As part of a holiday/birthday gift I was given a Retul bike fitting session. I just completed the fitting yesterday and wanted to offer up a report on what it was like and the results.
The fitting itself was pretty straight forward. You bring your own bike and typical riding clothes including shoes. Upon arrival measurements are taken of your bike and the current setup. You are then interviewed concerning your type of riding, goals, weekly mileage, any injuries or pain you experience while riding, etc. All of this information is entered into a data base. Your bike is then placed in a trainer with particular attention paid to making sure it's level. Next LED sensors are placed (using sticky velcro dots) on your: wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle, heel and base of where the joint where your little toe connects to your foot. The fitter seemed to take particular care in making sure the sensors where placed in the correct places.
Now you are ready to go and begin pedaling using your typical stroke and cadence. You ride for a few minutes to make sure you've hit your rhythm. At some point the fitter captures 15 seconds of your pedaling and this serves as the data which is analyzed. This is repeated until the fitter is confident that your stroke and position have been accurately captured. This data now forms the baseline for your position (including a dynamic view of how your body actually moves while riding). All of this data is compared to a range of desirable positions/movement for your riding style and goals.
Next, the trainer resistance is increased in several steps and your position and movements are captured under various load levels. I was surprised at how much my position and movement shifted! The process is done on both your left and right sides.
The entire process took a bit over two hours and here's what I learned.
1. My basic set up was pretty on target. That is, I had the seat fore/aft and height position spot on. The handle bar width was also correct.
2. My right and left legs track completely different. Both legs tend to have and outward cant to them at the top of my stroke. A straighter line is more desirable. The left leg was pretty easy to make big improvements in. A small shim under my cleat made a considerable difference (BTW, all of this is easily seen by looking at the graphics shown on the monitor which capture your original position and movement and compare it side by side with the modified version. I was actually pretty impressed with the visual ease with which I could see what I was doing.) My right side was another story. The cleat needed a thicker layer of shims, the position of the cleat needed to be adjusted, and a different cleat with less float was used to keep my foot from having the heel move toward the crank arm on the down stroke. I was a bit skeptical about this until I started pedaling with the corrections under increasing loads. At the point where I would start to feel some knee, ankle, and hip pain (I mistakenly chalked this up to just getting older), there was no pain or even mild discomfort. Additionally, my power output increased slightly and the motion tracking was better. The right side is still not as good as the left, but much better than it was.
3. The angle of my back related to a horizontal plane is too steep. Translation: I'm bent forward too far. This was a major surprise! Although it does help explain the pain I get in the upper back/lower neck area when on the bike for more than 3 hours (I'm working too hard to hold my head up). This will also be harder to correct given several variables. I can't really add any more spacers to my fork because I'm at the upper limit now, and I'm using a 90mm stem, which is already pretty short. So, I'm swapping out my current handle bars for a set that has a little less reach (about 2 cm) and drop. This should correct the problem. One thing the fitter noticed right away was that when riding on the hoods (which is where I do most of my riding) my hands were actually back about 2 cm from actually being in contact with the hoods. This was a strong indicator that my reach was too far, creating the too steep bend of my upper torso. The data collected from the censors confirmed this. I asked two question about this portion of the fitting. A) Am I on the wrong size frame? Answer: Not really, I'm one of those people that the next size down would be just a wee bit too small. B) Can the seat fore/aft position be shifted to fix the reach problem? Answer: Not without having a negative impact on your leg angle at the top and bottom of your stroke and shifting the knee too far forward, creating an angle at the top of the stroke sure to do damage to the knee.
4. My upper body is far from being symmetrical. Sometimes on longer rides (60+ miles) I experience some discomfort in my lower back only on the right side. Well it turns out that my right arm is slightly shorter than my left. Hence shifting the handle bars about 15mm to the right and an even slighter modification to the brifter hood position actually made my reach equal for both arms. The pre and post data confirmed this in that the graphed angles now matched where they did not before. It's funny that such a small change was actually noticeable. For the first time ever when I looked down at the front tire and the handle bar stem they looked like they were correctly aligned. In the past, it's always looked just a tiny bit off and despite lots of adjusting, I've never been able to get it to look straight. Who would have guessed that it was actually my imperfect body creating this visual illusion?
So, would I recommend this fitting process for others? Well, actual weeks of road mileage will give me a better ability to answer this in terms of long term improvements. For right now, having the pain disappear is a real nice thing, and seeing an actual improvement in my power output is also rewarding. At about $200 the fitting is expensive (at least for someone of my means). Yet, I realized I've probably spent more money on stems, seats, seat posts, and handlebars trying to get comfortable. So, I'm glad I did it and am looking forward to making the final correction with different handle bars. All in all it was an afternoon well spent. Oh, one other advantage is that your data is saved and sent to you in a format that should make it much easier to set up any other bikes to give you the same riding position.