Previously, we have reported on discussions with Blair Martin from The Body Mechanic. Being based in inner Sydney, the clinic is often treating patients who aim to compete at a high level, while balancing the commitments of full time work and families. This prevents a number of challenges compared to being a full time professional athlete – mostly in reduced recovery, and reduced opportunity for strength and conditioning.
However, some of the challenges can come from improper bike fitting from the beginning. Good bike shops can help you with your bike fit. The Body Mechanic also work closely with shops to make recommendations for their clients, for their trusted shops to follow. With an increase in riders fitting their own upgraded parts that they have sourced themselves, sometimes the savings get lost in the drawbacks. Getting the right setup is worth the cost. There are some typical problems, especially with mountain biking.
“It depends on the experience of the mountain biker, but bike fit is a trade off between being able to handle the bike, and pedalling dynamics. If you are in a position that is easy to ride through a rock garden, and your skills are able to handle a drop off you may have the saddle nice and low and far back. This will be putting your lower back and knees in particular under a lot of strain and load. So we try to get you towards that knife edge between the most efficient pedal stroke and still being able to handle the bike” says Martin.
This will be varied for different people. Take a look around your riding group, or around the people you race with or against. You will know who is fast in a straight line, who is fast in single track, and who is able to bomb the descents. What are their positions like? Some riders will favour their physical strengths, others will adapt their position to gain confidence in more technical terrain.
“Of course, knee load is academic if you’re lying on your side with a broken collarbone. And vice versa as well. You may need to run the gauntlet with handling – you don’t want to be stuck on the couch after wearing out the cartilage on the back of your knee. Both handling and positioning are important considerations when setting up a mountain bike, but not when setting up a time trial bike” continues Martin.
This is where Marathon Mountain Biking is a little different. It is not usually as technical as Olympic Cross Country, but speed and efficiency are still vitally important.
“The good thing about the Marathon events, and the multi-stage events, is that technically wise, there is nothing too unrideable. We do have the luxury to consider pedalling efficiency, because you are doing so many pedal strokes over such a long time. Saddle height and fore and aft position, as well as cleat position need to be based on minimising load through the knee in particular.” To this end, Martin is able to use his extensive and successful mountain bike history, along with position analysis software to get competitive cyclists sitting right for their style of event. The front of the Body Mechanic clinic has a big blackboard where martin sketches out a clients current fit, and they make adjustments as appropriate, as the indoor trainer is used. It’s all opposite the coffee machine
“The other assumption that is often made is that the saddle that rolls off the showroom floor, and the handlebars and grips are the ones that suit your body. In most cases they’re not. We are willing to drop thousands of dollars on a beautiful race rig when we have five contact points with the bike that need to be dialled to suit you. I would rather be riding a $1500 bike with a beautiful saddle, good shoes, nice foam grips and handlebars that fit me – rather than a $6000 bike that was insulting me every time I rode it.” Martin makes a painful point. How often do we analyse what colour grips or accessories we should be fitting, as opposed to whether the grip diameter or bar width are suitable for us?
“Mountain bike handlebars, as a principle, are ergonomically unsound. It’s frustrating that the most ergonomically sound position is to ride with your hands on bar ends. They just look ugly and they tend to clip every tree that you ride past! But on longer events having your hands sideways with your thumbs facing forwards is much more comfortable.” Biases can still come into play, but I think that’s vindication for the bar end users out there.