Last February I bought my first road bike and I was hooked instantly. I started grabbing every chance I could to hop on my bike, and I was a little happier after each ride.
I also came across a great deal of discomfort.
First I had a stinging pain in my left knee, which turned out to be the result of a crooked shoe plate pushing my foot inward. Then I started to experience an ache in both my knees, which I could only relieve by gearing up while riding. Not ideal. I found out that more people experienced this and was advised to put my saddle up a bit. Thankfully, that made the pain go away.
Next I started experiencing a dull ache in my lower back in the days following a long ride. But I believed it was just part of deal and did not let it put me off cycling. I had also read that many cyclists experience all sorts of discomfort when they first start cycling lots. I figured that I had probably cycles a bit too much too soon and the pain would disappear. But it didn’t.
I don’t give in easily, and I’m not squeamish when it comes to pain. So when I started growling when I had been standing for too long, and requesting regular massages, my boyfriend decided to take charge. He gave me a professional bike fitting for my birthday.
The bike fitting
In November, nine months after buying my road bike, I finally took it to Mechanieker to let Anno Pieterse, one of the four SICI certified bike fitters in the Netherlands, check it out. Or more accurately, to get us checked out.
After the introduction, I was asked to sit on a piece of ribbed cardboard to measure the distance between my seat bones. Anno then pulled, bent and pushed my limbs to test my body’s flexibility, responsiveness and my core strength. He made notes after every exercise and let me know my values were mostly average. In this case that was good news.
Then I got on the fitting bike. Anno wheeled the saddle and handlebar position up and down and front to back to find the perfect bike settings for my riding style. He would ask me if I could feel the difference between one setting and the other, and occasionally it was too hard to tell. Some adjustments are so slight you won’t feel the difference until you go for a long ride. But thankfully, Anno can tell which settings worked best by all the data he was collecting. I could just sit there and pedal away, while he was making calculations and drawing conclusions.
The bike fitters conclusion
It turns out my frame is a bit too long for my height, which was forcing me to stretch too far (hence the back pain). Anno solved this by fitting my bike with a shorter stem and adjusting the position of my saddle, lowing it 0,5 cm and moving it closer to my handlebars by 1 cm. The difference in my saddle height and handlebar height (the drop) was now increased by 1 cm. My shoe plates were slightly adjusted to fix my feet closer to my crank closer to my frame and I got some pads for extra support in the balls of my feet. And to top it off I decided to buy a new saddle, a Selle SMP Drakon, after trying the slight more firm SMP Dynamic first.
Towards the end of the session Anno presented a before and after picture of my position on the bike (see picture above). It was obvious that I looked a lot more comfortable in the second image and it’s not just from the expression on my face. Anno told me my grades were now looking really good. I could see and feel how my position was optimized to my bike frame, making me more comfortable. Being aligned to my frame like this also improved my pedal pushing power, and made my rotation smoother.
I wasn’t sure about bike fittings. I had read somewhere that fittings are overrated and that you are the best judge of which bike position is most suited to you. Whoever wrote that must not have been to a professional bike fitter, like my new hero Anno. The fitting was all about how I felt on the bike. I am the expert when it comes to my body, and Anno is the expert when it comes to bike positions. Our combined knowledge was needed to find the perfect fit.
I now ride without pain and more power efficient than before. I used to move my head up and down like Froome, to relieve my neck, but that’s not necessary anymore. Maybe Froome should go and see Anno too.
My new saddle is quite a breakthrough too, for I don’t shift around as much as I did. This reduces saddle pain and energy waste. To sum it up, I now feel like a well-oiled cycle machine.
The adjustments made to my bike were quite major, even though I’d been riding it comfortably enough for more than half a year. But even with slight adjustments, I believe every cyclist can benefit from a bike fitting done by a professional in some way. You will learn about yourself as a cyclist and discover things about your riding style you never knew. And it is likely you will ride more comfortably and consciously after the fitting.
No pain, no pain
The most important lesson is that you shouldn’t keep riding uncomfortably. I know that there are plenty of stubborn girls like me who won’t submit to pain and ignore their body’s signals.
To them and everyone else riding a bike: don’t wait, get an appointment with a professional fitter and find your optimal bike position. Pain-free smooth cycling is worth it.