Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Like A Glove

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about professional bike fittings – people paying lots of money to have someone tweak the position of their saddle or stem in an effort to maximize their power output and comfort. I was immediately skeptical. I’m pretty proficient with a hex wrench. Why can’t I just tweak it myself?

Then I happened upon this article on I thought I knew a good bit about bike fit until I read about Tom LeCarner’s fit session at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. And that got me thinking - is it possible to ride a bike for several hours completely pain free? I mean, after all, it IS a bike. Not a Simmons BeautyRest. Your shoulders should hurt; your hands and feet should go numb; you should expect a lot of chafing and your butt should be sore. Right?

Apparently not. So, I decided to give it a try for myself. I asked around and found the best guy in the Charlotte area to fit me is Jim O’Brien at The Right Gear in Kannapolis. I made the appointment.

It’s hard to explain exactly what went on. He took about a million measurements across my body and asked lots of questions about my concerns. What were my concerns? Mostly, the large knots and pain in my right shoulder blade, my numb feet and the hunch in my back when I ride.

We started with new cleats (the old ones were completely worn out – one of them broken). He repositioned the cleat on my shoe so that the pedal spindle hit just behind the ball of my foot. Then I hopped on my bike and started pedaling. He watched me spin for a good 2 minutes before saying anything. Then he began asking me to assign a number to the amount of pressure I was feeling at certain areas – like my sit bones and soft tissue on the saddle. With the first adjustment, I felt a huge difference. He continued making adjustments to the saddle until I felt very little pressure on my soft tissue while in the drops. Next, we addressed the shoulders and neck.

The cockpit of the bike is where the major changes happened. I figured at the very least, I would have to buy a new stem, but Jim made it work with my current set up, which was nice, because honestly, I would have bought anything he suggested. He could have taken advantage of that, for sure, but not once did I feel like that was his intention. He took a bunch more measurements and by the time he was done he had lowered my stem by about 2 inches, but flipped it over to change the rise which brought the bars a little closer. He brought the brake levers higher up on the bars, the right one even higher up than the left. Why? It turns out my right arm is about a full centimeter shorter than my left, which means my right arm is constantly having to overreach most likely accounting for all the pain on my right side. Remarkable that I’ve been riding all this time and never knew.

I don’t really experience pain in my lower back, but I’ve noticed that I ride with a huge hunch in my back where most of my cohorts seem to have flat backs. I asked Jim about this and he mostly told me not to worry about it; that it’s likely I have poor flexibility in my hamstrings and pelvis. Increasing that flexibility will help a bit, but that I basically shouldn’t fight how God made me…unless there’s pain. But since there’s not, he told me to take a second look at Chris Horner’s position on the bike. He’s known for his curved back. That made me feel better and I will no longer fight my hunch, I will embrace it.

So, just sitting on my bike I feel better. Now I need to get out and ride a few hundred miles to see if it worked. I will report back to Jim after that time on how I feel and I will update this blog as well. But, as of right now, I’m recommending a professional bike fitting to everyone who hasn’t had it done.

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