A truly amazing Saturday involving talking bikes, life, vintage Mercedeses and tweaking my bike fit as well as the random pole dancer….
However, it started a bit before that…
Estimated arrival time 19:10. The one thing that always impressed me is how car a GPS is usually spot on. Unless it meets Parisian Friday night traffic…. So the time kept ticking as the cars seem to get more and more. For those of you who have not done it, to cross from France to England by car you have to go through the English Channel tunnel or La Manche. You drive your car in a train and that’s how you roll to the other side. You have to book it in advance and as anything the cheapest tickets are for a fixed time with no rebooking possible. So when estimated arrival was slowly creeping up to high 19:30s I started to get reaaalll worried about my 19:50 departure time and we still had 220kms to go. Slowly though traffic flowed out into the A16 and it was game on. I am not a very fast driver, partly because I hate (over)paying for gasoline and I tend to stick to the 90-110kph (60-67mph) fuel efficient cruising. This time it was 120kph (72mph), still within the speed limit, until there was another traffic jam… I suspected the rain slicked roads with nervous drivers have caused a pileup. It turned out that only 2 toll booths were in operation.
Estimated arrival 19:42.
At least from there it was cruise control and go. I guess the GPS formulas are also based on efficient driving and my 120-125kph (80-82mph) speed knocked off 11min from Paris to Calais. Surprisingly the Euroshuttle terminal was empty and border checks were fast.
Fast forward to next morning at around 8:20am, London. My appointment with The Bike Whisperer was at 10am and I had 60miles on the highway to go, therefore plenty of time. Nope…not today. Saturday morning is never a busy time, I guess not in London. More traffic that only left me pondering where was everybody going. The M4 direction Heathrow Airport was plenty busy and that was not a working day. I already called that I might be 10-15min late. After my exit it wasn’t smooth sailing. I got stuck behind 2 trucks on the small twisty country road. Afterwards it was a train crossing that took another 10min just before we came to an articulated truck trying to reverse in a side street. This is the second time in my 30 years that I have EVER seen truck do that and unlike the first one, this driver was not very good at it. It was not my ‘on time weekend’ by a long shot.
Finally at 10:30 I arrived at The Bike Whisperer at Greenham Business Park in Newbury.
Scheritt Knoesen greeted me with a huge smile on his face. He was a bit concerned we might not be able to get through everything, however, I had driven all the way from Paris and rescheduling was going to be challenging.
I got my bike inside and we were ready to begin.
In a truly relaxed and friendly atmosphere Scherrit made sure me and my wife were comfortable offered us tea, coffee, water. His bike fit studio is nicely set up with the middle of the room free with a comfortable couch and a coffee table in one corner. If at any time during the fit I get hungry, need to go to the bathroom, etc, I should feel free to do so and that the atmosphere should be very casual.
From the get go it was obvious it was not going to be a casual experience. I like that.
If you are just interested just in my experience with The Bike Whisperer you can skip the part in italic, since it covers how I got to needing a bike fit.
How did I get to the Bike Whisperer though, besides Paris and London traffic that is. When I decided to get serious about cycling, I went on to have a bike fit with Specialized’s Body Geometry system. The fitter did change quite a bit, used a goniometer (joint angle measuring device) and the like and for the first year or two, I was doing ok, however, as time progressed I have gotten increasingly uncomfortable with saddle sores on my right side, to the point riding more than 2h was followed by painful and fluid extracting procedures. As well as it felt like I was way to overstretched on the bike, thankfully I am quite flexible so that didn’t result in any injuries. My discomfort has gotten so unbearable in the 2014/15 season to the point I had accepted multiple saddle sores as part of cycling and that in a 2+h ride/race I had enough adrenaline to mask the pain and discomfort. I tried multiple different saddles, chamois creams, potions, disinfectants and I was religious about washing my shorts – to no avail. Even with certain saddle types I would get lower back cramps. The human body is amazing at compensating, so I kinda got used to it all and didn’t complain (that much). The 2015 season wasn’t the greatest for me by a longshot and it was already May and since my Look pedals finally gave up on me, I decided to replace them with Speedplay Zeros for the cool factor and the lower stack height which would give me aerodynamic advantage for TTs. The curious individual that I am, I let the powers of Google tell me how to set up my new pedals. This is how I came to the website of bike fitting guru – Steve Hogg. Wow is not enough to describe my amazement. Steve Hogg methods are unique in that they focus on the rider rather than on formulas and old dogmas. He has a lot of information available for free to get you started and most importantly thinking for quite some time, as such I advise you to head there after my post.
As I already said, it wasn’t the greatest of seasons so what the hell, might as well have some fun. To summarize, below are the changes I made during a period of 6-8 weeks.
- Change: Speedplay cleats 14mm backwards (foot 14mm forward of pedal axle) (Steve Hogg – Power to the Pedal)
- Result: Absolutely amazing power transfer with lower HR
- Change: Fizik Arione saddle – 15mm forward on rails (Steve Hogg – Setback and Gluteal Mass)
- Result: More balanced on the bike, less pressure on my sensitive parts, maybe less saddle sores.
- Change: SMP Dynamic saddle at nose down 3 degrees & 6-9mm lower saddle height (Steve Hogg – SMP saddles)
- Result: After 3 days I wanted to cry from joy – my saddle sores were healing and not getting worse, after 10 days I could ride 3-4h with almost no discomfort as well according to my Quarq from a 55/45 R/L balance I went to almost a 50/50.
- Change: 130mm Specialized -8 degree stem from Pro PLT -10 degree 140mm; 12mm less reach, 9mm more height. (Steve Hogg – Behind Bars)
- Result: Less sliding forward on the saddle (I had already changed for a compact handlebar with 15mm less reach at the beginning of the season)
- Change: I started to address some functional issues with my body as per Michael Boyle’s – [easyazon_link identifier=”1931046018″ locale=”US” tag=”thetalcyc-20″]Advances in Functional Training[/easyazon_link]
- Result: After about a week my low back pain was gone as well as my gluteals were sore.
All in all I made quite some changes to my position and I was most likely on the right track. However, as per Steve Hogg’s advise it takes 3 weeks to see whether a change is positive or negative, therefore it would take time until I get things dialled if ever as well Steve Hogg has developed a patented method about foot correction through his extensive experience, therefore, I decided to go and see one of the first people that Steve Hogg trained – Scherrit Knoesen or The Bike Whisperer.
The Process Contd.
So it all started. Scherrit crossed one leg over the other, got a clipboard and said something along the lines of:
Tell me more about yourself.
“Go back long time ago and what sports you did, any injuries, etc.”
I am glad you asked. I did basketball, had some twisted ankles, stupidly played while in pain, right ankle is a bit stiff, though functional, as a result. Didn’t make it on the team in college, got picked up for rowing. Did that for 6 years, along with some (well instructed) gym work. Started cycling in January 2012, had a Body Geometry fit. Been racing ever since, succeed in time trials. Last 2 years comfort has been progressively getting worse. In my search for comfort and some luck I got fascinated by the work of Steve Hogg and after making quite some changes it was time to tick the remainder of the boxes (or undo everything I have done).
And then a gentle intermission…
As we were talking in the corner of my eye I caught a very well proportioned women’s behind in red underwear just outside Scheritt’s bike fitting studio. I first thought it was my head playing tricks on me, couple of seconds later, the girl in question, wearing a fur collared jacket as well, jogged back and past the front window.
Nope, it wasn’t my head.
“Scherrit is it normal that you have half-naked women walking around the parking lot here?”
“Oh yes, yes. My neighbor is a pole dancing studio so you see women walking in their next-to-nothings around all the time. On the other side of me I have a ninjutsu studio as well and the guy further tunes car engines. So what do you want to take out of the fit?”
I want to be comfortable on the bike and that if I wanted to I could ride for 4-5h with only my fitness being the limiter, not saddle sores and pain.
I got changed and Scherrit got busy with functional evaluation of me.
It All Starts With The Feet
I sat down and Scherrit got to looking at the bottoms of my feet. We receive a good amount of information on how we move and stand in space from there, hence no wonder it is the logical place to start. Afterwards, it continued into body evaluation. He was looking for asymmetries, one leg shorter than theother, that sort of stuff. It was kinda nice to be the center of attention as Scherrit was moving back, forth, left and right, up and down, talking out loud what he was seeing, making notes on his trusty clipboard. The looking and measuring continued as well as some exercises to see my range (or lack there of) of motion, just as an FYI my bike was still leaning on the wall without a seatpost – just like I had it packed for transport.
Two things – I was not bored, quite the opposite – all the information about body function and balance was fascinating and Scheritt really knew what he was talking about. The vigor he was doing everything was impressive and time flew by.
It was time to put my bike on the trainer and measure how I’ve set it up position and of course…you might guess…to mark my current foot position with quite an ingenious way….
I Feel Nothing…Exactly
I got on the bike and started pedalling. I had an average pedalling stroke, my legs were not moving straight up and down, however, pointing towards the bike, and I had my left shoulder pointing up a bit.
As I was pedalling Scherrit started to poke around my leg muscles so see what was contracting (or not). He poked around my hip flexors.
“Put your finger here.” he meant my right iliopsoas in front of my hip.
“It’s firing up wth every pedalstroke”
“Now put your finger on your left one, what do you feel?”
“Exactly!!!! Let me show you why”
Scherrit made me lie face down on the floor and had the fingers of one hand on my right Gltueus maximus (my butt) and the fingers of the other on the back of my right hamstring.
“Raise your right leg off the floor.”
As I did this, I could feel my hamstrings firing first, before my butt kinda hesitantly joined in. Normally the contraction should be the other way around. For whatever reason my right gluteus was not activated and as such the iliopsoas had to pick up the slack when it came to extending the leg, dragging the hamstring in as well. The problem is neuromuscular, ie it is the brain had forgotten there was a much bigger muscle designed for leg extension there so the neurons needed to get reminded on how mother nature intended the leg to operate. No problem there – I had some simple exercises for homework.
In addition proper foot correction (arch support, cant, shimming) would make the legs transmit the proper signals to the brain, to make things contract more or less as they should. The foot needs to be just in the right orientation (not collapsed arches, etc) to do that.
I have VERY high arches and I had Specialized’s green supportive foot beds already and after some testing, Scherrit added one heel wedge to each of my shoes, moved my cleats, widening my stance by 3-4mm on each side and some minor fore-aft adjustments (1-2mm).
Going into foot correction territory – this is a patented testing method devised by Steve Hogg that only a few people in the world have the needed skill and expertise to use (Scheritt included), hence I will not discuss the detail, needless to say it was a WOW moment of what a few well placed pieces of plastic can do. Although it might seem like a minor change, I am confident it is the most important part of a true functional bike fit.
“Get on the bike. Tell me what you feel.”
“I Won’t Tell You….
Much and I Won’t Coach You.”
At first things were not that different. I slowly spun up to speed and I could feel a more direct connection with the pedals and my knees seemed more…well…organized. For the fun of it, I got out of the saddle and BANG.
You know the feeling when you put your palm on a wall and you push, how you feel that full contact and connection. That is how my feet felt on the pedals. I tried it a couple of times in and out of the saddle just to verify.
“I feel SUPER stable on the pedals!!!”
Scherrit smirked and confirmed that 95% of people say the same thing.
Everybody’s body, form, smoothness and position has a breaking point, the amount of stress, fatigue, speed, and power required to get there varies, however, at that point we start to do funny things and (eventually) get injured. Therefore no matter how pretty and comfy I felt, I had to test the new changes under power. This is why 95% of bike fits fail – they never test the rider under load, before sending him/her out the door.
Two final tweaks – saddle 3mm more forward and 3mm higher and I put the chain in the big ring and on the 25 in the rear. Two minutes per gear until I get to be working pretty hard was what I was instructed. As the sweat started pouring and I was warmed up Scherrit made me get in the drops and wihtout stopping to swing my arms behind my back. If he had done his job correctly under power all the forces should hold me balanced on the saddle, making my arms redundant. That was indeed the case and good fun as well.=)
While I was cooling down and he was finalising his notes I couldn’t help noticing one of the most iconic cars of the 90s – The Mercedes 190 , that remained in the parking lot while most of the cars have gone away.
“Is this your car?”
“Oh yes, I got a another one of them as well as a Mercedes E wagon, I like working on old cars!”
As somebody who is fascinated by old Mercedeses, I needed no further reason and the conversation started. Although my wife (who took the pictures by the way), even surprising to her, was not bored for a minute for the 5+hours that the fitting took, I could sense that opening the Mercedes can of worms could potentially take more hours so even good things come to an end. Needless to say as we wrapped things up I was super happy with the progress and we agreed to get back in touch in 3 weeks after I had let everything settle in. I had exercises for homework as well as detailed notes on my position changes. Me and Scherrit discussed quite some of the books on the human body balance (list at the bottom of this post) and we both had some new reading material.
After the Fit
Among other things, riding often enough and not doing anything remarkable in terms of speed and distance is crucial since the human body adapts quickly when under low stress; as soon as you up the challenges, the brain falls back to (wrongly) ingrained muscle patterns. Since I am Dr. Phil Maffetone convert, no need to get reminded to not be “going 100%, 110% of the time.”
The first couple of rides literally set my gluteus maximimii on fire and there was a noticeable power distribution of 53/47 (L/R) as my right leg was relearning the correct muscle patterns. Getting my brain to remember I had a right butt cheek was remarkably challenging; not hard, just peculiar. Day after day I was amazed how stable my feet felt and the feeling didn’t fade, it was the same as when Scherrit first set everything up. I was not sliding back and forth on the saddle, my butt and hips felt positioned just right.
I did one 2.5h group ride, which as usual was a hammer fest, and as much as I try to avoid them in the winter, it was a perfect opportunity to test my position under load. No complaints there, some soreness in my right triceps, afterwards though.
Even if let my gluteal activation exercises fall on the backburner for a couple of days, I could feel my butt muscles ‘falling asleep’ and the power distribution deviating from the almost perfect 50-50 leg balance. This is not surprising, since sitting down is the enemy when it comes to mobilisation and we do it a lot.
Lastly, I finished a 5h ride last Sunday, coming to just about 3 weeks post fit, and the last remaining niggle that had been bothering me before my visit to The Bike Whisperer – my right triceps becoming sore after 1-2h in the saddle – was gone. Thankfully to some of the reading material ([amazon text=Becoming a Supple Leopard&asin=1628600837] by Dr. Kelly Starret) I had (re-)learned proper spine position which put my shoulders in a proper position where they could properly and safely cushion road shock – even after 5h I had the feeling I could go out and do 5h again!!!!
Thank you so much Scherrit Knoesen!!!
For further information check the ever-increasing Reading List
I welcome comments, however, before asking a question please visit the Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page.
[amazon text=Advances in Functional Training&asin=1931046018] – Michael Boyle
[amazon text=Stability, Sport and Performance Movement&asin=1905367422] – Joanne Elphinston
[amazon text=Becoming a Supple Leopard&asin=1628600837] – Dr. Kelly Starrett
[amazon text=Athletic Body in Balance&asin=0736042288]- Gray Cook