Bike Fit – Influences of New Equipment

As Seen In The Feb 2016 issue of The Racing Post.

No doubt, most of you have had some equipment changes since last year. Those equipment changes can have a profound effect on your performance on the bike. The effects may be positive or negative. I would like to breakdown some of these items and point out fit considerations for each.

  • Shoes – One of the more significant items that effect your fit on the bike. Shoes can vary significantly from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model. The shoes will vary in the stack height of the shoes, the support provided, the forefoot cant (forefoot angle) to name a few. With a change of shoes, saddle height should be considered along with cleat position. Watch for foot pain and numbness, knee pain and low back pain.
  • Pedal System – A change in pedal system can have similar effects as a change in shoes. The stack height of the cleat and pedal combination may be enough to change knee extension/flexion. Consider saddle height when making a pedal system change as well as cleat position. Watch for foot pain and numbness, knee pain and low back pain.
  • Saddle – The saddle is another biggie. How a saddle supports the pelvis can directly affect the knee position over the pedal, pelvic tilt, pelvic stability and saddle pressure. Saddle height as well as fore/aft should be considered when changing. The saddle height and fore/aft of your old saddle may not be the same for the new one. Watch for knee pain, hip pain and low back pain.
  • Handlebars – Bar reach, drop and width can and do vary. Bars are typically measured center-to-center in the drops at the bar end. Bars may flare – meaning a 42cm C-to-C bar may or may not be equivalent to your new 42cm C-to-C bar at the hoods. There are several bars on the market that are narrower on the hood position. Bars may have more or less drop, resulting in lower or raising your back angle. Reach is also a factor. With a bar change, you should also evaluate your stem length and spacer stack height. Watch for hip pain, shoulder pain and back pain.
  • Shorts – Now this could be difficult for riders on teams to change. Cycling shorts are the only buffer point between your butt and the saddle. The fit of cycling clothing brands vary significantly. It is important to find the shorts that work best for you. The most expensive wrong size pair of shorts may be worse than a less expensive pair that is the right size and fit. I am NOT advocating one brand over the other here. Rather, I am advocating for what fits you the best and does not create significant pressure points that never unload during the pedal stroke. In my studies of saddle shorts and saddle pressure, I have found more than a 30% difference in saddle pressure with only a change in shorts – all other fit variables remained constant. In addition, I have found significant pressure differences just between sizes – say a medium vs a large.
  • Bike – This opens the door wide open for a myriad of changes. Be sure to make detailed measurements of your existing bike, before breaking it down or selling it. It will be a good resource to have when the new ride does not feel as good as your old ride. There are many ways to measure out a bike. Be sure to be consistent in how you measure from bike to bike. Make yourself a diagram of how you derived your measurements. Telling a mechanic your saddle height and setback numbers may not return same result you have without informing them on how they were derived. I prefer making all measurements in relationship to a static point – the center of the bottom bracket. The center of the bottom bracket will remain a constant point from bike to bike. Optimally, a new bike should result in getting a new bike fit.