During last week’s Fit Friday, I explored the idea of when to get my bike refit. In this post, I wanted to cover the re-fit process and the changes made. These changes are specific to me and my style of riding, and should not be considered universal fixes for a given problem.
Following an interview to determine my riding goals, history and other pertinent information such as injuries and current discomfort on the bike, a Fit Specialist test various aspects of my flexibility and range of motion among other things. It is during this process that Chris (my Fit Specialist) discovered a leg length discrepancy that had not been noticed in the past.
What is a leg length discrepancy? What does a leg length discrepancy do on a bike?
No one is entirely symmetrical; one foot may be slightly larger than another, one arm slightly longer than another, and having a small difference between legs is not uncommon. [In my case, the difference is around 3-4 mm, and in my left femur] However bikes are perfectly symmetrical so if one leg is essentially shorter than the other it may cause you to shift and change how you sit the bike, affect your knees, create saddle sores, affect your pedaling, or it’s possible that a rider can compensate for a minor leg length discrepancy and not be affected at all.
We also talk about my feet. Lately I’ve had some numbness in my toes, especially on longer rides.
Why do you use special insoles for cycling shoes?
The motion of pedaling a bike is not the same as when walking or running, so the needs for support are different. When you walk, the arch of your foot provides suspension, and lessens the impact on your body, but when you ride, this arch collapse is inefficient. Since the foot and hip are essentially “locked” in place, any arch collapse typically causes the riders knee to dive inward creating lateral strain on the knee. By using a foot such as the BG Footbeds, we can support the rider’s foot in a way that allows the knees to track in line, and significantly reduce the chance for repetitive use injuries.
When I get on the bike, the first thing Chris notices is my position on the saddle. I learn that I sit crooked on the seat; one hip more forward than the other. Through measuring my sit bones (ischial tuberosities), Chris determined that I need a bigger saddle. When I was first fit, two sizes of saddle were available, and I fit the bigger one (143mm). Now, sizes range from 130 to 168 or more and the variety of saddles made to fit the rider have increased greatly. Now with the 168 Romin Evo on the bike, I’m feeling more comfortable than ever before. I’m amazed how much better I sit on the bike. In only a few minutes they have decreased bouncing when I pedal at higher cadences and my sit bones feel great on this saddle. Chris adjusts my cleats, further evening my legs and hips.
After dialing in the fit from the waist down, I’m surprised to be switched into a longer stem as I thought I needed a 100 mm, but as Chris changes my position around and checks my comfort level at each adjustment he asks “Could you ride for a while in that position?” I noted that I could “work up to it” and Chris indicates this is not ideal; To be comfortable in the long run, I need to start comfortable, and the whole process is designed to get me to a natural position. The fitter is an advocate and a second set of eyes to see what the rider cannot.
Why does going to a longer stem make me more comfortable? Wouldn’t that stretch me out more?
A lot of times, when a rider feels pressure on their hands, or tension in their shoulders, it may not be from too much reach. Hands arms and shoulders can experience excessive pressure from not allowing enough room between the rider and the handlebar, and slight changes to the handlebar that put your shoulder, hand and elbow in the most natural position can make a huge difference.
Following all the adjustments for the waist down, as well as the reach and arm comfort, Chris concerns himself with my knees. Riding a bike is like thousands of small leg presses, and the hips, knees and feet need to work together like the engine of a car. To even things up here, I end up with supportive insoles and some wedges to line up my knees and feet.
My fit resulted in a new saddle, cleat adjustment, and a new stem as well as some minor changes to the insoles and wedges in my shoes. A day later, I ride my indoor trainer and experience no pain or numbness; a first in a while. Having completed my second fitting, I am once again surprised at how I can feel more comfortable and know more about my riding than I did before. I’m excited for the coming season, and as a result, I even look forward to getting on the trainer most of the time!