If only we would fit on an alignment table. photo-Seven Cycles

A More Perfect Union-Phase One

A More Perfect Union-Phase One

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Hear ye, hear ye, get thee, and a mirror, to your indoor trainer. This is going to be a multi-part series on getting the rider and the ride to a more perfect union. Most of us have never been professionally fit for our bikes. An inseam measured, a glance at a reflection when riding by a store window is our bike fit. I’m not advocating  that, but it’s true for me.

My friend Dave and I have been both suffering with ride -preventing knee injuries. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, besides being lucky, you have been spared a trip into a deep and dark cave. This is the depressing cave that makes you ask a question you don’t have an answer for. If you can’t ride anymore, you are no longer a cyclist. If you are no longer a cyclist, who are you? That, fellow riders, is a serious question, and not one I want to address right here and now.

In the USA you go to your general practitioner doctor, who eventually hands you off to a slightly more qualified doctor. You moan enough to get x-rays and and MRI at 0.45 CWUs (carbon wheel units*) cost and an eventual appointment with most-busy orthopedic specialist. He, of course, tells you there is nothing he can see but he can send you to the physical therapist. Why did you know this was the answer already, four months earlier?

The  hospital’s physical therapist is not a cyclist and looks very skeptical when you inform him the “knee over pedal axle” axiom is rubbish. You go home with a page of exercises that address no obvious problem.  At this point the road diverges. You keep pestering doctors, you start listening to anecdotal, crap advice, or you try to fix it yourself.

Dave has done his version of this also. Dave is not as lazy as I and he spends untold hours with his rollers, kinetic trainer, weight bench, watt meter and a mirror trying to figure out what he can modify to fix his knee.

We spent a long session filming each other shirtless, in bibs, while riding our bikes on his trainer. This all felt slightly illegal and unseemly. I’m relieved that neither his girlfriend or the UPS guy came in during this.

The initial video shot from behind was a revelation. If Chris Froome looks like a spider humping a lightbulb, I look like Quasimodo hunching a washing machine. Are you kidding me? Damien Gaudin looks better on a bike than I do. Was I hit by a car and don’t remember it? Has no one bothered to tell me what this view from behind looks like? Dave admitted he wanted to but didn’t dare. Actually, it may be that out here in Hawaii, no one is spending that much time in my awesome draft, going uphill at 10 kph, or I ignore these remarks all together.

We video as we try shims under cleats, raising saddles, lowering saddles. All this seems like too much guess work, or we are working with just enough information to do further damage? There are a lot of tweaks that skate around problems we don’t understand.

As it turns out Dave is possibly harder to live with than I am while playing the role of injured athlete. His girlfriend explained this to the woman seated next to her at a dinner party; this person happens to be a sports physical therapist with the dual virtues of a lot of formal medical education and decades of experience fixing people. Phase two of this story will delve into what a Pro knows and how she works.

In the meantime, do yourself a favor. Get your bike on a stationary trainer or rollers and have someone video from behind as you ride with moderate resistance. The Pro put reflective stickers dots  and lines all over my legs but even a sharpie dot on the center of the knee cap and the center behind the knee will be useful. An iPhone and iMovie works just fine for some slow motion analysis. Alternatively, put a mirror in front of the bike so you can see your legs pedaling. One’s hips, knees and feet are working in a chain. The knee joint is a simple hinge that functions optimally when not going in four directions with each revolution, like mine.

Do your knees track directly over your feet, everything directly up and down, like dueling Swiss Bernina sewing machines? If yes, no worries, if no and you are not too old, it’s something to think about. The math is amazing; revolutions per kilometer times kilometers per year. Knees can absorb some misalignment, mine have for 36 years, but why wait until you are injured to seek the more perfect union?

*my CWU are based on ENVE 3.4 tubular rims and Chris King hubs, orange.

 

 

// Look Pro // Riding Ugly // Technique

  1. Those of you had Pro fit’s, does crank arm length enter the conversation?
    Had to change length due to getting proper fit? Or made do with what was on the steed?

  2. @sthilzy Yes it does.

    I’m ambivalent about them. I’ve had it done but I tend to think that many bike-fitters are like a combination of doctors and lawyers.

    Doctors because they have their own pet specialities and by default diagnose problems within a particular frame of reference, whatever the symptoms.

    Lawyers (or sub-editors) because they will never say “Sure, looks fine” and they feel compelled to make some alteration.

    There are no doubt some very good ones out there, who can do it based on wide experience and knowledge and will assess the individual on their own merits or problems. I suspect they also tend to be the ones who don’t rely on dots and lasers. Much of it seems to be pseudo-science when in reality what it needs is just experience.

    No offence to any bike-fitters reading this – it’s not a universal rule. But I would say to anyone thinking of doing it to ask around and get several opinions, preferably from riders who know what they’re doing.

    Many punters will praise a bike fit because why would you admit you paid hundreds of pounds/dollars/ringgat for a waste of time.And in any case physical problems are unlikely to manifest themselves immediately, so it’s really not possible to assess the bike-fit until much later.

  3. Lots of theories and approaches to fitting. What you need is someone with an experienced eye who can get us into a halfway decent position. I think a lot of what we call ‘fit’ is our adaptation to whatever the setup is. If you need to make big changes, it should be done incrementally. Following @ChrisO’s analogy, I’d prefer the doctor bike fitter to the lawyer.

  4. Have not read all the replies. I’ll do that on thelowlight I’m about to board, but most knee tracking problems start at the hip with poor gluteus medius.

    Shimming feet with orthotics of pedal shims is working from teh wrong end of the stick, even if it is effective.

    Start doing some band work, side leg raises, and The Clam, which you may mistake for The Vagina.

    Land do some squats. Cyclists, of which I am not one, tend to have poor muscle balance. Kettle bell squats are a must for everyone.

    PS,   I can help you with what one is when not a cyclist if yo like, though since you live on Maui North Shore, I know that you already know that.

  5. AlsoAlonso, I hate bloody typing on bloody tablets, that change half of what I type into gibberish after the fact.

  6. @Ken Ho

    Yes, strenghthen the VMO and loosen the ITB. Helps with the tracking but some of us are just crooked (physically), ie, not straight (you know what I mean!), either through genetics or the vicissitudes of life.

  7. Love the article photo. That’s my frame model. Mine is much, much bigger.

    Anyone note the small circle riders’ knees make at the top on the pedal stroke? I find it more pronounced (perhaps predictably) in females.

    And…hopefully some tech person will develop a pedal based power system that will give real-time feedback of pedal forces. An sweet hum when pedaling circles – an annoying buzz when stomping. Might go a long way toward training a Magnificent Stroke…and maybe get rid of some pain along the way.

  8. @ChrisO urgh – another time I agree with you.

    I have had my position done a number of times, including one very scientific one with a big machine, l/r power measures, computer screens with grids, etc etc. It set me up so i generated maximum power, but it never felt quite right. After persisting with it for about 5 months, i bought a new bike which then predicated a new set up.

    Went back to an old school bike fit from an experienced guy – and voila, was riding faster and more comfortably straight away.

    It aint just about the fitting system, it is also about the fitter, but mainly about you.

    By all means get a fit – but dont be wedded to a prescribed perfect position…

  9. “This is the depressing cave that makes you ask a question you don’t have an answer for. If you can’t ride anymore, you are no longer a cyclist. If you are no longer a cyclist, who are you?”

    If a few days pass without a good road ride, I start to ask this question. And when I start asking it, I don’t like how I feel.

    I hope my knee, or body, never feels so bad that I have to ask this question over and over again.

    Best of luck & spirits to all Velominatus to remain able to saddle up & turn them cranks. That is my wish for all of you this end-of-year time.

  10. @geoffrey

    I had a Bike fit with Steve Nash in Adelaide. Best $200 I’ve invested in my riding. I now feel a lot more confident about my position and have reduced issues with my knees and back. My right knee turns out when I pedal. Steve said that if I was 20 years old and a racer that he would correct my bad technique. 37 years too late and I don’t race, so he altered my cleat angle so that my knee doesn’t fight against float tension. So now the knee tracks the way it wants to. Much better and I just don’t think about it any more. Think I’ll start racing.

    Where does Steve Nash work from ?

  11. @Marcus Must be all that triathlon… those helmets have curdled your brain.

  12. Golden advise and timely Gianni, i am really looking forward to your follow up

    the perfect position is like finding the Holy Grail for the cyclist. I have read more, measured more and continue to tinker with this year after year after year.  Dynamic fitting, static fitting, shoe positioning, fore-aft, to shim or not to shim that is a ethereal question.  Forget the saddle debate, which one has eluded to as perfectly level is dead nuts, yet I find +.5% nose up to be the perfect position with considerable torque to be found with a ‘oh so slightly elevated nose’

    And I have yet to be PRO fit, which you have compellingly reminded I must do this year….now. thx

  13. I’d talked myself into having fit issues before sorting my IT band out. I’ve posted this before but it really is a great set of (hardcore) stretches for you to consider trying if you have a pain that you think might be fit related: http://www.manualforspeed.com/domestic/stretching/ 

    I think my right leg is shorter than my left so might go and have a partial cleat / wedge fitting session. The thing that is putting me off is the fact that they’ll tell me my stem is too long and my bars too low etc.

  14. @norm

    I’d talked myself into having fit issues before sorting my IT band out. I’ve posted this before but it really is a great set of (hardcore) stretches for you to consider trying if you have a pain that you think might be fit related: http://www.manualforspeed.com/domestic/stretching/

    I think my right leg is shorter than my left so might go and have a partial cleat / wedge fitting session. The thing that is putting me off is the fact that they’ll tell me my stem is too long and my bars too low etc.

    Get yourself to a good chiropractor that specialises (I hate and apologise for using that word) in sports before cleating your shoes. I routinely suffered from back pain caused by a functional 2cm leg length discrepancy. I say functional because my legs are the same length but my core and glutes were weak, so my SI joint was unsupported and regularly getting out of whack. Therefore I’d “walk shorter”.

    A few weeks weeks of progressively intense daily work on core and glutes and hey presto, no functional leg length issues, no pain on the bike, no need for cleats.  I know what works for me won’t work for everyone but you may want to consider it as an option.

  15. @Mike_P Of course I don’t mean cleats but @Norm laid the trap.  Shims and wedges!

  16. This seems like the ultimate DIY job…..  I’m usually the epitome of a DIY’er, but for cleat placement, bike fit, etc, I took myself, my bike, a kit to the LBS not so local, and dropped a few hundred working with this mad scientist of a guy who shot me with lasers, oversized protractors, and other hand made objects I’m not sure what to call them.  I would have happily paid $1000 now knowing the results.  Previously I could not ride 50-60 km without immense knee pain.  Now my knees survive 160+ km rides pain free, and I no longer fear collapsing to the ground without warning after the painful rides I had last year……

  17. @VeloSix

    This seems like the ultimate DIY job….. I’m usually the epitome of a DIY’er, but for cleat placement, bike fit, etc, I took myself, my bike, a kit to the LBS not so local, and dropped a few hundred working with this mad scientist of a guy who shot me with lasers, oversized protractors, and other hand made objects I’m not sure what to call them. I would have happily paid $1000 now knowing the results. Previously I could not ride 50-60 km without immense knee pain. Now my knees survive 160+ km rides pain free, and I no longer fear collapsing to the ground without warning after the painful rides I had last year……

    I agree totally. I think it’s nearly impossible to fit yourself properly. None of us have the experience or the background. Like all professions, some are much better than others, but most will do better than we will.

  18. ” . . The knee joint is a simple hinge that functions optimally when not going in four directions with each revolution, like mine . . ”

    Hey, Gianni, to avoid getting embroiled in a emotively charged discourse with the medical profession I would take care with overly simplistic statements like this – particularly in the company of an ortho-pod or physiotherapist. I am neither, but have had enough knee surgery and therapy to know that the knee joint is nothing like a hinge and when flexed it naturally rotates in multiple planes.

  19. @sowtondevil

    Are you questioning my medical background as doctor in psychopharmacology?

  20. @Gianni

    @sowtondevil

    Are you questioning my medical background as doctor in psychopharmacology?

  21. may be related only mildly to the thread–anyone have any tips/experience post-hip-surgery in terms of bike fit (or even general recovery tips)?  crashed 1 Nov. and had an internal fixation (3 screws)–from 300-450km per week to 0.  now finding self in aforementioned cave.  one consolation–if the injury takes me out, at least I went down swingin’ (would’ve been embarrassing if I sustained the injury when not on the bike).  Gianni–great unit conversion on the medical costs; think I calculated my ER bill at .6V Frame Upgrade Opportunities.

  22. @s

    may be related only mildly to the thread–anyone have any tips/experience post-hip-surgery in terms of bike fit (or even general recovery tips)? crashed 1 Nov. and had an internal fixation (3 screws)–from 300-450km per week to 0. now finding self in aforementioned cave. one consolation–if the injury takes me out, at least I went down swingin’ (would’ve been embarrassing if I sustained the injury when not on the bike). Gianni–great unit conversion on the medical costs; think I calculated my ER bill at .6V Frame Upgrade Opportunities.

    0.6V FUOs, you must have good insurance. A cyclists on Maui broke his upper femur on a wet descending corner and was fixed with screws and he was out riding much sooner than I would have ever guessed. He actually looked better riding than walking, so I think you will find your way out of the cave. He got healthy enough to do the Around Oahu race…and rode directly into a horse.

  23. @minion

    +1 Bless you my son.

  24. Anyone in the New Mexico area that has a recommendation. There are a good amount of places that offer “custom fitting services”

  25. @Gianni – this came up on recent and random today. I can’t find the next two! Fit is something I’ve been struggling with for the better part of five years, specifically how my left foot relates to the whole rest of cycling. I’d been toying with the idea of asking my wife to take some video – now I definitely will. But I want to hear the rest of your experiences! The internet and various tweaks have served me far better than doctors so far.

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