You’ve got your bike set up perfectly? You’ve been riding long enough to know what works for you so you don’t need anyone to come along and tinker with it. They’ll just mess everything up, right? Wrong.
I’ve come to Le Beau Velo in Shoreditch, London to have a bike fit done. We’re getting a super high-end Viner Maxima RS race bike in to review on road.cc and it’s going to be custom-made to our exact requirements. Excited? You betcha boots! Bespoke bike building is what the Italian brand is all about and we can’t wait to give it a go.
Le Beau Velo is a boutiquey place tucked away in a backstreet off Shoreditch High Street. It’s in a basement, you have to press a buzzer to get in, and it’s full of posh bikes – Viner, Frondriest, Legend… you know, some seriously high-class brands.
As well as meeting the owner, Mal, I’m here to hook up with Peter and Guiseppe from Velo Solutions who are going to measure me up for the Viner – bike fitting is what they do – and the first step in the process is to get the ride position on one of my existing bikes completely dialled. They’ll then take all the relevant dimensions from that setup and have the Maxima built to those measurements. Make sense?
Guiseppe is the bike fit expert with zillions of years of experience behind him, but he’s Italian and speaks little English, so Peter is there to help out and make everything a lot easier.
You don’t need to be having a bespoke frame made to benefit from a bike fit, though. Far from it. You can book up and have your ride position sorted so you can ride as comfortably and as efficiently as possible.
I’ll put my cards on the table; I’ve always been a bit skeptical about bike fitting. I mean, surely through trial and error over many years of cycling and reading the odd article on the subject, I’ll have ended up in the position that’s bang on. If it wasn’t right it would feel not right and I’d change it. Plus, I spend half of my cycling time on test bikes and you can never set them all up exactly the same way. I’m chopping and changing all the time yet I never seem to suffer any ill effects, so just how precise a science can bike fit actually be?
That said, I was approaching this with interest and with a mind that was as open as I could manage. If someone could really improve my bike set up, brilliant, let’s do it. But really, I was just curious to know how close to perfection I’d managed to hone my everyday ride position. As it turns out, not very close at all…
Guiseppe does everything by eye. Well, that’s not exactly true. He does everything by eye to start with, he taps all the information into the computer, the computer thinks about it, does a few calculations, thinks about it some more and then agrees that Guiseppe was right in the first place.
The process is pretty straightforward and completely painless. Guiseppe sets up your bike on a turbo trainer and levels it out, he takes a few measurements – your height, inside leg, arms and so on – sticks some sticky white dots on your joints as reference points and then gets you to spin the pedals.
Okay, the positives first. Fortunately my bike frame was the right size, more or less. Apparently, lots of people who come in for a bike fit are on the wrong sized frame to start with and there’s only so much that tweaks to the saddle and handlebar position can do to correct that. Sure, you can stick on a super long stem or whatever but it could badly affect the handling. Basically, if you’re on the wrong sized frame, you’re fighting a losing battle and you’re never going to get things 100% right.
My Litespeed was okay, though – just a touch too long for me in the top tube so the Viner will be made a little bit shorter, but close enough, according to Guiseppe, for him to get a decent fit. At least he wasn’t throwing his arms up in the air and cursing in Italian.
Other positives: well, the cleats on my shoes were bolted in the right position. And that’s about it. Here’s the list in full:
• Saddle too high
• Saddle too far forward (needs layback rather than inline seatpin)
• Handlebars too low
• Reach too short (needs 1cm increase in stem length)
• Handlebars turned up too high
Just that, huh? That’s pretty much all the variables, then. Of these, I know I set my seat higher than recommended by the boffins, and I’d put the handlebars lower than normal when I’d fitted clip-on tri bars for a recent race. But the others… news to me. Bugger!
What real difference does all this make, though? Surely as human beings we’re smart enough to adapt ourselves to various different setups – within reason –without any disadvantage. Hell, as a species we can put men on the moon, surely we can cope with a bicycle handlebar stem that’s 10mm shorter than optimal without it affecting our performance. Wrong again.
This is Guiseppe’s list of visible symptoms made after watching me ride on the turbo:
• Lower and upper back tension
• Shoulder tension
• Tension in the arms (locked elbows)
• Tension in the hand
• Incorrect wrist-to-hand angle
• Pedalling action incorrect with toes pointing down
You might not realize that your wrists are slightly cocked or that your feet point downward at the bottom of the pedal stroke because… well, how often do you watch yourself in a mirror when you’re riding? But when an expert tells you that you could be sitting more comfortably, or that your foot is at the wrong angle when you’re at the point of maximal power in your pedal stroke, that’s when you sit up and listen. “I could be feeling better and getting more power out, you say? Where do I sign up?”
So then Guiseppe goes to work and shifts everything around. The saddle goes backwards, the seatpost goes down, the handlebars spin forwards a touch, the levers move… look, he rearranges everything. Nothing is shifted far – we’re talking millimetres here – but it’s all moved a bit.
Then I jump back on, pedal some more, and Guiseppe watches intently, weighing things up in his mind. We go through the process a couple more times, making a few smaller corrections, before he stands back, nods his head and declares himself happy with the set up, like an artist finishing off a portrait, pleased with the way it’s turned out.
Do I feel less tension in my back? Actually, yes. I was pretty cynical about this whole process, don’t forget, but I have to admit that I feel a whole lot more relaxed with less pressure on my back muscles and spine. My arms, which were almost straight before, have more of a bend in the elbow, my wrists are straighter and more comfortable and there's less pressure on the palms of my hands. Plus, I'm certainly not reaching with my feet at the bottom of the pedal stroke now.
Could this be down to a Derren Brown-like power of suggestion? “You’re feeling more comfortable now, aren’t you, sir?” Um, yeah, I guess I am. The answer is that no, that’s not the case. I've felt better on my bike in the weeks since the bike fit. Those improvements I noticed on day have continued. And check out the two videos. In the first one, before the bike fit, I look tight and tense. In the second one I look more relaxed and my pedal stroke is more fluid. The differences are subtle, admittedly, but they're certainly there.
Only then does Guiseppe check my body angles: the angle in my knee and the position of my knee in relation to the pedal at various points of the stroke, the angle of my body, arms… everything you can think of.
He taps it into the computer and it’s all within the bands that the bike fitting software wants. In other words, the computer program confirms that the setup Guiseppe has made using just his experience is spot on. So he gets out his tape and measures everything because this is the template that Viner are going to use to build the Maxima RS.
We’ll tell you all about the bike when it comes through – it’s a five-week process. We can’t wait. In the meantime, you can find out all about Viner bikes at www.viner.it. If you’d like to arrange a bike fitting from Velo Solutions go to www.velosolutions.eu, if you'd like to sort something with Le Beau Velo go to www.lebeauvelo.co.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Mal on 020 3239 2311.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a youthful 45-year-old Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.