So. Having a bike fit is basically like going to therapy. I show up in a neat and tidy office, greeted by the calm demeanour of Mal Pires from Le Beau Velo. He gets me a seat and asks if I'm comfortable, gets me a glass of water. He's already set up my Hartley in the turbo trainer. Her name is Diana, named after Wonder Woman (BEFORE the film came out thankyouverymuch) and the goddess of the moon - NOT the princess. She watches me, listening to our conversation.
Mal has nine years of experience with bike fitting (he's also a bike mechanic who use to work with Tim, LBK's new workshop manager! What a small world.) He doesn't use any one fitting formula, but there are guides that ensure that he tailors each fit to each individual rider. He first explains what he'll be going through in the fit: he's going to film me on my current bike, as well as take measurements of my body and see how I move (biomechanics stuff). He'll then do some number crunching and set up the jig in a different position and film me on this bike to see how I go.
We proceed to talk about my history with my bike, and the problems I'm having. He asks about my riding habits, as well as my general fitness. I want to start going on longer rides (100k) for multiple days. But every time I start out, something happens to my left leg towards the end of the long ride that injures me. This last time was an achilles tendon injury. Generally, I'm in the best shape I've ever been in (well, except for those two years I did competitive swimming in high school.) I do yoga, spin, and weights every week.
Mal has me get on Diana and films me. (The music is hilarious, I was not expecting this!) He makes thinking sounds and writes things down. Then I'm off the bike and he measures specific points - my height, the length of each leg and each arm, something to do with my chest and head distance, and takes my weight. Turns out my body is fairly symmetrical, which is an anomaly in the fitting world. More number crunching. He measures the angles of my knees when I'm on the bike and clipped in. He talks about his dislike of the laser pointed technology used by many other bike fitters - he sees it as cold and unintuitive. Perhaps he is more Captain Kirk than Mr. Spock.
After refitting the jig and repositioning the cleats on my new shoes, I get back on and he films me again. (I'm not sucking in my stomach - #sorrynotsorry). This time he is pleased. He says my head position is very horizontal, perhaps the most horizontal he has ever seen. (Gonna add that to my CV!) I look comfortable, not cramped. Turns out I needed to reach further, but only just - these small incremental changes really do matter. #marginalgains
I interviewed Mal for the Wheel Suckers Podcast that I do with Alex from Look Mum No Hands, (the Jelly Babies and Bib Shorts episode). He talks a lot about our ancient ancestors, (I wonder if he's into Paleo), and how different parts of the body are all connected. He even praises reflexology, which is the extremely painful but incredibly satisfying foot massage from Chinese Medicine. The three key things he focuses on are Breathing, Scanning, and Comfort - these all need to be taken into consideration to have a successful fit. And above all there is the need for the body to keep moving without pain. When I ask him about posture, he scoffs: "People think that being able to stand up straight means you have good posture," as he sits up straight. "To me, good posture means that you can easily recover from whatever position you happen to be in" He then slumps a bit but is in a more crouched position. "Now I'm ready to kill someone." !!! Well, I guess he has a point!
We also go through some exercises that I can do to help with my achilles - namely using a tennis ball (ideally something harder) and roll my foot around on it. Love me some reflexology so I'm doing this exercise already.
I received a very detailed email with instructions on how to better my bike and my riding. Here's a sample of his analysis: "Watching you in the new position, the overall impression is of a more fluid pedalling style. Glute and hamstring are now pushing/pulling the pedal stroke. There is an easier reach for your leg limbs through the pedal stroke which looks more efficient (knee angle was 142 degrees both sides). Your upper body has a gentle lumbar spine flexion and drop to the bars without compromising any of the virtues that I look for – excellent visibility, breathing (no strain in the eyes, mouth, jaw) and an overall balanced feel between your contact points on the bicycle (weight distribution between saddle, pedals and bars). This allows you to easily move positions without compromising long term efficiency and fluidity in performance."
I'm off to buy a longer stem (110mm) and layback seatpost; I'll then go for a quick check with Mal before I depart for my Belgian Bikes & Beer tour! And hopefully we'll see a marked difference in my left leg shenanigans.
PS. After my first blog post I got a message from Andrew at The Bicycle Academy explaining and apologising for why things went the way they did with the frame build. I hold no grudges, and still had a great experience with my build, and still love my bike!
"When you had your fit we were trialling an approach to bike fit and design that made use of our experienced builders insight. The idea was to share the year's of experience that Robin has, knowing that many people have commissioned him to do the very same when building similar bikes for them. The trial was split over 2 stages, with the second stage following some teaching from our pro bike fitter Tony Corke, lasted about 2 months, with Ted also involved. In the end we decided not to pursue this route because of the variations in outcome but also because the experience based insight was often hard to articulate and quantify. So at all other times before and since we have used a fit and design expert with biomechanics expertise.
We're big advocates for the importance of successful bike fitting. This trial was started with an effort to try and fold in the tacit experience of the builders (particularly Robin) to the mix. But clearly, as time on the bike has proven, it didn't end up generating as good a result as we normally achieve. I'm really sorry about that."