A Beginner’s Bike Fit

Posted on Categories Vulpine Features

As Jools continues her journey into road cycling, her next stop is her first ever bike fit…

“Are you sitting comfortably?” Turns out the answer to that question when it came to my road bike was actually “no”, and until a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that was the case. As I’ll be spending more time and longer miles on BaadGyal, my next step to getting on the road was getting a bike fit. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by cyclists who know a thing or two about that and could offer advice, so getting a fit became a high priority on my road agenda for 2016.

I knew what a bike fit was (the clue is in the name, Jools), but in my head I’d always associated them with elite riders and professionals. The furthest I’d ever gotten with a “fit” was making sure I bought the right size frame, and that the saddle and bars were at a good height. Boy, was I about to get an education in that…

When I got the call from Simon letting me know I’d been booked in for a fitting with the Aprire-HSS team, I was over the moon: it would be a one-on-one session with Tony Corke, and I’d be surrounded by the women from the team, meaning I could ask them 101 questions about road cycling throughout the day. I was pretty excited about it all… and then came the bit I wasn’t quite expecting; “And make sure you bring your road shoes and pedals with you”. The SHOES and the PEDALS. Cue the moment of mild panic! For some bizarre reason I didn’t think about needing these for the fitting. Add to that I didn’t know what pedal/cleat system I’d be using on the bike, I was feeling a tad daunted. Of course when Simon told me that testing out which set-up would work for me was part of the fitting, I calmed down…. and thanks to more advice from cycling friends, got on with choosing my shoes.

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On the morning of the fit with Tony, other than making me feel totally at ease with him, one of the first things he did was mark-off where my feet were in the shoes and talk me though the importance of the positioning of the cleat. Just a small adjustment of these is what gets your legs tracking straight on the bike while pedaling. This is another element of cycling that I will honestly put my hand up to not knowing that much about. My initial thoughts on it – get a shoe that fits and feels comfy when you try it on… not quite the case! I didn’t realise just how much of an impact the positioning of the cleat would have on my legs while riding. This was already proving to be an eye opener, and I’d only got as far as sitting on the sofa while Tony measured my feet! What came next was the biggie for me – trying out the pedals and cleats to figure out which system would work for me.

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Speedplays off, Look Keos on!

I started off with Speedplays. They look like a lollypops are double sided for clipping in either way… so being double sided I imagined the simplicity of the system would be an immediate winner for me. It wasn’t. I wasn’t expecting to get it right on the first go, but after a good few tries, Speedplays were just not happening for me. I kept on missing, and then slipping off the pedal with every attempt. Then that daunting feeling started to creep up again – “I’m just not getting it and I never will” I thought to myself. Tony could see that I wasn’t getting on very well with them and probably looking rather frustrated – so off they went and on came the Look Keos – a three bolt cleat design, but not that easy to walk in off the bike. What happened next wasn’t the plan at all: first attempt at clipping into them and unclipping (without looking may I add) – DONE. I know that my face was a picture at this point, and with no shame I yelped with pride the moment I did it. OK – I still have to master doing this without the aid of a turbo, and actually be riding on the road, but I’m going to savour that achievement for a while yet.

Jools Walker Bikefit1689© Piers Cunliffe PhotographyJanuary 07, 2016
Jool’s getting in the drops, wearing HOY Vulpine Bib Tights and Baselayer

Once the pedals and cleats were sorted and adjusted to suit me, we started to get deeper into the bike fit session. Little did I know that so much was riding on the position and height of my saddle. Tony asked me to push harder on the bike, and let him know which muscles in my legs were working more (or less) than the others, where I was feeling the ‘burn’ and then tracked my legs and how I pedaled purely by eye. He kept on picking up on tiny things that I would never have really noticed –a good example: my right knee kept on ‘jerking out’ when I was on the down stroke of a pedal rotation. I assumed that it was a normal reaction of my leg when riding and had always ignored it. Over Tony came, got me to hop off the saddle – made a small adjustment – I start again. After an intense round of more detailed height and angle adjustments that looked like he was just moving it by millimetres, that knee jerk and the weird leg-burning sensation goes… and I suddenly realise how much of a niggle it actually was.

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Getting the reach and the bars right was another revelation during the session. When I got my Aprire, my measurements were taken based on my height, so again I was under the assumption that everything about the handlebars was correct – I just needed to “practice more” to get better with it. Again Tony was watching me ride and taking it all in by eye, and asked about how my arms were feeling. He’d noticed something. I talked about some of the pain I’d experienced when I did my first big distance ride on the bike (Southsea to Bognor Regis) – this was supposed to be a full return journey, but the palms of my hands along with my back, upper arms and neck were killing me, so it got cut short with a train back ride for the last few miles. I was even having problems reaching for the breaks – something else I totally put down to not being used to that style of riding yet, and truth be told, ended up feeling like a bit of a failure. Tony adjusted the position of the bars quite a few times… something had changed, but it still didn’t feel right. Then the stem came under scrutiny… and it was swapped out for a shorter one. My reach was better, but something still wasn’t quite right. Then, the original bars on BaadGyal were coming off, smaller ones were put on and the angle of the levers were adjusted – HUGE CHANGE! He got me on the drops and then letting go of the bike to do a balance test (slightly hairy leaning forward like that!) this lead to a few more tweaks and changes for my balance, but suddenly everything started to fall into place. I was sat up on BaadGyal after three hours of fitting and riding on the turbo with no niggles. Now I could really say that bike felt like mine.

Jools Walker Bikefit© Piers Cunliffe PhotographyJanuary 13, 2016

I’ve come away from my session with Tony with a much better understanding and appreciation of what goes into a bike fit… and why it’s a good idea to get one. I hadn’t expected adjustments that looked like the smallest tweak could result in the biggest changes. The idea of throwing myself into bigger rides on BaadGyal without having done this feels a bit unthinkable now – especially with my Scoliosis playing a factor on how my back behaves while riding (yep, Tony picked up on that too) I’m feeling a lot more confident about the next step in my road riding adventure, and will certainly be listening to any more niggles that pop up when I’m on two wheels. So now, lets get ready to take these changes onto the road… next stop? A clipped-in Jools unleashed onto the cycling public…

Huge thanks to: Torke Cycling and Aprire for the bike fit and Piers Cunliffe for the photography.

11 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Bike Fit”

  1. Just brilliant reading the bike fit , I treated myself to a bike fit and new bike last year in June , expected to collect it in Feb this year from Rourke Cycles in Burslem
    My experience much the same after riding road bikes for 30 years only to find that not any of them fitted especially my Mercian I took with me to Rourke’s

  2. Great post – really enjoyed it.
    I’m gradually convincing myself to lash the cash on a bike fit and reading this has definitely nudged me along that road.

  3. Really interesting to read this. I’m not a road cyclist – but I have just
    had a tourer built. Like Jools, I’ve had it built for my height etc, but I’m not totally sure that everything’s in the right position. How much does a fit like this cost?

    1. Thanks Kerena. This bike fit has made me think about my other bicycles (commuting ones) and having a fitting on those too. A fit like this starts from £150 – it’s certainly worth having it done – it’ll make a huge difference in the long run when you’re on your bike and riding in comfort.

  4. Sounds like a fitter who knows what he’s doing, not just fitting you into the parameters of a measurement system i.e. Retul/Body Geometry. Physios make the best fitters as they know the body inside out.

    Speedplays are notorious for stiff clipping in when they’re new, but after a few rides they’re as easy as Shimano/Look/Time….and better all round too, I would’ve definitely experimented a bit longer with them.

    1. Tony sure knows his stuff! I didn’t realise just how much detail goes into a fit, and with my back problems (I have Scoliosis), this will make the world of difference for me. Perhaps one day I’ll try the Speedplays again – you never know! :)

  5. Hi Jools

    I’m SO glad the bike fit helped you feel more comfortable! I’m going on a similar journey to you – having bought a road bike last year, yet not really feeling like I “get” it yet, due to being to used to my Brompton. Balance and co-ordination issues don’t help – I feel like I’m more likely to fall over and having that high top tube is scary!

    That being said, I went for a bike fit myself recently where I reeled off this massive list of things that’s wrong with me (asthmatic, tendonitis in wrists, hip pain… the list goes on!) and the fitter was great about making sure I was fitted for comfort, rather than speed, or aerodynamics – although he could do that if I wanted. I agree with the chap above who says that physios make the best fitters! He managed to diagnose the hip problem which is now being treated formally – it has massive implications for my cycling as I have a whole set of muscles that just “don’t work” and my hip/groin muscles are overcompensating and causing trouble.

    So while there’s a lot wrong with me, I’m now comfy on the bike and the issues of my knees rolling outwards have been eliminated, my hip is less painful and it should all improve the more I ride.

    Needless to say I’m still terrified and a lack of fitness and living in hilly Yorkshire means I’m more reluctant to go out on the bike as it’s always such an effort and harder to bail out and get a bus home than with the Brompton, but I’m hoping I’ll make some progress over 2016.

    I may be mad, but I’m planning to buy some rollers for home, so I can work on those balance and coordination issues to make me more comfortable on the road. It’ll also help me improve my core strength – I can’t get up out of the saddle due to my muscle issues – so everything should get better with time.

    It’s so easy to get disheartened when it doesn’t “click” straight away – particularly when it feels like everybody else finds it so easy and you feel like you get dropped on every ride, but I’m sure we’ll get there in the end :)

    Keep that chin up! x

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