So, you have your brand new bike, you have all of the accessories, and you have the great kit to wear on it. Feels good, doesn’t it. You start to get a bit serious about your riding, but no matter what you do, something’s not quite right – you have upgrade-itis. To cure it (or at least temporarily treat it), most cyclists start by upgrading the wheels. For less than $1,000 you can usually get a lighter and more aerodynamic wheelset which, irrespective of whether you compete or enjoy being a weekend warrior, can make a real difference. But is the performance improvement the best bang for your buck? Is there something else that will give me a much better riding experience?
Let’s be honest; bike and equipment upgrades may seem like an obvious way to improve your cycling, but if your bike doesn’t fit you, you will always under-perform no matter how good your gear is. If you are experiencing aches and pains during or after riding, then this will affect your performance and your pleasure on the bike. Even if you’re not feeling “wrong” on the bike, being in the “right” position will give you the best power transfer between the body and the bike.
I’m focused on getting a good bike position at the moment, driven by my commitment to a big charity bike ride in October. Starting in Adelaide, I will cycle north as part of the TourXOz and cover 150km a day over 8 days on the way to Darwin. I am confident in my abilities to cover that distance in a day, but the big unknown for me is how my body will recover day after day. As such, a professional bike fit is part of my preparation.
What about the local bike shop fit?
When you buy a bike you expect the sales person to help you get the right sized frame, but simply identifying the right sized frame is not the same as being fitted. Some stores may take a few additional measurements and suggest some modifications, but this just steers you in the right direction. Real bike fitting is a comprehensive service within itself and only very few bike shops have the equipment and expertise to conduct a proper bike fit. To complicate matters further, there are many different systems of bike fits, and qualified bike fitters also have different approaches to the art/science of fitting, which means that you can have a different setup recommendation from each one.
How it all began
My personal history with bike fitting is pretty old-school; I remember getting my first BMX and my father asking me to stand next to the bike, and from this the “perfect” saddle height was set. Then the handlebars were adjusted forward or back for a comfortable fit, and then… well, that was it. It was a similar story with my first kid’s race bike (a black 10-speed Repco) and, when I started mountain biking, the fit was only about seat height.
Reflecting back on the many bikes I have owned through the years, the older I have gotten, the more likely I have been to modify and adjust, rather than simply accept the default setup. A correct frame size and positioning ‘self-diagnosis’, however, only goes so far, so a professional bike fit has been inevitable. My goals were to improve my comfort for longer rides, ensure that my cleats were working in my favour, and make sure my saddle allowed good perineal blood flow.
Connecting to Fusion Peak
After years of experience in local bike shops, Aaron Dunford started his bike fitting business, Fusion Peak. He is based in Balgowlah, just up the hill from Manly Beach in Sydney’s northern beaches. He is originally from Canada and has all of the warmth in his personality which you would expect from a Canadian.
I first heard of Aaron via a recommendation from a cycling club buddy; Aaron had been attending club racing for the Waratah Masters Cycling Club and developed a great reputation as a rider and for helping others with their bike fits. I watched him win A-grade races on his black Fusion Peak branded bike, listened to his accomplishments on the mountain bike with epic Tour de Cure charity rides, as well as a Sydney to Melbourne ride on a fixed wheel bike. Aaron is passionate about bike technology and I have talked tech with Aaron for hours. On top of his experience, he is prepared to put in the hard work to understand things, to build his own prototypes, and to put theory into practice.
On Location with Aaron
Aaron runs his business from a workshop below a lovely federation style house. The space has personality and charm, but it is also complete; there is a workshop, a wheel building stand, drill presses, the bike fit area, and off to the side an area with a massage table. A dozen bikes hanging by their wheels give an unmistakable impression of it being ‘a place for bikes’. I was promised a butter coffee, but first I had to complete a questionnaire, just the vital details, while Aaron took my road bike, set it up on an indoor trainer, and started measuring all of the key details. With a laser guide and tape measure, the dimensions were then feed into the laptop.
I was asked to bring all of my riding gear and equipment, so was already dressed in my knicks and jersey, with track pants and a jacket on top to keep me warm. With the bike dialled in and the questions answered, the interview followed so that Aaron could establish a complete profile; my style of riding, comfort and discomfort, and my aims and objectives for the fitting.
First things First
I asked Aaron about the bike fitting principles he follows, “I am not one of those fitters who sticks just to the textbook to give my clients a fit that looks good on paper but isn’t comfortable and causes problems” says Aaron, “I need to listen and make sure I give my clients what they want. I won’t promise an extra 10 watts and have the rider in a totally uncomfortable position. When they are completely comfortable, they can ride better.”
Aaron discussed various bike fitting systems such as Retül (owned by Specialized and used in their Body Geometry Fit), the Serotta fit system, and the infinite expertise of Sydney based bike fitter Steven Hogg. Aaron has drawn a lot of inspiration from the different systems and converts this wisdom into his own practical approach; the system should fit the rider and not vice versa.
Following the interview I was on the bike riding at a gentle pace and I was presented with a live graphical display of my pedal strokes on a monitor. Aaron explained the different readings; not only were my pedal strokes on the left and right legs uneven, my power transfer during each revolution was sub-optimal. Big mirrors placed on the side and back of the space allowed Aaron to observe my riding style from different angles.
I was then asked over to the massage table; it was not time for relaxation, instead my flexibility was put on test and measurements taken which revealed my leg lengths were not perfectly equal… and also my feet are, in the words of Aaron, ‘beautiful’… apparently. It must have been the extraordinary butter coffee kicking in.
Contact Point 1 – Feet
Following the measurements and stretch-testing, it was time for a closer look at my beautiful feet, and further measurements were made and my cycling shoes were analysed. Most humans don’t have perfectly flat feet, so standard insoles are ‘rubbish’ when it comes to supporting a cyclist’s foot. I needed arch support and refinements in my cleat position.
To improve my arch support, we started with the G8 Performance Archtech 2600 Pro soles. (I was familiar with these following a review of the G8 Performance insoles on BNA by Michael Bachmann). They are an adjustable system and, after trimming to fit, plastic arch support pieces can be put in the right position to provide the right support. For me, however, there was no right position; the fit was ok but the arch support was slightly too far forward.
There was more cutting and snipping and adjusting, now improvising with off-cuts and edges to get the right foot bed, but it was not to be. After a few variations it was time to change tack and Aaron switched to the G8 Performance Ignite soles, which are heat moldable. These velour red insoles had a touch of class and the heat molding created the perfect fit.
Next on the agenda were the cleats; first the spacers were added based on my foot structure and then the cleat position were aligned by hand. Cycling shoes tend to have different widths, sole thickness, and drill holes for the cleats, which also affect placement. Because of the differences between shoes, Aaron welcomes customers who return to get cleat fitted for new cycling shoes.
Contact Point 2 – Saddle
After the insoles and the cleats came the saddle. I have been fond of my limited edition Charge Spoon saddle, but it wasn’t designed with a cutout. I have reviewed the data and seen live tests by Dr. Roger Minkow (Specialized BG fit) that show the effect of regular saddles on perennial blood pressure. While riding, the inhibited blood flow causes numbness (which you may not even be aware of) and can cause long term health problems. I already knew that I needed to upgrade and so I tried a beautiful Sella SMP, an all-round crowd pleaser with a healthy price tag of $300.
I didn’t know if the new style saddle was just unusual and uncomfortable, or the Italian saddle design was completely unsuited to my backside; it wasn’t working for me. Next was another popular choice, the Prologo Nago Pas, which was a more comfortable saddle and also about half the price, so it sat much better on both counts. I wanted to try this saddle properly and Aaron’s approach is to allow his clients to ride and confirm that the saddle fits, with the option to swap for another one. I knew I needed to get used to the new style and it has become more comfortable with time, particularly for longer rides.
Contact Point 3 – Handlebars
The final contact point is the handlebars and a lot of work was required on my bike. The Shimano Ultegra brake lever reach was improved so that I could more easily reach the brakes while my hands were in the drops, and I mean properly in the curve of the drop bar handlebars. The angle was also adjusted slightly up, the bars re-taped with padding to remove some of the cavities, and the stem was swapped.
Previously I had a tendency to ride with my arms extended (locked) which made me feel front heavy. A lot of weight and tension were on my hands and flowed through to my neck and shoulders causing aches. In combination with the positional changes and a shorter Ritchey WCS stem, I felt balanced with a better weight distribution, my arms were relaxed, and my feet felt good. It was remarkable that the seemingly minor adjustments meant that it was still a natural riding position but far more comfortable.
The graph on the monitor was still showing my pedalling data and now it revealed a more balanced pedalling stroke and consistent and better power transfer throughout each pedal stroke.
Adding it all up
I knew that the bike fit would be good for me, but going into the fit I didn’t know whether I would be able to perceive any position changes. I made myself become conscious of my body and the optimal riding position felt relaxing and the power was retained and enhanced. I was now road-ready and dialed-in, so Aaron checked over my bike, checking the screws and micro-adjusting the brakes to ensure I was also road worthy.
I chose to ride home so I could immediately test the setup and, half a dozen rides later, the saddle is noticeably new for the first few minutes of each ride, but otherwise I feel good on the bike. It is still something I need to test over time, but my initial rides have been without the minor aches and I have a better feeling after riding.
Of course, I recommend getting a bike fit if you haven’t had one; you will thank yourself afterwards.There isn’t a single bike rider I know who has expressed regret about getting a bike fit. While there will be different opinions on the different systems, listen to the recommendations as it is more about the bike fitter and their ability to listen to you and fit you, than the system.
If you can make it to Sydney, Aaron Dunford of Fusion Peak certainly has my recommendation. Give him a call and tell him that Christopher from BNA sent you. The bike fit with Fusion Peak is $340 and the new saddle, stem, insoles, cleat spacers, and bolts added another $400 to my bill. As a memento of the fit, Aaron provided my bike fit specifications which allow me to duplicate the position on other bikes, making the bike fitting a lasting investment.
Fusion Peak Professional Cycle Fitting
Phone: 0449 665 151