It’s Not the Size, It’s How He Uses It: A Bike Fit Journey

What do you get when an Italian and an Irish lass walk into a room?

A bike fit.

bike fit

When asked, “What does a bike fit mean to you?” most people – like me – respond with, “To be able to pedal efficiently and powerfully without pain.” There I was, in this small room, with Pat, an Italian (“as it gets”), convincing myself that my answer was philosophically sound. That no one else could have come up with a response like that.

Pat wasn’t impressed. “That’s good, but a bike fit is getting you balanced on the bike.” Was I not taught this the first time I tried riding a bike? Wasn’t that the point?

What I failed to learn is that it all starts with the feet. Our feet are the trunk – the vital balancer. The rest of our body is like a tree with the leaves, branches, all hanging by a limb. If you have an unstable trunk, the tree won’t be able to hold itself up. Or, like the crooked trees in Poland, your body adapts and adjusts. But then you’re crooked and people speculate what happened to you on Wikipedia.

 

Where’s Waldo? Or Where’s My Pat?

 

wheat ridge cyclery

Finding a bike fitter is like finding an arborist – you want them to know the ins and outs of your trunk problems. You want them to have such distinct and comprehensive knowledge that they can look at your crooked foot and tell you what problems your branches have. Pat was my arborist. Also, my bike fitter.

Pat was holistic in his bike-fitting approach: he asked me what I struggled with (saddle sores and a bum knee); how I currently ride (Drops. Always. Yes, even climbs); and my goals (become a professional cyclist, obviously). Before Pat started taking all the data, measurements, and details, he told me, “Now, we have all this fancy technology – what they use for Team Sky – but it’s only as good as the practitioner.” Meaning, if someone doesn’t know how to read and interpret all the data, then the information is useless.

I asked Pat how long he’d been in the biz’. He took me back to his time in Italy, working alongside Eddy Mercx. Thirty years’ experience coupled with Orthopedics led up to today – working at Wheat Ridge Cyclery a few days a week alongside three other certified bike fitters and helping organizations like the Front Rangers Cycling Club.

 

Traditional/Standard Bike Fit

bike fit

Like most of us, we think a bike fit is meant to fit the bike to our bodies. Adjusting the seat so our feet reach the pedals. Adjusting the handlebars and stems so our arms and hands have something to grasp when flying down the road. We think any saddle will do that fits comfortably. Shoes? Cleats? Give me what she’s having.

And that’s a typical bike fit – the one you can get at any place where bikes are sold. They’ll quickly “fit” you to the bike and send you on your way. Another common assumption is that riding a bike should be painful. Like it’s a part of life: “Oh yeah, sure, both knees ache when I’m on the bike, my saddle sores have saddle sores, and my feet go numb, but hey, that’s bike ridin’ for ya!”

No. Stop that now. If you have any sort of pain on your bike, don’t just accept it. Go to Wheat Ridge Cyclery and get a bike fit. Actually, call first. Pat said they’re booked out for two weeks right now. Also, don’t get a bike fit right before a big ride or a race. Most likely, you and your bike will be adjusted and your performance may take a hit until your body’s used to the new angles.

 

The Interview

bike fit

Pat sat me down and asked me about any past injuries. I told him about the time a lady cut me off and I flew over my handlebars and fell on my left side injuring my rotator cuff.

Then he me asked about:

  • My cycling background (started riding three years ago)
  • How many hours I train per week (at first I said 5-10 and both Pat and Chris [my husband] scoffed, so I said, “Okay, fine, 10-15.”)
  • Other activities (yoga, running, strength training)
  • Goals (get rid of reoccurring saddles sores, figure out the issue with my knee, ride faster, have more sprint power, have more climbing power – I have a ton of goals)
  • Cycling discomforts (how many times could I possibly tell him about my saddle sores)
  • Occupation (I work at a cycling apparel company as an executive assistant and I also do their social, so make up your own title for that)

 

The Physical Assessment

bike fit

I sat on the squishy board to measure my sit bone width. Pat told me that even though I’m petite, I could have wide sit bones. Lo and behold, they’re medium: 130mm.

Pat told me to walk in front of him. As if I wasn’t self-conscious enough before, I tried walking ahead without thinking anything of it. Just as he expected: heavy pronation. Huh?

He measured my feet and both arches in my feet showed I had a high degree of pronation, or flat feet. Cool, so I’m a freak I thought. Well, a lot of people have this issue. To resolve my broken trunks, Pat gave me insoles to support the arches and prevent my feet from pronating. He said I’ll notice the difference immediately. It felt like rocks under the balls of my feet. Not pointy, ouch-this-hurts, but a subtle bump under my feet.

Then Pat instructed me to lay down. He measured my hamstring flexibility (75 degrees, full range of motion) and my hip range of motion (115 degrees, full range of motion). The oddest part was relaxing and letting him maneuver my legs around. I think he had to tell me a number of times to let go (the story of my life).

Through this, I found out that I have a functional leg length driven by my right forefoot varus. Yeah, I had to ask clarifying questions to know what he was talking about. Basically, my right foot pronates heavily which causes it to be longer then my left. Freak, I know.

Also, my left IT Band is tighter than the right and I couldn’t quite touch my toes. Pat told me, “More yoga and foam rolling.” To top it off, the left side of my pelvis is higher than the right. I felt like Igor from Young Frankenstein.

 

On the Bike Assessment

bike fit

Feeling like I was totally broken physically, I hopped on the bike. Pat turned on two cameras: one to the side of my body and one right in front. I tried avoiding looking directly into the camera ahead of me, but Pat kept telling me to look forward. It was 1984-uncomfortable.

He watched me on his computer and analyzed the angles. Then he attached eight sensors on my body: wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle, heel, and toe. I was like the “Bionic Woman.” The Retul/Specialized system tracks your body in real time in an actual bike riding situation. Most other bike shops will pull out that measurement apparatus, lower or heighten your seat, push it back or forward, mess with your cleats, and then hold it against your knee to see if the angle is right. If the angle’s good, then you’re sent away as if bike riding is based on static posture.

By watching me on the bike, Pat was able to point out that my hips rocked back and forth, my shoulders were tense, and my lower back was rounded as I pedaled. Mistakenly, I thought I was all set – and that Pat wouldn’t have to make any adjustments – as I had had a dozen different bike fits prior to the Wheat Ridge Cyclery Retul/Specialized fit. I came to the realization that if I would have just gone to Wheat Ridge Cyclery in the first place, I would have saved hundreds of dollars and time. I picked lower cost over quality.

But as I pedaled, I came to the realization that the cost is worth it. Pat connected dots like it was nothing. I would have never thought that my funky pronating feet caused the instability in my legs, the misalignment of my knees, which domino-affected my IT Band and ultimately my hips, which rocked back and forth on the saddle like a seesaw, which probably has been the cause of my saddle sores all along. Boom. Mind blown.

 

Adjustments

I mentally prepared for the costly “upgrades” and “fixes” because let’s be honest, you don’t go into a bike fitting expecting the fitter to say, “Wow, everything is perfect. You’re perfect. Nothing has to change!” You go to a bike fitting because you know something’s not jiving.

  1. Pat adjusted my cleats. He moved them back and angled them a bit differently as he said they were originally setup for heels out, which I didn’t need to have.
  1. I now have +2 insoles in my shoes to correct my pronation.
  1. Pat dropped by handlebars by removing the spacers. Unfortunately, for me, I’m odd. I’ve always been that weird one. Well, my stem was such a unique size that Pat couldn’t do everything he wanted to adjust my bike. By lowering my handlebars, this created space in my torso allowing me to stretch more instead of being scrunched up.
  1. Changed saddle to Specialized Oura Expert Gel 155.

Not too many adjustments, but I do have to teach myself how to ride my bike again. No, I won’t be buying a Stryder any time soon, but I do have to remember that I shouldn’t be scooting my tuchus all the way to the edge of my saddle. The hoods are the power position. The deep drops are for cornering and descending. The back drops are for flats. My belly button is like my third eye. I need to point my third eye where I want to go.

 

The Zin Report

zin report

The Zin Report is another cool gadget Pat used to find the center of my bike. He had this handheld device that he’d run along the edge of my bike recording the angles. It essentially provides a digital map of your bike for future adjustments.

According to Specialized’s website, the Zin Tool “creates ‘norms’ for position that are based off of a comprehensive historical archive of rider positions and corresponding power production and efficiencies.” In short, it compares a ton of data to figure out your best sizing based off the measurement previous taken.

It’s pretty crazy technology, but like Pat said, “It’s only as good as the practitioner.” Pat is a sophisticated and insightful bike fitter. He took the time to answer all of my questions thoroughly so I wasn’t left wondering what was said. I’m thankful for finally getting off my rear and having a bike fit done properly with the right tools and the arborist who can tell me what’s wrong with my trunk.

If you’re like me and have gone to several bike fitters only to have the same problems reoccur, do yourself a favor, cough up the bucks and go see Pat at Wheat Ridge Cyclery. You’ll probably leave with insoles and a new saddle, but you’ll also have knowledge. That’s something that can’t be taken from you. You can take what you learn and grow as a cyclist. Pat told me these changes will make me faster, more comfortable, and ease the crappy pain. Who would say “no” to kicking more ass on the bike?