Historically, bike fits were probably the domain of the keen cyclists only, with social riders shying away from something so technical – almost certainly believing they ‘weren’t good enough to warrant one’ or that they ‘didn’t need one’. Through the last decade or so, it became more common for riders to experience a static bike fit in order to ‘buy the right sized frame’. This is a pretty simple exercise, involving the rider standing still and offering their inside leg, which amongst other static measurements are fed into software which outputs ‘the right size frame’. The software was written by boffins who clearly thought there was a tangible relationship between standing leg length, torso length and arm length to the ‘shape’ of the same body leaning over handlebars and pedalling in circles on a frame of a fixed geometry. Cycling position sustainability doesn’t even get mentioned. It baffled me when I first came across it, and it continues to.
More recently, and commonly known amongst those who ride regularly, are dynamic bike fitting systems where the new accepted norm is to impose a certain riding position on the cyclist, by reference to pre-determined body angles … regardless of whether or not the rider can sustain the position. I could see what they were trying to do, and the cyclist is at least sat on the bike riding it, but it still made no sense to me. Biomechanics makes sense to me. Telling a body to do something when it’s resisting it, regardless of how ‘perfect’ that position is deemed to be, doesn’t make sense to me – especially in the names of sport and pleasure.
Humans have a variety of morphologies and these can affect riding positions:
- Disproportionately long thigh bones mean that more space for knees is required to avoid clashing with the handlebar.
- A short torso atop long legs mean you need a bike that gives you height but without a proportionally positioned handlebar which otherwise may now be out of reach.
- A long torso with proportionally shorter legs mean you need to look for a bike that offers length but without the proportional height.
In addition to your inherited genes, you might have further biomechanical compromises that interfere with the so-called ‘desirable’ angles:
- chronic back issues (whether upper, mid or lower back) are further compromised by the default cycling position, but there could well be a cycling position you ride happily in, if you were given the opportunity to find it. There might not be a frame that exactly fits that non-standard riding ‘shape’, but with the correct data output from a great bike fit, you could find the closest frame and build the bike to your specifications. The F.I.S.T. protocol bike fit system strives for this.
- an old shoulder injury might invoke all sorts of discomfort and/or pain as a ride gets longer if riding in the ‘normal’ cycling position. If you’re a keen cyclist, a poor riding position might even promulgate the chronic nature of the injury, by continuing to put pressure and inflaming the joint every time you mount. A great F.I.S.T. bike fit could both rekindle your cycling enthusiasm by getting you more comfortable, but you might just find you kick-start some more healing by not taking a step backwards each time you go for a ride.
- dodgy knees & painful knees; sometimes this kind of chronic pain has brought runners to the cycling world, only for the joints to start complaining with the interminable pedal rotations at angles decreed ‘optimum’. Now with a great bike fit, there’s every chance that tracking issues and awkward muscle tensions will find a comfortable groove. And that would be the aim of a F.I.S.T. bike fit.
What is unique about the F.I.S.T. bike fitting system?
Stack & Reach
The length of a top tube alone does not give you enough information about how the bike will fit, as the seat tube angle will either take the bars out or bring them in. And long gone are the days when a size 54 meant the length of the top tube or seat tube was 54cm. In general, the nomenclature used by bike manufacturers means absolutely nothing in terms of comparing one brand with another.
Enter Dan Empfield, the designer and builder of the first tri bike, with decades of bike geometry and bike fitting data tucked in his portfolio. In the absence of a modern-day bike industry sizing standard, he decided that we needed a system of sizing that would enable bike fitters and consumers to accurately determine a frames comparative size from brand to brand. His solution:
Stack and Reach
All you need to know about a bike’s geometry and size is entwined within these parameters:
- Stack is the vertical height from the middle of the bottom bracket to the centre of the top of the head tube
- Reach is the horizontal distance from the middle of the bottom bracket to the centre of the top of the head tube.
Seeing the logic and simplicity of his system, many bike manufacturers are now publishing Stack and Reach in their bike geometry charts.
Incorporating the Stack and Reach data he himself instigated, Dan Empfield, the founder of Slowtwitch, developed a dynamic bike fit protocol that focuses on the position the rider chooses to adopt when aboard either a tri or road bike. Much like there is a ‘best practice’ look of a well-shot basketball, a great tennis serve or the swing of a golf club that connects well, he knew from the history of cycling, that there is a ‘best practice’ riding ‘shape’ in both road and tri disciplines. And just as in any other sport, this ‘best practice’ shape only looks good when the rider is at ease.
Discomfort, for a variety of reasons, doesn’t tend to optimise output – regardless of your chosen sport. With reference to cycling, wiggling around because of neck ache, saddle soreness, shoulder pain, knee pain and/or back ache, detracts from the matter in hand, which is getting power to the pedal. So as far as Dan is concerned:
comfort = more output with less effort = cycling efficiency = sustainable power
Being placed in a certain shape might not agree with your body ergonomics, but if you’re allowed to find your most comfortable shape – that one you just instinctively know you could sustain for a long time – it’ll feel right, because your biomechanics are being met by the shape of the bike, rather than doing battle with the frame geometries. It’s a simple, but ingenious, way of finding YOUR ‘best practice’ riding position.
And consistently, comfortable riders post-F.I.S.T.-fit, are finding they’re riding faster, or with less effort, because their bodies agree with Dan Empfield’s theories and practices. Just in case you missed it, here it is again:
comfort = more output, less effort = cycling efficiency = sustainable power
And here at Ten-Point, which kindly puts a roof over the heads of Perpetual Forward Motion Ltd, Barefoot Audio and runIQ, Efficiency of Movement is somewhat of a Motto:
more speed : less effort : fewer injuries