The perfect fit: Bike Science talk cycle fitting
To mark the end of Bike Week The MALESTROM is putting the focus on fitting. It’s sometimes overlooked just how important getting the right bike fit for your size and range of motion is. In fact there’s a surprising number of factors to get right so that the set up of your cycle is perfect for you. We spoke to former ironman triathlete Andy Sexton, owner of Bike Science Ltd in Bristol about how to get the perfect fit.
The MALESTROM: Why do we need to get a bike fitting?
Andy: There’s a few key factors. Firstly to increase your comfort when cycling. It helps boost your performance and also cuts down the risk of injury in cyclists.
TM: What bike size is the right size?
A: Our advice is always to ask around riders and clubs in your local area to see which shops or bike fitters have a good reputation. Ideally you should look for someone who can offer you the service of sitting you on a fitting jig (an adjustable fitting bike) and using that to advise on which makes and models would work for you best. You’ll find each brand will often offer a number of bikes at your price point with differing geometries that will fit different shapes of rider.
I’m not a strong believer in suggesting a bike size just based on height and leg length as there’s so much more involved in selecting the right bike. Your posture, flexibility and how you sit on the bike will make a huge difference in which bike will work for you.
TM: How do you know if the bike you’re riding fits?
A: Our key pointers are that, above all else, you are balanced and relaxed on the bike. I look to distribute your weight in such a way that you don’t have to push with your hands to maintain your riding position. Weight too far forward will often result in rigid arms and shoulders, painful neck and hands.
Think about it in this way – if you pose (off the bike) in a position that looks like you’re riding your bike, then gradually move your weight forward, eventually you will fall on your face unless you do something about it. What most people will do on a road bike if their weight is too far forward on the bike is lock out their arms and shoulders and use them as ‘props’. It’s really hard to relax in this position. When you’re pedalling (especially when going hard) you should almost reach the point where you want to pull on the bars rather than pushing on them.
TM: One common complaint for cyclists is pain from one side of their seat/ sit bones. What’s the reason for this?
A: We would suggest checking your strength and flexibility off the bike, as well as looking for possible signs of leg length difference. The first place to look is to see how balanced you are when it comes to flexibility. If you do a single leg hamstring and glute stretch, are you equally as flexible on both sides of your body? We often see riders who show large asymmetries on the physio bench exhibit large asymmetries on the bike. When stretching keep in mind how symmetrical you are. If you find you’re consistently tighter in one area than other, stretch that area more.
TM: Back pain is another major issue …
A: Lower back pain can be caused by a number of different things. Firstly it’s worth eliminating other ‘lifestyle’ factors – desk / chair set up at work, driving position etc. If you feel that it’s only really riding that’s causing the pain, then during a fitting session, we’re really looking at your posture on the bike to see what might be causing the issue. The assumption most riders make is that if their back hurts, they should put a shorter higher stem on the bike. This can work, but certainly not always.
We have seen cases of lower back pain on bikes both too big and too small. One of the main things I’m looking for when fitting a rider is that they are relaxed whilst in each riding position. I’ll often find that pain (be it back pain, neck pain, pain in the hands etc) is caused by the rider being off balance on the bike. By this I don’t mean they keep falling off, but that that their weight is positioned on the bike in such a way that they need a significant amount of muscular effort to maintain their riding position. Often getting the saddle position (height and fore/aft) is the key to unlocking a relaxed position and curing all kinds of pain.