The low-down of a Professional Bike Fit
- by rc
- Published: 24 September 2010
A professional bike fit was on my mind for some time, aches in my lower back were plaguing me in my endevour to find the best time trial riding position. And this is where John Kennedy comes into the picture.
John Kennedy of John Kennedy CycleFit centre, located at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic centre, is a former world record holder and has done bike fits for thousands of cyclists including Champions, Olympic champions and general enthusiasts. He also has had the pleasure of discussing bike positioning and setup with cycling legend Eddy Mercx. With this background, John Kennedy is the right person to fit me as well.
Why would you get a professional bike fit?
When you purchase a bike, often the bike shop will help fit you; you straddle the frame, sit on the seat, reach for the bars, adjust the seat height and handlebar height and seat position and take with you advice on positioning. So why get a professional bike fit?
A professional bike fit will ensure that you really get the best position on the bike for your style of riding, whether it’s racing at a professional level, amateur racing, triathlon (where you need to then run after the cycle leg), track racing or even comfort riding such as touring or commuting. You don’t need a fancy bike to warrant a bike fit. Even with a 20 year old steel road bike you can still count on the same service and advice.
When getting fitted, you need to bring everything with you that you would usually ride with; gloves, shoes, socks, knicks, helmet, jersey, and of course your bike.
Your bike fit begins with a questionnaire about your general fitness and health and cycling goals. Then the physical assessment looks at your strength, flexibility, core stability, height, weight, arm length, hand width, inseam standing or upper body measurements while standing, and if your hips are aligned.
For me it was interesting, due to knee surgery two years ago, my right leg is significantly stronger than my right, and my hips are not aligned. Since the fit I have seen a sports chiropractor and regular physio.
Different shapes and sizes, different requirements
When you consider two people with the same height and same leg length, the length of their torso or upper and lower legs may differ so the usual bike fit in most shops is not very precise. These differences can result in aches and pains from an incorrect setup. Lower back or neck pain, numb hands or fingers, sore shoulders, feet rolling in or out, and sore or aching knees are a few of the common problems that a poor setup can bring with it.
I suffered from a sore lower back and numb hands. I wanted to find a position that would alleviate the pain in my lower back and allow me to regain feeling in my hands, plus also give me the optimum position for power and an aerodynamic position for time trialing.
I was first setup on a stationary trainer and rode with a high energy output for 30mins. John checked my current position on the bike and compared against it against the position calculated to best suit.
Base on the existing frame, bike positioning covers Cleat Positioning, Cleat Wedging Crank Length Suggestion, Saddle Height, Saddle Width/Style, Saddle Angle & Tilt, Saddle Setback, Handlebar Size/Shape Suggestion, Handlebar Height, Brake Lever Positioning, Stem Length, Aero-Bar Set-Up, and Pedal Stroke Analysis.
The next step was to analyse my current bike was setup, this was a combination of the bike shop and my own positioning. My bars were too low for my flexibility, and my stem was not high enough, this pushed me down onto the bars causing discomfort in my lower back and pain in my hands. After replacing the stem and spacers I had a short stem and a higher rise. This gave me a more upright position with less stress placed upon my lower back. The shorter and higher rise stem also gave me a more comfortable riding position when I’m in the drops.
Following this was my seat height and position. In my current setup I was pushing myself back off the seat with the force from the hands and arms. The seat was too far forward over the bottom bracket, cramping my position. A new seat post was setup along with a more rigid seat and allowed me to sit further back, and this also increased my power output, as tested on a Powermeter. I am to lose a bit of weight, as I get a skinner backside, I can raise my seat to adjust.
A look at my Tri bars revealed that I was stretching my back too far, sitting too far forward on the end of the seat in the time trial posistion. With the shorter stem, the bars were readjusted to give me a better position where I was still aerodynamic but in a comfortable position. A spacer was also placed under my arm pads to bring the pads up into a better position for my forearms. The key, I was told, is to balance power and comfort so the rider is in the optimum riding position for their physiology.
Sitting in the drops, my current road bars were actually far too wide for my frame, as measured by my shoulder width and arm reach, and the drop was too severe, not allowing me to properly grasp the drops because of the size of my hands.
Ideally, on any new bike, the stem on the fork should not be pre-cut, but rather the height fitted to the specific rider before being cut.. My short stemmed fork didn’t allow me to have the rise I need to get into the ideal position. For new bike isn’t entirely practical to cut the stem each time for each customer, though after a proper bike fit, and before your next bike purchase this is certainly something to look out for.
John looked at where my feet were positioned on the cleat and chose to install wedges on both feet to reduce the floating or rocking of my foot when pedaling. Wedges go under your cleat to posistion your feet if you have a instep or outstep, and to align your knees with your hips. Once installed, I noticed how my feet then had a continual pedal-to-cleat connection, and it felt a lot better and helped me smoothen my pedalling stroke.
The new position gives me better control and balance over the bike. My power readings indicate that I have increased power in this new position. More importantly, the new position has all but alleviated my lower back and hand pain.
Unlike a bike store that may pressure you into buying the parts they offer, CycleFit have some parts available to purchase, though John will set you up as best as is possible on your existing bike and give you advice which products would benefit you and how to set them up if you want to buy them elsewhere.
A professional fit really will benefit all cyclists.
There is no doubt that a good bike shop will help and guide you to a bike that fits well and should help you to ride safely, comfortably and enjoyably. A bike fit with John of CycleFit extends beyond this. It is more than a simple bike fit, you really learn about position and biomechanics, and this has a lasting benefit as a cyclist. If then you need a further fit or measurements when buying yourself a new bike you can contact John and he will gladly help.
You can contact John by phone on 03 9589 3399 or visit the website for more info: www.kennedycyclefit.com.
There are also other renowned bike fitters in Australia and usually you can expect to pay upwards of $350 to get setup. When comparing this to the cost of a new bike it is certainly an investment, though an investment that really pays off. Most cyclists you will speak to who have had a professional fit will more than agree that investment you make will pay itself off many times over.
Special thanks go to Brigid and John for their time in fitting me and answering all my questions. In the near future John will be talking regularly with Bicycles Network Australia about bike fitting.