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Having a Bike Fit

posted 19 Feb 2013, 14:03 by Adam Johnson   [ updated 19 Feb 2013, 14:58 ]
Boring one I'm afraid, which won't be as funny/interesting/flippant as the first one, however, it might hurt in the short term but hopefully it will stop the long term pain. (bonus cute child on a bike at the end)

So, I have shit knees and am also a short arse. Both are potentially bad, but on a bike they are a veritable clusterf*ck. As a result i've had my fair-share of niggles naturally, but as I've moved into endurance racing the sheer length of time on a bike has meant i've also had to look at how you "interface" with a bike. I'm going to hit this as simplistically as i can, both for normal bods and also straying into racing type stuff. I won't regurgitate everything i've read but I will hopefully point you in the right direction.

Basic Bike set up is fairly easy to be honest, but it largely depends upon BUYING THE RIGHT SIZE BIKE TO BEGIN WITH! 
People are different, some are tall and some are short, some are twat's and others aren't. So surely we just buy a small bike for the shorties, a large bike for the lanky pieces of p!ss and ignore the twats in life? We'll that's where it starts going a little wrong. That's not to say that a hobbit should ride something fit for Hagrid, but there are things you need to consider. 

As a point of illustration I'm slightly taller than Her Ladyship but if i get on her bike I can't reach the pedals and the handlebars are too close to my knees. If she gets on mine the seat is too low and she can't reach the bars. The bikes are identical models and the same size. The issue is that she has longer legs (mine are like ET's) and i have a longer torso - and most importantly our bikes are adjusted to us. 

Therefore the key purchasing rules are:
  • Look into the manufacture's size guides - they know a little about bike fit funnily enough
  • Don't put kids on a bike they might "grow into" - they'll f*cking hate it until they do
  • Frame size is only one element of bike sizing - saddle height and stem length can and should be altered at/prior to purchase
  • Different manufacturers products fit differently - if Company X jeans don't fit, you don't buy them because Shop Y sells them, in the same way that you don't buy ill-fitting Company A size small jeans because Company B's size small fit you  
Adjustment rules are:
  • Your knee should be slightly bent when your foot is on the pedal at it's nearest point to the floor - set this by sitting on the saddle (leaning/supporting yourself against a wall), then placing your heel on the pedal. Move you saddle up or down until you leg is completely straight when your heel is on the pedal at the bottom of the stroke, this means that when you put the ball of your foot on it's slightly bent. This can be overruled slightly for confidence reasons (being able to put your feet down) in the first instance, but always look to move towards the optimum as you get comfortable and realise you can actually just get off the saddle. 
  • You should be able to comfortably reach the bars when sat on the saddle at the correct height. Through adjustment of the stem (forwards/back/up/down) you should be able to achieve a happy medium. Crap bike shops will look to avoid this as it's a pain in the arse for them, but to be honest, the cost to them compared to what you are spending is minimal. If you aren't happy ask. If you're still not happy go and ask somewhere else - no-one is selling anything nowadays, so somebody will help.
  • Brake levers, gear shifters etc can and should be rotated around the bars so that they are accessible and comfortable for you - any monkey with an allen key can do this at home.
  • Start with it horizontal to the ground, if this hurts angle it down a degree or so at a time until it's ok. If it's still a pain in the arse look into different saddle brands, widths & structures.
The above should cover off the majority of people, but as i know, "the more you ride and the more adventurous you get; the more it hurts" (Jeremy, Ron 1999 - probably)

Geeky bike riding types should all read this book as the start point as it will likely cover all the problems you have or ideally it will prevent you getting them in the first instance if you follow the set-up rules: Pruitt - Complete Medical Guide Cyclists 

Most of the stuff I'm writing about is obviously covered much more eloquently via better text/images/knowledge in the Pruitt book but I'll cover of what I've got out of it all. 

Ultimately I've ended up dealing with my Patella Tendonitis and other things that have cropped up over the years (Sherman Neck, Hot Foot, Sore Arse [bike related], Tight ITB, Pinched nerve etc etc) with the use of the following "additional" techniques and components:

  • Home Bike Fit - Using an mobile or tablet to video yourself on the bike (rollers/turbo/back pedalling) makes all of this shit a lot easier than when I was doing it initially - other-halfs really get bored with this bollocks quickly.....

  • Insoles and Wedges - I have stupidly high arches, check yours by stepping on a bath mat after getting out of the shower. You can see that my arches are miles off transferring water to the mat. (note: Egyptian cotton mat)

This means my feet collapse down as i push on the pedals, which results in my knees rolling inwards causing strain/pain in my knees as they are at a funny angle. This is visible from the front - put a felt tip mark on the bottom of your kneecap / patella tendon and video yourself pedalling - you want the mark to track up and down in as straight a line as possible. Swapping out the standard insoles in my cycling shoes for a high support version & 2 wedges in one foot and a medium support & 2 wedges in the other has resulted in much more support and comfort. Other than tracking straight or not hurting, I can only be describe it as feeling like a more planted and powerful interface between my shoe/pedal. I like it. I've used Specialized BG insoles but loads of other "semi-custom" brands exist or you can go down the truly custom route.

  • Cleat alignment / clipless pedals - There is no arguing that clipless pedal mean that you can put more power into a pedal stroke and therefore go faster and/or farther for less effort. But due to my shit knees, having my feet "locked" into position f*cks them right up. The worst I ever had was original Shimano SPD pedals back in the early 90's, might as well have nailed my feet to the pedal. I need some pedals that allow my feet/ankles to move whilst pedalling and have ended up with Time ATAC pedal on all my bikes except the BMX and Downhill bike where I'm still Old Skool Vans & DX. The Time have both rotational (degrees) and lateral (left to right) float. Look it up and consider Shimano, Time, Look and Crank Brothers - it's a little bit suck it and see when you take the plunge into clipless pedals, but the basics are the same. 
When you get some, you will need to fit the Cleats to you shoes and this has always caused me a mild breakdown - mainly due to my OCD with such things. The easiest way I can recommend doing this from scratch is to mark on both sides of your shoe where the ball of you foot is - this means you can get the cleat adjusted fore and aft correctly so that it is directly under the ball of your foot. Next, depending on your chosen brand, you will have to angle the cleat so that it point forwards. By this i mean forwards in relation to the centreline of your bike. If you look at my bath mat again you will see (admittedly faintly) that when stood my heel are angled in quite a bit, therefore my cleats need to be angled inwards to replicate this stance when clipped in on the bike. I'm less affected by it as my pedals allow this "float", but either way it's good to have an understanding of this before you start, so use the bath mat, or sit on the kitchen work surface and get someone to observe how you feet naturally "hang" - they can mark this on the underside of your shoe.
  • Q Factor (here we are going full retard) Q Factor is the distance left to right between the pedals. This varies from different types of bike, in the main Road bikes are a lower Q Factor (narrow) and Mountain Bikes are wider (higher Q Factor). So, either way I found myself having issues on my new road bike but not my existing MTB, so upon looking at measurements of everything, they were set-up the same apart form Q Factor. I figure it was worth a £30? punt on some Specialized BG Axle Extenders to replicate the Q Factor across bikes. Well I'll be **ggered, it was suddenly comfortable. Worth a look if you regularly hop between bikes.
  • Shorts - buy some good ones. Stop with the penny pinching here.
  • Lube your arse. Not another Ron Jeremy quote, but a serious suggestion - ask John Teare  (@john_teare). Runners lube their nipples (freaks), so why shouldn't we cyclists cut out chafing too? You can buy loads of pre-made concoctions,  but if you are allergic to nuts on your arse like me, it's easy to make some: Tub of vaseline, add tube of ibuprofen cream, add tube of antiseptic, mix, put in freezer overnight, apply to under-carriage, it will last you ages:


Thanks to Keith Bontrager for the recipe. (@Keith_Bontrager)

  • Contact points - Go for the same saddles and pedals on bikes, it stops issues with fit and jumping from one to the other. If you are MTB 24 hour racing, try foam grips as they cut out fatigue. Ritchey WCS and ESI have been my favourites over the years in that order. ODI Lock-Ons still rule on the BMX and DH bike. Saddles are a personal choice, and some brands now offer "try before you buy" too, but for the record i use this Selle Italia Signo Gel Flow: 


I'm now more bored than i can believe, and I guess you are too, but if not and you have any questions get in touch at @AjsMonkey. 

So here's the promised bonus cute kid on first bike footage, and I'll get back to writing about fun bike stuff..... Aj out.






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