June 4, 2012

All Dialed In

I know I've mentioned previously some issues with my bike and how I suspected they were at least partly due to fit. The biggest issue has been the saddle, which becomes incredibly uncomfortable for me on anything over 2 hours, and sometimes even sooner. On most of my longer rides I've also been getting a pinching pain and soreness in my left shoulder, to the point that I could barely stay still on the bike. Lately I've noticed some tightness and reduced dorsiflexion in my left foot after long rides, which seems to be worse after hillier rides. And finally, I felt like I just wasn't in the most efficient position and wasn't getting as much power for the effort I was putting out. When I bought my bike back in February it included a basic fit. The shop I got it from was great, and made it very clear that they were setting me up in a position to start with, but that as I got used to it/got stronger/more flexible, I would probably need to adjust the fit. They also sold me an Adamo saddle, which seemed to be great initially.

I realized that after several months of riding it was probably time to get refit, and so I asked around and got an overwhelming number of recommendations for a physical therapist named Mike Berretta at Revolutions Cycling. I called to make an appointment back in early May, but was a little disappointed to find he was booked until the end of the month. I made an appointment anyway, and in the meantime just tried to deal with my discomfort on the bike.

This past Tuesday was the day, so I headed up to El Dorado Hills, hoping for some positive adjustments and some answers for what I was dealing with. My first impression of Mike was not necessarily what I expected. He was super friendly and personable right off the bat, and as our session progressed it was clear that he knows what he's talking about. He started off by telling me that on a bike, there are 5 points of contact: saddle, hands, and feet (7 on a tri bike with aero bars). If there is discomfort or pain in any one of those areas, something about the fit is off. So clearly, my fit needed some work : / We set my bike up on the trainer, he asked me my background and about the issues I was having, and then I hopped on. He watched me spin for a bit, made some notes, and set up some lasers on my legs to check position and tracking. After a few minutes I stopped and he took some measurements of my knee angle and hip angle (I obviously don't know the technical terms).

His initial observations:
  • My hip angle was way too closed off, so I wasn't getting the full power out of my pedal stroke, and I was overworking the quads and hip flexors.
  • My left arm was in a slightly different position than my right, possibly causing my shoulder issue.
  • I was sitting on my saddle wrong. Adamo seats are unique in that they don't have a nose and have a cutout for soft tissue. They are designed to be sat on with the sit bones, which requires a more forward position on the saddle, leaving the back portion of it exposed. My bum hung off the back.
  • My back was more rounded than necessary, meaning I could be stretched out more. After a flexibility test Mike determined that I had great hamstring flexibility so we could go more aggressive with my fit.
  • My right knee didn't track perfectly. As I came to the top of the pedal stroke it came in a bit and made a little S-shape. Mike looked at my cleats and determined that the right one wasn't in quite the right position.
With all that identified, he began to make some adjustments. He raised the height of my seat a bit which helped open up my hip angle a bit. He repositioned my right cleat which resulted in better tracking on that knee. And then he showed me the proper way to sit on my saddle, not by making any adjustments to the bike, but rather to my position. Essentially, he told me to stick my bum out. This took most of the pressure off the soft tissue and put it on the sit bones, where it should be. It was immediately more comfortable. The next priority, then, was making adjustments to the handlebars. From the beginning the plan was to take advantage of my flexibility and stretch me out a bit more, both to put me in a more efficient position and to make things more comfortable, especially on the saddle.

He hooked up a device that allows you to easily adjust the stem length, and we played around for a bit to narrow it down to a few lengths that felt comfortable but also made it easy and natural to stick my bum out. My original stem was 70mm, and we ended up going back and forth between 100 and 110mm. Both felt great, and honestly it was hard to tell much of a difference! We also tried my handlebars at both a -6 position (original) and a +6 position and the latter ended up feeling much better (I'll be honest here - I don't actually know what this means! I just remember the numbers - if you know, please chime in!). He also removed one of the spacers from the stem to lower it a tiny bit. We kept switching things back and forth, all the while he continued to watch and take measurements. We successfully opened my hips up to a 110 degree angle (originally about 100 degrees) and my got my knee angle to 30 degrees.
old and new stem
After some debate I decided that 110 degrees felt better. It was easy to maintain my position on the saddle, my arm position felt more natural, and my back was a lot flatter, putting my whole body closer to 90 degrees and making me more aero (it's all about aero! haha). He switched out my stem with the newer, longer one, and I spun for a bit more to make sure it was the right one. When I came in I was in more of a road bike position, which was partly why I wasn't as efficient and had so many comfort issues. In the end, we both wished we'd taken before and after pictures because the adjustments made for a dramatically different fit and much better position.

The whole experience was great. Mike spent a good 1.5 hours with me, and was great about explaining everything he was doing and answered all my silly questions. It's clear he enjoys what he does and is very knowledgeable about it. I will admit that it was not cheap - in full disclosure, it cost $250, not including parts you may need (like my new stem) - but it was well worth it. When you spend thousands (yes, that s means multiple) of dollars on a bike, another couple hundred is nothing if it means you get the most out of said bike. A poor fit on a fancy bike is just sad : (

So obviously, I was eager to take my bike out post-fit, and fortunately I had a long one on my schedule for the next day! I'll get into it more in my weekly recap, but let's just say it was mostly good. Stay tuned!


  1. It's crazy how technical it is. Who would have guessed there would be so much physics involved in sitting on a bike. I'm looking forward to hearing how the first post-fit ride went.

  2. Being new to the bike world, I was shocked to hear about gettingbfitted for a bike when I was shopping. What a great business this guy has. I wonder if there is any up here in Seattle. Hope the new fit helps. Sounds like you learned a ton. Let us know the new fit feels.

  3. I also got my P2 fit this week! I definitely think it will make a difference. I was also sitting too far back on my saddle! It's hard to correct since I'm used to it but I'm working on it!

  4. This sounds like a fascinating process. I hope that you are already feeling the benefits!

  5. This sounds awesome and well worth it! I've been debating whether to do a real fit, and it seems like it could really pay off. Hope all the tweaks make for better rides for you!

  6. wow...and I thought worrying about the right shoe was a hassle!

  7. Dang - I can't wait to hear about how your ride went and if you felt a difference.