Winter, or for the seasoned racers out there - the "off-season" is a perfect time to look at shoe fit and bike positioning as usually there is a bit more opportunity with little racing or events. Typically, the winter months are used for ramping up the training in readiness for the following years' goals and for those lucky enough, like the boys of the Nuun-Sigma Sport-London racing team, it's a time to get familiarised with new kit, such as bikes and shoes.
The most crucial contact points between the bicycle and the body are the feet, the hands and of course, the rear end. Poorly sized or positioned cycling shoes, a riding position that creates pressure and an incorrectly fitted or sized saddle can all be very uncomfortable, cause unnecessary fatigue and lead to injury.
Having received my team issue Cannondale Supersix Evo Hi-Mod race bike, Mavic Cosmic Pro Road Shoes and Fabric saddle it was time for me to book in with James in the bike fit studio for a session going over my set up head to toe - or more accurately, toe to bum.
The session began by going over my riding history and physical condition so that James could understand what type of rider he was dealing with. James also assessed my range of movement and history of injury to complete the picture ahead of looking at my equipment set up. Then it was time to jump on the bike fit rig which had been accurately set up to my current position.
First to be scrutinised was my shoe fit as this is where the power is transferred to the bike but also to which there are several joints and moving parts connected. For me, the majority of the session was focused on setting up my shoes to fit my foot profile, biomechanics and riding style to maximise power output and transfer and minimise/mitigate future injury.
Using the very high-tech saddle pressure mapping tool, James next looked at my saddle type and my position on the saddle. Being able to see the pressure points, we were then able to tweak my shoe fit to allow me to sit on the saddle so as to minimise pressure. Also, as I ride a significant amount of track where you typically spend a lot of time riding on the nose of the saddle, James recommended I switch to a Fabric saddle which has a groove down the middle. The aim, being to alleviate pressure when riding in this position on the track.
Using the studio's video analysis equipment, James was able to record and assess my overall riding position looking at saddle height, set-back (how far the saddle is behind the crank), reach and handlebar drop. Any adjustments made could be recorded and played back to compare with the previous setup in addition to looking at any loss or gain in power via the rig's integrated power meter. Much more advanced than someone closing one eye and saying "yeah, looks about right".
The session was methodical, working through riding history and physical ability, assessing and adjusting the crucial contact points then adjusting the overall bicycle position to what I needed it for i.e. racing.
Bike fit benefits
As I have multiple bikes and cycling shoes the process allowed me to set up and adjust all my equipment, as switching regularly between bikes and shoes, which are all different, can cause physical problems especially during periods of intense training.
In addition, the process follows a set of rules, techniques as well as James' own experience. When looking at saddle height, James initially recommended increasing the saddle height in order to increase power output and efficiency in my pedal stroke. However, as I have a couple of deteriorated discs in my lower back, putting the saddle up puts too much pressure on my lower back. As a result, James was satisfied that my current saddle height was optimal for my biomechanics. It was good to know that the process was reactive as well as prescribed.
The saddle pressure mapping was also really useful in identifying where the pressure was and following adjustments in the shoe fit this was significantly reduced. A change in saddle type for the track would also further alleviate pressure in this area.
Having had major surgery in January 2016, I explained to James that the main focus of the fit was on shoe fit and hip angle as well as protecting my lower back. Most of this was achieved by adjusting the shoes (cleat position, insoles, packing, wedging etc).
I naturally pronate (weak foot arches) and therefore I need a lot of arch support and wedging of the shoe and cleat. We spent the majority of the session looking at this area and how the shoe fit supports the knee and hip joint. One of the main changes was bringing the shoes closer to the crank arms by moving the cleat with the aim being to support the hips and maximise power output.
After a thorough assessment of my riding position, no other changes were made as James was satisfied that my bike was set up optimally for my current biomechanics and riding activity.
Post bike fit
Post the fit all my bikes and shoes are set up exactly the same, which is very important. The set up of my shoes feels excellent. There are no pressure points and all the power is being transferred into the bike. Following the bike fitting session, my training schedule really ramped up.
In the past, such an increase would have caused me to get niggles such as sore knees and lower back but I have been able to keep to my training regime without a problem. I have been racing on the track throughout the winter and a change to the grooved saddle has been noticeable during longer track races.
There are many schools of thought when it comes to bike fitting however with the right equipment and experienced fitter, a bike and shoe fitting session will benefit every type of cyclist.
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