Earlier this spring, I got a bike fit. My sportive bike has always felt good: comfortable on long rides (as much as that’s possible) and about as close to the right size as I could imagine. Kyla, though, was struggling a bit on her new bike, and, at the time, we were planning for our trip across the waist of the UK. She located Mike Veal of BikeDynamics in Leamington Spa and booked in, while I came along for the ride.
Mike did an extraordinary job with her. He was careful, patient and able to explain what he was doing and why. I was jealous, and so booked myself in. I cycled down there (what else?) and he started by taking a baseline of my riding position and my goals in riding. My goals are fairly simple; I like to ride fast, or at least as fast as an old guy can, but I don’t want to hurt myself in the process. I ride 90 – 100 miles a week on average, generally on my sportive bike and a Specialized hybrid that I use for daily transportation since I no longer drive.
The first look suggested my position wasn’t as good as I thought. After filming me from a couple of different angles, Mike used computer analysis and close observation to tweak my bike and improve my riding position. My saddle was forward, a bit low and the nose was down some. He moved the seat back and changed its angle and height, and lowered the bars on the stem.
One of the most interesting things he noticed was that my cadence was slow. I hoped this was in part a result of being a bit tired from the ride, but I’ve been aware that I favour pedalling hard over pedalling fast, and that this might be a mistake. When I first started cycling regularly, I thought that I would improve faster by riding at a higher gear ratio. This idea then was overlaid with problems I had with the front derailleur on the sportive bike, so that I couldn’t easily move between the large and small chain rings. As a result, I tended to grind it out, rather than dropping into the lower set. Upgrading the SRAM front derailleur and careful fiddling by the local bike shop cured the derailleur problem, but I had to re-learn when I needed to shift. Mike said that pedalling at a higher speed and lower effort should be my goal. Cadence, though, was like the classic problem of women’s work: what isn’t measured isn’t noticed (or valued).
The single best change to come out of the bike fit was his suggestion to get a cadence sensor for my Garmin, since, although Mike improved my fit, I went in to the bike fit with only some minor knee pains on longer rides. I ordered the sensor that afternoon and started using it. He suggested I aim for about 90 rpm. At first it was a push to get my rotation up to 90, but now that I’ve become used to it, I can see the improvement. I average about 90 rpm on my training rides, and, on my most recent sportive, I was able to maintain 88 rpm for 100 km. I’m finding it hard to push my average beyond this range, since I would have to ride at 110 – 120 rpm over distance in order to lift my average to 100 rpm.
My bike fit has been extraordinarily useful to me. The result is a more comfortable ride and more power that I can sustain over a longer time. While I still end exhausted, I don’t have nagging pain after a ride. In addition, Mike gave me a thorough report that will help me maintain these measurements if I change my equipment or get a new bike. One of the things I’ve learned is that it’s better to focus on experiences than on stuff. My bike fit is like this, an experience that will continue to reward rather than some gear that might give only marginal gains.