Bike Fit - Don't Set and Forget

We are now well on our way into the second month of the new year.  Typically, at this point, those New Year’s fitness resolutions have either been discarded to the slag heap of wishful thinking, or you’re actually making some headway, have continued to rack up some miles and are looking to make additional improvements.  Now is a good opportunity to talk about and contemplate some tweaks or changes to your bike fit.

Today is also Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.  Abraham Lincoln is perhaps my favorite human being of all time. He is that rare figure in history who achieved greatness, left the world better and has become a revered figure, not because of the typical traits of aggression, force of will or arrogance, but through wisdom, thoughtfulness and humility. I find that there’s not any question or conundrum that can’t be improved upon by asking, “What would Lincoln do?”  Is there a contemporary social issue or intractable political impasse?  What would Lincoln do?  That person just cut me off on the freeway.  Should I get irate and respond with an obscene gesture?  What would Lincoln do?

So, there’s always a lesson or an example that I can draw upon from history and from Abe’s life that is applicable today. Which brings me to Lincoln’s Lyceum Address.  He was only 28, and at the time, an obscure frontier lawyer trying to make a name for himself and hone his rhetorical skills by giving a lecture to young men in what was then called a Lyceum.  At that time, Lyceums were a common and popular way to spread knowledge and ideas to other adults, a sort of adult education.  The Lyceum movement was Ted Talks, pre-internet. In one particular passage in his address he said of the founding fathers, their legacy and their passing, “What invading foemen could never do, the silent artillery of time has done.”  In his use of his own style of poetry, the use of emphasis and contrast, one sees those distinguishing rhetorical traits he would use some time later in his much more lasting and significant Gettysburg Address.

What does any of this have to do with bike fit?  Honestly, not a lot.  But the example does describe the effect of time, and this is relevant to bike fit.  It describes time, that immutable force of perpetual mutability; in other words, the only constant is change.  As living, breathing bicycle riding entities, we are subject to that silent artillery of time.  We are born, grow, develop, wither and decay in a never-ending entropic process.  In terms of our relationships with our bicycles, our fitness tends to wax and wane the more or less we ride.  Our optimal bike fit when we are just starting out, completely new to cycling, is going to change as we get better.  As we ride more and learn to ride, our whole body becomes more adapted to that machine and that position we spend so much time with.  Our body gets stronger.  The tissue around our sit bones gets tougher.  Our core and postural musculature becomes stronger and more engaged in the task of holding ourselves in an optimal bicycle position. As a result, that saddle can go just a little bit higher.  Those handlebars can drop just a little bit, which might give you more power, better aerodynamics and give you better handling and, ultimately, make you more comfortable.  Conversely, as we age, we shrink, lose flexibility.  Our joints get a little more achy.  The back hurts a little more, and that more aggressive position just doesn’t work quite as well.   As your body changes – and it is always changing – so does your fit.

So, bicycle fit is not Set and Forget.  It does change, and it’s even a good idea to have a fresh set of experienced eyes and some objective data provide a double take of your current position. One thing I’ve realized in a lifetime of seeing different doctors or physical therapists is that diagnoses and opinion vary dramatically.  You also often get different opinions and sometimes different results from different bike fitters – or the same bike fitter.

A good illustration of this are the riders of professional pro-tour level teams.  I was recently at a Retul conference and we were looking at Retul data and case studies from some Garmin Sharp riders.  On many of these pro-level riders, there were some significant changes made to their positions. It struck me that these riders still benefited from having their position on their machines evaluated precisely and having improvements made.  One would think, after years of riding up through the junior, semi-pro and pro ranks, and having any number of various coaches and doctors poke, prod and tweak them countless times, that their positions would be, by this time, pretty well established.  Not so.

The takeaway lesson from this is that there are always improvements to be made to the position on your bike that improve your comfort, efficiency and reduce the chance of long-term injury.  You are constantly adapting, trying to reach homeostasis. You respond to training and additional riding by getting stronger.  Your bike fit should adapt to your individual morphological changes as well.  So, for those who have not yet had their bike fit evaluated, or who have had a bike fit in the past, and if you plan on ramping up your riding and your fitness goals this year, it’s a good idea to have that position precisely evaluated by an experienced set of eyes and the tools to give detailed and objective data.  A good, thorough bicycle fit once a year or so is that buttress against the silent artillery of time.

Happy Lincoln’s Birthday ….B