A few thoughts on bike fitting
by Steve Smales
by Steve Smales
The story goes that about three years ago I made the decision to make the switch from rim brakes to discs for my cross bikes. Purely because I was too tight to get my race wheels re-rimmed after four hard seasons.
Becoming frustrated at being unable to find a pair of reasonably priced cross bikes that didn’t have the current, in vogue, ridiculous, long head tubes that make one like a galleon in full sail, I rang my good friend and renowned authority on cyclocross, Simon Burney for a bit of advice. Simon asked me to send a photo of me on my race bike.
I struck lucky.
Unbeknown to me, Simon was in esteemed company at the time. Simon was with the legend that is Nick Craig (he’ll cringe as he’s so modest). Simon’s text response destroyed me. “Nick wants to know why yer racing on a kids bike?”
“What do you mean a kids bike?”
“It’s too small, you’re cramped”
I was devastated. My position had evolved over the preceding 40 years. I knew my seat height to the mm, what shape handlebars I had on all my bikes. Every detail…and all of a sudden two of the leading experts in the sport had told me it was wrong from a photo on a phone. Simon told me to go to see a guy called Shoz (Andy Shore) at a bike shop called Windmill Wheels, who would sort me out.
What a bind… Wyndham was a 280 mile round trip. Over a hundred quid for someone to just give advice. After all, riding a bike is well, just riding a bike isn’t it… why is it so technical to adjust it – no comments please Nick 😉
If I was really, really honest. I only went to not piss Simon off. It really grips me when people ask me for advice and then ask others until they get the answer they wanted. So off I went down the A1, muttering to myself about taking half a day off work and the price of diesel. I’d travelled the world with cycling and people seemed to just jump on their bike and ride them, and I’m sure that they’d never thought about getting a bike fit done while cycling the streets of Verona or Montpellier!
Anyway, upon arrival, I found a small, modest bike shop that had some really nice stuff for sale and met Shoz. I was taken upstairs to what was almost a loft conversion; just a space with a bike fitting jig and a sofa. Andy took 5 mins to chat and then we did nothing much more sophisticated than sit me on my bike and pedal on a trainer. A simple measurement of my body angles using an app on a iPad, a tape measure and laser level – and SHIT loads of experience 😉
Saddle needs to go down 40mm – “YOU WHAT?”
“You’re probably over using your calves riding… likely to injure yourself”. I’d just recovered from a completely severed calf muscle that left me in a cast for six weeks!
Bars too wide. Ditch the 44’s, 42’s for cross, 40’s on the road – “No!”
Stem too long, 20mm too long – “Are you joking?”
“Your left cleat needs to go back roughly 7mm, your feet aren’t both the same… look at this” I looked down, I could see it clearly when someone pointed it out to me. In fact, there was only one dimension right on the bike.
I came home having not been sold anything other than advice. I needed a pile of parts to make many of the changes… this wasn’t about this – it was all about sending me away with a sheet of A4 paper with some handwritten numbers on and the knowledge of how to consistently measure my bikes for myself.
With around seven bikes – oh yes, a mere seven, to implement some of Shoz’s changes fully has taken some time. That’s a lot of handlebars, stems etc. But last week, I finally started to roll out the 40cm wide bars. Roughly this time last year, I rode 260 miles in 16 hours for a local charity with some people from work. I literally could have turned round and ridden back because I was so comfortable. My numbers are strong and I feel so at one with the bike.
I cannot comment on other fitters, what I had was simple, straightforward and there was not the slightest hint of over technical gobbledygook or attempts to blind me with science in an attempt to justify the fee.
But what I will say is in forty years of cycling it was the best hundred and twenty quid I’ve ever spent. Nothing comes close.
End of; now, off you go and no excuses.