In most aspects of life we want a proper fit. Shoes, clothes, and a good bike is no different. The bike fitting process is a little more involved than buying a medium shirt or size 9 shoes. In this week’s blog we’re examining the process of getting fit to your bike by a professional bike fitter. We sat down with Ryan Ignatz of Colorado Multisport to talk about the basics of a bike fit, commonly encountered injuries, and how a proper fitting can help. We also cover a few basic exercises to do at home to help with those injuries.
Basics of fit
BSC- What is a bike fit? Why should I get a professional fit?
RI- The purpose of a bike fit is to maximize efficiency, power, comfort, and sustainability to meet your goals while reducing the chance for injury. If you’re a beginner, a weekend warrior, or a professional the goal of the fit is the same, but the outcome or position may be different. Small details really matter in the fit world and a trained professional is more capable of seeing the details for each individual and providing a better outcome.
BSC- When should I get a bike fit?
RI- The short answer is sooner than later. There are benefits to doing it both in season and out of season. If you get fit in the off season, you have a place to start and adapt into. You can start with a clean slate and begin to find your form with that position, while also having time to make changes if needed. However, if you get a bike fit in season, you typically have ridden enough to immediately feel the difference in positional or equipment changes. One downside to in season fitting is that you may need to back off your training intensity or volume to reduce the chance for injury as your body adapts to the changes in position.
BSC- Who needs a bike fit?
RI- Everyone who rides a bike can benefit from some level of fit. As you ride more frequently or for longer distances, it becomes more imperative to work with a professional fitter. Bikes are designed by manufacturers to fit a range of people based on general “normalized values” for a given rider height. This creates a loose starting point, or bike size, to mold or alter and fit you well. I would take each rider’s body dimensions, strengths, flexibility, and goals into account and tailor the bike to fit the individual rider.
BSC- What are some indications that I need to get my fit updated?
RI- Pain is the biggest factor in driving someone to get a bike fit. If you’re feeling soreness or pain consistently in the same spot while riding, something isn’t working right.
If you have a new injury that has changed your flexibility, strength, or range of motion - a new fit can help accommodate that.
If you’ve recently changed parts on your bike - new handlebars, pedals, cleats, etc., a new fit or check up is a good idea. Additionally, if you have tried multiple attempts to solve a problem with the same fitter, move onto another fitter who may mesh your needs better.
BSC- What is a typical fit session like?
RI- On the first visit of a typical fit, I’m going to try to learn about you and your body. The goal with the bike fit is to match your bike to your body, not changing your body to match your bike. To do this, I need to learn about you, your body, and how you use it. We’re going to start with a conversation to learn about what you’re doing on a daily basis, what a typical day at work is like (do you sit all day, are you working a physical repetitive job, etc). We talk about your injury history on and off the bike and your cycling goals. Are you looking to finish your first century, win your next triathlon, or are you looking to ride pain free on the weekends?
Next, we move on to a body assessment. This involves doing testing of flexibility, testing strength, looking at your bone structure, and seeing how you move. I then get you on the bike and start looking at your current setup. Using the Retul motion capture sensors, I can take precise values of different angles of your body while you ride. At the same time, I record some video of your current position to establish a baseline.
Now I can start making some changes and letting you test the feel. We then get to a starting position that you can go ride over the next few weeks. Based on how that goes and what position we end up with, we set up a time to follow up and make micro adjustments if needed.
What makes Ryan and Colorado Multisport different?
Ryan uses a teaching approach to give you a better overall experience. He is a former instructor for bike fitting, uses a similar approach as he did to teaching other bike fitters. He takes the time to thoroughly explain what he is doing and why. If you can understand what the goal is and what you should feel, you’re going to have a better experience.
Ryan has a Masters Degree in Anatomy and Physiology which gives him a higher understanding of biomechanics and anatomy. Combining years of experience in bike fitting, knowledge of the human anatomy, knowledge of bike fitting, and experience as an elite racer himself - Ryan provides the best bike fitting experience Boulder has to offer.
Most common injuries seen from poor fit
One of the most common injuries we see is saddle discomfort. This is a broad category that can be characterized in a few different forms. In the saddle discomfort category we have: soft tissue or bone pressure, numbness, and consistent chafing in the same spot. These are resultant of poor body/saddle interaction. When the contact between the two surfaces don’t agree, you get the symptoms.
A bike fit can help fix this in a few ways. First we look at your posture and positioning on the bike to see if we can fix it with modifying your position to put you in the best spot. There are different anatomical reasons we could be suffering from these injuries. In our body assessment we may encounter an anatomical difference in leg length, a functional imbalance, or an injury leading to a change in the way we use our body on the bike. We will address this as best as possible during the fit process.
If that doesn’t solve the issue we will use a special tool to measure your sit bones. Often riders are using a saddle that doesn’t match their anatomy. If we can find a saddle with the proper width and placement, we can relieve the pressure. At CMS we have a large demo saddle collection to find the right saddle for you and allow you to test it, ensuring the right solution for you.
Low Back Pain
Low back pain with riding is another frequent complaint and a big reason to come in to get fit properly. In these situations we typically see the rider in a position where the saddle height or reach-to-the-bars is off. Often the weight and center of gravity is in the wrong place causing excessive strain in the pelvis or lower back. In the fit process we need to first uncover any body assessment issues such as flexibility limits, anatomical differences side to side, and injury history before getting into position modification. Sometimes a leg length issue or a saddle compatibility issue can be the underlying cause. These are things we can uncover in the body assessment and make appropriate changes to the bike.
We make the necessary positional adjustments to the bike to restore a better center of gravity. Finally, we must be sure that we have the correct posture in order to fire appropriate muscles and decrease any pelvic tilting or twisting that may lead to pain.
Neck pain is another frequent complaint of a poor bike fit. This typically stems from a position that is too long or too low in the front end. Often we see a rider trying to match his body to an aggressive bike position. If you are over stretched because the bars are too far forward or your bars are too low, you force your neck to work harder than it wants to. The muscles strain to allow you to look forward - leading to pain. In a bike fit we’re going to make some changes to those two areas to relieve the strain.
Knee pain, typically on the front of the knee, is a very common injury we see from a bad bike position. This injury or symptom can be from quite a few causes, so we start by getting each rider to a neutral fit. Anterior knee pain can be caused by repetition in a bad position, muscle imbalance, discrepancy of anatomy, or lack of gluteal engagement which may require coaching on posture/engagement or changing position to help engage the glute.
If you’re experiencing pain resulting from a poor bike fit, no amount of exercising or strengthening is going to fix the problem. While it may relieve symptoms, if you never address the “WHY”, each time you get back on your bike, you are aggravating the problem leading to a flare up.
We’ve drawn up some basic exercises to help relieve some of the symptoms associated with each condition. You can use these home exercises to augment the fit process - getting you out of pain ASAP and back to riding with a smile. Of course, every rider is different and every injury has its own circumstances. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with Boulder Sports Chiropractic for a full evaluation and get a plan to fix your injuries.