power for an hour under challenging course conditions is paramount, this new position will bring me up a level. In any cycling discipline, proper bike fit is the key to maintaining a comfortable position for efficiency and continual optimum power application. The experience and trained eye of a professional bike fitter is an important element to a great bike fit. However, it is nice to have the confirmation given by the video, motion analysis, and power meter: I could see and better understand the goal and result of the position changes.
A professional bike fit is time and money well spent for a significant and immediate performance gain: a true performance bargain. I still have to work on my training program this season-perhaps professional coaching is next, and I may still spring for those lighter wheels …