Why a bike fit could change your life
Data turned up by British Cycling and Team GB shows saddlesore is a massive problem. We find out how a bike fit transformed one cyclist’s riding experience
Saddle sores are a nightmare – painful enough to force pro riders out of major races and definitely enough to put even a committed amateur off the bike for life. It’s not cheap, but one (almost guaranteed) way to avoid saddlesore is to plonk yourself on a properly fitted bike. Here, we find out how a proper bike fit transformed Emma Tang’s bike life.
During the last few years I’ve had an occasional niggle with saddle discomfort on my left side and I’ve never really got to the source of the problem. When it flared up, I would experience a gnawing, dull pain, which would kick in after around two hours on the bike, with this always worse on flatter rides. Changing to a Selle Italia Diva saddle a few years ago helped, along with getting a sports massage every few weeks. But after a change in bike, the niggle reared its head again. With a three-week cycling trip to the Pyrenees looming, I booked a full bike fit plus saddle-pressure mapping at Cyclefit Manchester to try and solve the problem once and for all.
What is Cyclefit?
Cyclefit was started by Julian Wall and Phil Cavell, both racers who suffered injuries that halted their racing careers in the 1990s. Back then, there were few specialists dedicated to the science of bike fit, so they knew there was a gap in the market. After several years of study, including training at the Serotta Bike Fit Academy in New York, Cyclefit was born in London in 2002. Based in Covent Garden, this was Europe's first outlet dedicated specifically to bike fit.
The team provide a complete service, including physiotherapy, rehab related fitting, coaching, sports nutrition and acupuncture – all in conjunction with the bike fit. Lots of the pro’s swear by it, with Olympic champion, Elinor Barker, cyclocross super-woman Helen Wyman, the Matrix Pro Cycling squad and Drops Cycling Team on their glowing client list.
My Cyclefit Experience
The Cyclefit booking process is simple. You can do it online or over the telephone and slots are available throughout the day. Although it’s not essential to take your bike with you, it’s helpful as it means that any adjustments can be made on the day.
I arrived at Cyclefit Manchester with my bike, cycling shorts, jersey and shoes. To kick things off, I had a quick cuppa with Jess, the trained Cyclefit technician who would carry out my fit. She then interviewed me to get a clear picture of me as a rider: the type of cycling I do, frequency of riding, any specific reasons for having the fit, injury history etc.
After that, we moved onto the physical evaluation, which involved taking measurements (e.g. leg length, hamstring length, hip flexion etc), and being asked to perform certain subtle movements to assess core stability, flexibility and posture. My feet were also closely examined.
Then it was onto the rig to start the bike fit. By this point I was dotted in stickers, which are used to track your movement during the assessment and fitting process. This uses some impressively complex technology with a preposterously silly name to boot. I give you, Dartfish 4-Camera HD Motion Analysis.
The rig was set up to replicate my current bike position and I was asked to start pedalling. There I was, on TV! Jess watched me pedal for several minutes and made small adjustments to my setup. Then, the saddle pressure map appeared on screen. This was the real eye opener for me. The red areas indicated where pressure was high. You would expect to see higher levels where the sit bones are, but there it was, a tiny blob of red on the left a little behind my sit bone, exactly where I had experienced that gnawing ache, intermittently over the years. I loved seeing, and feeling part of the science, and all I could think of was “Why on earth did I not do this years ago?”
Jess then looked at my shoes to check the cleat position. I’d previously read that that the optimum position for cleats is under the ball of the foot. However, using the Cyclefit model, my cleats were deemed to be a a couple of millimetres too far forward.
A thin wedge called a shim was placed under my left cleat. I hopped back onto the rig, pedalled for a little while and another pressure reading was taken. The areas of high pressure had reduced significantly, and the evil red blob had disappeared!
According to the science, I have a very small leg length discrepancy and a slightly tilted pelvis on my left side – all of which has contributed to this niggle. It was a revelation to see the difference the adjusted cleat position and shim had made.
Next, I had my custom footbed fitting. A Sidas custom foot-bed is basically a science powered insert for your shoe. This is moulded by your Cyclefit Technician and primarily seeks to reflect your foot structure and shape.
I’ve got very flat feet (or ‘pronated’ if you want to use the fancy medical term), so the customised footbed provides me with good arch support.
Once my footbeds were ready I was back onto the rig again to finalise my positioning and then I was done.
Results on the road
The following day I rode more than 100 miles in the Peak District, with no niggling pain on my left side. That distance isn’t really recommended straight after a fitting – but I was desperate to get out on the road and try out the new position.
Although my actual bike measurements didn’t change hugely, the major benefit was in the technology – especially the saddle pressure mapping – and the trained eyes of the bike-fit team. The subtleties of saddle pressure are impossible to realise without that expert know-how.
I've ridden some long distances since having the fit, achieving my record distance of a 150-mile ride, as well as some very long days on the bike in the mountains. To do this pain-free is simply superb. Having put up with a rather grumpy Emma on several rides in the past, my partner Grant can also vouch for the fact that this has been a hugely beneficial experience.
At the time of writing, the price for a full bike fit, with saddle pressure mapping at Cyclefit Manchester is £225.00. So, was it worth it? Yes. Yes. Yes.