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|April 23-29, 2009
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Zen and the art of bicycle fitting
How to turn your bike into a finely tuned machine
perfectly suited for you
by Craig Hill
Tory Grant needed just one look at me pedaling my road bike on a trainer at Tacoma, Wash.’s Old Town Bicycle to know he had some serious work in front him.
The shop manager had invited me to stop by for a bike fitting last week to see if I was in sync with my bike.
I always thought my bike was just fine.
Sure, I felt the handlebars were a tad too far away, and my toes hurt every time I ride more than 100 miles. But the bike has served me well for more than 4,000 miles since I bought it from a large chain store three years ago.
Turns out my bike and I weren’t working together as well as I thought.
“You are grossly inflexible,” Grant said as he analyzed my posture as I pedaled. “This is really going to help you.”
I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical that Grant could make my ride significantly better with just tweaks to my seat, pedals, shoes and handlebars.
But Grant insisted that everybody could benefit from a fitting.
“It’s the cornerstone of our business,” said Grant. “...One size doesn’t fit all.”
The idea is to make sure you are comfortable, efficient and preventing injuries while you’re riding.
When I asked for a fitting at the store when I bought my bike, the salesman asked for my height, had me stand over the bike and called it good.
What Grant put me and my bike through was considerably more involved.
The process started with me lying on a massage table while Grant checked my flexibility — or, to be more accurate, my inflexibility.
I figured Grant would suggest some changes to my posture or some stretches to limber up, but he had other plans.
“You should never change the way you pedal,” Grant said. “If you are trying to pedal a different way, you are just going to go back to the other way when you get tired.
“You want to fit the bike to the rider.”
In other words, Grant was going to turn my bike into a finely tuned machine perfectly suited for the grossly inflexible.
One of the first problems Grant noticed was my knees stuck out a bit on the upstroke when I pedaled because my iliotibial bands, which run from the pelvis to outside of the knee, were extremely tight. Grant says he sees many cyclists with this problem during fittings.
“Some people look like they are riding a horse,” Grant said.
Poor knee alignment is a good way to injure yourself, he said.
Grant hung a plumb bob from my knees, shined a red laser beam at my legs and made adjustments to make sure my legs were at the right angle at every point in my pedal stroke.
He lifted my seat, added inserts to my shoes and adjusted my cleats. Suddenly my grossly inflexible legs turned the pedals more fluidly.
Grant also noticed I tended to hang on to the armrests of my aerobars when I pedaled rather than the handlebars.
“You look like you are hanging on for your life,” Grant said.
Because I was a tad too far from my handlebars, it made it difficult to keep my elbows bent while I rode. For cyclists, straight arms almost always mean numb fingers.
As Grant slid my seat forward he said, “This is the adjustment where people usually notice the biggest difference.”
As I climbed back into the saddle, I saw why. I felt like I was riding a different bike. Suddenly the handlebars were close enough to grab with that all-important elbow bend.
Grant changed out my handlebar stem for one with a 24-degree angle that raised my handlebars a bit and I felt even more comfortable.
He checked my legs again, proclaimed me done, then sent me out on the road for a quick ride.
As I cruised, I started getting excited about being on my bike — a feeling I haven’t had for a while.
“If a bike doesn’t fit right, it’s just an exercise tool,” Grant said. “But when it fits right, it’s fun.”
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