Getting a Bike Fit before you get a Bike?

By Scott Heyhoe

I was very interested to hear Jake Yarranton of Precise Performance, at the recent club night, talk about the benefits and pitfalls of having a bike that actually fits you. I remember the ‘good old days’ when bikes came in every size from 16″ to 26″, in 1/2-inch, and sometimes 1/4-inch, increments. It was easy somehow to get exactly the right sized bike. If you were lucky, you’d even get a bike built for you, to your exact specifications. With the advent of cycling becoming mainstream, and major manufacturers deciding that S, M, L was a good start for most bikes, it is now easier to get a bike that is just a bit too big for you, or just a bit too small. It’s true that most manufacturers now make frames in 2-cm increments, but 20mm is still very crude compared to the previous 5mm to 10mm increments.

At the same time, the internet came along and made the local bike shops search for new services to offer. Hence, the idea was born of offering a service to make adjustments to your bike (saddle height, rake, tilt, handlebar reach, shape, height, and so on): the professional bike fit. Specialist companies like Precise Performance also offer a professional bike fit service.

I’ve had the same race bike for maybe 7-8 years. Bought it in a sale, and bought a 51cm whereas a 53cm might have been better. Still, I’ve managed to compete at regional and national level on it. However, I’ve had a long-standing back injury. I’ve suffered from cramp on and off. When I got some power-meter pedals a couple of years ago, I discovered a massive left-right leg imbalance: sometimes as little as 34% of my power was coming from my left leg, and as much as 66% from my right. I’d tried my own adjustments: saddle up to alleviate cramp, saddle down to alleviate back ache, saddle in just the right place to get backache and cramp at the same time! As I am now comfortably (uncomfortably?!) in my 50s, I figured that my body shape had also changed from the halcyon days of my teens and twenties.

I’d decided at the earlier club night to buy a new race bike, probably from Simon Whiten at Handsling who gave a terrific talk on carbon fibre and aero tech. My original plan was to buy the new bike and then have a bike fit. Makes sense, right? Well, something that Jake said made me think that I should have a fit done first – on my current bike. I could then use the measurements to buy exactly the right-sized bike from Simon. So I decided to have a fit on my current bike, before buying the new bike. I spoke to both Simon and Jake about this, and both agreed it made sense. Jake even said he’d conduct my six-week check-up on the new bike.

So, just before Christmas, I headed to meet Jake at his clinic/studio (not actually sure what he calls it). We spent the first hour talking about my aims for the year (National Road Championships, 2nd Category road licence), and measuring my basic body structure and flexibility. On a first spin on the bike (on a turbo trainer), Jake immediately realised I’d make a model patient! Lots of things to adjust. The Retül system that Jake uses is quite sophisticated. It uses sensors placed on feet, knees, thighs and so on, to track movement using 3D cameras. Jake can then make adjustments, to get everything in balance and tracking properly. My saddle was too narrow, so I was tilting to one side – this would probably account for some of the imbalance. My saddle was too low, my handlebars too high. These are all the more coarse adjustments. We then moved on to finer adjustments like foot contact and rotation on the pedal. Some well-placed shims inside and outside my shoes ensured that my legs tracked evenly up and down.

The new position felt “weird”! Lots of things were changed as I’ve said. I’ve done some easy and hard sessions on the turbo. Because of a chest infection, I’ve only been out on the road twice since. So I need more saddle time to report back fully. The one thing that I would say is this: I went out for a 42-mile ride, and rode it medium fast. Spun the pedals at times, ground up hills in the big ring at other times, all for the sake of trying different pedalling styles, in and out of the saddle. My power trace when I got back home said 49-51%! Similarly, I went out for a 66-mile out and back ride a few days ago, spinning hard on the way out due to a strong breeze against me, and powering back with the wind a little kinder, and my wife and child waiting for me at Reading station. The trace this time was 47-53%. Early days but extremely promising. I’ve just ordered my new race bike … oh, and a new cyclo-cross bike that I’m getting built up with exactly the same fit dimensions.

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