Friday 16 October 2009

Bike Fitting.

Not long after I started upping the cycling from just a daily commute to "proper" rides of 40/50 miles or more at the weekends, I began to feel a pulling in the right side of the groin. I thought it just needed some stretching so ignored it.

When I moved on to my new road bike, I spent a good bit of time setting up my position. Complete with plumb line, spirit level, measuring tape, some help from the wife and a large dose of feel I adjusted saddle and cleats over a period of a couple of weeks until I had what I felt was a good position. If I had any doubts it would have been that I felt my stem might be a bit long, but then I'd been used to the upright position of a mountain bike for years so it was natural I'd feel a bit stretched out on a road bike.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the pulling in the groin turned into an ache in my back. Some days I almost had to fold myself upright after a spin. And then, four days before I was due to ride the 100 mile Tour of Meath, I was sitting in my office when I felt as if I'd been stabbed in the lower back. I was in spasm!

Since then I've been having to scale back the cycling and have had a few physio/acupuncture sessions which have helped. However, while my back is feeling good, and I have no pain while actually cycling, my right sacro-iliac joint is still quite tender.

More and more I've been thinking that maybe my position on the bike might be contributing to, if not causing, the problem. I was on the verge of getting a shorter stem but before I did I decided I needed some help. I did a little research and discovered a website called They advertise a Video Based Bike Setup Analysis which includes video and hands on analysis of both the bike and rider to try to optimise position. It comes recommended by several web sources and at €70 it seemed a good investment relative to Physio visits at €50 a time.

I had my appointment tonight with IrishFit and I'm very impressed. The analysis was done by Leo Heenan, billed as a Sport Rehabilitator and Sport Massage Therapist (and self confessed bio-mechanics obsessive), and it was so much more than just measuring me and my bike.

Leo started having me do various stretches and exercises, as well as him doing some hands on manipulation of my legs, hips and feet. From that he diagnosed that I have issues with my hamstrings, hips, lower back and glutes (bum!) that need work. He outlined some useful exercises for me to do at home and gave me a very comprehensive explanation of what they should do for me.

Only after I'd had a once over did we turn to the bike. My own road bike was set up on a turbo trainer with two cameras pointing at it, one head-on and one side-on. I got on and Leo put some white stickers on me, one at each joint (knee, ankle, hips) and also on my foot and shoulder. I then rode at a fairly gentle cadence (about 80 rpm) while Leo recorded footage on his laptop.

After a short time, Leo stopped me and started tracing lines on the side-on image in front of him. He was measuring the key angles at my hips, knees and ankles. From that he was able to say categorically that my saddle was too low. So it was off the bike and the allen keys were out. We raised the saddle and then repeated the process. It took two more times to get it right, with a fresh analysis after each adjustment, by which time my saddle had been raised a full 4cm (really!!) and had been moved forward a small bit. I was shocked by that. Leo advised that this position would be a big change and I might want to take it in smaller steps over a few weeks but in the end it would be necessary to help sort out my back issues and also to make my pedaling much more efficient.

He then measured the angles on my upper body. From that he advised that I had been right that my stem isn't right. However, it's not too long. It's too SHORT! That's why I've been getting pins and needles in my hands after 30 miles or so, and why my neck is very tight after a bike ride. None of which is helping my lower back. I need to increase from the 100mm I have to at least a 110mm, if not even a 120mm.

Then it was on to the head-on camera. That was interesting. The software traces the movement of the stickers on each knee and charts a path on the screen. The ideal would be a straight vertical line. Mine showed a banana shape, with my knees moving out on the upstroke and in again on the down stroke. Leo was able to explain that this was due to my hips being too tight, forcing my knees out. To be fair he did agree that the belly hanging down as I hunch over doesn't help but that the main issue is the hips. On the plus side my ankles and hips were in line, which means my cleats are well adjusted and my feet are in good positions.

That concluded the analysis. All in it took nearly an hour and a half and my bike was set up quite differently by the end. The last part of the service is that Leo will produce a full report containing not just bike measurements but also his report of the physical analysis and also a program of stretches and exercises for me to follow, tailored around my specific issues.

So as well as having my bike set up for me I feel the real benefit is that it's made me much more aware of how my body core relates to my bike riding and my general health. I have the beginnings of a way out of the pain and discomfort to what hopefully can be much more enjoyable cycling. Overall, while the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, I feel it was €70 well spent and would highly recommend a visit to IrishFit, and to Leo in particular.

I will admit that the twelve mile or so ride home felt a bit odd with my saddle so high, but I did get off the bike feeling my back was much straighter than after my spin last weekend.

BTW Leo has some footage and a sample report on the website here.

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