Alice Miller, who is racing this season with the new eliteVelo-Kalas squad, used to work for the respected Cyclefit bike-fitting company. Since she has insider knowledge of how their processes and methods work, Neutral Service asked her to write a report on her recent visit to them and explain why all riders should consider a bikefit if they wish to improve their performance, comfort and enjoyment of the sport.
This weekend Tom and I made a pilgrimage to visit Cyclefit. Hidden away, down a small side street in Covent Garden, Cyclefit is a Mecca for cyclists who strive to have the best connection with their bikes.
Since 2001 Julian Wall and Phil Cavell have been helping riders from all around the world achieve their performance potential, whilst ‘prehab’ing and ‘rehab’ing any injuries or niggles. Having worked for Cyclefit for a year after graduation I have seen inside this aspect of the cycling industry and love to visit the team whenever I have a chance.
Coming into the road season is the perfect time for me to review my bike position.
What is a cyclefit?
Bikefitting is somewhere between an art and a science, drawing on sports science, physiology and, most importantly, many years of experience. Bikefitting or ‘cycling analysis’ is the process of modifying the bicycle into a perfect fit for the rider allowing them to ride pain-free, in a strong and sustainable position,with reduced risk of fit-related injury.
So long as your saddle is the right height and you can reach your brakes you might think it’s all sorted. But there’s a lot more to it than that. There are so many variables to consider that, once you start to think about it, you’ll understand why teams like Trek Factory Racing and Matrix Pro Cycling (not to mention countless individual pros) almost superstitiously rely on Cyclefit to set them up for the season ahead.
Here’s a short video about the Trek Precision Fit service that Cyclefit deliver for the Trek Factory team, beautifully narrated by Jules;
My visit to Cyclefit
As I worked at Cyclefit last year I’ve already had various fit sessions – mostly as a guinea pig on training days when Cyclefit were delivering courses to aspiring bikefitters – and as a result we already had a fair idea of my optimal bike set-up.
But as Phil and Jules will tell you; cyclefitting is a process not an event. Over time, your ‘ideal’ bike fit position is likely to change due to strength gains/losses, injury, and simple ageing- so it’s worth having a regular review.
After a season of racing cyclocross, the first real period in which I have trained consistently, and with a busy summer on the road ahead, I decided to come in for a check-up.
A Cyclefit session starts off with an interview. You sit down with your fit analyst and talk about where you are, what your plans are and discuss any niggles you might have. My fitter was Jimmy and it was great to catch up! (We may have discussed Jimmy’s new dog, a beautiful Border terrier, and Jimmy’s experiences racing the London Cross League on a brand new Boone too!)
The next step is to see how flexible you are and assess your core strength. It’s really important not to skip this step – you could be on the Russian Gymnastic Squad with extreme flexibility but if you’ve got zero core stability then you’d most probably end up with chronic back pain if you slammed your stem…
This is not denying that aero is good. But only if the position is still strong. There’s no point reducing your drag coefficient if you’ve also reduced your functional power!
It turns out I haven’t been working on my isolated hamstring stretches quite as much as I should have… luckily not enough to affect my riding, but it’s certainly something I’ll need to improve.
It’s at this point they’ll also look at your feet. You touch the bike in three places- bars, saddle and pedals- and it’s the foot/pedal interface that is most important. This is where you send your energy into the bike and if your feet aren’t happy then the problems just spread up your body like a chain reaction. It’s essential to make sure your shoes and cleats are set up properly before adjusting anything else.
My shoes were already set up from last time – my cleats are positioned according to my pedaling style, leg length etc. and fortunately did not require any changes to be made to them. I have two angled shims under each cleat and custom footbeds in my shoes, which all help to align and stabilise my feet.
Jimmy set the jig according to my existing measurements and I climbed on.
Over the next hour Jimmy made minuscule adjustments to the set up – most notably dropping and lengthening the front end of the bike. Following lots of riding and being used to my previous position I can now sustain this more aggressive position, which is ideal for the road racing I will be doing this season.
After satisfying ourselves with the position we then decided to experiment with a few different saddle models. Saddles are often a ‘sore point’ at some time in many cyclists’ careers and although I have been happy on my existing saddle there is never any harm in trying out any new options!
Recently Bontrager brought out a new women’s saddle called the Ajna. I had a brief look at this at the Cycle Show in September but (as a true Cyclefit convert) had not wanted to fiddle with my bike set-up without professional sign-off.
Using gebioMized saddle pressure mapping technology we were able to see live data of how I was interacting with each saddle.
The pressure map showed, as I had thought, I tend to ride with a lot of my weight on the nose of the saddle rather than spread more evenly across the seat bones. Using the gebioMized feedback we alternated saddles and tweaked my bike fit to encourage me to sit further back on the saddle and reduce the hotspots.
I happily do long rides with no particular discomfort anyway, but having made these changes I know that I will be even more comfortable- allowing me to focus on getting the power to my pedals!
After much consideration we reached my ideal position. Here’s a short video from the Dartfish motion capture software that Cyclefit use to slo-mo capture rider’s data. You can click on the little camera icons to see my ‘key positions.’
So now my bike is all set up and ready for the season. Only overtraining and crashing can cause me any problems – my bike is perfect!
I would recommend a cyclefit to any cyclist, however ‘serious’ or casual they may be. Cycling is something most of us do for fun. You should enjoy your time on the bike – it certainly shouldn’t be painful. And if you don’t have any niggles but you’re thinking of a new bike make sure sure you get a bike fit first. What could be worse than spending your hard earned cash on a bike that doesn’t really fit you? No point having a super stiff frame if you’re not able, biomechanically, to maximise the power you put into it!
By the way, it’s easy to spot someone who has had a Cyclefit. They will be paranoid about anyone touching their bike and will measure and mark the position of every component before handing the bike over to a mechanic… it might seem a little anal but having worked with the Cyclefit team you know that even a millimetre change can make all the difference.
Text and photographs © Alice Miller.