In this new paradigm of social distancing I started offering video-based virtual bike fitting as a more standard option. Occasionally in the past I had used Skype or FaceTime to help a familiar client follow up some fitting issues remotely, but I realized that more generally a “Zoom Bike Fit” was viable, and really only potentially problematic in terms of adjustments to the bike itself - access to and use of tools, proper torque specs, etc, but the goal of improving a cyclist’s position seemed relatively within reach.
The specifics of a virtual fitting vary as much as any appointment in person, of course, but it requires me having to anticipate the most likely changes to address the cyclists’ objectives. Consequently, I’ve had to mail parts to the client to have them at the ready for when we finally hop on Zoom together. Clearly I need to send the correct parts, or the most likely contenders.
Significantly, having the option of virtual bike fits has prompted a range of reactions, from questions about the process itself to amazement that it could be possible to fit from afar at all.
In fact, the premise of virtual, remote appointments isn’t in any great contrast to my experiences more generally in bike fitting over the past couple of decades, but it has led me to a realization so obvious that most cyclists have probably already arrived at it: Bike Fitting is simply Pattern Recognition.
On one hand, it’s actually not that simple, because it is so multifactorial in needing to incorporate human anatomy with mechanical equipment, and even more-so, it has shown me to have some very bizarre inherent contradictions.
It is simultaneously extremely easy to identify for oneself a comfortable, sustainable, and efficient position in many activities, and equally just as possible to find oneself in a manifestly awkward and compromised position and not even notice, while on a bicycle.
To put that last assertion into an example that is easily relatable, I’m going to fall back on the analogy I’ve used with anyone who will listen:compare bike fitting to setting your car seat position. I write about this on the website under “Philosophy.”
Just yesterday I was discussing this with a fellow cyclist, Gary (pictured), and he understood the point right away.
To paraphrase him, he imagined it this way:
“Yeah, I finally got my dream sports car, this Lamborghini, and I really want to floor it to see how fast it goes, but the seat’s so far back I can barely reach the gas pedal to step on it! This car sucks! What a disappointment!”
Obviously, that scene rarely happens.
As drivers, we get into any given car and immediately set the car seat so that we can easily reach the brake and gas pedals with our feet, with enough leg extension to them that we don’t feel cramped and not so much that we can’t nuance our pressure on the pedals. Unless you’ve never driven, I don’t even need to describe that, it’s so intrinsic to our driving experience. We easily adjust it to suit ourselves, and we don’t need a professional “Car Seat Fitting” to get it right.
While pedaling, cyclists rely on almost the exact same attributes in the reach to the bicycles’ pedals; so why do cyclists get so mystified as to what their leg extension should be? Or, for that matter, why is it so common that either they can barely reach the pedals (to “floor it!”) or are much too cramped in their leg extension, and yet they don’t notice until the problem is brought to their attention, or they’ve paid a serious price?
I have a number of ideas about answering that question, and none of them assume that it’s a deficiency of the cyclist.
What’s the difference between car positions and bike positions? The fact that everything in the car is adjustable by design, and in many modern cars will default back to a preferred setting, is based on a recognition of how anatomical patterns are consistent enough that car seats need to have certain adjustments available, and while they don’t have to be especially accurate down to the millimeter, they have to be immediate by feel.
Meanwhile bicycles are still reliant on a mechanic or fitter to make changes, but that’s largely incidental, because there is no mechanized way to self-adjust like in a car. Also, nothing in the car driver’s position affects how the machine operates, but on a bicycle the rider position affects weight distribution, balance, handling, and performance. In the end, the bike is a structure to best support the rider/athlete in the position that best allows her or him to perform best. If we could self-adjust our positions in real time like adjusting a car seat we’d get immediate feedback as to the benefit of the changes, because not only would we be more comfortable through improved biomechanical efficiency, the bike would easier to control, the connection to the machine more naturalistic.
So, as reductive as it sounds, in terms of how muchPattern Recognition is required of the bike fitter, it probably only needs to be to the same extent as what the car designer includes for the best driving experience.
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