Cyclefit Manchester: Bike Fit and Saddle Pressure Mapping – Blog Post by Emma
I’m lucky in that my partner Grant does a lot of reading around cycling, and its many facets. Bike fit has been a topic of interest, leading us to make several adjustments in the last year or so. However, neither of us had ever had a professional bike fit, until my visit to Cyclefit in Manchester, in June.
During the last few years I’ve had an occasional niggle with saddle discomfort on my left side, and I’ve never really got to the source of the problem. When it flared up, I would experience a gnawing, dull discomfort, which would kick in after around 2 hours, always worse on flatter rides. Changing to a Selle Italia Diva saddle a few years ago helped, along with a sports massage every few weeks from our good friend Maria at MC Sports Services in Stoke-on-Trent.
I’d not had any problems for a few years, but then after a change in bike, which resulted in a different position due to the frame size/design, this niggle became apparent again. We’d visited the Cyclefit shop in Manchester a few months before and had learnt a little about their services. So in June, with our 3 weeks cycling trip looming, I booked a full bike fit including saddle pressure mapping.
The booking process was simple, you can do it online or over the telephone, and slots are available throughout the day. Although it’s not essential to take your bike with you, it is helpful as it allows any changes to be made on the day, by the Cyclefit team. So I took my bike with me, along with cycling shorts, jersey and shoes.
When we arrived, we had a quick cuppa before being introduced to Jess who would be doing my fit. I’ve got no stats to back this up, but I suspect that there are not many female bike fitters around, so this was great, and I felt at ease straight away, as Jess explained the format of the session.
To begin, there was an interview, to get a clear picture of me as a rider: the type of cycling I do, frequency of riding, any specific reasons for having the fit, injury history etc. After that, we moved onto the physical evaluation, which involved taking measurements (eg leg length, hamstring length, hip flexion etc), and being asked to perform certain subtle movements, to assess core stability, flexibility and posture. My feet were also closely examined.
Then it was onto the rig to start the bike fit. By this point I was dotted in stickers, which are used to track your movement during the assessment and fitting process, which uses Dartfish 4-Camera HD Motion Analysis. The rig was set up to replicate my current bike position, and Jess asked me to start pedalling.
There I was, on TV! Jess watched me pedal for several minutes, and made small adjustments to my set up. Then, the saddle pressure map appeared on screen. This was the real eye opener for me. The blue areas indicated where pressure was high, with the turquoise showing where pressure was really heightened. There it was, a tiny blob of turquoise on the left, exactly where I had experienced that gnawing ache, intermittently over the years.
Jess then looked at my cycling shoes to check the cleat position. From other research, we had previously read that that the optimum position of the cleats was under the ball of the foot. However, using the Cyclefit model, my cleats were deemed to be too far forward, and Jess quickly made some adjustments, moving them back several millimetres.
A thin wedge (sometimes called a shim) was placed under my left cleat. I hopped back onto the rig, pedalled for a little while, and another pressure reading was taken. The areas of blue had reduced significantly, and the evil little blob of turquoise had disappeared! It appears that I have a very small leg length discrepancy and a slightly tilted pelvis on my left side, all of which I suspect has contributed to this niggle over the years. It was a revelation to see on screen the difference that the adjusted cleat position and wedge had made.
Next I had my custom footbed fitting. The footbeds are prepared while you wait and are designed specifically around your feet and shoes, totally customised. I’ve heard before that “everything starts with your feet” and I understand this more now. The footbeds assist in stabilising your feet, better for power output, and also more stable knee tracking. I’ve got very flat feet (pronated to use the correct term) and the footbeds provide me with good arch support. Once my footbeds were ready I was back onto the rig again, to finalise my positioning.
Overall, the actual fit of my bike didn’t change a huge amount, just small adjustments to the saddle and stack height. However, the bike fit also extends to looking at your physical posture on the bike, not just the measurements, and Jess gave some helpful advice on this. “Think STRONG”. I was not really sure how to engage my core and found that if I thought about it too much, I was holding myself too rigidly. Jess’s words helped put it in a different context; it was really just a case of sitting up a little taller and being less slouchy on the bike! I often find myself chanting “STRONG” when I am out riding!
Was it worth it? I would definitely say yes. The following day I rode over 100 miles in the Peak District, with no niggling pain on my left side. That distance isn’t really recommended straight after a fitting! However, our route was designed so that it could easily be shortened, if I were to experience any discomfort. However, this wasn’t the case, and I was pleased to complete a pain-free century ride.
I wore a different pair of cycling shoes a few days later, without footbeds, and I felt “sloppy” around my feet and ankles! Two weeks later, I returned to obtain footbeds for my other shoes. Although my actual bike measurements did not change hugely, the major benefit of this fitting was in the technology, especially the saddle pressure mapping, and the expertise and trained eyes of the bike-fit team. Although Grant had gotten my bike fit pretty well dialled prior to the session with Cyclefit, the subtleties of the saddle pressure are impossible to realise without professional input.
It was an informative session and the outcome was certainly positive, so if you’re suffering any on-bike pains, I would strongly recommend this service. From a personal perspective, I clearly have some other physiological issues to work on, mainly related to my hip flexion. I think that a bike fit is just part of an on-going process, which you have to combine with improving your core and flexibility etc. Although Jess had said my core stability wasn’t too bad, there is definitely more work to be done. Since having my initial bike fit back in June, I’ve returned to have more footbeds fitted for my winter cycling shoes.