Sunday, 19 June 2016

Manchester BikeFit Review

I've long been a big supporter of the idea of getting your bike fit right.  Before you invest money in upgrades, it's best to invest in getting your position absolutely right on the bike.  A bit like sorting your swing before buying an expensive set of golf clubs.

Having got back into riding in a big way since 2008, it's become evident to me that the quickest ways to go faster on your bike as an amateur are generally: -

1. Losing some weight.
2. Upgrading your wheels.
3. Getting your bike fit right.
4. Employing a coach.  

Buying a carbon bike isn't the be all and end all of going fast as a amateur.  I'm able to put in average speeds within 0.5Mmph on my aluminum winter bike equipped with Mavic Ksyrium wheels.  

So, if you've done (1), spent on (2), then (3) +(4) should definitely be on your list of things to do if you've plateaued as a rider and don't seem to be able to shift your average speed.

Getting Fit and Fitted

The build up to deciding to go for a full on pro fit was driven by recurring tight hamstrings post ride.  Since employing a coach in August year, my volume and load had gone up considerably from 400 or so miles a month to 800+ including turbo interval sessions each evening.  We were both puzzled as to why the hamstring issue was occurring all of a sudden so a process of ruling things in/out ensued.  

First stop was a visit to Foot and Insole in Whalley (great place, review here) whereupon I'd had some custom insoles made to correct a supination issue (not standing straight basically).  Insoles are now worn in all my footwear aswell as cycling shoes and they've helped considerably.

Long story short, after several small tweaks to the on bike position without much luck, I ended up having an MRI scan which diagnosed a degenerating disc in my back.  The hamstring tightness being a related secondary issue due to the volume/load.  

The orthopedic consultant (himself a cyclist) suggested I source a place where all aspects of my on bike position, pedal stroke, cleat positioning, saddle etc could be reviewed to get things absolutely spot on and millimeter perfect.

Cyclefit Manchester

Whilst driving through the Northern Quarter of Manchester, I came across Cyclefit who had recently opened up a studio providing exactly what I needed.  They offer a range of services including a full professional fitting service with camera analysis, saddle pressure mapping, cleat set-up adjustment, physio assessment, the lot.  The main benefit being that you can be reviewed holistically, from feet upwards.  They already fit a number of professional cycling teams and professional riders from World Tour teams to Pro-Continental so they know their stuff.

Behind the Business

The business was started by Julian Wall and Phil Cavell.  You can read more about how and why it started here.  Bottom line was they were both injured, had investigated all sorts of medical interventions to get back on the straight and narrow, then had the epiphany that their on bike positions were critical to their recovery and - spotting a gap in the market in 1996, the rest is history.  

I got to meet both of the owners over a couple of visits and their passion for ensuring that your bike fit is as best as it can be came shining through.  Both highly knowledgeable guys, drilling down into all aspects of my own medical history within seconds of meeting them with eyes going up and down at the same time, sizing you up!

The Fit Itself

I went for the full professional fit with saddle pressure mapping (£225) and shoe/cleat positioning (£95).  Given the issue with my disc, I wanted to be 100% confident that - moving forward - I do everything possible to ensure comfort, performance and that my on bike position doesn't aggravate the situation

Arriving at the studio 

Greeted by fitter - Matt Hallam - we went into the studio where everything is set-up.  You're greeted by a bike rig, cameras, a big screen and all sorts of technical measuring equipment which is put into use during your session.  It's like a lab, full of tech and wizadry, just what you want.

Matt initially took me a through a detailed questionnaire about reasons for the fit, cycling objectives, health issues and general fitness plus flexibility. From there he did a physical assessment including measuring hamstring length, general flexibility, hip and leg length and all the other attributes which determine ultimately how you end up on the bike.  All these are being captured as you go straight into a report which gets e-mailed to you at the end.

Pelvic Measurement
Cyclefit also take all the measurements from your current bike and set up the rig exactly to the same dimensions so as to know the exact start point.  All this is recorded as they go on a record which gets e-mailed to you which explains where all the adjustments have been made and compares old. vs new.

The rig that it used for the fitting process is quite something, around £12K per unit to buy it seems.  The unique thing about it is that adjustments can be made in real time whilst you are riding.  There's no need to keep getting on and off or stop/start, so microscopic adjustments can be made on the fly.

Rig used for Fitting at Cyclefit
On The Rig

When you spin up the rig, all the cameras go on and video is captured of your rotation, front/rear movement, in fact pretty much everything.  Dots are placed on you at key points for the software to trackFrom that, several images are captured and the fitter can then determine the optimum angles.  

It's an iterative process.  The rig itself can be adjusted in real time with you on the bike, including saddle height, reach, so everything is done on the fly with your pedal stroke, hip movements, line of spine and overall position being monitored to ensure optimum position relative to your requirements and also the feedback that you gave in the consultation session.

Saddle Pressure Mapping

Cyclefit have a gadget (costs around £6K) which measures in real time where your pressure is loading on your saddle when cycling.  For me this was another key component - given my lower back situation - to get right.  The tool itself is a pressure mat which goes onto your saddle, with data capture software which then captures what's happening as you pedal to then convert into a heatmap (below).

As you can see , my current saddle and position meant I was totally front loading with hardly anything at the back which would have been aggravating the situation with my back/tendons.
Left Image = Current Saddle; Right Image = New Saddle + Position
Left Data= Current Saddle; Right Data= New Saddle + Position
After spinning up on the rig for five to ten minutes and having the saddle adjusted we got to a position where the conclusion was my current saddle (a Selle Italia gel flow) wasn't right for me.  Although I've always found it comfortable, the general design relative to my hips etc was leading to an imbalance in pressure and position.  

I've ridden Selle Italia Gel flow saddles for years, however analysis showed that a saddle change would be helpful and I changed to a Bontrager Montrose which got fitted in store whilst I was there (cost £89.99). The saddle was taking more of the pressure at the rear (desired outcome) which ultimately engaged the glute muscle group more.  

The chart below indicates where I was (left) to where we ended up (right).

Cleat Positioning

During the session, the fitter is also reviewing all elements of your pedal stroke.  When I visited Foot and Insole, we identified what they call a 'leg length discrepancy' which is very common it seems.  That is one leg is marginally shorter than the other.

As the session continued, various permutations of cleat position and packing were tried until an optimum was found.  All this you can see in real time on the TV screens via the cameras in front of you.  

For me it meant, the cleats were adjusted quite significantly with packing put between the footbed and the cleat to balance out power L/R aswell as an adjustment outwards on either side, pushing them away from the cranks.

I could never have got a cleat fit to this level of accuracy on my own. Having someone fully assess you on the rig, make the change, then see - via the data - what that does to your power and stroke is what you end up with.

Bringing It All Together

Walking away, quite a few changes had been made: -

  1. Saddle went up 13mm
  2. Cleat position was changed with feet pushed out around 10mm either side
  3. Saddle fore/aft was changed and put further back to line up my knees better during the pedal stroke.
  4. Packing was put underneath my shoes between the shoe bed and cleat.  Different levels were put under each side to compensate for a small leg length discrepancy.

The key thing after all this is what happened afterwards.  It's been a couple of weeks since the fit and I'm getting on very well with the new position.
  • Cockpit is comfortable with much more hip support and glute engagement from the new saddle and position.
  • I've done four rides, two flat and two lumpy and on each have come back with around 20 Strava personal records on each, so clearly more power is getting to the cranks.
  • Post-ride recovery seems to be quicker, with less hamstring tightness and a fresher feeling when doing a Sunday ride after a Saturday ride.   
Final Thoughts

There are a lot of bike fitting services available, no doubt.  

Many of them will do a very good job for you in getting the basics right in terms of your position relative to your goals.

If you are the type of person who wants to get their position totally dialled in for an upcoming event like a sportive, etape, triathlon or ironman then Cyclefit is the place for you.  

Equally if you have a medical issue, it's also for you (as in my case).  

If you've just invested in a fancy new bike, then ensure you get your position spot on to enjoy it.  On the basis that a bike can cost you £2,500 to £3,000 then it's about 10% of that cost in terms of investment.

Overall it was a real intuitive and educational experience, where I learnt a lot and can now ride my bike 100% confident that everything relative to my position, long term health and overall performance is now spot on.

A full price list can be found here.  If you do contact them, please let them know you read the review.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

1985 BH Trickstyler Refurbishment

Chatting over dinner with my mum in readiness for my brother moving to Australia, she mentioned a BMX that had been in her loft for over 25 years and whether it should go to the dump or not.  

Imagine that, a loft find of a retro BMX.  My ears immediately pricked up, I had no knowledge of the bike still being up there. My brother was for taking it to the dump, I said I'd have it and maybe thing of refurbishing it.  

Going Back

The bike was bought in Halfords on 06/01/1985 for £144.95  (my mum still had the original receipt and point of sale card which I now have for provenance). Back in the day, I was a keen BMX rider, owning a Mongoose Supergoose and an ET Edition Kuwuhara and I remember this bike coming home and my younger brother bombing round on it.

Original Till Receipt and Point of Sale

It was a lovely looking thing, bright orange in design and functionally it was a trick bike, with double rails for standing on.  I had no idea when we did the loft clearance what condition the bike would be in, as it turned out, it was pretty poor.

What A State
This is what I picked up.  A wreck of a bike, full of rust and a myriad of parts which my brother must have fitted when bits fell off.  It was going to be a bigger project than I thought.

Nevertheless I set about detailing all the parts I'd need to bring in back to new.  New Skyways, a back to metal re-spray, decals, in fact every part other than the frame, forks, bars and saddle post.  I was able to find a lot of the parts on eBay, it's surprising how much retro stuff you can find.  Some bits were more expensive than others it's fair to say.

The seatpost was stuck fast and thanks to the chaps at The Fell in Whalley, after much cajoling they got it out and the frame went off to the paint shop (involved heating up the frame with a blow torch and some muscle). 

This was then my first problem, sourcing new decals.  Googling the bike, you find very little information/images, just a few reference points.  It's a rare bike, very little info exists on the web about it.

Thankfully, one of those was a link to a website in Spain where a guy had a new old stock downtube sticker (see image above).  Jumping on this and make a long story short, after about 10 weeks of backwards and forwards, I got this single new old stock sticker.  Cost €30 plus postage.  From there, I found a guy that could recreate decals (place called Delcals) and he did a full set for me for around £28.00.

Having then had a stack of parts delivered, I was missing some key bits and hit a bit of a brick wall on a part that sits at the bottom of the bars.  Then I had a stroke of luck.  I bumped into former professional cyclist - Rob Hayles - at The Fell Bike and Tri superstore.  

Rob has some cool old BMX bikes in his collection including a Kuwuhara ET edition and a cool Skyway (he's too cool for school).  He mentioned a store in Wigan called Alans BMX who were the go to place for all old school BMX parts.  Off I went to find them.

A couple of weeks later and all the bits were dropped off to the shop for the re-build and they had everything I needed.  Whilst I was there they also found me some original Haro pedals, Dia Compe brakes and a Kashimax saddle, which was cool.  They had stuff going back decades, what an emporium.

So, after about twelve weeks from initial pick up at my mums, the project was complete and I travelled to Wigan for the money moment - the BH brought back to life after 25 years rusting.  It was catching a lot of glances in the shop and is likely that it's one of only a few now in existence in this condition.

The bike looks stunning and is back to showroom condition with every part on it being brand new.  Plan is to keep the bike and roll it out for a few special occasions and let it appreciate in value.  It's been great fun to do and my mum is delighted that the bike gets to live another day.  Anyhow, pics of the finished bike and spec are below: -

Final Specification
  • BH Trickstyler Frame/Forks/Bars/Post all resprayed 
  • Skyway Tuff II wheels on Whitewall Tyres with Tuff Pad Blocks
  • Diamond Back One Piece Crank and bottom bracket
  • 1985 Chain Ring (Original Manufacturer not known)
  • Haro Pedals (new old stock)
  • Skyway Mushroom Grips (new old stock)
  • Dia Compe Brakes and Cables (new old stock_
  • 80's brake levers
  • New Headset/Decals
  • Kashimax saddle (mid 80's new old stock)
  • Stunt Pegs (mid 80's new old stock)

Pre-Build Pics

Frameset back from the Spray Shop

Completed Bike Pictures

1985 BH Trickstyler - Front Left
1985 BH Trickstyler - Front Right

Dia Compe Brakes

Old School Front ChainRing on Diamond Back One Piece Crank
Mid 80's Kashimax Saddle
Skyway Brake Blocks and Wheels

Front Decal on Headtube
Rear End of the Bike
Old School Stunt Pegs (mid 80's new old stock)
Haro Pedals (new old stock from mid 80's)

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Global Cycle to Work Day - 10/5/2016 #CommutesCount

Strava - #CommutesCount Initiative

It's been a while since I've cycled to work.  Normally once per year as it's 50 miles round trip and takes some planning in between a very busy work and travel schedule.

Strava recently announced a 'Global Cycle to Work' marketing campaign with the 10th of May identified as 'the day' to encourage us all to get on our bikes, then upload our rides to their platform.  Reviewing my diary a few weeks ago, there was a diary sweet spot to join in.  Hurrah.

Global Cycle to Work Day

OK, it's smacks of marketing but beneath it all there is a subset of data which can be taken as a cut to look at the movement and routes then cyclists take on their commute, which Iin theory and if used) could lead to better town planning, cycleways etc.

Thinking about the route I would normally take into work, decision was for me to ride the direct route almost in a straight line from West to East as that would be the ideal route to have a dedicated cycleway for anyone West of Manchester.  

The Riding Reality

Heading out at 6.45am this morning, the 15mph block Easterly headwind was a real treat to ride straight into for 22 of the 25 miles.  It was hard going.  As I rode along parallel to the East Lancs road, the poor condition of the cyclepath struck me. 

Only recently, millions has been spent re-configuring this piece of road to allow bus lanes, which were welcome going Easterly as it made riding safer for sure.  The miss for me was why on earth they didn't re-tarmac the cyclepath which runs parallel for about 10 miles en route?

As you get about two miles out of Manchester the fun starts. Pretty much all pathway runs out and you're left on a busy dual carriageway (A580) heading into the City.  I have to say it was pretty precarious, everyone is focused on their journey to work, people are on phones whilst driving, traffic is backed up.  You really have to keep your wits about you.

Crossing the City wasn't too bad, I knew the best way through which would carry me to Ashton Old Road, another important road which travels out to the East of the City towards Ashton-Under-Lyne.  

There is no provision for commuting cyclists on this road other than the usual green tarmac at the lights giving you a space to roll up to.  Cars are whizzing by, many far too closely, leaving no room for error if a cyclist were to hit a pothole.  I was glad to roll into work.

The Wet Carpet Ride Home

Keeping an eye on the weather during the morning, it was evident that after three days of sunshine, things could only go one way, the opposite way.  Yes, the rain was coming and plenty of it.  Moving my meetings around I decided to get off at lunchtime and zoom to work from home, missing the evening commute.  This meant I could get set up in my home office and was a better use of time.

One thing to look forward to was the tailwind.  As soon as I got going, it was there - boom.  The heavens opened, which was to be expected, but who cares when you're zooming along at 23mph!  It was one of those lovely carpet rides, being blown along - perfect!

The Commutes Stacked Up Like this: -
Going - Rush Hour Traffic, 15mph headwind, 25 miles - 1:39 Mins/Avg 15.2mph
Coming Back - Normal Traffic, 15mph tailwind, 25 miles - 1:24 Mins/Avg 18.0mph

What Stops People Riding to Work?

Pushing a quick Twitter poll out, it was interesting to me to think about what some of the blockers might be to people riding into work more regularly.  For me, it's distance and schedule.  For others it might be something as simple as the weather.

Giving four options, here were the responses to the questions - 'What stops you commuting to work more regularly?': -

Distance (too far) - 15%
Road Conditions (safety fears) - 25%
No Cycle Facilities at Work (storage/showers) - 28%
Other (could be schedule, weather, work from home etc). - 32%

Responses (53)

So, there you have it, albeit a very small sample. Road safety and conditions plus provision of cycling facilities in the workplace are key influences in decision making.  

Whilst the safety one was no great surprise, the work cycle facilities was.  We put in secure bike storage, lockers and showers some years ago as a way to encourage people to ride in.  Clearly it can make a big difference.

Where's the Action? 

Whilst we've all uploaded our rides (146,000 people participated) and Strava now have a nice big data set they can use for more PR and to potentially sell to the town planners, what's the real message in the day?

Road conditions (which we know are very poor), road safety (more cycleways) and facilities at work (more provision by employers) remain key issues for people to up their frequency of participation outside of annual 'mass mobilisation' days.

As someone who rides around 4000 miles a year on the road, I can't remember the road conditions (state of repair) ever being worse than now.  The sheer amount of potholes can make riding really precarious, they can also damage your bike (my £200 Mavic rim replacement being a great example).  

In the past few weeks, I have more 'near misses' than ever before.  Each being down to other road users approaching junctions too fast or being on phones.  The road is a place where you really have to have your wits about you.

With such positive health benefits, reducing long term costs for the NHS, there has to be a return on investment somewhere to make our roads more secure, to encourage more people to get on their bike.

Before the flurry of comments telling me what a complicated issue is, I know.  The reality is for the rubber to hit the road and for more people to cycle to work they just need to feel safer, that bit is for the local and central government to solve and for everyone behind the wheel of a vehicle to continue to provide safe passing room when seeing a human on a bike.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Foot and Insole Whalley Review (@footandinsole).

I recently posted a blog on Linkedin about an on-going niggle that I've been having with my tendons.  With an increase in volume and load in my training since last August last year, it's led to tight hamstrings and - at times - some discomfort.

Investigating - at first - cleat position and overall position on the bike with Peter 'Spike' Taylor at The Fell Bike and Tri store in Clitheroe, everything seemed fine in terms of the overall pedal stroke, saddle position etc.  Spike then asked me to take off my shoes and socks and had his 'aha' moment.

He spotted straight away that I had over supination in my feet (effectively that they were not in an neutral position). He saw tell tales clues in bursars on my back heel and other signposts.  From his persepctive, the increased training load was exaserbating the condition leading to the outcome in the tendon.

His recommendation was to go and see Graham at the Foot and Insole clinic in Whalley.  I'm glad I did.

Review of Foot and Insole

Organising an appointment over the internet for a consultation and to have a pair of insoles made was easy.  A couple of clicks and I was in. 

Arriving at the clinic - which sits within the Whalley Warm and Dry store (clothing and walking boots retailer) - I was directed upstairs to be warmly greeted by Graham who owns the clinic.  

What initially struck me was how much Graham knew.  An engineer by trade who then began to study bio-mechanics, podiatry etc, he is a real subject matter expert who makes insoles for professional sportspeople of all disciplines, walkers, cyclists, footballers, golfers, rugby players, triathletes - you name it, he has made it and makes it.

After an introduction and initial chat about the reason why I had ended up with him, he quickly got to work on some physical inspection and then detailed analysis.  In the clinic he has software tools which allow him to look at all aspects of your foot movement and where pressure is applied within your feet upon movement or standing still.  It's really clever, identifying key hotspots of concern and alignment issues.

Made to Measure

From the physical inspection, Graham quickly identified that I had one leg around 4mm than the other (in the pelvis neutral position) and also confirmed the supination issue.  It seems my right foot particularly was bearing the brunt of it.

With the combination of physical examination and data analysis, a set of customer inserts was then made in-house, whilst you wait.  Using a combination of cushion and carbon for my road shoes and various layered materials for my daytime shoes, each set was hand crafted to fit with Graham taking time and care to ensure that each element of the insert would do the job, such as not making them too deep to ensure they went in my work shoes OK. 

Foot and Insole Preparing Custom Inserts

How much does it all cost?

The overall consultation was £120 including one set of in-soles, I was with Graham for around 90 minutes in total.  Given the amount that I invest in cycling kit, training and other related items, this was money well spent.  As well as diagnosing the root cause of my tendon pain, I walked away with a solution in terms of the insoles which I'll now wear all the time.  

Graham is highly knowledgable, with multi-disciplinary knowledge of various aspects of health then firmly focused on what role the feet plan in terms of your overall stance, stride and physical performance. 

I'll be recommending to lots of people that I know to go and see him.  He's like one of those best kept secrets.  Those that know, know and I wish I'd got to meet him years ago.  

Now you know, I suggest you go get checked out in order to ensure that your overall standing position is as it should be to ensure injury prevention and problems later in life, particularly if you run a lot, ride a lot or are on your feet a lot.

Following Up

If you would like to contact Sole and Insole, their website is here and you can follow them on Twitter here.  Please domention that you saw them via the blog.  More pics below.

Foot Mould
Cycling Inserts with Carbon Base
Stride and Stance Pressure Scanning Pad