Episode #30 – Holistic Bike Fitting: What It Is and Why It Matters

Episode #30 – Holistic Bike Fitting: What It Is and Why It Matters

Correct alignment of your body on the bike is secondary to correct alignment off the bike. Up to 25% of your training plan should be dedicated to maintaining and improving your bodies functional movement and structure to enable a more aggressive position on the bike. Or adjust the bike to your structural realities. That’s holistic bike fitting. [buzzsprout episode=’76326′ player=’true’]

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Update: To clarify the point regarding the UCI minimum seat setback of 50mm. Steve does not suggest that everyone put their seat to 50mm behind the bottom bracket centre, but rather they put it at the minimum distance that allows them to unload their upper body under load.

I sat down to write this weeks episode, and I as I sat there, I had this pain in my neck. I’ve been fiddling with my bike position over the past couple of weeks, and failed miserably on one attempt, so much so that I came back with a sore neck.

I fixed the bike issue after the ride, but I was still had some discomfort. So I started hunting around for ways fix my neck. Instead of rubbing some tiger balm on it, I went straight to my number one mobility resource, MobilityWOD. Looking into how I can stretch my neck out. I spend a lot of time at a computer and I’m sure it contributed somewhat to my sore neck.

I have links in the show notes to what I feel are the best mobility areas to focus on for combating sitting in chairnitiss. If you have issues related to tightness of the neck, shoulders, thoracic spine region these are great to open up chest and help with posture.

It got me thinking about the link between the body and the bike. I’ve just finished reading a chapter on some popular bikefit systems in Cheung and Allen’s book ‘Cutting Edge Cycling’. Something just doesn’t sit right with me and bikefit systems. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I came across Steve Hogg. An Australian bike fitter that takes a holistic and individualistic approach to bike fitting. Meaning he starts with understanding the riders body, it limitations and then uses a neurological basis to fit a human to a bike.

It’s no secret that I love frameworks, but I also understand their place, and that they don’t work in every situation. I strongly believe that bike fit is one of those places. When you shove something as complex as a human being on a fixed object like a bike, a formula using averages as a guide does not work. Even though some of these systems do take into account flexibility etc. There’s more to it that that, and band-aid approaches won’t fix long term overcompensation, mobility or structural issues.

So this week I am going to introduce you to Steve Hoggs ideas on bike fitting derived a transcript of a speech given by Hogg in 2007. The speech fits so well with my thoughts on the body that I couldn’t go past introducing to you. It’s published on his website which I’ll link to in the show notes. I’ll also link to an article he wrote on his bike fitting philosophy in case you want to dig deeper.

Don’t worry I don’t read the whole thing out, but pick out chunks of Hogg’s wisdom, and comment on them.

The anatomy of bike position

All modern thinking about how to fit a human to a bike is reductionist in approach. Take a complex system of interactions like a human being, quantify it somehow and fit it to a bike. Because it’s a complex system, break down that complexity into bite size pieces by examining aspects of its interaction with the bike in a narrow sense. The approach might be strictly biomechanical, perhaps measurement based, statistical norm based or whatever. It may have a proprietary name; Fit Kit, Bio Racer and Wobblenaught spring to mind, though there are others.

That is how the world thinks of a bike fit process. It’s a succession of steps of narrow focus but without any overarching idea of holistic intent, and that’s what I mean by a reductionist approach. The formula driven methods this type of approach engenders are prevalent throughout the cycling world and don’t work optimally for large numbers of people in any way that can be shown or explained. I spend a large part of my working life getting results for the people that the above style of thinking has failed.

The two major forces working on a bike rider are gravity and wind drag. That should be self evident and beyond argument. Our pattern of muscular enlistment changes as we change our relationship to gravity, and wind resistance increases as the square of the increase in speed. It follows that how we relate our bodies to gravity and how we equip ourselves to overcome wind drag are the keys to optimal performance. Another necessity is comfort. I would define lack of comfort as muscles being enlisted for purposes they weren’t designed for and / or for periods that they can’t cope with.

Comfort + Efficiency = Performance.

  • Brain activity
  • Posturally or phasically
  • Neurological basis to an optimal bike position
  • Minimum effort maximum gain
  • Lungs
  • Structural fitness


A bike is a symmetrical but are we?

Hopefully it starts a mindshift towards thinking of bike fitting as working within your structural realities, or matched by your willingness to work on them. Also, it will reinforce the ideas I spoke to Justin Hays in Episode #20 about mobility and stability, and the importance of maintaining and improving this aspect of your body (and including more in your training).

One thing to note: I removed a whole section on cleat placement. Not because I disagree with it, but quite the contrary, and I feel i couldn’t do it justice in this episode. I will revisit it at a later date with an entire episode devoted to cleat placement.



Photo Credit: Robert Couse-Baker


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