Thursday, December 13, 2007

How do I know if I need a bike fit?

Here at Cadence, we never cease to be amazed at how many people out there are not fit well on their bikes. I am not just talking about small issues; I'm talking about seats 3 inches too low, stems 4 cm too long and bikes 3 sized too small. The truth is, our bodies are capable of adapting to a lot. Many people do not know they have a bad fit because they don't know what it feels like to be comfortable. Maybe they just assume that riding a bike is a painful experience because that is the way it has always been for them. So I am here to tell you that it doesn't have to be that way! A good bike fit can make you more comfortable, more powerful, more efficient and more aerodynamic as well as making the bike handle better and be safer to ride.

The first step is finding out whether you need a bike fit or not. Let me make it simple; if you haven't ever had a bike fit, you should get one. Trained cyclists with years of experience may be able to develop a hyper-sensitivity to changes to their position and end up eventually gravitate to the right position, but do you really want to sacrifice your comfort and performance for all that time? Go to someone that knows what they are doing and you won't regret it. A good bike fit can be expensive, but it is an investment. Simply put, if you aren't comfortable on the bike, you won't enjoy riding. Comfort aside, how much would you be willing to pay for 50 extra watts or 30 seconds off your time in the local time trial?

Common signs that your bike fit may be off could be: knee pain or hip pain, hot spots in your feet, numbness in your pelvic region or sore shoulders and back. If always find yourself pushing bigger gears it can be a sign that your pedaling could be very inefficient. A cyclist may pedal over 5 million revolutions per year, so even a 1 percent improvement in efficiency can pay huge dividends. If you feel stretched out if you hold firmly onto the brake levers or if your wrists feel uncomfortable when you hold firmly onto the drops; you should get a bike fit. With a good bike fit, the interface between body and bike is seamless. The bike should feel like an extension of the body rather than a vehicle you are struggling to keep control of.

Below is a description of some of Cadence's "pillars of bike fitting":

Individualization: A bike fit is unique to each individual. Even two identical twins with could have very different bike fits due to differences in flexibility, core strength, body composition, riding style, and personal preferences (such as pedals and saddle choice).

Specificity: It is important to know what the rider plans to do with the bike. A rider that wants to do road races will be fit differently than one who wants primarily to ride on bike tours or charity rides. A pursuiter is fit differently from a 40K time trialist. A sprint triathlete is fit different from an IronMan triathlete.

Fluidity: A bike fit is not static. The rider will change over time and the bike fit must change as well to accommodate these changes. Riders may gain or lose weight, core strength and flexibility. They may get injured. New riders will develop riding habits over time and old riders may change their habits. It is also important to re-examine bike fit after any component changes in the contact areas of the bike. These changes include, but are not limited to pedals, shoes, saddle, handlebars and brake/shift lever type (e.g. Shimano, Campy, SRAM). Even if your fit is good to begin with, any of these component changes can throw it off. It is also important to remember that saddles and cleats wear out, sometimes very quickly. If you do not replace them, your fit will suffer. Hyper-sensitive riders or those that have important events coming up may have to make changes incrementally to ensure that they adapt to the changes without injury.

The Cadence bike fit is a comprehensive process that usually takes 2-3 hours. Before we even look at a rider on their bike, we conduct an extensive athlete interview, athlete measurements, measurements of the current bike fit setup as well as a series of flexibility assessments. We talk to athletes about their goals, strengths, weaknesses, medical history and in particular any discomfort, inefficiency or power loss that they have experienced. All of these things can provide important clues as to what the root causes of their problems might be. Once we know what the problem is, fixing it is the easy part.

A good bike fitter should always try to treat the root cause of problems rather than merely the symptoms. Since bike and body parts alike are connected and inter-related, a problem can start out in one area, but be felt in another. Treating the symptoms without questioning the root cause is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. It is also important to recognize the limitations of the bike fit. A bike fit is an optimization of the human-bike interface. If there is a problem with the bike, see a bike mechanic. If there is a problem with the rider, see a doctor.

If you are interested in finding out more about our bike fitting process or you would like to schedule a fit, please feel free to email or call us at 1-800-PRO-CADENCE. A retro bike fit costs $250 in Philadelphia and $315 in New York (there is an additional charge because New York utilizes Dartfish motion analysis software as a standard part of the bike fit). And in this holiday season, a bike fit might just be the perfect present for that special someone...

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