Think about each of your contact points on a bike: backside, feet and hands. While they each play a different role, they need to be considered as an entire system in order to address rider comfort, performance, and injury prevention. The saddle tends to be a bike fit starting point because this is where cyclists often have the most discomfort or pain. In the first part of this article series, the Body Geometry Fit System was introduced by its Global Director Scott Holz and Dr. Roger Minkow and we explored men’s and women’s saddle problems and the solutions. In this article, we’ll talk with the Body Geometry contributors including Dr. Andy Pruitt and Dr. Kyle Bickel about hands and feet.
The History of Bike Fitting
When you look at the history of cycling, “fitting” is a very new technology and Dr. Andy Pruitt claims to have performed the first ever bike fit with US Gold medal cyclist, Connie Carpenter-Phinney in 1978. Carpenter-Phinney, in addition to being an Olympic gold medalist, won 12 U.S national championships and has a well known son, Taylor Phinney.
Dr. Pruitt says he was at the right place at the right time; that was Boulder California and the center of road cycling in America in the 70’s. “We had an influx of cyclists who needed care, we had an increased public interest in the sport, technology was beginning to evolve, bindings, clipless pedal systems, aerobars” says Dr. Pruitt. “We had an epidemic of cycling injuries. I am a medical professional. What do you do when you have an epidemic? You figure out a way to solve that epidemic.” As a medical practitioner he was the default community ‘go-to’ person in Boulder, Colorado and, as a cyclist himself, he recognised that the traditional methods were not providing adequate solutions.
Dr. Andy Pruitt is an encyclopedia of bike fitting
“The early principles of bike fitting were essentially Italian and Belgium,” Starts Dr. Pruitt. “Fit was based on cycling heroes. One of the wives’ tales that emerged from Italy is that ‘you want to set your cleats slightly toed in and you want your knees to the top tube and that was because they took the slop out of their system by pulling their toe-straps so tight, that was the end result. Guys that won races looked like this.”
“The Italians were the first ones to write it down [Italian Cycling Bible – CONI – 1972]. They knew about all these things [bike problems] and they solved no problems. They assumed that you were in your 20’s, they assumed that you were male, and they assumed that you were Italian. But they started to formulate some things that guided bike design and they really established the early landmark standards that gave us usable starting places. Many of these landmarks have turned out to be totally false-ends, and many of them we continue to use today.”
Slides from the extensive presentation on bike fitting history
The technology in the 70’s and 80’s was, compared with modern day cycling, unsophisticated. Slotted cleats of wood and, later, plastic caused problems because of the lack of float. Taking a journey through pedal and cleat design, new innovations had the tendency of solving one problem while creating a new set of problems. Dr. Pruitt, along with many other independent practitioners, started doing more work understanding sport injuries and also documenting and defining sport related problems.
A number of fitting solutions included orthotic components and wedges in shoes. As technology developed, it lead to early attempts to measure power and attain quantifiable data. “Before force vector pedals and 3 dimensions, we believed that heel drivers were slow pedaling tourists, and that toe-pointers were high cadence racer dudes. What we now know is that we all do both and it is a product of your terrain, your cadence and your workload. So a neutral bike-fit is one that puts you in a place that lets you point your toes and drive your heels”.
Dr. Pruitt was involved in USA Cycling and major american cycling events (responsible for medical service during the events) while he privately concentrated on fitting individual cyclists. Others in the industry began to commercialise the bike fitting concepts, creating “body fitting for the masses”.
Lucas Hartmann demonstrating fitting principles
The Birth of Body Geometry Fit
“I was accused of selling out,” says Dr Pruitt on the partnership with Specialized. “The bottom line for me was ‘here’s a company that will take my ideas and give them to the masses’. I could sit in my office and see how many cyclists I could see in a week, or I could teach bike fitters around the world to do what I do, and think of how many people I get to touch a day.”
Dr. Pruitt explains that the initial brief from Mike Sinyard, Specialized founder, was to create a series of bike fitting tools and, after a year of work, he reported “I finally said to Mike, No! The tool we need is an army of educated bike fitters, and body geometry fit school was born, a collaboration between my office and Specialized.”
The level of certification is regarded by Dr Pruitt as one of the big differences between the Body Geometry fit system and many others. The certification process sees about 20% of candidates failing and he presents an analogy, “Who are you going to call when your plumbing goes out [fails]? Are you going to call the apprentice plumber, or are you going to call the certified plumber? Hopefully you are going to call the certified plumber.”
“The two things that really separate the Body Geometry fit system from everything out there is the pre-fit assessment and the attention to the Z-plane. The Z-plane being the hip-knee-foot alignment and the shoulder-elbow-hand. Real bike fitting is anatomical positioning to customise that bike [including] your shoes, your gloves, your saddle, the whole kit.”
Dr. Pruitt and Dr. Minkow
Certification is an approach used in the Body Geometry fit to ensure a high level of expertise and Dr. Pruitt shares a keen insight, applicable for any fitting solution, “Technology is only as good as they guy using it. Tools are important, but they are not the ‘end-all’. The fitter is the ‘end-all’ “.
In practical terms, Dr. Pruitt closes with a substantial calculation on the real-value of the Body Geometry fit solution, “Body geometry fit alone is worth about 10 watts. How long does it take you to train to get 10 watts? More importantly, injury prevention and comfort. Comfort equals fast.”
Scott Holz demonstrating practical bike fitting with the Specialized owned Retül system
Scott Holz: Feet and Shoes
Before Dr Pruitt took the stage, Scott Holz outlined the measured performance benefits of the Body Geometry shoes. Holz reports that independent test results show that the design provides an average power savings over competitors shoes equivalent to 7 seconds in a 10 kilometer time trial. Time trials are not everyone’ s forte, but the shoe and footbed design flows through the entire shoe range and is not just limited to elite level shoes.
The two principles for shoe design revolve around arch collapse and forefoot varus collapse. The concept of arch support should be self-explanatory, when downward pressure is exerted and the arch of the foot is not supported, the arch collapses as the foot rolls and the riders knees point towards the top tube and power is lost.
Specialized Shoe soles include forefoot varus support
Forefoot varus collapse causes the same problem and affects 87% of the population. In simple terms, body weight should be supported evenly through the feet in three points: the heel, the big toe joint, and the little toe joint. Forefoot varus means that the big toe joint is slightly raised in its natural position and needs to be supported in the sole to avoid a varus collapse where the cyclists knee turns inwards.
The Body Geometry solution provides compensation for both the arch support and also forefoot varus, the front section of the shoes below the big toe joints are raised by 1.5mm to provide the correction. The carbon or resin shoe includes some arch support and three different sized footbeds (red, blue and green) provide varying levels of arch support, depending on the individual rider’s requirements.
The shoe ‘outer’, the carbon fiber sole and 3 footbed options, red, blue and green
Discussing custom footbeds, Holz notes “The way that your foot works in a cycling shoe is slightly different than how it works in a walking or running shoe because there is no heel-strike. Cycling is a forefoot activity. When we walk or run, normally we are going to impact from the heel and the foot is going to collapse down towards the ground from the rear of the foot forward. When we are pedaling we are literally on the ball of our foot and the collapse is coming from the other direction. In a cycling specific footbed, the arch placement is slightly further forward”.
The Body Geometry shoes come with the red foot bed by default which has the least amount of arch support and Scott Holz provided percentages following a fitting: 10 – 20% use the red, 60% use the blue sole with medium arch support, and up to 30% use the green sole which provides the most support.
Dr. Kyle Bickel and The Holy Grail
Dr. Kyle Bickel is a hand surgeon and his connection with Body Geometry was established after he treated the son of Specialized founder Mike Sinyard after a bike accident. Describing hand surgery, Dr. Bickel says, “The way that we judge success or failure in the operation, immediately, is whether or not we can restore and maintain blood flow to the hand. As with Dr. Minkows’ project [on erectile disfunction for cyclists], the same is true for the hands. If you don’t have circulation, it will lead to problems in the hands.”
The hands are described as the third point of contact and Dr Bickel is the newest medical expert in Body Geometry team, completing the trinity. Three years of research were invested into finding the so-called ‘Holy Grail’ and the end result were cycling gloves that were named accordingly as ‘Grail’.
Similar to measuring cyclists for saddle design, the team needed quantifiable data, which was blood flow. “Digital pressure mapping directly measures the blood pressure and blood flow in the finger tip” says Dr. Bickel, “and it measures the mirco-circulation rather than large arteries that you can feel at your wrists, which is key to providing blood flow to the finger tips, and therefore sensation to the fingers.”
In reviews on BNA, some cycling products are described in high regard as being invisible, they work seamlessly. Recognising that the hands are the primary source of bike control (steering, shifting and braking), Dr. Bickel outlines the objective, “as with the saddle, as with the shoes, you want that product [gloves] to basically disappear for the rider, they don’t feel that there is an interface between them and their bike, they want to be part of the bike. And that was our goal”.
By eliminating or reducing fatigue and numbness, the rider has greater control, however the team took a different approach. “The principle behind most of the padded gloves that are on the market has been ‘if you have an area where there’s pressure, lets pad it and see if we can make it more comfortable and improve the function of the hand. There are also a lot of riders who ride like this [with un-padded gloves] and they are definitely riders who don’t want to sacrifice that control and that contact. So our charge was to see if there is something we can do that will give us the benefits of both of these structures and not sacrifice either one”
The Body Geometry Grail cycling glove pads the cavity in the palm of the hand
Thinking outside of the box, and respecting bones, arteries, and nerves in the hands led to an approach to pad the center of the hand which has a natural depression and effectively ‘filling the gap’ when the hand is gripping the handlebars. The concept is that “pressure is equalised across the palm and eliminates any one point to being subjected to greater pressure”. The padding inside the glove has been named ‘the equalizer’.
Bringing the glove into fruition involved years of testing shapes for the padding, as well as materials testing and practical testing to see if it actually made a difference. On-bike blood circulation and pressure testing achieved an average 12% improvement in blood flow over competitors gloves and also an improvement over wearing no gloves.
The Wrap Up
Specialized want the bike fit to be part of the bike buying process and are working hard to integrate this into their customer experience. It would be hard to find anyone who would argue that ‘bike fitting is a bad idea.’ but it is an investment which Specialized want people to know is based on solid research and experience, and is ‘a must’. In closing, Dr. Andy Pruitt addresses the Body Geometry equipment in separation with the Body Geometry fit, “A bike saddle sale, a bike glove sale, and a bike shoe sale really are the door openers for a bike fit. I wish that they were never sold in isolation. I know that they are in reality, but they ought to be part of the bike fit.”
More information on the Body Geometry Fit process online.
Dr. Roger Minkow, Christopher Jones (Author), Dr. Kyle Bickel and Dr. Andy Pruitt