Rule #1 of cycling: Your bike shouldn't hurt you! If saddle discomfort has become an issue that makes you dread getting on the bike, it's definitely time to make a change! Finding comfort on the bike is a bit like a puzzle: your bibs and chamois are one piece, the saddle is another, and the overall fit on your bike is yet another piece that needs to be tailored for your comfiest ride. We've developed our women's cycling bottoms to eliminate chamois discomfort and saddle sores, but without a bike that properly fits, even the most perfect bike shorts may not be enough!
In part two of this blog series, RoseMary realizes that to rekindle her love for riding, she had to get to the root of the problem, and fix the way she felt on a bike. It was time to prioritize feeling comfortable on her bike and work out all the kinks that made getting on the bike an achy chore, rather than a joy. Read on to get all the tech specs and bike fit wisdom that gave Rosemary a renewed body confidence and connection to her long-loved road bike again. Or start from the beginning and catch up on Truths from the Saddle with RoseMary: Part One here.
In my time in the fit studio with Annalisa we discovered that I am a bit of a Princess and the Pea, she related by admitting that she is too, which seems like a very good quality for a bike fitter to have. Perhaps the experience of being home this past year, where I am always quite comfortable, has heightened my awareness of things that are not comfortable. Fortunately, this new familiarity with comfort made getting a bike fit more effective because I was able to communicate what I may have previously ignored. Also, as I have gotten more comfortable in my own skin, I was able to tune into my actual comfort level on the saddle rather than than focus on how I look. This seems like a concept that might only apply to clothing, but it actually applied to my bike fit too. Turns out there were a lot of things about my old bike fit that were making me uncomfortable!
Upon arrival at Endurance PDX Annalisa had me give her a run down of what was bothering me. My main complaints were the saddle pain & abrasions, and that pestering pain in my right leg. I also told her about my weight gain and how I just wasn’t feeling comfortable on the bike anymore. With those being my main concerns, Annalisa put my bike into the stationary trainer and had me hop on for a ride. Once I was up on the trainer I could suddenly feel so many new irritants! My hips rocked, my neck and shoulders were tight, I couldn’t reach the bars, and the right side of my vulva was really just not happy to be there.
As soon as Annalisa saw me on my bike, she immediately said that my bike was too big for me. She asked if there was anyone who wanted to give me a new bike. We laughed. My road bike, a 2016 Ritchey Road Logic, had actually already been a gift and it is pretty sentimental to me. Hoping for another generous road bike gift was kind of out of the question. Aside from the sentimental value, I also really love classic steel frames and I am a big fan of Tom Ritchey. So though there are many new bikes in my future, I really wanted to make this particular bike fit. I wanted to enjoy the fun of it again, after all, we had already been through so much together.
Thankfully the fit of the frame size was just close enough that there were changes we could make to accomplish a perfectly tailored fit for me. Most of the time if a professional bike fitter tells you your bike is the wrong size for you, you should absolutely listen to them and find a different bike! Working around a frame that was a bit too large was a big investment, but it was worth it for me to ride the bike I cherish comfortably again. In order to make this happen, we changed nearly every changeable aspect of my bike fit.
I love the classic road bike geometry of Ritchey’s Road Logic. It appeals to my romantic feelings toward early road racing and 70’s & 80’s road frames, even though in reality it is too long and too aggressive of a frame for me. On top of the frame being a hair too big, my reach was too long, my seat was too high and too setback, my cleats were too far forward, my handlebar drop was too extreme. I will be honest in admitting that some of the original fit decisions were made because I wanted my bike to look a certain way, particularly my setback seat post and too long stem. A classic steel bike is what I wanted, but I also wanted to have just enough saddle to handlebar drop to keep my bike looking fast!
I originally had it set up how I thought it should look, but not necessarily how it should fit my body or riding style. If the bike had come stock this way I could blame the maker and say, Hey! You don’t consider women’s bodies or their proportions. When the reality was, I had actually internalized the way stock bikes were made to fit men with long torsos and short legs and I made myself believe that’s how my bike was supposed to look. That I was supposed to be reaching really far to be aero and fast. That any discomfort I felt was just because I wasn’t fit enough or flexible enough to ride a “fast” bike.
Thankfully my brilliant and trusted friend Annalisa was there to help me solve my laundry list of problems. First things first, I tossed out the internalized misogyny I had about how my bike should look and how my body should adapt to it. We started over to make something that was truly fit for me. And even with a more upright fit, it really doesn’t look that much different, but I feel a lot more comfortable. In addition to a completely new and custom fit, Annalisa also sent me home with some physical therapy homework to help with the unsolved pain in my right leg. Getting this bike to fit meant that I needed to invest in a new saddle, stem, seatpost, and a new fork with an uncut steerer tube, this investment was absolutely worth it.
Coming into the fit my main known issue was the saddle fit and all my new squishiness squishing where it shouldn’t squish. Truly I have always believed that if you’re comfortable on your saddle you can make just about any bike work, which may explain why I was able to ride a poorly fit bike for so long. Now that my saddle wasn’t comfortable anymore, we had to tackle that straight away. With a pressure map filled with sensors Annalisa was able to see where my soft tissues were under pressure. My previous saddle did not have a cut out or a relief channel, and though it was properly fit through the sit bones, I was putting a lot of pressure on my labia, and even more on the right side. It turns out I was riding with some asymmetry thanks to that achy leg.
Once we had the pressure map done we measured my sit bone width and found that I would be properly fit on either the Ergon SR Medium/Large or the Specialized Power Saddle in the 155mm width. Both saddles offered a relief cut out for my soft tissue, though the Ergon had a slightly longer nose. I was accustomed to a longer nosed saddle so I opted to try the Ergon SR out for a couple of weeks. When in doubt, always ask if there’s a trial period. The Ergon did not end up working out for me, as it was putting pressure in totally new places after some more time on it. When I came back for my follow up fit we swapped to the Specialized Power saddle and that proved to be the absolute winner. If you haven’t found your holy grail saddle, keep trying!
With the saddle fit now dialed there were so many other areas to tackle. My reach was too long so I needed a shorter stem and also a zero setback seatpost. These adjustments allowed me to sit closer to the bars and also placed my power center over the bottom bracket rather than behind it. The handlebar drop was also too extreme for me so I needed a taller steerer tube. This meant that I needed to order a new fork as mine was cut too short to accommodate any more stack height. Annalisa took all of my measurements and we figured out what new parts I would need to tune this all in. She also adjusted my cleats to sit further back and balance me more effectively over the pedal spindles. The fit process involved a lot of me riding the trainer in a mask with the big fan blowing my hair all around. I felt like a schlub as I rocked back and forth on my ill fitting bike. Annalisa assured me that I looked like Beyonce, this assurance helped.
With my measurements all dialed in, we moved on to solve that mystery issue in my right leg. After realizing how off my fit had been, it was safe to say the injury had resulted from over use on a bike that was too big. I had developed an asymmetry in my pedal stroke and was relying heavily on my calf and quad to do all the work. The solution to resolve some of this was to improve my glute strength through bridge activations, and also to work on my core strength. In addition I needed to improve my pedaling technique by dropping my heels through the pedal stroke. Dropping my heels was something I was neglecting to do due to riding with my seat too high. Another adjustment to help was to add a shim to the inside of my right shoe which immediately helped correct some of that asymmetry in my pedal stroke. I truly was the Princess and the Pea, that little shim felt like the finishing touch.
We all know what it feels like to find the magical pair of jeans or leather jacket that just slips on and hugs your body like it’s made for you. Like a pair of Machines bibs that have had some miles put in and they melt to your curves in all the right places. This whole fit process made me realize that my bike fit should absolutely feel like that. If you look at all the things we changed to make my bike fit me, it seems like it must have been so far off to begin with. That’s the funny thing about bike fits though, they’re measured in mere millimeters, and a few millimeters here or there can make a huge difference. I’ve been working in the bike industry for a while now, and riding bikes even longer, and I had still talked myself into believing that my body wasn’t fit for my bike, instead of the other way around. Don’t do that, seek advice, be relentless in your search for comfort, it is 100% possible to achieve the perfect fit with a little help from a trusted adviser.
The fresh bike fit gave me some renewed body confidence and a connection with my road bike again. My goal of riding on days when I wasn’t running became an obvious and fun option for getting outside, rather than a daunting chore that made me feel unfit to ride. I believe that bikes should be an accessible leisure to enjoy. Getting a bike fit is not necessarily easily accessible, it is expensive and can be a vulnerable experience. Annalisa Fish is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and she is an incredible listener on top of being very experienced. In general she is an extremely pleasant person to spend time with. I believe my experience getting fit by her was very different from what I would have experienced at the average bike shop fit studio. Just like with any doctor, you need to find the one that’s right for you.
If you’re not feeling comfortable on your bike, chances are this can be fixed. Fitness changes, riding styles change, but don’t let up on something that brings you joy. Something that I always told people when I worked in a bike shop, a piece of my own advice that I put off listening to for way too long, your bike shouldn’t be hurting you! I spent a lot of time telling myself that I had become unfit to ride this bike, and I confessed this at my fit session. Annalisa’s response was that people should always get a fit every couple years, we all change constantly. Essentially a bike is an extension of your body and as you change that’s going to need to change too. And in the end that internalized misogyny I was carrying around about how my bike was supposed to fit me was a whole lot heavier than these sweet soft 40lbs.
In the time since RoseMary's fit Annalisa Fish has relocated to Bellingham, WA. If you're looking for a bike fit in Portland, OR her legacy and methodology continues on with the crew at Endurance PDX. If you're in the Bellingham area, Annalisa will be begin booking appointments in the Spring of 2021, she can be reached by visiting her website at: annalisa.fish