One of the most important and overlooked aspects in bike fittings is the tilt and angle of the forefoot. Studies show that 96% of all cyclists are misaligned in their connection to the bicycle, decreasing comfort and efficiency. Of these cyclists, most have what is known as a Forefoot Varus (the inside of the foot tilts upward). This causes a misalignment as soon as you clip into a pedal because the pedal is flat.
A simple tilt adjustment where the cleat/shoe meet can resolve the most common “hot spots” (your foot feels like there’s a flame underneath it). Cyclists frequently contact BikeFit complaining of discomfort or pain on the bottom, outermost part of their foot. The left illustration shows the location of the MOST common “hot foot” or foot discomfort. The right illustration shows the ideal even pressure across the entire ball of their foot. Cyclists often describe this as feeling better connected, more stable, even-feeling and so on. The illustration below portrays the pressure created from the inherent tilt in most feet.
Measuring Foot Tilt
You can look at your own feet (with help) and see why there is often more pressure toward the outside of the foot. Kneel with on a chair and have someone hold a book or ruler across the balls of your feet. Are they angled up toward the inside or up at the outer part of the foot? Forefoot tilt is common so it’s likely that you’ll notice it. There’s a simple solution to reduce the pressure and increase comfort on your bike rides.
Cleat Wedges are the Answer
Cleat Wedges are stackable to fine-tune your unique forefoot tilt. They are specially designed to “fill the gap” between the natural tilt of the foot and the flat pedal. Consequently, they allow your foot to remain closer to its innate position, not change it.
How to Measure Foot Tilt and Find the Correct Number of Cleat Wedges
Option #1 BikeFit Pro
BikeFit Pros use a ForeFoot Measuring Device to discover foot tilt and recommend the number of Cleat Wedges needed to provide optimal comfort. These trained bike fitters not only use manual tools but also employ a video capture BikeFit app to aid in bike fitting.
BikeFit Pros also provide extensive knowledge in fitting to optimize not only your foot/pedal interface but also your complete bike position. Visit our BikeFit Locator to find a pro near you!
Option #2 Foot Fit Calculator
The Foot Fit Calculator App for Android allows you to easily determine foot tilt and the wedges required to compensate with our free app. All you need is a friend to help take a quick picture of your feet and a comfortable to chair to kneel on. The app even helps link you back to the BikeFit website to either find a local dealer or to purchase them via our website.
Do you have more questions about foot tilt? Feel free to contact us!
KIRKLAND, WASHINGON – June 7th, 2017 – BikeFit, the worldwide leader in bike fitting products, announced the launch of their free mobile app for Android devices. For the past 20 years, BikeFit’s knowledge and products increased comfort, power, and efficiency for countless cyclists. Now, with the release of the Foot Fit Calculator, cyclists can customize the fit of their bicycle shoes to their pedals. The application walks users through the process of figuring out the ideal pedal-to-foot connection angle and then recommends a solution to optimize foot fit. Users will need a friend to help take the pictures and the application will do the rest!
The Pathway to Solution
Through an easy and simple procedure, the app guides users through measuring foot tilt. The interface aids the user into position, kneeling comfortably a couch or chair away from the person measuring their feet (with their knees slightly apart and legs hanging over the chair or bench). Next, the user only needs to have a friend take a quick picture, position the red line as explained in the directions, and then they are provided with the recommended number of Cleat Wedges needed to customize the fit of their foot.
Cleat Wedges® enable the cycling shoe to connect with the pedal naturally, by acknowledging the foot’s inherent angle. This creates a neutral foot position throughout the pedaling cycle, resulting in greater comfort, efficiency, and power.
BikeFit, the worldwide leader in bicycle fitting products, now offers BikeFit Pro education exclusively through CyclePoint.
Although closely tied with Cycle Point, BikeFit no longer provides educational training to become a bike fitter. We now focus exclusively on providing products and knowledge to increase riding comfort, efficiency, and power. In addition to our amazing line of bike fitting products, we recently developed a Walkable Screw Kit, updates and changes to our iPad/iPhone Fitter App, and the free Foot Fit Calculator Android app. The new app will help cyclists identify foot tilt, decipher the number of wedges they may need, and allow the to directly purchases the wedges they need or connect them to local BikeFit Pros and dealers.
What is Cycle Point?
Paul Swift, founder and CEO of CyclePoint, created the company prior to BikeFit, but it primarily functioned as a product design company. Many of those designs include BikeFit products. CyclePoint now organizes, conducts, and operates all BikeFit Pro training. Recent and upcoming training includes California, Georgia, Washington, Oregon, Texas, and Canada! If you would like to find out more, visit the CyclePoint website.
We are excited for what these changes mean for the future of BikeFit and CyclePoint! With our companies combined, we can do more for numerous cyclists! Our goals are similar: aid cyclists in reducing pain, increasing power and efficiency, and in turn, make cycling more enjoyable. We hope you look forward to the future of bike fitting!
This article focuses on triathlon bike (TB) and time trial (TT) bike fitting. It is not intended to be a resource for bike sizing. Often these two descriptions become intertwined. However, anyone with interest in bike fitting or sizing should understand the differences. With that said, fitting a time trial bike works best when you start with the right size bicycle frame. At a minimum, a frame should be close enough to your correct size.
The position on the time trial bike we will discuss most will be the aero position–forearms sitting on the armrest with hands at the end of the aero bars/extensions. This term is referred to as “in the aero bars.” This does not render fit on the base bar or cow horn section of the bars unnecessary. On the contrary, consideration should focus here because it is the connection for starts, climbing, cornering, and where most brake levers are found. We want to help guide you to a position that you will ride almost all of the time in the aero bars. If you are not able to ride in this position comfortably, we suggest a change to the bike fit.
Illustration 1 – Tri-Bike with the “target” connection points highlighted.
Triathlon or time trial vs. road bike and considerations
One thing we will not focus on in this article is whether you should be riding a triathlon bike vs. a road bike. For many, a road bike may better serve you and there is nothing wrong with riding a road bike in a triathlon. When necessary, we will specify TB (triathlon bike) or TT (time trial bike) for distinct or modality specific descriptions/reasons. Most of the time we will use “TB.” Like all cyclists, athletes who participate in triathlons, duathlons, and time trials desire comfort while riding. However, unlike many road cyclists, the triathletes and time-trialists are rarely seen sitting up and relaxing. The geometry, and thus positioning, on a time trial bike is often quite different from a road bike.
At BikeFit, we’ve developed our bike fitting curriculum to address a duathlete’s and triathlete’s specific needs. We do incorporate some of the protocols, especially with regards to hip angle, developed by Dan Empfield at SlowTwitch/F.I.S.T. This is, of course, in addition to what we perform during a typical fit (foot/pedal interface, seat height, stance width, front view, side view, etc.).
The history of “aero”
During the 1984 Olympics and around the Olympic Training Center, many people started to notice “funny bikes,: This was, of course, prior to the advent of “aero bars.” Race Across American (RAAM) then showed perhaps the first version of an “aero bar.” The RAAM guys kick-started this aero bar craze, not the triathletes as many believe. Several morphologies occurred as the triathletes attempted aero positioning. Shortly thereafter, a Boone Lennon built a set of “aero” bars for a Tour de France racer. This publicity increased the “aero bar’s” positive reception by ALL cyclists, not just the crazy long distance guys and the early triathletes. Then John Cobb helped BikeFit founder, Paul Swift, compose what may have been the first published bike fitting manual for time trial bikes and triathlon bikes in the 1990s: “The Bicycle Fitting System,” co-authored with Vint Schoenfeldt, PT.
Today, Paul Swift now also teaches at SlowTwitch, a fabulous bike fit education program run by Dan Empfield. He is a man who has taken the side view and put it into a much easier to digest format. Dan invested more time into time trial bike and tri bike fitting than anyone on the planet. It is important to note, Dan focuses on the side view perspective but also does a great job with helping fitters generate the best size frame (bike sizing) for their clients. Together SlowTwitch and BikeFit offer the most comprehensive triathlon bike fit in the world. Bike fitting that considers only the side view is like building a house and setting it on the ground without regard to the foundation. Fitting only the feet is like building the foundation but stopping before putting up the walls and roof.
The illustration above is an early version of a time trial position. This is also fairly indicative of triathlon bikes at the time that focused on the aero position. This photo shows Chris Kostman of Adventure Corps- www.adventurecorps.com. Chris is the promoter of the Furnace Creek 508 and an excellent BikeFit Pro. He certainly does not fit people like this today.
The differences between early time trial/triathlon bike fits and today
What are some of the differences with Chris’s fit and a triathlon or time trial bike fit today? Fittings at this point occurred before we started with the foot-pedal interface. Chris would point out he was at the forefront of setting the cleat further back on the shoe than most prescribed. We would argue he did it before shoes were ready for that change. With the advances in cycling shoe technology, indeed cleat position changed (foot-pedal interface information).
Two major things stand out when we look at Chris: hip angle and shoulder angle. The saddle is further back than most tri bike fits today. This results in a more acute hip angle which is exacerbated by the extra-long reach to the bar. Notice the shoulder angle; this is WELL beyond the typical 90 degrees or so we like today. Lucky for most of you, this position disappeared years ago. People ahead of you suffered so that you can achieve comfort and efficiency. A good time trial bike fit should be comfortable for the duration of your bike ride or race. You will also generate more power and increase efficiency with a quality, comfortable bike fit.
Tri(triathlon) or time trial bike position vs. road position?
From Dan Empfield www.Slowtwitch.com “The forward position places the rider over the cranks further and puts him/her in an aerodynamically sleek position. The position also saves key muscles for running. Road bike seat tube geometry is geared toward making efficient use of all leg muscles, especially the hamstrings, which is an important muscle to save for the run. Tri-geometry makes more use of the quads to generate power.”
We do believe most everyone agrees with Dan’s first statement–this forward position “places the rider…in an aerodynamically sleek position.” It is Dan’s second statement that conjures disagreement among professionals. Some studies indicated little to no noticeable change in physiological measures between a shallow seat tube angle and a steep seat tube angle. Ben Reuter and David Pascoe completed this study and published it in 2006 ‘Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise.’ Referring back to Dan’s statement, is that the same as saying “key muscles?” You can decide. We think most professionals agree with the use of the forward (aero) position. However, all are not in agreement as to its exact benefits.
Position and comfort in triathlons
Before we get to cycling part of your triathlon (the third event), a good tri bike position should also be comfortable for someone just getting out of the water and onto the bike–this is rarely discussed. The majority focuses on transitioning to the run. While this factor is crucial, the run is far away from when you get on the bike and commence the highest speed section of your race. Let’s endeavor to place the athlete in the most comfortable aerodynamic position. In the end, what is the point of improved aerodynamics if you are unable to generate an ounce of power? We suggest when getting a triathlon bike fit, swim as close as possible or just prior to your bike fit. A few places on the planet will set this up for you. Ask if this is an interest, but places like this are few and far between.
The triathlon position tends to be more static than a road position. In other words, the cyclist spends less time adjusting or altering their body position while riding. So the main focus is, for the most part, pinpointing one position on the bike. Dialing in this single position actually becomes a bit easier than a road fit. Yet, people sometimes suggest a tri-fit is more difficult.
Sizing a tri bike is also not as complicated as suggested by some. However, sizing takes a slightly different trained eye than road bike sizing. Fitting a triathlon bike comes down to the contact points (connection points) between the cyclist and the bicycle. These NINE contact points (yes there are nine places you touch a triathlon bike): right and left pedals (1,2), the saddle (3), right and left forearms (4, 5), right and left extensions (6, 7), when in the aero position, and right and left hands (8, 9), when upright in the base bar or cow horns.
Illustration 3 – Tri Bike with the “target” connection points highlighted.
Sizing on a TB, however, probably needs to be more precise than sizing on a road bike. The choices, although many in triathlon bike accessories, can be a bit more limiting in adjustability. A proper bike fit has more to do with the saddle, handlebars, brake levers and hoods, stem and, most importantly, shoes, cleats, and pedals than the actual frame. As long as you get the equipment within the target range, you can achieve a proper and efficient bicycle fit.
Selling bicycles is the business of a bike or tri shop, and their focus is typically on the bicycle and bicycle frame. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes bias can enter the picture and hopefully, this does not negatively influence the bike fit. If the shop you choose to purchase your from is not well versed in fitting (or positioning), we strongly suggest you connect with someone with fitting expertise before your purchase. A good fitting bike may reduce more time in your triathlon than any other adjustment you make (proper training notwithstanding).
Unlike the human body, bicycles are symmetrical (other than one crank sometimes being a little wider from center than the other). That means getting the connection points into the target range is only a start to the bike fit. Not only do these points need to be in the correct area, but you need to fine tune each specific connection. Assessing and fine-tuning the location of the bike part as it meets your body is imperative. For example at the hands, just because you may have the correct length and angled stem does not mean you have the right shape and size of base-bar or elbow rest and extensions, the proper bar tilt/rotation, and/or brake levers and their location on the handlebars. Simply because you set the cleat fore/aft position does not mean its rotation, tilt, and stance width are also correct (foot adjustment). The ultimate result between the bike and your connection to it–the bicycle basically disappears. Once you no longer notice the bike and your focus exists solely on the ride, the scenery and/or company, you achieved a proficient bike fit. Similarly, while a triathlete may not care about the scenery, their concern is speed. When a triathlete no longer notices their bike, they are experiencing a great bike fit. Don’t fight with your bike! Use your motor to tear up the course. I guarantee you if your bike “disappears” during your triathlon, the transition to the run will go much more smoothly.
Getting Started with Fit (Contact Points)
As previously mentioned, the cyclist’s body contacts the bicycle at 9 points: hands (4), forearms (2), pelvis (1), and feet (2). The location of the feet, pelvis, forearms and hands dramatically impacts comfort and efficiency on the bicycle. Several pieces of equipment on a bicycle are adjusted to find your ideal position on your bike:
Pelvis – saddle selection, height, fore/aft, tilt and sometimes cycling shorts.
Hand and forearms – base bar, forearm pads, extensions, brake levers and shift levers (all connected to the stem).
Feet – pedals, cleats, cycling shoes and occasionally crank arm length
Our next 2 articles provide detailed explanations on contact points.
Learn More About Triathlon and Time Trial Bike Fitting
Rarely do bicycle fitting articles mention saddle selection. Reality: this should be the first step before making any adjustment to the seat height, tilt, or fore/aft position. Riding with the wrong saddle can compromise your comfort and ideal cycling position dramatically.
As simple as it sounds, the best way to find the most comfortable bike seat is to sit on it. The problem lies in the fact that switching saddles is both time-consuming and difficult. Changing a saddle can take up to 15 minutes per seat which means most people select a seat by pressing a finger into it to test its firmness or softness. Another option is simply choosing a saddle based on advertisements. Some saddle manufacturers have done a nice job with their design and a fabulous job with their marketing. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t help you procure the ideal saddle. Fortunately, we solved this problem. At BikeFit we built a saddle fitting tool called the SwitchIt™ that quickly and easily allows you to test as many saddles as you’d like by sitting on them:
Not all shops carry the SwitchIt so you’ll need to ask for it or find another bike shop that does. When you find a shop with a SwitchIt, try to set the position on their sizing bike or stationary bike that has it mounted it to a similar position as your triathlon bike. Try as many saddles as you like until you find the one that fits best before you make your purchase. It may come as a surprise that the seat you currently ride is not the best saddle for you. Let your tush be the judge!
Saddle Selection Misnomer
Beware of other ways a bicycle dealer may guide you with saddle fitting and saddle choices. Some bike shops may have you sit on a device that takes an impression of the width of your sit bones. If this device actually works, the best information it “suggests” is how wide or narrow of a saddle you “might” like. Unfortunately, we can share with you story after story where this device does not provide information for a comfortable saddle choice.
Illustrations 4 – As you can see sitting on bike is not like sitting on a box
As mentioned, the incorrect saddle can compromise your position on the bike and, of course, feel uncomfortable.
As you try to find the right saddle, keep an open mind. Some shops may start you down a saddle choice path by pointing out saddles designed for a triathlon or for men or women specifically. However, some triathletes find a road saddle more comfortable and some men may find women’s specific saddles more comfortable or the other way around. Either way, please be ready and willing to try ALL kinds of saddles.
Are seats with a cutout good? It seems that in the past some seat manufacturers added a cutout to make up for their less-than-ideal saddle design. Many saddles did not offer the ideal support in the right area. A good-fitting saddle may not need a cutout if the support is in the ideal area for you. Where is the ideal area? It varies from person to person. In general, for most of us (male or female) it means not too much pressure in the front or in the center of the saddle. For some, sitting slightly off to one side may be the answer. Bike fitter extraordinaire John Cobb often recommends positioning the nose of the saddle to one side.
Illustration 5– tip of saddle rotated to the right. More information can be found about Cobb Saddles.
Ultimately a cutout seat may prove the most comfortable, but don’t discount those saddles without a cutout before trying them first. You may surprise yourself as to which feels best.
Is a level saddle the best position for you? It may be ideal for some but probably not for every triathlete. Numerous people tilt the saddle nose down thinking it will increase comfort. If you must tilt the nose down more than a few degrees, you may not have the right saddle and/or the overall bike fit is likely too far off. Too much downward tilt usually results in your pelvis sliding forward. This leads to hand, elbow, forearm, triceps and shoulder discomfort or pain. You may find yourself pushing your pelvis back from the bars several times in a ride. Some people will also feel like they are pedaling more with the tops of their quads (just above the knee). While not as common, some saddles feel better with a slightly upward tilting nose. The best adjustment for your saddle really depends on you and on the saddle itself. So don’t get hung up by someone saying it is “supposed to level” or “tilt” this way or that way. Rather, adjust to what feels best.
The starting point for most do-it-yourself bike fits is typically saddle height. Sit on the saddle with one leg hanging free and your pelvis level—not one hip tilted higher or lower. Your hanging leg’s heel should just scrape or touch the pedal when the pedal is at the very bottom (6 o’clock). Once you slide your foot back to bring the ball of your foot to the center of the pedal you should have a slight bend in your knee.
Illustration 6 – Heel Scrape
In our experience, the properly bent knee resides between 27 and 37 degrees of flexion from a straight leg. Typically, most people have greater than 30 degrees of knee bend at the bottom of the pedal stroke. The Empfield – F.I.S.T guide suggests an even lower saddle height range. Collectively we feel that you will almost never see someone needing to be taller than our ranges. Occasionally you might rarely see someone lower. If your hips rock a little when you pedal, lower the saddle a couple millimeters and test again. Repeat as necessary until you eliminate this rocking. You may be someone that just rocks. Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger; you are not alone. At this point, you may want to consider shorter cranks. If you are on a fit bike with adjustable cranks, shorten them and observe the changes.
While there are formulas that take into account your inseam measurement, they generally do not produce any better result than this heel scrape method.
We recommend using a Goniometer to accurately measure knee bend. Take a look at the goniometer checking knee flexion or the bend in the knee at the bottom of the stroke:
Can saddle height be set to the exact millimeter? Saddle height is never the same even for the same person. What do we mean by this? What happens if they wear a different pair of cycling shorts? That precise measurement is now not so precise. Does the “millimeter measurement” account for the wear and tear of a saddle that has been ridden for a long period of time? What if the rider feels tight one day, rested the next day, or they wear additional clothing to accommodate for cold weather? The list is nearly endless. Bottom line: the millimeter adjustment is not as important as you might believe.
Saddle Fore/Aft Position
For years common thinking for saddle fore-aft positioning was determined by the knee over pedal spindle (KOPS) positioning. The KOPS fit process: place one foot forward (3 o’clock) with your crank arms parallel to the ground and then ensure that the forward knee cap is just over the center of the pedal (see picture below). For some riders, this method will work well enough for a road or mountain bike fit but that is a “maybe” at best.
Illustration 8 – Knee over Pedal Spindle alignment
Many people use a plumb bob for this measurement (we did at one time). We found a laser or the BikeFit Pro App to be easier and far more precise. While the right leg in the photo above is closest, the rider can spin the other leg forward and check the fore/aft on the far leg as well without moving the laser. We also refer to this as a “hands-free” technique. With a laser, the fitter is able to make an adjustment or simply step back and take a look. This is not possible with a weighted string hanging from the knee. Today we use this more to see if one knee is further forward than the other but NOT to check the actual saddle fore-aft position (especially on a triathlon bike fit).
Unlike road or mountain bikes, KOPS is NOT a starting point for triathlon bike fit. The modern method we subscribe to is a modified (but fairly close) Dan Empfield or Slowtwich approach. As mentioned above, my early influences come separate of Dan, having lived at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs when funny bikes were first being made. I was also influenced by working with aerodynamic guru John Cobb. We put a lot of John’s information in our first bicycle fitting manual, possibly the first fitting manual on tri bike fit. It is not that tri bike fitting was not talked about, but finding a manual for one was next to impossible.
Illustration 9 – A bike that may have been used in the 1984 Olympics – notice the small wheels
UCI Exceptions: Saddle Fore-Aft
There is an exception to the fore-aft saddle position for time trial bike fitting or for any bike that needs to be UCI legal. Because of this, it is actually easier to fit a time trial bike than it is a triathlon bike–one of the driving aspects or fit parameters is automatically set for you. We are not saying this is a good thing but rather an easier thing.
Illustration 10 – saddle set at 5cm behind the center of the BB
For USAC or UCI races or time trials, set the saddle height and put the nose of the saddle 5cm behind the BB and “Voila” you have your seat position for a time-trial bike. There are other parameters to follow. Just to make things more complicated, the UCI has a jig and your bike needs to be set up within the guideline of this jig (or template). This resembles a template for a stock car.
To see what this jig looks like, here is a bike that is set up illegally for UCI/USAC racing.
Illustration 11 – Saddle too far forward for UCI and USAC racing.
Illustration 12 – UCI bike requirements.
Additionally, not shown in this illustration are several angles and positions of the cyclist on the bike that must adhere to UCI guidelines.