Fitting outside the norm
Iain Treloar searches for the perfect fit for the perfectly imperfect.
With a heavy heart and aching body, I rode toward the clinic. As my pedals turned over, I mulled over my physical flaws; pronounced scoliosis that developed in my childhood, poorly-knit broken ribs and a chest covered in a patchwork of scars, knee pain. These were just some the quirks which had so far stopped me from finding my Nirvana—perfect comfort on my bike.
I’d tried numerous bike fits previously, which included market leaders like Specialized’s Body Geometry and Retul. They worked—to a point—but they still fell some way short of what I was hoping for.
I puzzled over why this would be, bought a new bike with geometry based on an uneasy consensus of the two latter fits, and for a couple of months put up with it. It took a particularly painful and spirit-sapping training ride to force my hand. With the SCODY 3 Peaks Challenge looming ever nearer on the horizon, I allowed myself one last roll of the bike-fit dice before resigning myself to ongoing vague discomfort.
Realising that my physiology didn’t fit into the norm, I stepped away from the system-based fits, and started the search for someone who’d be able to work with my apparently warped body to get a satisfactory result.
My search led me to Neill Stanbury, a sports and spinal physiotherapist with a special interest in bike fitting born from his own bad experiences with system-based bike fits and a close friendship with the renowned Steve Hogg. So here I was, in his consulting rooms, running through a litany of imperfections. He looked me over before explaining that in addition to the complaints I already knew about, I also had a “significant leg length discrepancy” and a pelvis that was asymmetrical. Terrific.
“You’ve spent years adapting to a structural leg length discrepancy, and all the muscular and neurological imbalances that result from that are deeply ingrained into the way you function on and off the bike,” Stanbury elaborated.
It was something that had been overlooked in all other fits I’ve had, and it meant that I was never really stable on the bike, dropping my hip to compensate and riding off to one side. No wonder that my discomfort grew the more I rode.
Stanbury was unsurprised my other bike fits hadn’t been successful. “My knowledge of the human body tells me that the traditional rules—like knee over pedal axle—are nonsense. These things have become ingrained in fitting through decades of repetition.”
He believes system-based fits don’t work for all bodies. “They’re flawed in that they give the fitter information but don’t tell them how to fix issues; people tend to get pigeonholed by the data. Although for many people these fits might be OK, if you’re outside the norm, they don’t work,” he said. “The nature of my work is that I never see people that are happy with their fit.”
After a detailed analysis of my flexibility and physical quirks, as well as how I presented on my bike in its existing position, Stanbury set to work on my feet and moved up from there. “There are vast differences in foot morphology from one person to the next, so the feet take most time; the rest of it is easy!” Stanbury explained.
To this end, he prescribes all of his clients custom insoles. This allows him to fine-tune arch support and help the knee to start tracking on a correct plane. In addition to the insoles, cleat position was dramatically changed, with stacking under my left cleat and a number of wedges on the right. Result? Correct knee movement for the first time, with a positive flow-on effect into the pelvis and the back.
Over the 3.5 hours allocated for the fit, the changes made to my position were numerous. Seat height was decreased slightly, and setback increased. Paired with the major changes to my feet position, Stanbury was quick to manage expectations, advising around a month of moderate intensity riding to allow the body to habituate to its new position. He suggested I embark on a course of stretching and physiotherapy. I swallowed my pride and stubborn dislike of such treatment, and booked some appointments.
Having struggled to believe the claims of “instant improvement” from previous fitters, I found the fact that he was playing a long game with my fit reassuring.
Stanbury’s fits consist of much more than one consultation, and through the weeks following my initial visit, he was in regular contact to see how my adaptation was going, suggesting stretches and minor alterations.
After my previous bike fits, I’d wondered whether the result justified the expense. With those, I was uncomfortable before, uncomfortable afterwards, and several hundred dollars poorer. There are many that will view any bike fit in the same light. I can see their point—there’s a certain amount that can be achieved with your own trial and error. What I learnt from my experience with this fit, however, is that there are some issues you need outside assistance for, and don’t have the expertise to overcome yourself—riding a couple of hours on the weekend might be tolerable, but if you’re doing 250km weeks, or nine hours at a time, something’s got to give.
I now understand I’m outside the normal bell curve of human physiology, and with the help of a thorough bike fit from a caring practitioner with an exhaustive knowledge of both bikes and the way people interact with them, I was riding better than ever before, in far greater comfort.
Several weeks after my first fit, I was back for a follow-up where further minor changes were made. “You’ll continue to adapt,” Stanbury said. “Bike fitting is often an ongoing process as the person’s body changes, and you are a perfect example of that.”
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