BF Podcast Ep. 3: Paul’s Corner–Saddle Height and Saddle Selection

Part 3 and the final part of our series on saddle height in bike fitting continues with an interview with the founder of BikeFit, Paul Swift. We refer to these regular episodes as “Paul’s Corner” where he not only weighs in on our previous podcast topics but expounds upon what he perceives in the world of cycling and specifically with bike fitting.  

Today’s riveting topics cover the following:

  • The range of saddle height and the variables that affect it.
  • Challenges to setting up proper saddle height.
  • Rider variability
  • The art and science of bike fitting
  • “T-r-i” which is the same as “try” but we were thinking of our triathletes
  • The Saddle Changer’s impact in finding the right saddle.
  • Saddle discomfort
  • Saddle shape and selection
  • Sit bone measurement
  • The BiSaddle
  • and much more…

Paul Swift is an 8-Time US National Track Cycling Champion and a gold medalist at the 1998 Goodwill Games.  After retiring from competitive cycling, Paul founded BikeFit and Bikefit Education to share his passion for cycling. Paul is a Master Bike Fitting Technician, a certified USCF sport coach, and a former member of the USA Cycling Board of Directors. Paul specializes in training bike fitters to correctly deliver comfortable and consistent fits to any type of rider.

Paul is a product designer or creator of the following:

He has trained over 1000 bike fitters and cyclists around the world.  Currently Paul’s Level 1 BikeFit Pro training course is taught in over 12 different counties and in 6 languages.  He is also the co-author of the BikeFit Foot/Pedal Interface manual When the Foot Meets the Pedal…

He continues to innovate in the bike fitting and cycling world with revolutionary ideas and products.  

If you have questions for Paul or interested in taking one of his courses, please contact him via e-mail: [email protected]

BikeFit Education

Episodes You May Like

BF Podcast Ep. 2: The Science of Saddle Height with Dr. Rodrigo Bini

Part 2 of our series on saddle height in bike fitting continues with our episode this week The Science of Saddle Height. Our guest Dr. Rodrigo Bini joins us remotely from Latrobe University in Australia.  

While last week, our guest Tom Wiseman focused on pelvic stability as the indicator of potential saddle height problems, Dr. Bini delves into the research that supports saddle height change.  We talk about some of the following great topics:

  • The amount of saddle height change needed to show statistically significant values in force or oxygen uptake
  • Knee angles
  • Static fitting knee angle vs. dynamic fitting knee angle
  • Should I throw out my Goniometer? Spoiler Alert – No
  • Technology in Fitting
  • Much much more… 

If you missed last week’s episode, you can listen to it here.

Rodrigo Bini, PhD, is a Lecturer and researcher in Exercise and Sports Biomechanics at La Trobe University – Bendigo Campus in Australia.

Currently, Rodrigo is an associate Editor of the Journal of Science and Cycling and the Human Movement journal. He also is a member of the Editorial Board of the Sports Biomechanics Journal, the Journal of Sports Sciences and the European Journal of Sport Science.

Rodrigo is also one of the editors and authors of many chapters in the book Biomechanics of Cycling, published in 2014. Rodrigo has published over 60 articles, the majority involving studies on sports biomechanics and he pursues particular research interests in the application of muscle mechanics principles in sports actions, with special attention to cycling and running.

BF Podcast Ep. 1: Establishing Saddle Height with Tom Wiseman

Saddle height is an often debated topic in cycling and there are multiple methods used to establish it.  Due to the massive amount of information about saddle height, this is our first of 3 episodes delving into this ubiquitous topic.

Professional bike fitter and BikeFit Pro Tom Wiseman of Cycling Solutions joins us for a candid conversation on how, after over 1250 bike fits completed, he establishes saddle height, the definition of pelvic stability, the importance of fit in the process, and identifying factors of improper saddle height.

Full Written Transcript Below

Tom Wiseman initially studied fitting with Michael Sylvester, then at the Serotta International Cycling Institute.  Next, he completed both Level 1 and Level 2 courses with BikeFit, established a mentorship via Curtis Cramblett to achieve his Level 3 status with the International Bike Fitting Institute and also studied special topics in fitting with specialist fitter Happy Freedman.  He is also a Level 2 USA Cycling coach and a fantastic mechanic.  Tom’s business, Cycling Solutions, provides comprehensive bike fitting, coaching, and bike service to the Akron, Ohio area.

Listen to more BikeFit Podcasts

Full Transcript of BikeFit Podcast Episode 1

BikeFit

Tom Wiseman, thank you so much for being on the BikeFit podcast.  I’m excited to have you here today and we’re going to talk about all things saddle fitting.

Tom Wiseman 

Thank you so much, Damon, I appreciate you having me on the show.

BikeFit

To get started, I’d love to hear just a little bit about your background, how you became a fitter.  What is your story?

Tom Wiseman

So I began fitting in 2011.  A good friend of mine had tried to complete the Race Across America and after 2200 miles or so, unfortunately had to withdraw from the race for a variety of reasons, including his position on the bike that was poor.  And at that time as a member of his crew, I wanted so desperately to help him and I had such limited knowledge at that time that I felt like I was doing him a disservice and simply I was present but not active, so I made it a point at that point in my life to say I’ve been in bike industry for 20 years and I know a lot of stuff, but there’s obviously a whole bunch I don’t know and I made it a point that fall and winter to both become a bike fitter and become a USA cycling coach.  And from there on, I really didn’t look back.  I just poured myself into it.  It really excited a whole new passion for cycling for me.  That’s 8 years ago now and I can’t tell you the change it’s been in me as far as my practice is concerned. 

BikeFit

Phenomenal.  How many fits have you done in the last 8 years just to kind of give that background to those listening?

Tom Wiseman

I just recently had to calculate this and count up some things.  As a level 3 International Bike Fit Institute member, you have to accrue 1200 fittings.  I knew I was getting close over the last year, but I didn’t know how close and I had stopped counting for that very reason, but I’m up over 1250 at this point, somewhere in the 1275 range, with this week’s fitting, probably somewhere closer to 1280, so every day it gets a little bit closer.

BikeFit

Well, that’s fantastic because I have a minimum need of a fitter to be on the show to have at least 1200 fits, so you just made the cut off.

Tom Wiseman

Well, thank God for that.

BikeFit

With that experience, I definitely want to get into today’s topic and clearly since you’ve been doing for a while and done so many, I know that you’re the right person to ask about this also because you just did some research on it as well, but let’s get into it, let’s talk about saddle height and let’s go with the function of saddle height.  How do you as a fitter determine saddle height for a cyclist?  What tools do you use? What is your process?

Tom Wiseman

When it comes to saddle height for me, that has evolved some over the past number of years and especially since doing in the past year, I worked with Curtis Cramblett on a mentorship program that focused strictly on saddle height.  And through that process, I really started to focus more on stability of the pelvis as a definitive guide to saddle height.  That’s the primary thing I’m looking for when looking at saddle height.  I mean I also use some other things like flexibility, range of motion, a person’s preference.  You’d be surprised how often that simply plays a role.  They feel like they’re overreaching.  They feel like they’re under-reaching.  And sometimes that mental block or hurdle is difficult to get over, so sometimes we’re doing some coaching as far as teaching them why and how they pedal the way they do and why the saddle influence is that, but I would say primarily what I’m looking at is pelvic stability.

BikeFit

When you’re looking for the pelvic stability, you said the sum of it is you’re working with the cyclists, some of it are you making adjustments to their seatposts based on that stability and how do you see that?  Can you describe that?

Tom Wiseman

Typically, I’m viewing this from the back.  I’m getting better at seeing it from the side, but it’s easier for most people to see it from a rearview of a cyclist.  If you’ve ever ridden in a group ride and you’ve been riding behind somebody, you can tell when a person’s pelvis is unstable either it rocks or rotates over top of the saddle, some people will see it as bobbing in the saddle, so there’s different visual clues that you can see.  But what I usually do is I take a person saddle height up past where they’re stable.  Oftentimes if I’m just shooting in the dark, so to speak, and we’re simply trying to establish a starting point, I’ll take their saddle height up 2 or 3 centimeters or past where they currently are because oftentimes a person’s saddle height isn’t terribly off, sometimes it is of course, but most of the time, it’s at least somewhere where they’re comfortable enough to pedal their bike for the distance that they’ve been covering up to that point, but I usually take it up pretty significantly till they’re obviously unstable and usually a person will immediately say, “Oh my gosh, this is a drastic change and I’m not comfortable here.”  Then we’ll simply start lowering it down until their pelvis calms down and they become more stable on the seat.  Then I make a note to myself that that’s the high point in their saddle stability position.  Sometimes and not often, I will also go to the low end of that range and generally speaking, it’s about 15 millimeters of height that a person can pedal stable and powerful while still remaining comfortable on their bike.

BikeFit

There’s a range, there’s not an absolute.  If you’re talking to someone and they’re like, well, my saddle height needs to be exactly this many centimeters or this many inches, that’s not true as you found.

Tom Wiseman

It’s true for certain people.  Some people have much more adaptability than others.  I have some clients that you move their saddle just a couple of millimeters and they can notice that.  You can have other people, you can move their saddle 2 centimeters and they don’t notice a definitive difference.  It’s the micro adjuster and the macro absorber mentality.  Some people are very sensitive to movement change and some people are simply not, but generally speaking, I think there’s usually a small window of room and height that a person can pedal effectively and comfortably.

BikeFit

Let me go backwards a little bit.  You initially said you went through an evolution to get to this point where you’re looking at pelvic stability, what was your evolution, how did you originally start measuring saddle height and how did you get to where you are now?

Tom Wiseman

I think most fitters start off their experience of learning bike fitting from a formulaic or a systematic approach, so they go to a fit school of some sort and somebody teaches them a method to establish saddle height.  I’m sure in your research recently you found that there’s a whole bunch of different methods from the 1970s on, the Italians had their way of doing things, Andy Pruitt has his way of doing things, Steve Hogg has his way of doing things, I mean there are so many different approaches to how saddle height is determined.  And depending on the person in the application, little bits and pieces of each one of those methods is very effective.  What I learned how to use as far as determining saddle position and saddle height was I started off with a flexibility based and flexibility driven saddle height determination.  I was taught originally by Michael Sylvester who owns a studio up in Portland, Oregon.  He basically teaches that at the bottom of the pedal stroke when the foot is the farthest distance away from the pelvis, you stop the pedal stroke and you rotate the knee back until it’s locked, so you’re looking to stack up the bones of the leg to the pelvis and you want the heel or the calcaneus bone of the foot to be just slightly 1 to 2 centimeters below the first metatarsal head or ball of the foot, at bottom of the pedal stroke.  This when you relax the knee, the knee now has good action at the bottom of the pedal stroke for most people and think middle of the bell curve as far as fitting, this will work really well for a whole bunch of people as long as they don’t have significant issues or have drastically misshapen legs, which we often run into where long femur, short femurs, long feet, there’s a whole bunch of factors that can get you outside of that bell curve.  But generally speaking, that was a great way for me to learn and learn to see how people are or are not stable and that’s how I kind of came to stability as a result of not finding success with that method of establishing saddle height.

BikeFit

I see, so you notice people still being unstable by using that method and thought there has to be some other ways to do this.

Tom Wiseman

Exactly and going to other fitting schools, there are some educators that talk about looking at knee angle as a guide to establishing saddle height 27 to 37 degrees as a general rule of thumb for knee angle to determine a height of the saddle that a person will be effective.  My immediate question to that was, okay, so what determines whether you’re at 27 degrees or whether you’re at 37 degrees?  Because if there is a range like that, what’s going to make you go and drive you to either end of that range?  And I’ve had two big sources of feedback regarding that.  One is on the flexibility front.  If you are more flexible, you can handle a longer knee extension, of course, less flexible, less knee extension.  But what I found is usually a bigger driver for that is simply the stability aspect.  And I found in my experience in the past couple years that many people simply don’t have the flexibility or the foot control to be able to handle a knee angle better than 37, 38 degrees, so oftentimes we’re looking at a knee angle that’s somewhere like 40 degrees and you would think that would be a very low saddle height or what the school taught, but that’s where their pelvis stabilizes, that’s where they have control of their legs, they’re able to spin more smoothly and the pelvis calms down and they can apply power more evenly.

BikeFit

If you focused just specifically on a number, for example, you would see somebody that was potentially unstable and so you would say, “Okay, do I either focus on this number or do I focus on how the individual feels and their response in the way you see them? 

Tom Wiseman

I’m glad you brought that up.  I have concentrated on the number and what I found is that if a person is unstable because they’re hypermobile, so let’s just take for instance, you’ve got a woman that’s a yoga instructor and she is extremely flexible, but when her legs start moving and her pelvis is planted in space on a saddle, she loses control of certain joints as a result of having a great deal of flexibility.  Because she is flexible, you would think, oh, she’ll be at the high end of that range.  But when in reality, she can only control those joints when the range is a little lower and now she can control those muscles through the entire range of motion.  I started looking more at – okay, let’s go to both ends of that spectrum and see where their stability is.  And it was weird that some people you would think that would be at the high end of that were actually at the low end of that as a result of that instability.

BikeFit

Yeah, that’s interesting because I would think counterintuitive.  I would have a different thought of how that would end up than what you actually found.  Realistically…

Tom Wiseman

It was really an eye-opener for me because it was completely counterintuitive and backwards thinking from what I was logically coming to as a result of the research coming up to it.

BikeFit

I think that where it comes in, I’ve heard the term, every individual cyclist needs to be fitted individually, you take them for what they present to you versus this idea of what something tells you they should be. 

Tom Wiseman

Well, I would certainly agree with that.  When I’m talking to people about bike fitting, one of the things that I strongly believe in is if you’re spending an hour a week or more on your bicycle, you can benefit from a bike fitting.  Even the most recreational cyclist often doesn’t think about the long-term effects of a poor position.  They’re like, “Well, I only ride.  You know I go out and ride for an hour a week with my wife and I only cruise around the neighborhood, it’s not that big of a deal.”  Well, an hour can be as much as 5000 pedal strokes and 5000 pedal strokes once a week, every week, that’s a lot of pedal strokes over the course of a year or 5 or 10 and that massive repetition in a poor position will do joint damage.  It’s just that simple.  A lot of people simply don’t think about the fact that your body has to adapt and it can only adapt so much before something gives up, so that injury prevention becomes very important to some people.  When you bring it up in those terms, they’re like, “Oh, I never thought of it that way.” 

BikeFit

In your practice though, do you see people on the end of the spectrum where they’ve already reached that damage phase, I think one thing from a BikeFit end, we encounter a lot of people who are in pain, they’ve reached this point of, “Hey, I used to ride this way for a long time and now this is horrible pain,” which I would assume is thousands and thousands and thousands of pedal strokes and boom, now we can’t do we used to do.  Do you see people across that spectrum or as a lot of the clients you see, hey, I’m in pain, help me? 

Tom Wiseman

I would say the majority of the people that I see are dealing with some sort of pain.  They’re in some type of recovery program from either an injury or surgery or they’re simply not comfortable.  They’ve got saddle pain issues.  They’ve got numb hands.  I mean there’s always a reason one of the questions I ask in my interview processes, everybody comes to me for a reason for a bike fitting, what do you want to get out of your bike fitting today?  What’s your purpose and reason for being here?  Over the years, I’ve gotten a slew of different answers for that as you can imagine, but I would say the majority of times, I’m seeing people that are simply exhausted what they know to do, so they’re looking for an expert to be able to get them onto their bike for a longer period of time at a higher intensity to be able to do what they want to do for the length and duration they want to. 

BikeFit

But you’re also saying that seeing a professional like yourself as a fitter prior to the point where you feel like excruciating pain could potentially help prevent an injury from happening.

Tom Wiseman

And I think that is the truly untapped portion of the cycling market.  Recent studies have shown that only 7% of cyclists are being fitted.  When you think about how many people are actually out there cycling and we’re only doing fittings for 7% of those, that’s a very small piece of pie.  If you think about the number 7%, those 7% are usually people that are injured or unhappy.  There’s a huge portion of the cycling community that can benefit from our services, but simply either one aren’t aware of what we do, aren’t aware of the benefits even if they aren’t in pain and don’t know the long-term ramifications if they don’t come and see us.

BikeFit

Right.  I think that’s you found some of the reasons why we created the BikeFit podcast, but that we digress.  Let’s go backwards and connect, but that was a great moment there to talk about the importance of fitting.  Let’s connect that injury point and injury prevention to this next piece, which is – well, I am a cyclist, I’d like to know from you how do I recognize that I have improper saddle height, you didn’t see it.  If you said you saw it when you’re in a group ride from behind, but that’s an occupational hazard.  You go on a group ride as a fitter, you see all kinds of things, knees, legs, back, I mean I’m sure you see things that drive you crazy.  But if I’m…

Tom Wiseman

Right.  Sometimes I wish I could ride with my eyes shut, sometimes… 

BikeFit

Doesn’t happen, but let’s say individually, I’m a cyclist and I don’t know, right.  I haven’t gone through the schools of thought.  I haven’t gone through this process.  I haven’t done the research.  How do I know my saddle height is incorrect?

Tom Wiseman

This is a great question because most people don’t know what to think of and look for in their own personal body’s awareness of itself in space in order to recognize that their position may not be optimal.  I’ve gotten this question a few times recently and I find that very interesting that you asked it that way.  The main thing that I ask people to think of and look for when they’re riding is simply what is their pedal stroke feel like?  Do they feel like they’re chopping their way along?  Are they simply concentrating on the push phase of the stroke or are they more circles in the aspect of the way they’re pedaling?  Some people describe it as the circle and square, are you pedaling in squares, are you pedaling in circles?  If you feel like your pedal stroke is not smooth, it can be a number of things causing that, but most of the time, saddle height or saddle position in space can be a primary driver for that type of thing, so that’d be the first thing to look for.  The next thing I would think about is when you’re climbing relatively mild hill, 3 to 6 degrees, so you’re pedaling in a slight incline and you’re trying to catch somebody, so you’re putting some power down at a level that on a scale of 1 to 10, I would put somewhere between 7 and 8, so you’re pedaling pretty hard, you’re trying to keep up and when you’re doing that, are your feet comfortable?  Do you feel like you can apply that power for a long duration of time or is it something that you can only do for 15 or 20 seconds before you have to stop and sit up, that would be another indicator because you should be able to apply 7, 8 level power for a good few minutes, think in coaching terms, you should be able to apply power at your VO2 max for somewhere between 3 and 7 minutes.  If you can’t, position can play a very, very important role and not being able to do that especially if you’re a fairly fit cyclist.  Those are the things that I usually tell people to think about and then I always go into the whole conversation, feel free to come in, I’ll make an assessment, we can talk about it.  If a fitting is the right thing for you, we can move forward with that. 

BikeFit

The general answer is there is one, do a couple activities to test that and two is talking about preventive measures, going to a fitter and having somebody see you or having a consultation could obviously help as well.

Tom Wiseman

Oftentimes, I can even talk to somebody over the phone and just through like describing that situation to you in this podcast, I do the same thing in a phone conversation and then 3 days later I get that phone call back from them and they’re like, “Yeah, I did move my seat down, I am more stable, I feel better, I’m smoother, but now I feel like because I’ve moved my seat down, I’m too far forward and I feel cramped.”  Because yes, they move their seat down and because of the angle of the seatpost, their seat is actually moved forward and now they are cramped because that’s just one piece, one contact point of the puzzle, you’re technically holding onto your bike in five places, two feet, two hands and your pelvis and you move one, that affected everything else, so that’s one of the reasons why saddle is very important, but it’s just one piece in this big puzzle. 

BikeFit

A single change as you said could affect multiple factors, so even though you’ve made the change to feel a little bit better, now you’re recognizing something else is different, so it’s helpful to look at this full picture versus just a single change.  I think a lot of people on cycling do the DIY, type in the Google search say how to set my saddle height and then find out well, now my knee hurts even though I changed this, so I feel more stable, but now I’ve got this ancillary problem.

Tom Wiseman

Exactly.  That’s exactly the type of things we’re dealing with is these people, almost anyone and everyone nowadays is going online to find out information.  There’s so much information out there on fitting and the problem is even fitters can’t fit themselves.  I struggled with this after having hip surgery last fall, my position was, one position last spring as a result of having a hip that was messed up.  Then after surgery and recovery, now my position is drastically different, and I had to go get another fitting this spring in order to be able to ride effectively and comfortably this summer.  I tried and I got it better, but when you have a set of eyes that can step back and look at things that I can’t see even with good motion capture equipment, it’s a wonder that fitters don’t have the same problems that everybody else does because there’s not enough good fitters to go see in some towns.

BikeFit

Well, my understanding with fitters was so busy, they actually can’t go out and ride because they’re busy fitting people, so that makes it difficult too.  It’s the hairstylist idea, right?  You’re a master hairstylist, do you cut your own hair?  It’s unlikely.

Tom Wiseman

It’s unlikely.  It’s the cobbler’s son has no shoes.  But I’d like to think that a lot of fitters do get some writing in.  It’s one of the things that makes us very aware of our bodies.  I talked with Happy Freedman about this just recently that one of the things that has allowed him over the years to be the great fitter that he is, is that he’s spent a great deal of his youth and adulthood riding bikes and racing bikes and that awareness that he developed of how you control a bike and why you go into terms the way you do is made him a much better fitter because now he understands that without putting enough weight on the front wheel in order to get that front wheel to dig, you can’t effectively make turns.  And by having a position above the bike that allows you to do that more effectively, suddenly, the fit in that aspect becomes very important.  Without being able to ride and learn that on his own over top of the bike, you would never be able to just see somebody over the top of the bike and say, “Oh, well, that’s what’s going on there,” so I think we learned a lot from actual riding.

BikeFit

You did a paper you talked about you did a mentorship and really dove into saddle height, so the history of saddle height, multiple methodologies from saddle height called the Backside of Bike Fitting Saddle Position, I love the title, what did you find from that?  What was interesting from that, that you’d like to share?

Tom Wiseman

Oh, well, it was very educational.  I can’t stress that enough.  Anytime that even at the very beginning of the paper, I said that any bike fitter worth their salt should be able to establish saddle position.  Most people think oh, saddle position, how hard is it?  You know that’s a great quote from Steve Hogg is, “It can’t be that hard, we should all be able to do it.”  The fact the matter is there’s so many different ways of establishing saddle height that you can get lost.  I mean there’s dozens, literally dozens of methods and some methods are better than others.  Some parts of some methods are better than others.  Some methods don’t work for some people and some other methods work only for some people too.  There’s a great deal of information out there and each method has its merits.  I think that’s the most important thing I learned from the whole experience was that not everybody’s method is the only one, it’s not the end all be all, so to speak.  There are little gems within each style and method and approach that is worth learning about because it’ll change the way you look at a saddle position.  Oftentimes, I belong to several groups and we often talk about you see this picture of a bicycle, you see a picture with somebody on their bicycle and you’re like, oh, their saddle is too high or their saddle is too low.  Well, all you’re getting is a still picture of them on their bike.  You don’t know anything about that person.  You don’t know anything about the kind of riding they do.  You don’t know anything about their medical history.  You don’t have enough information to say whether or not that saddle position is good or bad.  You just know what it is.  To you, it looks god-awful uncomfortable.  But for them, it may be perfect.  That’s one of the things that I really took from this experience was that you can’t just go with a picture.  You’ve got to learn a whole lot more you got to ask the questions.  You got to dive into it and get the information required to make an educated decision and not pull up too soon or make a judgment without the proper background.

BikeFit

Right, which also goes back to this idea of this individual nature, right, what one person sees and says that looks high may not necessarily take into account any of the other factors which makes that person potentially comfortable in that position, let alone it being a static picture. 

Tom Wiseman

Right.  After going through, 12 months of digging and reading and there was some stuff that was not relevant, I dove into all kinds of other things that I didn’t even put into the paper everything from leg-length discrepancies to fore-aft position and knee over pedal spindle.  There are so many things that establish a seat’s position in space where the rider can be that saddle height, just nail it down to saddle height alone was very difficult because there are so many other things that influence it, reach to the handlebars, saddle to handlebar drop, stability of the feet, proprioceptive feedback from the foot.  All of these things can play a role in how a person interacts with their saddle, how much arch support they actually have?  Some people with and without arch support can literally interact with the exact same saddle in the exact same position two completely different ways.  Now with saddle pressure mapping, we’ve proven that and 15 years ago, that information simply wasn’t available.  We’ve evolved in bike fitting with the science that we’ve used to drive it to be able to make definitive decisions on, it’s not all about the saddle, it can be so many other factors.

BikeFit

Well, let’s go into a couple of those because I want to talk about this idea that people are looking at this DIY method to find something online to figure it out.  A couple of methods, which you talked about and I’ve seen are, one where it’s like the heel drop which you talked about earlier or just a formulaic, right, starting with adding a formula and multiplying it by a variable like Greg LeMond had a formula where you’re multiplying your leg length by a certain amount.  Do those get a good starting position for someone in your experience or is that a place where someone shouldn’t start if they’re just setting up on their own before they’ve contacted a fitter, which they should do?

Tom Wiseman

Well, I think a lot of people use those type of methods in order to find a great starting point, even fitters do, so for instance, when I’m putting somebody on the sizing bike and I don’t have their previous bike as an example to take a measurement from it in order to establish saddle height, I’ll take a measurement of their inseam and multiply that by 0.883, the Greg LeMond method and I’ll establish a saddle position.  It’s a good starting point.  It at least gets some pedaling and it’s not so drastically far off that, oh my god, it’s terrible at least most of the time.  Sometimes you may find that even right out of the gate, they’re not stable at that position and I’m not one of those fitters that just leave them there.  I’m one of these.  I’m a strange fitter in this aspect.  I take care of the big things first.  If I see that the reach is too far or the saddle height is too great or too less, not enough, suddenly that that is a significant driving issue into what’s going on in the fit.  I’ll work on that to start with, even though I know I might want to start at the foot and work up.  If that’s not the primary issue that’s having a problem at this moment, that’s not where I’m going to start.  If they’re having trouble breathing, I may start up with the handlebars and get a handlebar position established so that they can relax their upper torso, their pelvis will relax.  Next thing I know, suddenly their feet don’t have a problem anymore, even though the foot was the primary thing they were complaining about.  It’s a matter of identifying what the drivers are and then moving through those things in order to make progress as you go.

BikeFit

You find that in your process, because one of my questions was how much time you spend on it, saddle height specifically, but you find you’re kind of looking for what is the major problem first, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that you look at saddle height or the foot first?

Tom Wiseman

Correct.  I like to describe it in terms of a person that’s fixing a hole in a wall.  You got a wall in your house.  It’s a beautiful piece of drywall and it’s got a bunch of holes in it, some holes are bigger than others.  Let’s just say for instance, you go through and you fix all the big holes, suddenly the small holes don’t look so bad, but once you get all those holes fixed, some of those small holes may become the big holes and then you have to dive into those.  But oftentimes, I can find that in the course of a fitting, I take care of some of these real big issues and some of those small underlying driving issues that the person complained about go away as a result of fixing the big issues, so take care of the big stuff, oftentimes the small stuff takes care of itself.  If it doesn’t, you just keep driving down through them until the person can ride at the duration and the intensity they want to for whatever they’re trying to achieve.

BikeFit

Can a person’s saddle height, a person you’ve seen or let’s just say generally change over time?  Like in other words, there’s this idea maybe that okay, I set this and now I’ve got three different kinds of bikes and they’re all going to have the exact same saddle height because this is my height, but could that change for somebody?

Tom Wiseman

Well, saddle height is different for a number of reasons.  One of the things I didn’t include in my paper for the mentorship was I collected data on people’s height at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day, so I took five people, I took measurements of their height and I found that some people would vary as much as three and a half centimeters in height over the course of a single day, pretty dramatic.  Well, then as a matter of talking to people, Happy Freedman says, “Well, now you’re measuring saddle height measure for the navicular drop.”  The navicular is a bone in the arch of the foot that often collapses as a result of instability in the foot over the course of the day.  Naturally I’m like, okay, well, I’ll start measuring foot next thing I know, I’m finding out that some people in my group of people that I’m taking measurements for, their arch collapses during the day instead of their spine compressing during the day.  It’s a matter of where does that height change and how will that affect their position on the bike?  If a spine compresses, the reach might change.  If the foot collapses, the saddle height might change.  Do they do the riding and racing in the afternoon?  Do they do it in the morning?  Will that affect saddle height?  You most definitely consider it will.  That’s one aspect of it.  Another thing is those three different bikes may all be for different disciplines.  If you’ve got somebody that’s racing cyclocross, most likely they’re going to be getting on and off of that bike, great deal, their saddle height might be a little bit lower in order to more easily facilitate jumping on and off of it.  If you’ve got somebody that’s a crit racer, that saddle height might be a little bit higher.  For some people, it might actually be significantly lower because this is a person that’s mobile over top of that bike and they’re simply sliding all over that saddle.  I want them to be using that entire thing.  If they can’t, then that limits what they can do going in and out of turns, accelerating and decelerating and cornering at high speed.  I would say absolutely, the saddle position may change and that doesn’t even include injuries, other factors that may play a role in how saddle height might change over time.

BikeFit

Yeah, I wondered if age had something to do with it, if even aging affected saddle height, let’s say it’s set correctly for this specific discipline for the needs you have as a cyclist, okay, this is what I do, I want to do this Gran Fondo, but if age has a factor in changing that.

Tom Wiseman

I think age on its own is not a factor, but I think other things that may be related to age can play a factor like spinal compression and like arch drop, even pelvic rotation, so if you think about when the pelvis is on the saddle and if you’re in a fairly upright position and your pelvis is rotated back or posterior rotated, the hip joint is in a certain position and if you rotate that pelvis forward, you get into a more aero position, the pelvis rotates forward in that joint changes position and the position may not be as comfortable because that joint’s in a different position in essence making the leg longer.  If that’s the case, then a saddle position may need to change based on what position they’re riding in.  If they’re doing long Gran Fondo type rides and they’re sitting more upright, that saddle height might be different comparatively to if they’re doing very aggressive riding and their pelvis is very posterior/anterior rotated, rotated forward, their position maybe much more aggressive.

BikeFit

Right, like a triathlete, right?  The amount that your hips are rotated at that position, how that would affect them? 

Tom Wiseman

Yeah and that’s a whole another animal altogether.  They’re usually very up and forward and much more anterior rotated, so they rotate much farther forward.  They’re seated on a portion of the pelvis that is very far forward.  The pubic rami or something that, most people have trouble sitting on to begin with and that position, I found that there are some people that they want to ride there, but they can’t ride there comfortably especially for long distances, so it becomes a big challenge in saddle position and saddle choice at that point, finding something that is the best of both worlds and able to allow them to ride for that duration and intensity that they want to cover. 

BikeFit

I got to go backwards.  I got to go back to this thing that you just mentioned previously talking about your height changing throughout the day.  Your height changes throughout the day between your spine and your arch and those two places and when you fit someone, you’re doing a snapshot in time, how do you accommodate for that kind of difference, especially since it varies by the individual?

Tom Wiseman

One of the phrases that I love in bike fitting is that a bike fitting is simply your position at this moment on this bike. That may change 2 weeks from now, that may change 2 months from now, it depends on so many factors will influence how and why you sit the way you do that my establishment of position in during this 2-hour or 3-hour bike fitting is only this snapshot in time.  Some people are adaptable more than others.  I can change your bike significantly in a short period of time.  I can change a person’s body significantly over a longer period of time, but they have to be a willing participant in making those changes.  Oftentimes, I’m literally working with that person for weeks afterwards in order to increase their flexibility in their weak areas, increase strength in their weak areas, sometimes changing the way they pedal, so that their interaction with the bike is more efficient because they simply have developed so many bad habits over the past few years that we’re trying to break them in order to increase their efficiency, so those things as far as like their position changing because of their height changing on a daily basis, I’m looking for a neutral saddle position when I think of that 15-millimeter space in the air where that saddle is going to be in above their crankset that position, I’m trying to find the closest to the center of that and it may drop so say for instance, oh, I’ve got a big MS 150 ride coming up this week and a lot of recreational riders do 75 miles up and 75 miles back the next day.  I suggest for some people if you go really hard, you do the hundred miles on the first day and you wake up in the tomorrow morning and you’re sore and you’re having trouble walking down the stairs to get your bike, you may want to consider dropping your saddle height a centimeter to get started with your ride because all the muscles of the lower extremities are tight and that tightness is going to limit your interaction with the bike.  And by lowering the saddle, you’re making the muscles contraction smaller, shorter, making things a little more comfortable until you warm up, then maybe at 20-25 miles, you stopped, you put your saddle height 5 millimeters, you ride the rest of the ride.  These are things that many people just don’t even think about.  It’s not something that’s considered.  Let alone be able to consider it and accept the fact that a bike fitter is going to be able to convey that in an understandable fashion during the course of a 3-hour bike fitting. 

BikeFit

It sounds like you’re fitting level, what you’re doing, what you’re providing for people is more than just the snapshot and even the neutral of the day.  You have an ongoing relationship, you are helping them to meet their needs of what they do, but also you’re almost coaching them, I would say in a sense from just being a bike fitter to the knowledge of the general person, every cyclist is just I go in and get my bike setup, but it sounds like your relationship goes much beyond that.

Tom Wiseman

Well, as a USA cycling coach, I pride myself in applying what’s necessary for that person for them to achieve their goals.  Even in my company name, Cycling Solutions, my whole premise is that I want to guide that person to their goals in whatever cycling they’re trying to achieve and that’s different for everybody.  Even my coaching approach is very individualized from the person that’s looking to just improve their fitness to the person that’s trying to be a crit racer to the person that’s trying to Race Across America, we go into why and what they’re trying to do and what things we can do as a team in order to make that goal more achievable for them, so it’s very individualized, absolutely.

BikeFit

But they connect, right?  It sounds like your practice as a coach even affects as part of the way you fit, even if it’s not an athlete of yours, it sounds like you treat fit like that process or maybe that’s your personal philosophy that you believe fit is this ongoing, not only am I adjusting you to the bike, but I’m going to train you in how to ride.

Tom Wiseman

I believe that’s correct.  My approach is never a one-and-done type of situation and I stress that very heavily during the fit process is that if what I apply to you and what we try to do with your bike today will work for some people, but not necessarily for others and your adaptability may not allow you to be happy on this position that we’ve established today once you get out and you put 35 miles on it.  If that’s the case, I would rather have the opportunity to get you back on the stand whether it be 2 or 3 times whatever it takes in order for you to be happy than for you to be disappointed at all.  The key is that I don’t learn anything as a bike fitter unless somebody tells me I’ve done something wrong.  If I try something and it’s ineffective, I want to know about it because I want to know that if it didn’t work and I want to be able to try something different in order to find out what does work for you.  That allows me to think of things to apply, they’re not necessarily inside the box methods.  This goes back to my belief that formulaic or methodized fitting is not necessarily the best approach for most people because the fact is there are so many things that make us individuals that we simply have to look at things that are outside of the norm to apply to a solution in order to get a person to be happy on their bike.  If you weren’t willing to go the steps necessary in order to find out what those things are, you have an unhappy person at the end of the day.  Frankly, my goal is I got people paying me for bike fittings, I want them to be happy, I want them to come back, I want them to tell their friends, I want them to tell everyone they know that’s unhappy on their bike that, “Hey, Tom took care of me, Tom got me happy, I would say go see him, he’ll take good care of you.”

BikeFit

It also helps from the business name, right, Cycling Solutions sounds a lot better than Cycling Formulaic Methods that might work.

Tom Wiseman

Absolutely, I would agree.  That’s awesome.

BikeFit

Tom, I cannot thank you enough for being on the BikeFit podcast.  We appreciate your insight and I can’t wait to talk to you again about another topic.

Tom Wiseman

Well, thanks for having me and it was a great time and I look forward to the next subject.

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