Today, kids, we’re going to learn the importance of a proper bike fitting. No, not the one you get when you buy your new bike, where the salesperson eyeballs your position, adjusts your saddle, and sends you off on your merry way, but a real, pro fitting, preferably one done by someone who actually makes his or her living off of doing so.
I found my bike fitting magician in Nate Loyal, who is, by many counts, the best pro fitter in Los Angeles. Nate is not only a bike fitter, but he has a history as a bike mechanic, physical therapist, triathlete and coach, so he understands the mechanics of the bike, of your body, and how they work together for the sport you’re doing, as well as your level of cycling ability. Seriously, the guy knows his stuff.
One of the first things I learned about bike fitting is, HEYY, cycling isn’t supposed to hurt (or, at least not during the first hour or so of a bike ride). My hands and, er, lady parts, had been suffering greatly during my solo rides, with nothing to distract me from the pain. I knew I needed to get things adjusted, but for a while, considering my employment status, I wasn’t too keen on shelling out the money for a pro. Finally, after a particularly painful ride, I gave in and contacted Nate. We set up an appointment for the following week, and I hoped it would be worth it.
When I first arrived, Nate had me note all of the things that hurt while I was on the bike. He propped the thing up on the trainer and began measuring everything. Then, he had me hop up on the bike and spin, taking measurements of my legs at different angles, my arm length, and taking note of my position.
“Have you guys been working on cadence?” Nate asked, observing my struggling pedal strokes.
I told him we had, but that I wasn’t very good yet at keeping a high cadence.
“You’re very quad-heavy,” he noted. “Meaning that, you are using your quads a lot to push down, and not a lot of your other muscles, like your calves and hamstrings. You really want to focus on smoothing out that pedal stroke and using more of those muscles. It will make you a more efficient cyclist.”
These are things I’d heard about, but hadn’t really put them into practice, I tried to focus more on pulling as well as pushing as I spun my legs, but, on platform pedals, it wasn’t really easy. Yet another reason to switch to clipless, I supposed.
After a few more measurements, Nate concluded that I needed a shorter stem for my bike. He replaced mine and raised the handlebars a bit. He also adjusted the seat and then had me hop back on.
“How does that feel?” he asked.
“Better!” I said, not feeling as stretched out, nor as mashed up against the horn of the saddle.
He advised me to hop off again, made some adjustments, then had me hop back on. He’d asked me to bring my clipless shoes and pedals so that he could make adjustments for those. He watched me walk to and fro and then adjusted my cleats to accommodate my slight over-pronation issue. Finally, he screwed the pedals onto the bike and invited me to come get clipped in for the first time.
The whole process of clipping seems easy when you watch pros do it, but it takes quite a bit of thinking initially. Make sure dominant foot pedal is at the bottom of rotation, slide foot along pedal until cleat catches, then press down to clip, then pull up on clipped foot, press down to “start” bike, and attempt to clip in on the other side. Note: If clip with non-dominant foot doesn’t catch, continue to pedal with one leg until clip-in is successful. It just seems complicated, and, knowing me, will probably result in lots of bruises once I’m actually out and moving.
Nate was patient, giving me a little clip-in lesson. At first it took a while for me to figure out where the cleat was, but once Nate marked my white shoes with a Sharpie, it was easier. Unclipping was easy enough. So long as I remember to do it before I stop.
When all was said and done, tweaked and checked, and re-tweaked, I had what felt like a brand new bike, custom made for me, for a sliver of a fraction of the cost of an actual new bike, plus a clip-in lesson, form correction, and a new ally in the cycling world in Nate. I couldn’t be happier and it was worth EVERY penny!!!
Yesterday I actually rode all the way out to the beach from my neighborhood, 90 minutes, solo! I worked on my cadence and a few rollers, and felt much , much more in control of my bike. There were even some weird people obstacles (crazy, off-leash dogs, skateboarders, construction workers) and I handled them all smoothly. I might just be a cyclist yet!
Now to put my clips back on throw on some adequate body padding, and take the final step (“The One-Pedaled Cyclist” coming to a parking lot near you).
Note: Nate Loyal operates primarily out of Helen’s Cycles in Santa Monica, CA. Helen’s has a great staff and awesome gear. They fixed my slippery shifter free of charge and even put my bike on my bike rack for me (aww). They’re good people!
Nate Loyal: http://nateloyal.com