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

A More Perfect Union-Phase One

A More Perfect Union-Phase One

by / / 61 posts

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. @RedRanger

    @RedRanger

    I find that if my saddle is too low I get a twinge in my left knee only. My only real issue on my #1 is getting numb in the man region. Not sure what the issue is, but maybe getting a fitting would help discover the solution.

    Make sure your saddle is horizontal. Seems trivial, it’s not. Had the same issue with numbness, worked for me.

  2. I’d struggled with fit for years but was so lucky to meet a guy called Scherrit Knoesen last year.  Scherrit was trained by Steve Hogg and relies on no technology.  He talked to me, measured store had me assume certain static stretch positions and watched me ride.  We spent 5 hours together and from that day I’ve not had a problem. It’s a dark art.

    Be warned, many of the fitting systems seem to expect us to fit within certain parameters that are deemed optimal, but of course we are all individual and few of us, I suspect, are able to fit in to ideal athletic setups.

  3. @Gianni

    @RedRanger

    I find that if my saddle is too low I get a twinge in my left knee only. My only real issue on my #1 is getting numb in the man region. Not sure what the issue is, but maybe getting a fitting would help discover the solution.

    psssssst…selle smp. The Italian Love Canal.

    +10 !

  4. @JohnB

    Top tip. Set up on turbo, use Ubersense or Coaches Eye app on ipad. Ubersense better as it gives you angles, straight lines, and the slo mo is awesome for analysis of position and pedalling motion. Make sure ipad is steady and have a plumb or level reference in frame. Dots at hip, knee and ankle assist immensely.

    Thanks, that’s much better advice. I’ve never heard of either of those softwares. Dots Rule!

  5. Apologies for the typos in my post above.  Bloody iPads.

  6. If I saw myself on video it would ruin the impression that I look awesome on the bike. I don’t think I’m ready for all of that.

  7. @JohnB

    Top tip. Set up on turbo, use Ubersense or Coaches Eye app on ipad. Ubersense better as it gives you angles, straight lines, and the slo mo is awesome for analysis of position and pedalling motion. Make sure ipad is steady and have a plumb or level reference in frame. Dots at hip, knee and ankle assist immensely.

    I’ve downloaded the Bike Fit Fast app but haven’t used it yet on my iPad; until now I’ve stayed out of the trainer grotto but now that the weather’s putting me inside (-20 windchills tonight) I may give this a go.  http://www.dcrainmaker.com/2013/10/automated-measurement-review.html

  8. @Gianni I look forward to the rest of this series.  So far I have been spared the slings and arrows of nagging knee pain but my son, an infinitely strong soccer player (and too dam young!!!) complained bitterly of pain above his knees whenever the tempo was raised.  Quick trip to the LBS and a kinesio grad armed with an iPad and some antenna looking devices took some movies on a trainer and raised his saddle…knee pain gone! Unfortunately now I’ll have to chase him.  BTW if you and Dave get tired of all that shirtless bromancing you can always go watch those beautiful sunsets and ice your knees! (I feel so sorry for you!)

  9. @Mike_P

    I’d struggled with fit for years but was so lucky to meet a guy called Scherrit Knoesen last year. Scherrit was trained by Steve Hogg and relies on no technology. He talked to me, measured store had me assume certain static stretch positions and watched me ride. We spent 5 hours together and from that day I’ve not had a problem. It’s a dark art.

    Be warned, many of the fitting systems seem to expect us to fit within certain parameters that are deemed optimal, but of course we are all individual and few of us, I suspect, are able to fit in to ideal athletic setups.

    Yeah, that is my slight problem with Retul. They are fitting you into the middle of the gaussian curve which is fine if one is average. Steve Hogg seems like the Master.

  10. The use of a spirit level on that saddle is not a joke.  Dead flat, no deviation.  …confirm that both tires are equally inflated!

    I have no idea of how a modern fitting is done, but BITD I think I had what qualified then as a fitting.  At the no longer tender (but V leaning) age of eighteen, I visited Spence Wolfe in Cupertino to order my Cinelli.  Measurements included inseam (of course), length of back, arm length (from nape to wrist), my age and weight.  …felt like what I imagine a suit fitting–‘though at that age, I hadn’t needed to visit a tailor.  Somehow that small amount of data was all that was required for a custom-built Italian frame, components, and gearing.  That pinup beauty of 1970 still fits me better than any modern machine, and the all-Campy Nouvo Record still shifts superbly.  (For very small values of “superbly”…)

  11. I had a fitting a few years ago and it helped immensely, but have had injuries, knee surgery, and PT for various parts since then.  Surprisingly even prior to my knee surgery, walking was far more painful than riding. Sine the fitting some parts have been stretched and I just don’t feel right on the bike anymore.  Right now I’m almost afraid to get on the bIke after a break to let the pain from degenerated disks eased up. Getting the V kit today is giving me motivation to give it a go this weekend.

  12. My equation for knee and back pain removal was as simple as:

    Cleats 1cm further toward the heel.

    Saddle forward ~1cm.

    Stem +20mm longer and lower (who knew? Frank’s on to something.)

  13. Good timing with the post. I recently have gotten over knee pain that had lasted for over two years. It was a nightmare attempting to figure out the cause, and was concerned, during the painful period, that I was causing additional damage while continuing to ride. Of course I’m going ride, even if it hurts. Eventually I visited the local sports MD, who specializes in cycling medicine! His prognosis was that I had referred Vastus Medialis pain, that was shooting over to the anterior portion of my knee. His recommendation: ride more and lower my saddle (he also does fits, and saw that my saddle was a smidge too high). It was my first fit in over 7 years of riding, and it worked well. I’m pain free and can now get way more power out of the pins.

  14. I’ve always fitted myself the “black arts” way. Basic “gross” setup, then fine tuning over a number of rides. Plumb bob, tape measure, level and a indoor trainer (so you can look at hip rocking). Is it perfect? Probably not by a long shot. But for the most part I’m comfortable. I had some foot pain this year (fixed it with cleat shims) and some hip pain (turns out to be related to crashing on it and having a tear in the labrum. Fixing that currently).

    That said, fitting, and how people approach it, is always fascinating to me. Can’t wait to see what lies ahead.

  15. @piwakawaka

    A lot of knee pain is from your ITB, down the outside of your thigh, as it shortens under stress it pulls the knee cap out of alignment, try a foam roller to stretch it out, worked for me.

    A lot of ITB pain is the result of weak glutes that form the top if that kinetic chain. Work those glutes routinely and the ITB will ease.

  16. @robsmuir

    The use of a spirit level on that saddle is not a joke. Dead flat, no deviation. …confirm that both tires are equally inflated!

    I started using a spirit level on my saddle when I worked my way through the fi'zi:k test saddles. It helped alot but I found that it wasn’t as simple as just laying it along the saddle and making sure I had it flat based on on the foremost and rearmost points, each saddle had a flatter portion that was the bit that was crucial to the measurement. I ended up on an Antares that I have hardly noticed but with the spirit level laid front to back it just wasn’t right. When the level take on just the front flat portion the magic happens

    When I can persuade the velonipper to tell me what the code is on his ipad, I’ll have a go at some video analysis on the rollers..

  17. Fortunate I am, graceful on a bike….now there’s a thought, I very much doubt it.  Surely the question is…do I continue painfree in blissful ignorance simply because I happened to buy an awesomely comfortable bike which bizarrely fit right first time…or…do I become tempted by this article and get camera and rollers out?

    The first option is screaming at me not to do the second…after all…ignorance is bliss!

  18. Get off your damm bike. XC run on rough trails or no trails at all. Jump/fall/twist repeat. Involve yourself with sports that aren’t confined in strict movement and get you body use to being used in rough/tumble way.

    ……do something other than being a sculpture on a bike.

    Think outside the bike or be as fragile as a glass slipper on one.

  19. When I purchased my first bike, the LBS gave me a free “pro” fit. I initially thought I was positiond fine on the bike but after longer rides I started to feel numbness and pain in knees. Then I met one of those dark art Sith Lords during a bike ride and he started adjusting the fit; flipping stem, positioning handlebar, move the seat, cleats, seatpost height etc. Now I have so much more comfort on longer rides, more room to breathe, more leverage and power from my legs. Turns out a lot of lbs fit people for 25 mile recreational rides, people sitting more upright, with low rpm, not for warriors of the V

  20. @Deakus

    Fortunate I am, graceful on a bike….now there’s a thought, I very much doubt it. Surely the question is…do I continue painfree in blissful ignorance simply because I happened to buy an awesomely comfortable bike which bizarrely fit right first time…or…do I become tempted by this article and get camera and rollers out?

    The first option is screaming at me not to do the second…after all…ignorance is bliss!

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

  21. @wiscot

    @Deakus

    Fortunate I am, graceful on a bike….now there’s a thought, I very much doubt it. Surely the question is…do I continue painfree in blissful ignorance simply because I happened to buy an awesomely comfortable bike which bizarrely fit right first time…or…do I become tempted by this article and get camera and rollers out?

    The first option is screaming at me not to do the second…after all…ignorance is bliss!

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

    +1. Don’t touch!

  22. For those in the N Midwest check out Bikefit Guru. Chris Balser does his fitting with a 3D motion scan that generates a stick figure image of the rider showing the relationship of body parts. From there he makes mechanical adjustments to the bike to bring sacrum, hips, knees and ankles into alignment. In the upper body he does the same with with neck, shoulders, elbows and wrists. It does wonders in improving efficiency and form. After the fit he put me back on the computrainer where I discovered I had found another 30 watts.The gains I made this past season speak loudest, though.

    It’s money well spent. At $350 it works out to .13 CUWs – a freaking bargain. 

  23. @teleguy57 Thanks I’ll give that app a try too. The others were free so this bike specific paid one may have an extra feature or 2.

  24. I was having back pain during and after rides and someone suggested I get a longer stem – did the trick. I still get the occasional twinge of lower back pain, but I just ice it and/or use Biofreeze (best stuff ever). I also use a foam roller and that seems to work well too.

  25. 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.

  26. 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?

  27. @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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

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

  31. @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.

  32. 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.

  33. @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…

  34. “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.

  35. @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 ?

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

  37. 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

  38. 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.

  39. @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.

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

  41. 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……

  42. @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.

  43. ” . . 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.

  44. @sowtondevil

    Are you questioning my medical background as doctor in psychopharmacology?

  45. @Gianni

    @sowtondevil

    Are you questioning my medical background as doctor in psychopharmacology?

  46. 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.

  47. @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.

  48. @minion

    +1 Bless you my son.

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

  50. @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.

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar