Thursday, 27 March 2014

Bike Fit with Vankru Performance Cycling in Southampton

Off the back of some knee trouble I decided to get a bike fit done by an expert. I've been riding for years and always set my bike up myself, going by traditional bike fit rules of thumb, so I was interested to see what Garth Kruger, a Master Retül Bike Fitter, would change in my set-up.

The Vankru website is professional looking and inspires confidence in the service, especially when you read about Garth’s experience and qualifications. When speaking to him in person I realised that he has a wealth of racing experience too, from racing in Italy in a cut throat semi-pro level and also competing at the highest level in South Africa. Some bike fitters do not have this kind of racing experience, and although a good position can be learnt from a text book, there is no substitute for first hand experience when it comes to the true understanding of a rider’s requirements during a tough race.

When I arrived at the Mountbatten Business Centre (nowhere near the Mountbatten track in Portsmouth!) I did not see any sign for Vankru, but it was easy enough to find. The fit studio shares space with Brightside Personal Trainers, who have put up signs outside.

Stepping inside the studio it was clear to see that this experience was going to be all about bike fit. There is no wasted effort spent of glitzing up the premises for the sake of it; rather it is clean and tidy, yet minimalist. I find this reassuring as it is the service that takes the lead instead of a shiny studio with sparkly trinkets.

Getting started
The first thing Garth did was chat with me informally about my riding, about my experience, my goals and my injury history. He took note of the key information and then (after a warm up on my bike) it was time to test my flexibility. This in itself was interesting as it exposed the extent of the tightness in my iliotibial bands, on both legs. This tightness is a common cause of knee trouble. He also checked my hip flexors, hamstrings and various other bits. He checked for leg length discrepancies and joint mobility too.

Next I climbed on my bike, which Garth had set up on a turbo trainer. I was fitted carefully with Velcro stickers for attaching the 3D sensors in strategic points and then it was time to gather some data.
Garth talked me through what he wanted from me, an effort at roughly level 3 for about two minutes, and then when he prompts, an effort roughly at threshold. He talks you through how he wants these efforts to feel in terms of your perceived level of exertion if you do not have a heart rate monitor or power meter. Checking your body’s movement at these two intensities helps create a more rounded impression of how you ride the bike and all the angles and measurements are recorded by the Retül equipment. Once you have completed these two efforts Garth talks you through the data on his computer screen and discusses the changes he wants to make, and why he wants to make them. He then sets to work on the bike and your shoes, before you repeat the efforts on the new set-up. He will then watch carefully and further tweak the position as required.

Garth has great communication skills, which makes it a pleasure to work with him. The two way dialogue means that you can get the most out of the bike fit, and know that your questions will be answered.

In the past I have put off having a bike fit like this because of the price, but I'm hoping that it will prove to be worth it. And although it does not change the amount of money that will leave your wallet, it is helpful to realise that Garth definitely earns every penny you pay him. The service he provides is excellent and his love for the sport is obvious. A lot of work goes into each fit, which included unwrapping my bar tape, adjusting my brake hoods, re-wrapping the bar tape and switching my stem for an adjustable fitting stem for the purpose of measuring and then fitting a new stem at the end of the fit.

There was no pressure to buy anything either. I imagine there are fitters out there that use the opportunity to sell riders everything from saddles to shoes, but I got the impression that he would not change anything unless it was critical to your position improving. In the end I bought a new stem, which was 10mm shorter than my previous one, as keeping the longer one was causing me to creep forward on the saddle, which was overriding the change he made by moving my saddle back.

Going through changes
The changes made to my position were considerable in terms of saddle height and the set-back of the saddle. My knees were too far forward of the pedal axle and my saddle was too low. Both of these settings could be contributing to pressure on my knees. My back angle was also reduced in accordance with my flexibility, so I should be a bit more aerodynamic.

Garth recommended 10 to 15 rides at easy to medium intensity to allow my body to adjust to the new position. Which seems sensible advice considering the big changes. Below are the changes he made:

  • Saddle up 20mm
  • Saddle back 10mm
  • New stem fitted 90mm at -6 degrees
  • Rotated handlebars downwards
  • Raised angle of shifters.
  • Cleats back 5mm
  • Reduced the stance on the left cleat
  • One varus wedge to each shoe

I was told I could come back at any point if I had an issue and left feeling good about the fit. It will be interesting to see how it goes in the coming weeks, especially with a saddle raised by 20mm, as that is a big difference.

Read more about Vankru and Garth Kruger, a Master Retül Bike Fitter.

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