A Bike (Re) Fit

Cycling

I last got a bike fit back in 2014. That fit was prompted by an incredibly bad day on the bike, which served as a reminder that bike fits should be done periodically, even when you think “nothing has changed.”

Most folks seem to consider a bike fit an unnecessary luxury. A comprehensive bike fit should be part of the bike purchase process, factored into your bike budget, and be considered a part of ongoing maintenance.

Neal observes Paula’s posture and pedal stroke.

This time around the fit was part of a new bike purchase for my wife (Specialized Dolce) and me (Specialized Diverge).

In the interest of continuity, I (again) went to Neal Goldberg at FootWorks Physical Therapy. Neal has been a physical therapist for about 20 years and has been in the bike industry for almost as long. In addition to his physical therapy background, Neal’s approach to bike fitting integrates best practice techniques, effective technologies, footbed technology, and physiologic measurements.

After evaluating our flexibility and general posture, Neal did a pressure analysis using a seat sensor. As Neal says, use of technology is a way to validate hunches based on the physical evaluations. Sometimes the data from the technology supports the analysis, sometimes it doesn’t. That is where the “art” of bike fitting comes in, and in my opinion a bike fitter with a physical therapy background is likely to give a better result. In addition to the bike fit, Neal gave me some exercises to help with some of my aches and pains. That said, there are several coaches and bike shops in the area who are top-notch and worth consideration. One of my criteria is also proximity. Neal’s office is quite close to where I live.

This time around, both my wife and I ended up replacing the stock saddles on the new bikes with ones that are a bit firmer. Some folks newer to cycling tend to think that a softer saddle (or thick padding in the shorts) is more comfortable. Incorrect. With a softer saddle the pelvis and sit bones move around quite a bit, which can result in friction in the nether regions. A softer saddle or a thicker pad in the shorts results in pelvic movements that can irritate sensitive areas like the lower back, shoulders, and neck. Most experienced cyclists, including endurance riders, find they get the best fit with a small chamois and a firm saddle. Less movement down there is better.

Neal’s saddle pressure data dashboard: The red line indicates the range of pelvic motion before and after the fitting process. Smaller is better.

In addition to a fit on the new bike, I also got a fit check-up with an older road bike. I replaced the saddle on that bike as well, even though “nothing had changed.” In reality, the saddle had broken down a bit and I was experiencing too much pelvic movement.

Another misconception is that only “serious” riders like racers are worthy of a bike fit. Neal mentioned a client who bike commutes over 20 miles every day, plus cycles for fun on weekends, yet did not consider himself a candidate for a bike fit. In fact, many bike commuters and “casual” riders put in more miles than racers. Having a properly fitting bike arguably has more benefit for recreational riders since mile for mile you may be more sensitive to an improper fit.

I asked Neal about what he sees on the bike fitting technology horizon. He is excited to try a new tool that maps the entire body’s movements in three dimensions. Again, while new technologies are cool, expert, artful interpretation of the data is the secret to a great bike fit.

Seattle Area Bike Fit Resources:
Center Cycle
Corpore Sano Physical Therapy
Cycle University
Footworks Physical Therapy
Métier
Real Rehab

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