Performance and Bike Fit
by Justin Goulding
Before we go any further, if you haven’t already, we recommend checking out our friends over at enduco who we feel have the best AI based training app out there.
Improving performance is one of many reasons to get a bike fit and can play an important role in getting the most out of your training. While the idea that minor bike adjustments can instantly increase power output is largely misguided, there are a number of ways that having a good position on the bike can improve performance. This post will go over the following six ways in which bike fit impacts performance:
It goes without saying that being injured is detrimental to your performance. Whether the result of a crash, physical strain, or otherwise, being injured will almost certainly prevent you from training and performing at your best. Perhaps the best reason to focus on your fit, is to avoid unnecessary injuries that come from extended periods in a position that unduly strain your body.
Cycling is unique to many other sports in that it involves a very high number of identical repetitive motions (pedaling). In fact, there are very few other activities in life that put you in a relatively fixed position for hours at a time repeating the same consistent motion. This is a recipe for repetitive strain injuries, and what might be a minor strain on your body over a shorter period can quickly build over time in the saddle.
While the body is incredible at adapting, putting yourself in a position that responds to your mobility and the way you body moves (at a point in time) will help ensure you aren’t putting strain on your joints range of motion.
Similar to injury, being uncomfortable on the bike will never allow you to perform at your peak. While comfort is relative, a position that causes discomfort is always going to take a little something off your top end.
When the going gets tough, the only pain that should be holding your back is your legs screaming at you. Every bit of discomfort that may cause some pain or strain on your body is going to slightly lower your body's ability to allocate energy to where you need it. Whether you realise it or not, those areas of discomfort in your position are requiring your body to compensate to try and alleviate that feeling. Energy spent mitigating those niggles in your position is energy that can’t go to moving you forward.
Power & Muscle Recruitment
If you’ve skipped to this point to hear that lowering your saddle 5mm is going to add 10% to your FTP I’m sorry to disappoint you. Bike fit is not an engineering optimization problem where finding the perfect saddle height and handlebar reach is going to instantly maximize your power output. Infact, after achieving a proper position you may see a slight decrease in power for a few days as you adapt to a new position. All is not lost though, a bad fit can absolutely sap you of power and remedying that problem can often result in some pretty significant performance gains.
The goal of a bike fit, after preventing injury and finding an appropriate level of comfort for your discipline, is to find a position that allows you to recruit the key muscle groups necessary to produce as much power as you can. This position is slightly different for everyone based on their mobility and can also change based on changes in your body.
Given the attention that aerodynamics has been getting over the past decade (and rightfully so) this is a major consideration for many riders looking to optimize their performance. This is particularly important in disciplines like triathlon and time trials, though aerodynamics on the road and gravel racing can also make a considerable difference. Though traditional wisdom has dictated that lower is more aero, increased research in this area has shown that it’s not nearly that simple.
For the purposes of this article, we recommend that for most riders without access to data driven methods to evaluate how aero your position is, the above three goals (injury prevention, comfort, muscle recruitment) shouldn’t be compromised in the pursuit of aero gains. In an environment where you can measure the aero impacts of your position, there are certainly tradeoffs to be made that can increase overall performance. A significant improvement in the aerodynamics of your position could be worth +25w, while the reduction in power output due to suboptimal muscle recruitment may only be -10w, which would represent a net benefit. However, without the ability to measure these changes, we recommend that riders focus on trying to ensure their body is in a position to perform as best as it can.
How your bike handles is largely dictated by the bike’s geometry, though your position on the bike plays no small role on its overall handling. Understanding of fit and handling has played out almost diametrically in the road bike and mountain bike worlds up until more recently.
On mountain bikes, decisions about stem length, handlebar width and to a degree saddle height have been made largely to tailor the handling of a bike to a rider’s taste. Given the more technical nature of mountain biking, handling performance plays a significant role in overall rider performance.
On the road however, these same decisions about stem length, bar width, and saddle height have generally been made almost exclusively based on the rider's position on the bike, with much less regard for how this impacts handling. This is also reflective of the (relatively) less significant role that handling plays on overall performance on the road.
Though handling characteristics are largely a matter of personal taste, keeping in mind where your centre of mass is relative to the bike’s wheelbase, as well as the distribution of weight through your hands and your saddle and feet, will help you find a fit that not only improves your physical performance, but also how the bike handles.
Training and Fit
If you’re focused on the performance side of your riding you’ve hopefully got yourself a periodized training plan to help you track and achieve your goals. One of the shortcomings of traditional bike fitting is that it can be very difficult and expensive to track your fit across a training season. Your bike fit should be responsive to where your body is at a point in time, and depending on your training, your body is likely to change significantly across the season in terms of mobility, strength, and unfortunately injury. One way we recommend checking in on your fit, is to schedule them regularly into your training plan alongside other recurring events, like power tests. While this may seem like overkill, MyVeloFit makes it easy, quick and affordable to check and adjust your fit as often as you’d like.
Being somewhat partial to the benefits AI can bring, we’ve found that the plans created by our friends at enduco are excellent. enduco creates an individual seasonal and training plan for you, based on your goals and your current fitness level, which always adapts to you. They provide:
- AI-based, individual season and training planning for cyclists - based on your personal fitness level and individual season goals
- Constant, automatic adjustment of your training schedule if you train less, more or not at all.
- Performance tests such as FTP tests to determine your FTP/FTHR and adjust your training if necessary.
- Meaningful and comprehensive statistics on all your training data - from the change in your fitness success to calories burned and back again to important performance indicators
I've been using enduco to plan and review my training for the last three months and have been very happy with the results. I plan to contiue to use their AI powered training tools to improve my fitness.
Co-Founder, CEO, Lead Fitter
Athletes from around the world use MyVeloFit to improve their cycling position. Whether you are a veteran or new to the sport, MyVeloFit can help you improve your position.Get started