Chick on a Bike

Sarah Lawrence chronicles her adventures as she gets ready for the Taupo Cycle Challenge.

Chick on a bike: Getting a professional bike fit

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There's more to cycling than hopping on a bike and pedalling. Photo / Thinkstock
There's more to cycling than hopping on a bike and pedalling. Photo / Thinkstock

Since I began training for the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, I've learned there's way more to cycling than hopping on a bike and hitting the road. Not only is there a vast array of equipment and gear on offer, but there's cycling techniques, nutrition plans and training programmes to consider, all designed to help optimise performance.

A few weeks ago a reader suggested a performance enhancer I'd not even thought of - getting a professional bike fit. I had no idea what it involved. That's where the good people at Studio on Ridge in Coatesville, Auckland come in.

Studio on Ridge is a pilates studio run by the magical duo of Emily Prest and Jason Waterhouse. Jason has owned and managed some of Auckland's most prominent cycle stores and Emily is a qualified physiotherapist and pilates instructor. Together they have nearly 15 years experience and both are very experienced cyclists. Along with their genuine love of cycling, they provide bike fits like no other.

They believe there's more to just fitting a bike to suit a rider, a service many bike shops provide. Every body type is different so it makes sense that the interaction between body and bike will be complex. Emily's experience as a physiotherapist and pilates instructor means she understands the mechanics of how a body works - not just the bike - and can quickly diagnose areas of concern at certain stress points in the body.

She says the most common faults when riding are:
* Buying the wrong sized bike.
* Riding with the saddle too high.
* Riding too 'stretched out' with handlebars too low and/or too far forward.
* Putting up with pain while riding or after a ride.

Jason also offers full bike servicing, so while he's off to look after my bike, Emily conducts a body check on me, including flexibility and muscle balance tests. We discuss past injuries and any pain or discomfort while on the bike. I admit I've been experiencing quite bad knee problems along with weird pins and needles in my hands, especially after a long ride.

After my examination, Emily and Jason assess my riding style on a windtrainer. They quickly identify that my positioning on the bike coupled with the inward rolling of my knees as I pedal, is what's been causing my discomfort.

The pins and needles problem is caused by my seat and handlebars being too close together. It means my arms are way too straight, causing my elbows to lock. This puts pressure on the carpel tunnel nerve in my hand causing numbness. Moving my seat back slightly should put an end to the problem.

Jason also suggests a different shaped saddle which helps me sit higher on the 'sit bones' in my bottom and helps engage my core abdominal muscles. These help stabilise my body and gives me more overall power, also taking the pressure off my sore knees. Relief!

Emily then prepares a home exercise programme to help correct my muscle imbalances and adds a few exercises to improve my flexibility issues. Apparently I'm holding a lot of tension in my outer thighs (normal for a cyclist) whereas my inner thighs aren't working much. Strengthening these muscles ultimately helps my knee 'track' better and will also keep that awful pain away.

Lastly, Emily suggests some breathing exercises. Deep breathing throughout a ride is key because it helps the oxygen circulate more effectively throughout the body, feeding the muscles, maximising their power. It also aids recovery because it disperses the lactic acid build-up that occurs during exercise.

My first outing after the bike fit felt quite different and there was a notable difference in the quality of my ride. I had virtually no knee pain and for the first time I had no pins and needles in my hand. I even seemed to tackle hills with greater ease. I'm just kicking myself that I hadn't done this months ago.

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