Matt Willis writes…
Cyclefit are the Holborn-based fixers of everything relating to getting the perfect fit between bike and rider.
More than that, they look at the complete biomechanics of riding a bike and, starting from a vaguely clean sheet of paper, sort you and your bike out to get the best out of every sinew and avoid the damage that repeatedly cycling with an incorrect position can do over long periods of time.
That’s the theory. I had heard mixed things about the Cyclefit experience. Those who had gone to the London shop, tucked away between Kingsway and Drury Lane, seem to swear by it.
Alternatively, some riders dislike the sometimes unconventional position you can end up with. A correspondent in Cycling Plus switched to a longer stem almost immediately after having his fitting. ‘They set you up like a postman’ moaned a well known local rider and bike shop proprietor who, admittedly, was trying to sell me an alternative fitting service. And then there’s the price. The basic service comes in at £150, a lot of money when others are offering a jig fitting for a few quid, or free when you buy a bike from them (though to be fair to Cyclefit the price of a fitting is written off against the cost of a new bike if you buy a bike there). Even though the service claims to be nothing if not comprehensive, it seems like a big layout.
Still, my back problems had been getting steadily worse and I was getting a new road bike this year, so decided to take the plunge. That way I would at least know I was not doing myself any further damage.
I arrived at the shop just before my 5pm appointment (handily, I work just around the corner). I had already filled out a form listing various sundries like my fitness level, ability level and weight, after which I felt like crawling under the nearest paving slab. Still, I was here now and might as well get the benefit.
After I had changed into bib shorts and jersey, a few basic measurements were taken – already revealing the root of a potential problem. My right leg is apparently slightly shorter than my left. No big surprise there – most people have one leg longer than the other but as Jules, my fitter for the evening, points out, bicycles are generally symmetrical and humans generally not, so it doesn’t make too much sense to put the two together without making a few adjustments first. Before I hit the jig, it is revealed that I have collapsed arches and my forefeet both tilt, and the underside of that paving slab is looking quite appealing again.
The jig is set up roughly to my dimensions and already I can see that the set up I come away with would not be how I would have instinctively arranged my bike. Apparently I have long femurs, so the seat angle is looking drunkenly slack – 72.4deg apparently. As I am a shortarse, most bikes in my sort of size have seat angles of 74 degrees or more. I get pedalling on the jig, making the most of a free turbo session, while every so often, Jules makes some measurements with a collection of gadgets ranging from a huge protractor to gauge the angle of my knees at various points in the pedal stroke, to a laser plumb line that allows Jules to see any lateral movement in my knees. Progressively, changes to my position are made as a result. In addition, I tended to pedal a bit ‘toe down’ so I was losing the benefit of ankle leverage.
Various problems cannot be sorted with the normal range of adjustments in the jig, or a bike for that matter. As my right leg is shorter than my left it appears that as I was getting onto the downstroke with my right leg, my hip was tipping downward to compensate which was causing (or contributing to) the back pain. The front parts of my feet are tilted as well, the right more than the left, and there are also those collapsed arches to think about. This has led to me scrunching my toes up and trying to twist my foot to support my feet while riding, almost without me noticing. Thinking about the energy it must have taken to tense those muscles for the duration of a road race or time trial, I am beginning to think optimistically again. I have also been losing a lot of energy with the arch collapsing on each pedal stroke, so not only might the fitting help with the back problems, it could help me ride faster as well.
The solutions seem almost petty. Two slim plastic LeMond wedges and a shim are placed under my right cleat, and one wedge under my left, and my cleats are repositioned so there is a vertical line between knee and foot centre. Jules also recommends some footbeds which go inside the shoe and support the arch. Custom insoles are available, moulded to the feet, but Jules thinks I’ll be fine with some off the shelf ones which are mercifully much cheaper.
A bit of a test with these and it’s basically all over. Sounds simple, but the session lasted a good two hours getting everything just right, and putting both me and Jules thoroughly though our paces.
At the end of the session, Jules gives me a set of dimensions to apply to my bikes including bar height and width, reach, saddle height and setback, and an ‘ideal’ bike size (apparently I am a good case for a custom bike!! This isn’t going to happen anytime soon). Added to the set up on my shoes, these should give me years of, I hope, trouble free riding.
A few weeks on, and I have set my time trial bike up as close to the Cyclefit ideal and ridden one event (the SCA 2-up time trial). Unfortunately, it’s impossible to get the front as high as they recommend without new aero bars, so I have not been able to fully road test the position, nor will I be able to until my road frame comes back from Condors’ paint shop. Still, the initial signs are good. My back problems have lessened, and I feel like I am putting more power into the bike. My knees definitely ‘wobble’ less and I am no longer scrunching my toes to try and stabilise my feet. I’ve not seen a return of the hideous foot cramp I used to get after every intense ride so fingers crossed (and toes uncrossed) I have put paid to that as well. All-in-all, it seems like a highly worthwhile experience indeed. The more you ride, the more use the service will be, and let’s be honest, how many of us have spent many times the £165 (basic price plus footbeds) that I spent on bike-related ‘bling’ that hasn’t made us go any faster or feel any more comfortable on the bike? This is one upgrade that most people could do with.