Bike fitting – CycleFit celebrate that it’s different for girls!


We visited CycleFit in London to experience for ourselves exactly what they do and found that almost everyone could benefit from their services, no matter what their cycling goals.  


If you attended the BikeEnvy Women’s Coaching Day in November 2009 you will have seen some of the participants getting a free taster bike fit session.  In fact, there was so much interest from the women that CycleFit invited two participants, Nicci Meadows and Cassie Gledhill, to their Covent Garden showroom to give them a full bike fit consultation and we went along to see what that involved.




We've wanted to get a closer look at what CycleFit do for ages now and in particular, how they achieve the great results we have heard so much about.  It is well known that they are particularly female friendly and so it came as no surprise to hear that women are an increasingly large part of their business.


Without a doubt, the Cyclefit founders Phil and Julian do not just pay lip service to women who cycle, they really care about helping them enjoy their riding.  Phil explained “traditionally women have been poorly served by the cycle-industry.  The ‘Shrink and Pink’ approach to bike design is naïve, in that it assumes women are mini-men with selective colour-blindness.  It is also insulting and very poor biomechanically. We take the approach that everyone is an individual - we are not really gender sensitive – every step has to be empathic to that person, their aspirations and the issues they are facing”.


So, we asked, why is it that are more and more women are visiting CycleFit?  Phil told us "it's because women seem to understand about posture, muscle recruitment and skeletal alignment - information that is a huge part of every CycleFit session.  It is a dreadful generalisation, but women want to be comfortable and efficient and they are prepared to take steps to achieve it".


Apparently we women are less likely to tolerate discomfort on the bike – as opposed to the physical pain that is a part of pushing your personal limits – and so we are more likely to seek advice on how to make it stop.  How very sensible of us!



What goes on during a CycleFit session then?


The CycleFit process starts with the completion of a pre-consultation questionnaire, which asks about the individual’s cycling history and goals, as well as any issues or pain they might be experiencing.  This is followed up by a thorough check of the muscular/skeletal system, to understand if there are any physical limitations to achieving the ‘optimum’ bike position. 


Cyclefit assessment


Then it is onto a bike, well it is a bike, but it is not as you know it!  This is an infinitely adjustable frame, with a rear wheel on a turbo trainer type of resistance set up and all wired to give precise feedback on all the critical measures.  These include power readings on every inch of the pedal stroke, as well as motion capture pictures and lasers that give feedback on alignment and the critical angles formed by the body when on the bike.


Phil thinks about the consultation in two stages, "the first part of the session is about assessing the individual by way of the interview and physical evaluation.  80% of what we need to run the session effectively will be revealed in this process, whether it is an asymmetry, pronated feet, poor posture, etc.  The rest is working with the individual and our equipment to match their body to a position that will reflect their goals, whilst remaining realistic in terms of their physical capabilities".


cyclefit bike


If that sounds clever, that's because it is, especially as it is all backed up by technology which helps you follow what's going on.  They use Motion Capture imaging, lasers, power measurement and Spinscan, the outputs of which they explain with seemingly infinite patience, so that you understand what they see and therefore what improvements are possible.


So how did Nicci and Cassie get on?


During the muscular/skeletal check, Nicci found that she was more flexible on one side than the other, while Cassie found she was quite balanced.  "It's great to learn that I am fairly symmetrical now, which I wasn't when I used to play hockey" Cassie said "it proves that my body has adapted well to my new sport".


For Nicci, the power analysis of her pedal stroke and alignment was the most interesting part; "It was fascinating to see the profile of both my left and right leg, and to see that they were producing equal force on the pedals.  Also, once the guys had pointed out that one of my knees was deviating medially, it was plain as day to see, but I wouldn't have known unless I was told".


What changes did they make?


The changes for Nicci were most marked.  She was newer to cycling and had made a number of compromises with her position. 


The most obvious change was to give her a longer stem and a slightly lower bar position.  Nicci found that she instantly "felt more in control of the bike.  I am more stretched out now and when I am cornering or out of the saddle, I don't feel like I am constantly struggling to get into a good position - it feels so much better".


Nicci’s right knee alignment had the potential to really spoil her day.  Over the longer term, the degree to which she threw her knee out was likely to cause patella tracking issues, which could result in inflammation and pain in the knee joint, quite apart from not being a particularly efficient pedal stroke.  Cyclefit put a shim (a very thin piece of plastic) between the sole of her right shoe and the cleat .  "It visibly improved the alignment of my knee immediatley and I could see it was straighter on the video" Nicci reported and hopefully she will not have to think about that again.


Everyone’s feet are a different shape and so custom foot beds were also moulded for Nicci.  These will enhance the fit and comfort of even the top of the range shoes, giving a more positive feel and potentially avoiding issues with foot cramp.  Nicci is a believer "I love, love, love the foot beds!" she enthused (although she is never short of enthusiasm for anything cycling!)  "They have made my feet feel so much more snug in my shoes and my arches feel better supported.  My shoes actually fit now, which is a big change to how they felt before – they should be compulsory!"


cycle fit pay particular attention to feet


Cassie’s position on the bike was actually pretty good, but CycleFit made a couple of small changes, which (to borrow the oft quoted phrase of the GB track cycling squad) could prove critical in performance terms "by the aggregation of marginal gains".


The cleats on Cassie’s shoes were moved forward to increase the leverage available to her when pedalling.  This was particularly important for Cassie because she has very small feet.  "It took a little bit of getting used to, but I can see the logic in it and now it feels absolutely right".


Another change that Cassie took on board was a slightly shorter stem.  When she got on her bike at the CycleFit showroom, it was immediately clear that she naturally rested her hands just back from the hoods.  Why?  Well because that was the most comfortable position she said.  Now with a slightly shorter stem, she is able to rest her hands on the hoods and she has noticed a couple of benefits.  “It feels more stable and the reach to the brakes is easier.  I have also noticed that the slight pain I used to feel in the base of my neck on longer rides and which I thought was just a symptom of poor posture and too much time in front of the computer, has eased.”


Finally, Cassie’s saddle was raised by 1cm.  This was to reduce the angle between her torso and quad, whilst increasing the angle between the upper and lower leg.  The science is that this allows the major muscles; quads and calves to work in their optimum range, which makes them more effective overall.  “I was surprised by how much more aggressive the position looks and now that I have got used to it, along with the other little changes, it feels really good and strong and stable.”


cyclefit measuring angles


Our final thoughts


Be warned, this is no quick fix.  A full CycleFit consultation takes up to three hours and whether you are aiming for world domination, or more comfort on your weekend rides, there will be no compromise on the attention you will receive.  It is a hugely positive experience and you are never in any doubt that you are being treated as an individual. Throughout the whole session you get asked for feedback on what you are feeling and this taken into consideration, and any suggestions or changes are explained to you in a way that is very empowering.


Whilst none of us or were suffering huge pain on the bike, potentially Nicci’s position was sufficiently sub-optimal that it was just a matter of time for her.


A poorly fitted bike can result in pain in the knees, neck, shoulders, back and feet and most cyclists will experience some of this at some stage.  Essentially, the outcome for a performance cyclist will be a riding position that will allow them to produce optimum power on the bike, but any cyclist can look for improved comfort and even more enjoyment of our wonderful sport.


And it is worth noting that CycleFit’s commitment to encouraging women in the sport goes beyond their professional bike fitting service.  They sponsored the launch of the London Dynamo in 2002, a move designed to nurture new people into the sport.  The bottom line is that Phil and Julian have both been successful competitive cyclists and they remember only too well just how intimidating it can be to get started in the sport.  It is so refreshing to hear men acknowledge that “some women find it hard to get into cycling", when there are men who just simply label us as "needy"! 


Phil says without any prompting “everyone likes to be nurtured and supported when they find a new passion.  It has always been our guiding light and we are just delighted that women are finding cycling an attractive sport.”  Oh and just in case you were thinking this is almost too good to be true, I have to tell you they are both happily married!!


So if cycling is important to you, a CycleFit consultation would make sense and these guys are the experts in their field. Prices start at £350 for a 2/2.5 hour consultation, but would be less than that if a more basic bike fit were required for a bike set up without clipless pedals.


You can find out more about Cyclefit here CycleFit


Written by Janet Birkmyre



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