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Telegraph: Curative powers of a Cycle Fit Session

Sep 22nd, 2014 / Nicki Chick

At Six Physio we have the ability to set up a bike for maximum comfort, writes Kevin McCreath for The Telegraph 18th September 2014

Kevin McCreath explains how to set up a bike for maximum comfort after visiting a physio-focused cycle fit specialist
With road cycling and sportives such as the Etape becoming increasingly popular, more and more amateur cyclists are opting for a cycle fit, but what do they actually do and why should you get one?

In 2013 along with 20,000 others I entered the inaugural London 100, a distance considerably longer than I had ever looked at doing before. I trained hard and soon found myself with aching knees and sore shoulders. I took myself off to a bike fit at one of London’s better independent cycle shops and came away with new, narrower handlebars, a shim beneath the cleat on my right foot (the trainer diagnosed my right leg as being shorter than my left), and a new super-rigid saddle.

On the day of the ride I ended up in agony at 80 miles with my back in spasms. I managed to finish, but set aside my road bike at the end wondering whether I was facing the ultimate degradation in terms of cycling: being reduced to riding a recumbent cycle.

When a fellow cyclist told me about Six Physio (sixphysio.com), a physiotherapy group who specialise in cycling, I decided I would give it one more go.

So it was that I found myself topless on a turbo trainer, sweating in a gym studio full of mirrors confronting me with the reality of the spare inner tube lolling over the waist band of my cycle shorts while a therapist videoed my cycling action. But it was worth it.

As my cycle fit specialist/physio Nichola Roberts said, “You shouldn’t have any discomfort while cycling. It is very hard to find a perfect position because it varies – you need to be able to adjust your position depending on whether you are sprinting, going up hill and so on – but If you put yourself into a better position on a bike it means you start riding more efficiently and that means you start alleviating pressure on one’s body.”

The shims were removed – it turns out my legs are the same length after all – my saddle position was tweaked and a cutaway saddle was prescribed. This would all make the bike more comfortable. From there the goal is to address any underlying postural problems. So after further analysis of my posture (sway back, very common, I am told) and use of an ultrasound machine to give me a visual aide of how it feels to engage one’s core correctly, I was recommended a course of one-to-one Pilates sessions.

And I’ve turned a corner. Maybe the Etape 2015 is on after all.

Five tips for a DIY cycle fit

While there can be no substitute for a professional cycle fit, if the average cyclist follows these tips they should be able to minimise any discomfort. After all, as Roberts says, “There is no reason to cycle in pain.”

1. Make sure your saddle is at the right height. With the arch of your foot resting on the pedal your leg should be completely straight at the bottom of the revolution. If your hips rock from side to side, for example, the saddle may well be too high.

2. Is your saddle in the right position? Saddles generally should be horizontal and slid forwards or backwards until a plumb line dropped from the front of the knee passes through the axle of the pedal.

3. Check the distance from the saddle to the handlebars. Your weight should be spread between the saddle, the handlebars and the pedals. It is important that your arms are slightly flexed when gripping the bars. It may be necessary to flip the stem or buy a new shorter/longer one.

4. If you are using cleats – and if you are not, why not, as it makes life a lot easier once you are used to them – adjust the position so that your foot points forward and parallel to the frame.

5. Try a cutaway saddle. Many male cyclists try to sit upright to avoid putting pressure on the sensitive part of their nethers, which in turn puts stress on the lower back. A cutaway saddle allows the pelvis to rock forward and flatten the back easing pressure on the base of the spine.

6. Are the handlebars the right width? Many bicycle manufacturers send all their bikes, no matter the frame size, out with the same width bars. Your hands, when on the brake hoods, should ideally be in line with your shoulders. If they are wider than your handlebars are too wide which often leads to shoulder pain. You would be surprised just how much more comfortable you bike will be with the right width bars.

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