Bike Set Up

Touring cycling is a lifestyle change, most times temporary and sometimes more permanent. Comfort and injury prevention should be a main considerations for touring cyclists. We should definitely not reduce our comfort in order to try and gain more miles per day. 

A potentially controversial opinion that I’d like you to consider before spending in the region of £150 on a pro bike fit.

Let’s consider why a professional set up may not be ideal. But before I offer my opinion, I want you to give some thought to the ‘wording’ a profession bike fitting company uses to promote their service.

“During Retül a tracing of body motion is produced and a set of measurements are taken. This allows our trained fitters to make informed, accurate judgements regarding the adjustments each individual rider needs”.

Saddle height

Saddle height

The information, generated by the cyclist to the fitter, is based upon the data supplied from the computer. Can we be guaranteed, of the accuracy of the technology used that supplies the information?

In this instance, is an ‘accurate judgement’ a guaranteed piece of evidence based upon collated information or is it a prediction based upon the same data? A ‘prediction’ is a forecast and therefore not guaranteed.

Ask yourselves if you consider the service to be of value for around £150, if there are no guarantees? If you consider the service to be of value, then depending on how many miles are cycled per month, it would be advisable to have a pro fit every month because the biomechanics of an individual’s body are going to change constantly, albeit moderately.

Frame size

Frame size

During this exercise of opinion, it is a fair and reasonable assumption that most long term travelling cyclists are over the age of twenty five. Without knowing it, it’s likely that at this age and beyond are bodies are not in perfect condition. I don’t mean from an aesthetic consideration or from our fitness levels, but from the alignment of our torso, to how our feet land on the floor from every step taken. Common discrepancies within the human body can be, hips that are out of alignment, pronation of the feet, dropped arches,webbed feet, over arched back, twisted spine, knee interior and exterior limited movement and the slouch position. Our bodies are not perfectly customised robotic instruments that move without fault or misalignment, we are not held together mechanically. It is our tendons and ligaments that hold our framework in one piece. Generally, it’s not until we do some form of exercise that we notice an element of discomfort. If we don’t address the source of what is causing the discomfort, the problem is only going to worsen.

A professional bike fit by way of infra red lighting and a computer source demonstrates our strengths and weaknesses when applying force through the pedals. The operator custom fits our moving parts to the bicycle based upon this data. Now, we are led to believe we have the best set up to maximise power, efficiency and comfort. This could be so, but let us consider the potential negatives.

Our hamstrings are any of the five tendons at the back of each knee. They are a muscle that allows the knee to be flexed. They also straighten (extend) the hips. These muscles are not very active during everyday routine activities and therefore, tighten and reduce over the years. The elasticity of each side cannot be guaranteed equal. Any operational movement is therefore not equal. The hamstrings only become active during heavy exercise.

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Amongst other factors the computer determines the height of our saddle, the fore and aft position of the saddle, the height of our handlebars and where our cleats lock into the pedal, (if we use cleats). So why is it, that with this perfect set up, certain parts of our body hurt during our cycle that didn’t do so before our pro fit? Using the hamstring example, one of our hamstrings are being stretched beyond the other ones present capability, range of movement. A hamstring being stretched regularly will lengthen and strengthen over time and is a perfect way to increase mobility and strengthen the flex when our knees are in use, so long as we warm up and warm down pre and post exercise.

We can identify the elasticity our hamstrings can be extended without injury, if done by stretching our range of movement in small amounts. If our tendons are differing in length, does this range of movement have any impact elsewhere on our bodies? Yes, it is going affect the movement and coordination of our hip placement and on the assumption our hips are not equal, the moment can only be detrimental to our standing position and the strength of our knees. Serious long term effects will effect the way we walk, potentially inducing a limp.

The natural fall of our feet on the pedals place an affect on our knees, in particular our interior and exterior cruciate ligaments. Our feet fall in a natural way to accommodate the position and movement of our knees. Again, why do our knees hurt after a pro bike fit, because once again the software assumes our posture generated from our knees is ideal and without fault? With this not being the case, when our feet are locked into the pedals in such a position that is not a normal controlled fall, not only will this effect the alignment of our knees but it will also put abnormal amounts of pressure on the outside of the underneath of our feet.

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The software has determined the fore and aft position of our saddle, largely by the angle of degree are arms are, when placed upon the handlebars. What it doesn’t consider is the parabolic range of our lower back and / or the alignment of our spine. Whilst cycling is a low impact activity enabling us to do the sport or pastime with common long term injuries, such as knee ligament damage, the computer software cannot assess the affect our saddle position will have on our back.

It is without doubt the new set up is immediately changing the way our bodies are used to moving. This change is too drastic in most circumstances and could result in long term injury. There are two options and I feel the latter is more suitable to the non competitive touring cyclist, who doesn’t have daily access to a pro cycling team of professionals. We are not on vocation.

The first option would be to pay privately, to seek the advice of a sport specific consultant to assess your body and offer a long term constant programme of daily stretching and exercise to realign the position of our bodies. A programme of yoga would also be very beneficial.

An injured back stops you dancing

An injured back stops you dancing

The second option is more practical and less intrusive on our daily routines. With help, set up your bicycle in a generic style by first centring the fore and aft position of the saddle. Then have somebody hold the bike whilst you sit on it. The height of the saddle is loosely determined by how far our leg stretches out when we are in the position, of where the pedal is at its lowest during rotation. Our legs want to be extended, just before our knees become locked. Now alter the height of the handlebars, if your bike allows this, to what feels most comfortable. Touring cyclists tend not to wear shoes that require cleats, so for now, we can discount the effect of an ill fitting cleat.

Now ride your bicycle until you have either completed about thirty miles or until you start to feel pain. You will know the difference between good and bad pain by identifying where the pain is being distributed from. If it’s muscular then it’s probable the pain will reduce over time as you become fitter and healthier. Muscular pain will feel quite deep, whereas other pain is likely to be on the surface. If you are feeling this bad pain, then alter the position of your set up little by little until the pain subsides. The height of the saddle should be your last alteration. It is without doubt that saddle height allows for a greater degree of discrepancy, than other adjustments when considering range of movement within set parameters.

This trial and error set up will limit the impact of change on your body, thus resulting in a lesser probability of long term injury.

Do not take pain killers and continue to ride. Yes, you won’t feel the pain, but because of this you are worsening your injury. Injuries can be repaired a lot of the time without surgery, but what about if the time comes, where surgery is needed but not guaranteed? It’s a serious consideration for your long term physical health, as to whether or not, a pro bike fit is beneficial.

150 (lbs) pounds

150 (lbs) pounds loss

Always seek professional medical advice if suffering from any injury.

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