As has been the case with many jurisdictions, the start of the pandemic saw an explosion in interest in cycling in my own city, with extensive road closures in favour of cyclists and non-motorized activities to promote health. Suddenly there were adults on bicycles all about and while it was obvious from their mounts, dusted off from the garage after years of neglect, and lack of skill, it was also apparent that there was a pretty casual approach to how to adapt to the bicycle—lots of saddles too low, or knees turned out or awkward reaching for the handlebars. And now a revised book by Phil Burt, simply titled “Bike Fit,” leads one to believe that proper fit is indeed one of the most important elements that cyclists, whether hard-core professionals, enthusiastic amateurs, or just someone going down to the shops, should consider.
The author of “Bike Fit” may be one of the most qualified people to have written this as a key team member of British Cycling as a physiotherapist for a dozen years, followed by consulting work with Team Sky, before setting up on his own. His book, written in a clear and personable style, is a valuable synthesis of his experience working with some of the top riders in the world but is aimed at cyclists who don’t wish to commit to a full-on and costly dynamic bike fitting but wish to get the most from their cycling, both in terms of performance or in avoiding injury.
He opens the book with an explanation of the different types of fit, from the time-honoured (and apparently not so good) CONI traditional calculation through static fit (the one with the plumb line from the knee) to fancy state-of-the-art equipment that allows observation of the rider in motion on the book. There is an enlightening chapter on the human anatomy and cycling, and one on looking at contact points—the saddle (often the, uh, seat of problems), the pedals and the handlebars and how their positions all influence each other.
Next is what he calls “the three pillars of fit,” namely aerodynamics, comfort (or sustainability) and power, with some bar graphs to illustrate how different disciplines have different goals. For track pursuit riders or time triallists, getting aero and putting down the power is a lot more important than comfort. (As an aside, I have always felt my own time trial bicycle was so uncomfortable as a way of making me ride faster so as to get off of it sooner.) On the other hand, a sportive rider who might be out on the road for events such as l’Étape du Tour, which will take hours, will have more concern about getting through the ride, hence the emergence of “endurance” bikes.
Chapter 5, “When Problems Occur,” is alone worth having the book for, although a neophyte might be horrified at all the issues that can arise from the supposedly “healthy” activity of cycling and which may be familiar to experienced riders already, but offer solutions to the range of problems. Phil Burt seems to have made a special focus on “saddle health,” and looked at saddle design carefully. But he also mentions people who have come to him with a bag of saddles that they have tried and which don’t work whereas it may not be the saddle but rather the cyclist’s position on the bike that is causing the discomfort. Who has not experienced “hot foot,” or “numb hands” as an active rider? Then there are knee and foot issues, neck pain, sore shoulders…the list is not unfamiliar but the approach in “Bike Fit” is clear, comprehensive and can be applied by most anyone.
In spite of the claims of manufacturers of “aero” equipment, we all know that the main limiter causing drag is only 20% the bicycle and 80% the rider. Seeking that effective aero position is a challenge addressed in the chapter focused on time triallists and triathletes. When we compare Filippo Gannas and Remco Evenepoel’s successes on the bike it is clear that this is a very individual thing but the principles here are sound. The author does not approve of putting aerobars on a standard road bike as riders enter the sport, suggesting that the position of a real time trial bike, with the rider far forward, is far better and that new competitors should just use standard road bars on their road bikes until they are in a position to get more appropriate equipment.
This probably doesn’t evoke much controversy but Phil Burt also believes that crankarm lengths are generally too long and that riders would benefit from much shorter ones, like 165 mm.
Manufacturers are loathe to make big changes but he feels that greater availability of the reduced length would mean higher cadence more easily achieved, among other things. He is also unimpressed by the comparatively recent excitement about “core training,” which he does not see as particularly beneficial. He does, however, believe in various exercises done off the bike and there is a chapter devoted to examples of this. His suggestion is to do these movements, some of which involve the (ouch) foam roller, for 30 minutes two or three times a week to benefit when on the bike.
As noted, this is the second edition of “Bike Fit,” and the author has the wisdom to direct readers to UCI regulations directly rather than quoting them, given their changing nature. He himself is responsible for a change in the rules which allowed saddles to no longer be required to be level but could be angled downwards up to 9 degrees, which seems to have made a significant improvement in comfort for track riders in particular.
The book is certainly up-to-date and there is even a chapter on surviving indoor cycling, which we all know has become a Big Thing. The book concludes with some case studies, showing how some common problems can be addressed, and a section on making notes of your position on the bike. Bike fit is a changeable thing, not only when going between disciplines such as commuting to time trialling, but also as riders themselves change. I have noticed almost every year that as the season progresses I have needed to raise my saddle, which is apparently a result of increased flexibility. After reading this book, I have looked at my position on all my bicycles with a mirror and focused on my hand positions while out riding and the path of my knees. As well, I have checked saddles and handlebars for wear indicators and learned a few things. Who knew that pedals came with different spindle lengths? With this book in hand, one senses that bike fit is not a mystic art but something achievable. One remembers that part of the reason for the boom in mountain bikes was as an alternative to those uncomfortable racing bikes but perhaps comfort could have been found on them as well.
There is much in “Bike Fit” that will interest any cyclist looking for improvement. It is profusely illustrated and the author has even managed to make the more technical sections lively. Scientific papers are noted too. Given the number of cycling books that we have reviewed over the years, one is hesitant to describe one as “indispensable,” but in this case the adjective fits.
Author Phil Burt
“Bike Fit,” 2nd edtion by Phil Burt
Forewards by Chris Boardman and Sir Chris Hoy
208 pp., illustrated, softbound
Bloomsbury Sport, London, 2022
Suggested Price: GBP 20.00/US$30.00
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