A More Perfect Union-Phase One

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

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.

 

 

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61 Replies to “A More Perfect Union-Phase One”

  1. 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……

  2. @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.

  3. ” . . 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.

  4. 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.

  5. @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.

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

  7. @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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