Bike fitting – why it makes all the difference!

Getting a proper bike fit was one of those things that I’d ummed and ahhed about. My coach Nick Thomas is a fully qualified bike fitter with the Endurance Store… the problem being is that he’s based in Manchester and I’m very definitely not! A couple of people had suggested that I get it done, but I really wasn’t sure what it was going to offer. I’d been fitted quite specifically to each of my 3 bikes when I bought them, so I wasn’t sure what was going to change. The Bike Fit software that had been used with me uses a special jig that allows the fitter to take a lot of measurements. It then works out, based on the type of bike and position you are wanting (e.g. commuting, racing, TT, sportive) what geometry of frame will suit you. This then allows the fitter to look at that against their range of bikes and see what will and won’t work for you. So, for me, pretty much anything made by Giant or Trek is out based on the length of my legs compared to my upper body and arms. My Bianchi and I were like a match made in heaven and the Orbea had been set up to resemble the same geometry. I wasn’t getting on well with the Argon TT bike, but considered this more down to the lack of time I’d spent on it and the naturally more aggressive position compared to the tri bars I’ve got on the Orbea.

Two months prior to RAW it became obvious that something was going to have to change. For some reason, I couldn’t get comfortable on the Bianchi and was getting a lot of pain in my left foot and lower leg. I’d ridden a couple of thousand miles on it up to this point but I was getting more and more uncomfortable with every ride. I was fidgeting every time I went out and it’s one of those things that once you start thinking about how uncomfortable you are, that’s all you think about! I’d tried moving my cleats around but to no avail. I was reluctant to try moving my saddle as I knew once I started doing this without any logic behind it, I could end up in real trouble with very little idea what I was doing! Daryl, the mechanic on my Crew, mentioned that he and his wife had had a bike fit from Mark Harvey at TAKE3 and that it had completely revolutionised their riding – different positions, different saddles, more power output and infinitely more comfortable. As I was getting a bit desperate, I contacted Mark and agreed that the easiest thing for me to do would be to take all 3 bikes along and have a proper fit on all of them. So that’s what I did!

Mark is a qualified Retül bike fitter with a lot of experience in all aspects of bike fitting as well as a background in endurance sports and triathlon. The aim of the process is to use the bike fitting principles along with motion capture software to provide a comfortable, efficient and powerful set up which works for you. The only thing Mark asks is that you are open-minded to his suggestions, however odd they might seem at the time. We discussed the specific cycling challenge that I’m embarking on, the issues that I was experiencing and previous injuries and issues. Mark then assessed my flexibility – it’s no use having a bike configured in a specific geometry if you aren’t flexible enough to be comfortable or deliver power in that position. Whilst Mark felt that my flexibility was good, he did warn that changing my position would feel strange as it would mean that different muscles (or parts of muscles) would be worked harder and this potentially would feel both harder work and less powerful. Like anything else, the body would get used to it.

We started with the Bianchi. I had lots of sticky sensors attached to me and rode the Bianchi on the turbo. The Retül software allows Mark to analyse how you are moving – in particular various angles created in your back, hips, elbows and knees. Mark immediately identified that my saddle was far too far back and not quite high enough, meaning that my power output was getting lost in transition. Not only was my saddle too far back, but I was sitting too far back on it…because it was too uncomfortable to sit further forwards on it. This was the point at which I needed to be open-minded…. After some serious saddle sore issues on Race Around Ireland, I had considered getting a saddle with a cut out bit in the middle to alleviate compression of the more tender parts of my anatomy. Mark showed me two saddles with cut outs, both quite radical. I was there to try anything, so we gave one of them a try in the new forward position. The difference was incredible! I was instantly more comfortable and happy to come further forwards and on to the drops. There was a noticeable increase in power, although I could feel my quads having to work a bit harder. Mark also adjusted my cleats, putting them right back and slightly offset as well as recommending I go back to ones with more float to give my legs a chance to work through a natural range of motion. Again, some people say that float is good as it lets you move to where you want to go, others say you should restrict what could be an incorrect motion. Ultimately, you need to find what works for you.

Having done the process with the Bianchi, it was quicker with both the Orbea and the Argon. Again, I needed to come further forwards and again this meant changing to a more radical-looking saddle. The ones I now have for these bikes (Adamo ISM) are totally different to anything I would have ever picked myself but soooo comfortable! I now have 3 bikes that are set up as they were intended; the Bianchi gives me a back angle of 50 degrees, the Orbea is a bit more committed at 40 degrees on the tri bars and the Argon currently is 30 degrees in a TT position. This isn’t a very aggressive TT position but I will gradually be spending more time on it to enable me to take it to a more aggressive (and therefore aerodynamic position) without putting too much strain on my neck. I will never be able to ride it in a fully aero TT tuck, but it will still be more aero than either the Bianchi or the Orbea. Crucially, it’s now comfortable and I actually want to ride it rather than making excuses as to why I should ride one of the other ones!

I left Mark feeling much happier and that feeling just grew and grew. Whilst all of the bikes felt a little strange initially, I immediately stopped fidgeting on the Bianchi and was much more comfortable staying in the aero position on the Orbea and the Argon. My power output also increased slightly. The proof of the pudding came with 3 days of strong, comfortable riding on the Tour of Wessex. Getting a bike fit done a few weeks before RAW did seem slightly risky but I consoled myself with the fact that I could always go back to my old position and I had been so uncomfortable before, it couldn’t really get any worse. As it happens, I was never even slightly tempted. Whilst there is always going to be the issue of chafing when you are riding ultra events, I was more concerned about the combination of pressure and chafing that I’d experienced in Ireland. For RAW I rode further and for longer with a fraction of the discomfort that I had in Ireland (in Ireland, my nether regions were glad that my neck gave out when it did as it put them out of their misery!) This bodes well for RAAM (as well as my health in general given the number of hours I spend in the saddle). I’m more efficient in creating and transferring power on the tri bars and on the TT bike which now means that there is actually a point in having different bikes allowing me to have different positions that a) rest parts of my body and b) give different aerodynamic advantages

So, if you’ve not had a bike fit then do go and get one! There are systems other than Retül but I was certainly very impressed with the Retül process and it can also be used in conjunction with a MUVE bike jig that can be configured in an infinite number of positions to find the most efficient and comfortable set up for you prior to buying a bike (taking the last bit of guesswork out of it). A huge and somewhat belated thank you to Mark Harvey for his time and expertise; in all seriousness, I don’t think I’d have been successful at RAW without the new saddles and position and whilst it wasn’t cheap, that medal was worth every penny!

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