When I bought my bike last month, my bike racer friend had one piece of advice for me: get a professional fit. Actually, that’s not entirely true. She had many, many pieces of advice for me – but one of them was to get a fit.
I waited a few weeks, to make sure I had ridden the bike enough to actually know where the problems were. I quickly realized that I had nagging lower back pain starting about 30 minutes into any ride, uncomfortable pressure from the saddle, and occasional hand/wrist numbness. So, I called to schedule my fit – a process that went easily and smoothly, aside from my newbie gaffe of requesting to try new “seats” instead of new “saddles.”
Two weeks later, on a beautiful Madison evening after work, I wheeled my bike onto an elevator and up onto the second floor of an old brick warehouse building with large windows overlooking the lake, where I met Nick, a certified fitter at Machinery Row, a bike shop in Madison.
‘Magic’ fit technology: Retul
The room was sleekly outfitted with trainers on platforms, cameras, motion sensing devices, and organized racks of bike parts and accessories – handlebar stems, seat posts, saddles, insoles. Nick mounted my bike on a trainer on a swiveling platform, entered some initial data into a laptop, and we started.
I had signed up for the more advanced of the fitting options, the “Retul 3D” fit. I had no idea what this meant – just that it was more expensive, more high-tech and included trying new saddles.
I quickly learned that the Retul system is basically magic, and that Nick could wave a wand over my bike, which wirelessly communicated its measurements, angles, and dimensions to the laptop, creating a virtual reconstruction of my bike. Once on the bike, the Retul system was used to analyze my pedal stroke, symmetry and position on the bike.
After covering me in sticky Velcro dots, placed on my joints, feet, arms, and back, Nick wired me up to the Retul gait analyzer and I pedaled away, watching a virtual reconstruction of myself on his laptop screen as numbers filled in the blank columns.
After a minute or two of pedaling, we stopped. My saddle was adjusted higher. I pedaled. We stopped. It was raised again. Then higher still. I started sweating, thinking about how this new, higher position would increase my risk of toppling over at stops (a risk that was already well above zero).
We moved the handlebars forward. I tried different hand positions. We tilted my saddle by 3 degrees. We moved the saddle forward. Midway through, he swiveled the trainer 180 degrees, I peddled, and he quickly stopped me to move my left cleat slightly up my shoe.
Results for real riding
The Retul had showed him that I wasn’t extending my left leg as much as my right, and altering the cleat position would force me to extend my knee.At the end, Nick re-measured my bike with his magic, wireless wand and generated a report with a reconstruction of my bike and all the adjustments we made.
Ultimately, I bought a new saddle that is 2 cm wider than the first, we adjusted my saddle higher and farther forward and replaced the handlebar stem and adjusted the angle. I left very impressed with the technology but not sure what these changes would mean for my ride.
Two days later, my husband Brad (also a newbie road cyclist) and I went on a 30-mile ride. Instead of him leaving me in the dust, I easily kept up. My back didn’t hurt. Those glorious extra 2 cm of saddle took the pressure off my sore sit bones. My hands didn’t go numb.
I did nearly topple over at a stoplight in front of a crowd of cars, unable to hike myself onto my new Mount-Everest style saddle position quickly enough to push off smoothly. This small injury to my pride, however, was a small price to pay for in the increased comfort, efficiency, and speed that I’d gained.
Now, for any new bike purchasers, I’ll echo the advice of my cyclist friend: “GET A FIT!”
Katie Kelberlau Nadolny is a veterinarian, newbie road cyclist and lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three dogs, Maggie, Vegas and Lola.