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A Good Bike Fit is One of the Most Efficient Ways
to Improve Cycling Performance

By Dirk Friel - Rocky Mountain Sports

With spring on the horizon and no more excuses for winter hibernation, cyclists are coming out of their dens to once again focus on another cycling season.

Those looking to notch things up will most likely start to lay out their annual training plan, which helps to ensure they reach their race goals throughout the season.

However, before focusing your energy and resources toward improving areas such as endurance, power and lactate threshold, start off the season by making sure your time on the bike is spent as effectively as possible.

How to accomplish this? With a bike fit.

Within all of the areas that a cyclist can improve, the one area that is vastly ignored is simple economy, i.e., how effectively you pedal a bike.

Most cyclists can dramatically improve their race times through lower relative heart rates, increased power output, and have less overuse injuries if they improve their economy. But one of the simplest ways to improve economy is by having your bike position analyzed through a bike fit.

A simple 90-minute professional bike fit evaluation could produce the same gains as spending a month or more of training on the bike.

Not just for newbies

Don’t think of a bike fit as a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the newbie. Even Lance Armstrong spends time analyzing his bike fit every year during the winter. Now if Lance still has room for improvement, just imagine what a bike fit can do for you.

Wes Hobson, an ex-pro triathlete and coach, explains, “A lot of people I see out training have a major flaw somewhere within their bike position that can easily be corrected with the right expert advice.”

Over the years, I’ve visited my fair share of bike fit experts here in the Front Range of Colorado. Each one gave me expert advice and feedback that advanced my economy and, effectively, my fitness.

My most recent visit was with Annie Sirotniak of Integrated Cycle Fit in Boulder. She has a wealth of world-class athletic experience, having been a professional road and mountain bike racer with results that include finishing the Tour De France Feminin.

Sirotniak is also a certified physical therapist and has over nine years of experience in orthopedics. Her protocol for a bike fit doesn’t start how you might imagine it would.

Sirotniak explains how she doesn’t ask people to just hop on their bikes and start evaluating and changing positions. She first needs to see the whole picture, which includes strength and flexibility tests.

“Two people could be the exact same height and yet have major differences in how I set up their bike," she says. "Strength and flexibility tests help me to determine what issues to address in terms of their bike dimensions. I take into account their individuality."

Sirotniak put me through a battery of tests to assess my strength, flexibility and biomechanics in several key areas. She took the time to analyze my pelvic alignment, leg length comparison, hamstrings, glutes, back, hip flexors and foot alignment.

By simply observing how my body naturally moves, Sirotniak was formulating in her head how my bike might look, and be formed, to mold with my unique biomechanics.

Some of the issues she found and pointed out to me had to do with strength in my glutes. My glutes are relatively weak, and within the down-stroke motion misfire in relation to my hamstrings. Sirotniak was pointed out to me how improvements in strength and timing of my muscles could dramatically improve my cycling.

If you get a bike fit performed, expect to learn a great deal about things you’ve never noticed before. Through my bike fit experiences I’ve learned that I have a larger-than-normal leg-length discrepancy, which warrants a shim between one of my cleats and the shoe. Each expert I have visited has also been in agreement that I have a hip rotation that can be compensated for with changes in my cleat alignment.

By slowly integrating these changes into my cycling biomechanics I have no doubt that my economy has improved. I am sure my power has increased, and at the same time, lowered my relative heart rate at the same workload.

Another, often overlooked, benefit to having a bike fit conducted is the reduced-injury aspect. I have had the fortune to be injury-free through my years of cycling and I directly owe much of that fortune to the numerous bike fits I have sought out.

Learn about your bike, too

During a bike fit, not only will you become more aware of your body, but you’ll also learn about the bike you have chosen to ride.

Jack Turner of Pro Peloton explains, “Most riders don’t know how a proper bike fit should feel, so they just have no idea if they are doing something wrong or not.”

Turner explains that common areas of improvement are many times related to the fact that commercially available bikes tend to have long top tubes. This makes the rider reach and stretch too far. Many of the cyclists he evaluates also have their saddles positioned too low, which can dramatically reduce their peak power output.

Turner often recommends changing the stem length on a bike from what it originally came with. Customizing the stem and saddle height before a bike sells is very easy and has many benefits to the customer. A simple 1- or 2-centimeter change in stem length can dramatically improve the rider's comfort and cycling enjoyment.

The break-in period

If you decide to get a bike fit, don’t turn around the next day and race all-out. Do your body a favor and take it easy at first to allow for adaptation. Your joints and muscles need a “break-in” period to ensure injuries don’t appear. A bike fit can certainly make you faster, but only after your body has gotten used to the new position.

The best time of year to seek out a bike fit is during the lower-volume training periods. Fall and winter months tend to be the best times. Consider scheduling your bike fit at the beginning of a rest period so you can spend a planned rest week playing with your new set-up. This will give you time to adapt before the next training cycle begins.

Once you’ve gotten used to your new position, you will hopefully see improvements in economy almost overnight, with absolutely no additional training hours. It can feel very exciting to have gotten faster in a painless manner. Now you can make those road miles even more effective.

Minimum fees for bike fitting can range from less than $50 to $100 or more, depending on the services offered. Many bike shops will give you a discount on bike fits if you purchase a bike from them.

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