A bike fit cures all (most)

“Well, how do I put this: it’s not so much the bike, it’s you.” Tom Barry had been trying to break it to me nicely, but there really wasn’t any avoiding it. He’d done all he could with the machine – now it was up to me.

Tom, an osteopath who also happens to be a Retul certified bike fit specialist, is normally based just outside Melbourne, Australia (Albury to be precise). He was in Singapore for a weekend to visit friends and do a few bike fits. A Sufferlandrian, he got in touch to see if I’d be interested in one. I immediately booked an appointment. I haven’t been right on the bike for years. For the last year, in particular, I’ve felt so uncomfortable on the bike that I was often dreading getting on it. Having just got a new bike, I figured this was perfect timing to sort out my issues once and for all. A touch higher here, a bit lower there and a twist and a turn and I was sure I’d have the grace of Anquetil and the power of Merckx.

When we started, we didn’t actually get on the bike. The fit started with an assessment of how I stood (bowlegged, flat feet) and moved and of my flexibility. I asked Tom what the worst case of bike mis-fit he’d ever had – he said he’d tell me after mine as I might have raised the bar.

After properly diagnosing me as a slumped over, mouse using office worker with a pathetic core and horrific flexibility, we got on the bike. I’d only ever seen the Retul fit equipment in pictures, but it was really impressive. A string of sensors was attached to all my joints from the front of my foot up to my wrists. Then I started pedaling at various intensities and in different positions. “Your knee tracking is world class,” he said. I’d never thought about my knee tracking before, much less that it was world class, but at this point, I was grateful for whatever compliment I could get.

Assessing the angles and range of motion for ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and wrists, Tom started making adjustments. The saddle came down…way down. And it came forward – way forward. This really challenged how I always thought about my position – that I should be higher and further back (although I am no good at it and am far too heavy, I fancy myself a bit of a climber). I was confused: it felt too compact but it also felt more powerful. More Merckx and less Anquetil? We worked on my cleats a lot. I’d felt for a long time like I wasn’t really connected to the bike – as if only the outside of my feet were pushing on the pedals and that one foot was further forward than the other. Tom moved my cleats inwards and it instantly relieved the pressure on my feet. He then suggested that I put in eSoles (a special brand of customizable orthotics) to help improve the connection between my forefoot and the pedal.

Once we got the bike adjusted as much as possible, Tom started talking about me. The bike position would make a difference – but not as much as sorting myself out would. And here is the benefit of working with a bike-fit specialist who also happens to be a health professional: an equal focus on bike and body. “Do you stretch?” Once. About ten years back. “Do you do any core exercises?” Core what? As much as I had wished that only the bike would have to change, and after doing detailed measurements on my new set-up, Tom told me he would provide a set of exercises and a recommendation to start seeing a local osteopath in the report he’s send me once he returned to Australia.

I rode home. And felt weird. The next day, I rode again. And felt even weirder: and slower. It wasn’t good. But then, about two weeks later, the position started to feel more normal, more powerful. It felt…right. Then, I went out and set my fastest average time over a 50km loop that I often tackle. I was able to stay down in the drops in a way that I never could before, and I felt a much deeper – and different – engagement of muscles: not just in my legs, but in my back as well. Tom sent a detailed report that included photos of my session, all the measurements for the bike and for my position, and a series of stretches that would help alleviate much of the discomfort I feel.

Fantastic service from a really expert and attentive professional. He even, as promised, put me in touch with someone in Singapore who could help. I really should start doing those stretches….

Fit and assessment by: Tom Barry B Sc, B Ost Sc, B App Sc, Member of AOA

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