Those who have read the previous two editions of this 'Bike Fit Series' of blogs will know that just over 6 weeks ago, I decided to get a professional bike fit with Elliott Richmond at Super Domestique in Shoreditch. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 of the series by clicking on the links. In a nutshell, the discomfort I was feeling during and after rides had caused me to relinquish years of resistance to getting a bike fit, and seek professional help. This is part 3 of the series - the results!
A quick scan of Strava shows that I have ridden close to 1400km and climbed over 12,000 metres in just under 60 hours since visiting Super Domestique. Of the 5600km I've ridden this year so far, these have been by far the most enjoyable! With little else changing in my riding habits (and believe me when I say I've loved the other 4200 km) I can only put this increased enjoyment down to the bike fit.
Part of me really wanted it to make no difference to performance or comfort, so all those years of resisting would prove vindicated. However anyone who has ridden with me in the last 6 weeks knows only too well how much of a difference I've noticed, because I haven't been able to shut up about it! Below I have tried to outline the improvements in comfort, handling and performance that I've noticed. If any of these resonate with you then I would suggest looking into getting a bike fit.
Ride discomfort, joint pain and injury are the biggest reasons most people cite for getting a bike fit, and it was no different for me, however I never would have predicted the dramatic (and almost immediate) reduction in discomfort. Before the fit I was getting knee pain, achilles pain and a dull throbbing in the side of my right foot. During the fit we added new orthotic footbeds (below) to my shoes and repositioned my cleats, amongst other things. These 'lower-leg' changes have successfully stabilised my feet and reduced movement in my knees, reducing almost all pain. Only on really long rides (6-8 hours) do I now feel a small amount of pain.
Thanks to a slightly shorter left leg, diagnosed by Elliott during the fit, I was getting glute and hip flexor pain after a few hours in the saddle, meaning that almost all rides were accompanied by a dull ache. Not enough to stop me riding, but uncomfortable nonetheless. A well placed foot wedge in my left shoe balanced out my legs, completing my pedal stroke, and hugely reducing the pain I was feeling. Further adjustments to seat height and bar position meant that I was better positioned to use my core to support my upper body, as opposed to my arms, shoulders and hands (reducing the pins and needles I was getting before). This has had a huge effect on my comfort, but has also helped to strengthen my core, thereby improving my climbing (more on that later).
So my overall comfort has improved hugely on both longer and shorter rides, and through a combination of better riding position and looking after myself a bit more (stretching before and after rides), my body is actually changing quite a lot. Getting out of bed and hopping back on the bike after a long ride the day before is certainly much easier!
One thing that I noticed during the bike fit was how much my bike 'bounced' around whilst pedalling on the turbo, before we'd adjusted any parts. After Elliott's adjustments however, the bike was almost completely still - with the movement completely gone. Of course, it wasn't the bike that was moving, but rather me bouncing around in the saddle because my ride position was so awful. This type of movement is difficult to notice on the road, but it was having a hugely detrimental effect on comfort and handling. After the fit, the bike sat completely still in the turbo and I was able to pedal smoothly and comfortably. Transfer this to riding on the road and my handling (especially in corners) had improved dramatically; so much so that it felt like I was on a new bike!
My original handlebar position meant that the drops (the lowest part of the handlebars, below the brake levers) were too far away to reach comfortably, so I just never used them. This meant sprinting on the hoods (terribly bad form), and more importantly descending on the hoods too; leading to sore hands from braking hard and a feeling of being out of control. I know that control whilst descending is very important to most new cyclists, so being able to comfortably get down onto the drops whilst descending has made a huge difference to my speed and control.
A theme you will have no doubt noticed if you've read the other two editions of these bike fit blogs is that, when it comes to cycling, everything is connected. The excessive movement I was experiencing before the fit was not only hampering my control and handling but also directly contributing to my pain and discomfort. As you can imagine, bouncing around in the saddle for 5 hours can make for a pretty uncomfortable ride. It wasn't until I had the fit however, that I was able to notice the excess movement, and see that it is connected to my discomfort. Sometimes you have to be shown what is right in front of your face!
Unlike the majority of cyclists, I am not a massive stat head. I don't ride with a power meter or heart rate monitor and I don't spend hours pouring over Strava data, so measuring performance in any quantifiable sense is rather difficult. I ride on feel, so comfort and handling are more important to me than power output and max heart rate. However if KOMs are your thing, then a quick scan of my strava data shows that I've improved my PBs on all of the regular segments on our rides, including smashing 1:30 off my Ditchling Beacon time after the fit (*cough* KOM for the Dirty Wknd strava leaderboard *cough*)
As mentioned above, my new ride position means that my core is far more engaged than it was before, something that is absolutely key when it comes to climbing. The fact that I am improving rapidly on every climb is directly down to the bike fit; both from feeling more comfortable and more stable, but also due to a much stronger core. Be warned however, increased engagement of the core did lead to sore abs for a few days right after the fit. On the plus side however, you'll certainly improve your climbing; and who knows, you might even get a six pack ;)
'Look good, feel good, ride fast' is a gospel cycling truth. If you feel great on the bike you will ride faster, further and for longer, with a great big smile on your face! This can be true of a new set of kit, wheels or even sunglasses - it doesn't take much to give you that buzz to get out on your bike! However, unlike a snazzy new aero jersey, a bike fit will give you a buzz that lasts for years - well after the neon pink on your jersey has faded in the wash! A few people have remarked on the cost, and at first glance it might seem like a lot of cash. However, when you break it down into the number of years you will own the bike for and how many times you will ride it, then it's actually very reasonable. And you can you really put a price on staying injury free, can you?
I couldn't be more pleased with the results of my fit; I wish I had done it years ago when everyone told me to! I am glad I did it before my discomfort turned into real pain or injury; it was certainly worth the money. I can't recommend Elliott at Super Domestique enough; his passion for cycling is evident and the time taken to explain the process to me, especially the connectivity between bike and rider, ensured that I understood the whole process. My knowledge of the interaction between my body and the bike has greatly improved, making me a much better cyclist overall. It's not just me either; quite a few members have since had a fit at Super Domestique and have been kind enough to email us and give glowing feedback - so thanks for that!
If anything in the bike fit blog series has struck a chord with you, then get in touch with Super Domestique and discuss how a fit can help you. They are a stone's throw from Liverpool Street, and the 3 hour fit is well worth the trip! If you can't get to London, then do some research into bike fit options in your area, and give them a call to discuss the process. You won't regret it!