World, National and State champions. Riders in all levels of ability and disability. They’ve come from all over the world to see Steve Hogg. Neither a doctor nor an engineer, he has positioned riders from every cycling discipline, with every conceivable cycling problem.
A BIKE FITTER CANNOT FUNDAMENTALLY CHANGE THEIR CLIENT. WHAT THEY CAN DO IS ALTER THEIR PHYSICAL RELATIONSHIP TO THE BIKE FOR A LEVEL OF BENEFIT.
Call him a witch doctor of the bike-fitting scene, who has been concocting biking principles for over 20 years now, but all that matters to him is the result.
Many have been fitted elsewhere. Many fitters tried systems everywhere. Most chose the promise of finding the bike and riding position that best fit the rider’s needs through multiple data points captured in three dimensions by 3D infrared cameras. In seconds, you get a stick figure representation of the rider. While this high-tech fitting, for Steve, could be a valid starting point for fitters, there’s the inherent danger of it being the end point for them.
Enough of the systematizing and formularizing the relationship between the body and the machine. The rider is not merely incidental to the process of this motion capture fitting where every millimeter counts. Fitters must look beyond this digital assessment, more than the recommended range or any pre-determined result.
For Chuah, a fan of Steve’s unorthodox methods himself, he doesn’t believe in standardized statistics to suit all cyclists. His pragmatic approach when it comes to fitting customers ensures a truly customised fit to each individual. He constantly researches and revises on methods of new and old to ensure that customers get the best performance out of their fitment. Realising there’s a lack of public awareness on cycling as a comfortable and sustainable sport, he constantly shares his fitting knowledge on public media and magazine write-ups, hopefully to encourage more to pursue cycling without fear of discomfort, and to further raise the bar for fitting services in the country.
Even Daniel, who has come from the indirect observation camp, and also tried and tested different mainstream bike-fitting systems, is now pursuing a contrarian approach. He found that such systems, after witnessing different methods of doing it the systematized way, do not cater to the comfort level of the rider, and that the riders cannot even make sense of what the computers or the fitters themselves are actually doing. Customers tend to like it because they see themselves analyzed real-time on cameras and screens. There’s that ‘wow’ factor. In his experience in fitting customers—mostly triathletes and road riders—to their bikes through physical assessment including bone structure, back tightness, reach and more, the feedback received has been so far positive.
Why do you think biometric systems (motion capture and video capture tools), no matter how sophisticated they are, fail to keep to its promise of comfortable and better riding performance?
Unless you are talking about a power failure or software crash, any perceived failure results from the bike fitter letting their equipment dictate the client outcome rather than relegating the motion capture system to its rightful place, which is a tool for those that need them.
Any failures are a failing of the fitter, not the tooling. Motion capture systems quantify movement and compare it to averages. The good fitter knows that these averages often have to be disregarded, because good fitters use knowledge and judgment to arrive at a quality individual outcome. In contrast, the poor fitter applies these averages without regard to the unique needs of the client for a generic outcome. This means that the poor fitter is not really a bike fitter, but a process worker.
In any individual client’s case, quantity of movement (which is what biometric systems measure) is relatively unimportant. What is overwhelmingly important is quality of movement.
I know a reasonable number of bike fitters who own motion capture and video capture systems because everyone has to start their career somewhere. All of the good ones use their systems less and less as their experience and skills grow. This is not an accident. Biometric tooling should be the servant of the bike fitter, not the master.
Tell us about the symmetry of the bicycle in position and the asymmetry of humans in function, and how both are considered in your method of fitting?
Bikes are symmetrical in a positional sense. The seat is over the centre line of the bike and the crank arms and handlebars are equidistant from the centre line of the bike. In contrast, all humans are asymmetrical. The results of handedness, footedness, repetitive poor posture and accidents of birth or development mean that we are all asymmetrical to widely varying degrees.
A part from crashes, all cycling-related injuries are overuse injuries. Something isn’t quite right and the action is repeated thousands of times (pedal strokes) until the rider becomes injured.
This basic scenario always stems from the fundamental mismatch that occurs when an asymmetrical rider applies force to the pedals of a symmetrical bike for long enough or hard enough. So it follows that any measure that improves the symmetry of the rider, whether on or off the bike, is a positive in terms of improving client performance and reducing the chance of overuse injuries occurring.
One of my major aims with any client is to improve their functional symmetry as much as possible on the day of the fitting, before they get on the bike, and then take whatever measures are necessary to do the same on the bike.
There are ways to do this to a greater degree than many realise. I also encourage clients to work towards that goal in the future and give them resources that will help them do that.
A rider can only function as well on a bike as their off-the-bike level of function dictates.
How is optimal neural function crucial to bike fitting?
It is the most important aspect. To ride a bike well, the rider needs to be biomechanically efficient. A pre-condition of biomechanical efficiency is neurological efficiency, as no muscle will fire properly, or at the right time in the muscle firing sequence we call cycling, unless instructed to do so by the central nervous system.
It follows that any measure that facilitates nervous system function is beneficial to the rider’s function and performance.
Take us to your process, what’s the first thing you observe when a customer comes in for bike fitting?
Usually the first things I notice are when the client walks through the door. I observe gait, head carriage, any obvious postural issues, lower jaw alignment and how the client breathes. That is only a mental snapshot. The functional assessment I conduct will uncover more.
What are the common challenges, mismatches and asymmetric patterns of movement and function riders fall into indiscriminately until you educate them about?
These are all very common:
1. Not sitting squarely on the seat resulting in one hip and knee being further forward than the other.
2. Each leg reaching a different distance to the pedals.
3. One shoulder higher or further forward than the other.
4. One elbow more extended than the other.
5. One knee tracking closer to the top tube than the other.
You have a product called Lateral Pelvic Alignment Kit; tell us about it. How does stabilizing the pelvis contribute to functional symmetry while cycling?
I developed it several years ago. I’ve had an interest in pelvic function and lateral pelvic tilts for some time because no other single postural distortion has such a wide-ranging global effect on posture and function. If one side of the pelvis sits higher than the other (very common), each leg will have to reach a different distance to the ground; each hip, knee and ankle will work through differing planes of movement compared to the opposite side; muscle imbalances will be created all the way up the spine; each shoulder will sit at a different height and head carriage will alter.
Secondly, pelvic stability is as crucial to cycling performance as pelvic symmetry. Everything is attached to the pelvis, directly or indirectly, and influenced by pelvic function. The legs extend down from the pelvis; the torso extends up from it. If the pelvis cannot remain stable while cycling, the rider will enlist upper body effort in a failed attempt to remain stable. Performance and ability to breathe well suffers, and the chances of injury increase.
How do you do pelvic alignment?
By recognising that most lateral pelvic tilts are not caused by muscle imbalances. The muscle imbalances associated with lateral pelvic tilts are usually the product of the tilt, rather than the cause. The most common cause is poor processing of the spatial awareness component of vision by the sympathetic nervous system.
What kind of feedback you get from your clients?
Very positive. I offer a money back if not happy guarantee so if someone is unhappy, I would hear about it!
What sort of preparation you ask your clients to do before coming to you for fitting?
Nothing special. I ask them to arrive rested and hydrated and to bring along with them everything they would take with them on their bike. Helmet, glasses, cycle computer, lights, bottles, phone, wallet, etc.
Chuah and Daniel shared with us their bike-fitting observations and questions for Steve Hogg:
Chuah: How do you fit different kinds of riders (pro, weekend warriors)?
I fit all clients with regard to how they function and what type of riding they want to do on their bike. A quality bike position is largely dictated by the functional abilities of the rider and the use to which they’ll put their bike. In short the bike position should reflect their stability, flexibility and symmetry. Each rider is an individual ‘puzzle’ for which the best solution is equally individual.
What are the crucial differences (other than anatomy discrepancies, power meter, etc.) observed and considered when fitting them?
Any factor that negatively impacts on symmetry or stability on the bike is crucial. Some of these can be resolved by clever bike fitting. Some can only be 100% resolved by the rider heeding advice and performing ‘homework’.
A bike fitter cannot fundamentally change their client. What they can do is alter their physical relationship to the bike for a level of benefit.
If you want the most crucial single thing, it is pelvic symmetry and stability, because it negatively impacts on everything else.
Daniel: How do you address lower-extremity/foot numbness among cyclists through bike fitting?
There are a variety of causes and combinations of causes for lower extremity / foot numbness, so the best approach is to diagnose why the numbness is occurring. Once this is done, then in most cases the solution is obvious. When it is not obvious, often a measure of trial and error is necessary. In really severe cases the rider has to do their ‘homework’ as well. Potential causes include any combination of:
1. Too high a seat position
2. Cleats that are too far forward on the shoe
3. Common developmental issues with the feet
4. Poorly fitting shoes
5. Nerve compression further up the kinetic chain anywhere up to and including the lower back
6. Problems with blood circulation