IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE! Why bike fitting is all about the rider

by

Many people think bike fitting is just about the bike.  Wrong!  By itself, setting the bike up correctly doesn’t mean that you’ll start winning races or beating your mates in the weekly bunch ride, although some improvements in performance do occur.  Just like winning a race has everything to do with the rider and very little to do with the bike (despite marketing hype from bike manufacturers to the contrary!), positioning is all about the rider. 

In achieving a great position on the bike, there are always at least two big aims: the obvious one is to adjust the bike to fit the rider… FOR WHERE THEIR BODY IS AT THE MOMENT.  The goal that people often fail to consider is to help the rider develop the ability to achieve a great body position.  In other words the rider may need to develop their own physical capacity in order to achieve a great position.  A great body position involves good posture, flexibility and stability of the torso and pelvis.  Your body position on the bike can affect aerodynamics, injury risk and general comfort, as well as how the workload of generating power is shared between the various leg muscles (such as quads, gluts, hamstrings). In fact there are many types of bike-related symptoms that a bike fit alone simply cannot fix - for issues mentioned above such as tightness, weakness or poor postural stability, again the rider needs to develop their own physical capacity in order to achieve a great position and relieve symptoms.

Let me give you a few examples to illustrate the point. 

Rider Posture:  if you ride with your back excessively rounded it can impact your ability to breathe which can impair your performance.  It also prevents you from properly activating your core muscles like the abdominals and back extensors, which increases the risk of back injury.  Note that in the photos below the bike set-up has NOT changed – the only difference is the riders choice of posture. You could work at your abs for months but have very little impact if your posture on the bike is wrong.

 

Rider Flexibility: if you lack flexibility you simply can’t get into enough hip flexion and upper back extension to be aerodynamic without causing massive flexion in your back.  If you race, this places you at a disadvantage when compared to those competitors who have developed their posture for aero positioning.  Adequate flexibility also helps you to recruit your gluts properly which can enhance your power output.

 

Riders Core Strength: a consistent observation at Cycle Physio is that cyclists with poor core stability tend to rock in the saddle and have a higher incidence of back pain and saddle sores.  An unstable pelvis that is rocking or wobbling all over the saddle also implies that power is being wasted – wasted on distorting your skeleton instead of being transferred to the pedals to make you go faster.  This pattern can, not surprisingly, lead to pain.  THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST COMMON ISSUES I SEE DAILY, AND ONE OF THE MOST COMMON ISSUES CYCLISTS IGNORE TO THEIR DETRIMENT. 



Clearly one of the most important things for a serious cyclist is to work on is their own positioning.  Is your musculoskeletal system functional enough to sit straight on the bike and apply power to the pedals with a stable torso and pelvis?  Are you flexible enough to get into a competitive aerodynamic position that generates maximum power?  Can you do all of this with minimal effort of the core or torso musculature? 

These factors make a difference to your performance and position.  They directly affect your bike set-up and the position that your body can achieve without developing pain or other symptoms such as numbness.  Developing the rider’s musculoskeletal attributes is an important concept worth introducing to developing and junior athletes and the social rider as early as possible. 

If you race, forget the expensive race wheels or TT rig until you know you have a body to create and handle the extra power.  A program tailored to you as an individual is something a Sports Physiotherapist such as David Wadsworth at Cycle Physio or an Exercise Physiologist can design specifically for you (just picking a few things at random off the internet sadly won't cut the mustard).