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Bike Fitting & Aftermath

by on May 25, 2011

Monday afternoon I rode to Bike Doctor for a professional bike fitting. While I’ve ridden this bike over 8,200 miles, I had only had it “eyeballed” for fit. I occasionally get numb hands, and in pictures I look like the bike just doesn’t fit.

Steve, the owner of Bike Doctor, takes 45-60 minutes to measure leg angles and carefully watch the body position on the bike to optimize the fit. There are two options for this (as I understand it). One uses a computer, the other uses Steve’s expertise. I chose Steve (and the cheaper option).

We set my bike up on the trainer, I climbed aboard, and the process started with me pedaling and getting into my routine position. As we moved through the major points of adjustment, tweaking began. First, the seat was raised about 1 cm (a pretty significant distance) to get my legs in the proper position. This included the hip to knee to ankle angle measurements. Steve wanted to raise the seat just a little higher, but I resisted because I was already feeling as though I was reaching a bit on the pedal stroke. Now, the nose of the seat needed to be leveled. It was pointed slightly downward, and was probably the source of the numb hands. When the seat was leveled, I felt uncomfortable pressure in the front of the saddle. We backed it off one notch for now. I’ll likely have to try to ride with it flattened again after I’m accustomed to this seat height.

Steve then carefully suspended a weight on a line from my knee to just above my foot, to determine the proper seat position, front to back. The seat was adjusted about 1 cm back on the rails. Moving me up and back now meant I was reaching quite a bit forward. Steve removed my 90 mm stem and replaced it with an 80 mm stem. At the same time, it looked like he dropped a 5mm spacer off the headset. He would have liked to use a 70 mm stem, but believed that changed the cockpit configuration too much and would impair handling. As it is, I can just barely see the front hub over top of the handlebars as I’m in position, so I’d have to agree with him.

Steve cautioned me that these were big changes to the fit and would take some time to get accustomed to them. He urged me to get some miles in before my 200k on Friday, and in fact, seemed hesitant about my riding the 200k. I assured him that I’d get some miles in.

Riding the bike back home, I could feel the difference in the fit. Certainly the pedal stroke felt longer. There is a little bit more of a reach for me, which as I’ve ridden now about 70 miles in this configuration, I notice that I’m likely going to need to use some lube in my shorts, especially on the 200k. Balance is fine. After my first 20 miles, I had some tired muscles in areas that had never really been stressed before.

But the thing I notice most is the increase in speed. I’m estimating that it has boosted my speed by as much as 1 mph. Is this just in my head? Maybe. But I’m going faster with the same amount of effort. Others have commented on the increased speed too. The jury is still out on the hills, unless we are talking about the “rollers”. This morning, I was 2 mph faster on my test hill than I’ve gone before. Several weeks ago I was struggling to make 16 mph all the way up the hill. Last week, I had increased that to 19 – 19.5. This morning I was 21.5 mph up this same hill. Yes, I’m working on strength training and I’m riding regularly, but this jump is quick and noticeable.

Unfortunately, I’ve got hands that are going numb more quickly with this set up. I’ll see how I do on the 200k with frequent hand position changes. I may have to put the nose of the seat up the one notch, or go visit Steve again to find a solution to this.

This adjustment has been good. I think with a couple of little tweaks for hand numbness, I’ll be calling this money well spent.

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