Cycling with a niggle in your knee, or a pain in your neck? Ignore it at your peril.
Natalie Creswick, rider with Team Mule Bar Girl - Sigma Sport, reveals from her own experience how a bike fit will revolutionise your cycling experience.
I’ve got the physio bill to prove that poor bike set up is costly, both financially and physically, plus emotionally, if you delve deep enough. I thought I should spare you the gory details until I realised - maybe they are essential for you to hear so you can truly understand why having a bike that fits is key to cycling happiness whatever your level, be it as a sunny Sunday miler to an elite level racer.
Do any of the following ring true when you cycle - pins and needles in your hands, lower back pain, neck pain, stiff neck, knee pain, hip pain, numb toes, cramping calves? If you’ve answered yes to any of these, then the question may be - is your bike doing the best it can for you?
I started riding a bike like a lot of us, age 5, in my garden under my Mum’s watchful eye with the hedge as a crash barrier. As I grew up the bikes grew with me until I took up triathlon in 2006 and bought a road bike, the first time I’d cycled with drop handlebars and cleats, I just hopped on and away I went. I don’t recall anyone getting out a measuring tape.
It all felt odd, but before too long I just got used to it. As it turned out, I wasn’t too bad at cycling so in 2009 embarked on my first road season on a new road bike. It was much longer, I still didn’t have a clue how it should feel, so I tweaked and twisted it until it felt ok (still unsure about presence of a measuring tape) and I was pretty happy as I won some races on it.
Unfortunately though, the honeymoon period soon came to an end. In 2010 after four years of riding bikes that were just not fitted to me, my back gave up and went pop. If I’m honest, my neck had been protesting for years, and my hands, those pins and needles just weren’t normal. I really should have listened to my body saying ‘ay up, this just ain’t right’ but I was doing ok so had carried on regardless.
Bike fittings are fundamental to ensure comfort on the bike, and more importantly that you’re not putting yourself at risk of injury, exacerbating existing injuries, that you are efficient and that you can carry on enjoying riding a bike for years to come. As a national level road racer ensuring I can get the optimal power out of my position is incredibly important but I nearly risked it all before it had even begun by ignoring the signs that my bike didn’t fit.
You’d be amazed at what was possible if only you were positioned just a little differently on the bike. Even if you can’t afford a professional bike fit, just paying a little more attention to your bike set up can make a huge difference; raising your saddle a smidge can easily alleviate knee pain for example. Whatever your focus on the bike, whether you’re new to cycling, tackling a gruelling sportive, heading to the Alps for some long sunny miles, an accurate fit will boost your riding experience.
Time to bring out that tape measure!
I went along to the Specialized Concept Store in Kingston-on-Thames, to finally find out what a professionally fit bike should feel like. Sigma Sport had kindly arranged for me to spend a morning with Luke Wallis, their resident bike fit guru. I had no idea it would be so comprehensive, essentially a three hour-long consultation. I was even less aware that there would be so many things to measure and adjust.
Luke’s knowledge and dedication to working out what was right for me was amazing. It was clear he knew his stuff. Importantly he listened to me, to what I felt was going on, how my left leg feels a bit gammy and doesn’t behave. Luke worked all of this into his assessment and fine-tuning.
Every joint was considered, neck, hips, knees, shoulders, ankles and my flexibility taken into account too from the big muscles down to your achilles tendon. If your hamstrings are a bit tight, no problem, the set up is modified so that they’re not being overstretched and putting pressure on your back. Knees moving in or out and causing pain - Luke’s got inner soles to fix that.
When I walked out of the store my bike and shoes looked totally different to when I walked in but after hopping back in the saddle everything just felt right. On Luke’s advice I’m treating this as a work in progress, I can come back in for an update on how it’s going and make further alterations if needed, even though I can already tell there’s more power and no pain.
Unbeknownst to me my saddle had been far too high and my feet were struggling to reach the bottom of the pedal stroke meaning half my energy was being wasted on mid-air.
After my experience, I can’t stress enough the importance of getting yourself fitted on your bike – no matter what riding your do. The fun comes from seeing where the road leads you, not from when it leads you right into the physio’s door.
To book a BodyGeometry bike fit with Specialized, detailed below are their shops that offer the service:
Specialized Shops with Body Geometry Fit services:
- Covent Garden: Tom Kirkman - 0207 438 9450
- Kingston, Surrey: Luke Wallis - 0208 549 5888
- Ruislip: Alex Pettett - 01895 623 333
- Newbury: Adam Basiak - 01635 337 36
- Plymouth: Ben Farrar - 01752 847 002
- Chester: Graeme Cummings - 01244 322 220
- Birmingham: Danny Poller - 0121 747 3444
- Harrogate: Craig Stevenson - 01423 528 240
- Stafford: Nicky Healy - 01785 220 060
- Bristol: Damon Gouldson - 01179 660 743