Nicole Oh vs traditional bike fit

In this first blog article I feel it's necessary to explain the basis of FORM's fit philosophy, which I describe as a “functional” fit process as opposed to a measurement based one. As accompaniment to the subject I will use examples from a recent fit I did with Nicole Oh, a local elite cyclist and one who is an excellent example of a rider who's fit is “wrong” but right at the same time.

I was trained in classic bike fit principles, and for a couple of years believed that setting a rider up by these principles would give me the optimum result – no questions asked. But over the years and after having stared at thousands of cyclists I began to realise that there was more to the picture, things which were less tangible and couldn't be quantified by means of a measurement. This is not to say that classic bike fit principles won't give a good result – they can – but ultimately it is the job of a fitter to look further than that, to question whether the job has been done completely, and to challenge anything which doesn't look right, irrespective of whether it fits in with the principles or not.

Why is this? Well, Nicole Oh's position is testament to the fact that one can be quite far “out of range” and yet still look right and function well. A rider's position is personal and can find itself quite far out of conventional (read generic) range. In her case probably the furthest I've yet seen.

When Nicole came in I chatted briefly with her about the bike, her position, and how much experimentation and adjustment she'd done over the years. Not much it turned out so I was interested to see what position she'd been riding with for so long. She did say two things; firstly, that she thought the bar was too high; secondly, that she rode her saddle high and hated the thought of lowering it.

Once she'd gotten on the bike a couple of things became immediately apparent. Her saddle was definitely too high and her overall position was definitely unconventional. Initially too, I felt the bars were too far away but that seemed to settle over the length of the session. However, she looked functional, powerful and in control. Except for the small issue of the saddle height.

I then took some video and analysed it with motion capture software to see how her position related to “the norm”. This is what I discovered:

- Leg extension. Though her extension measurement (bottom of the stroke) measured in at 145 degrees, an acceptable number, her toes were heavily pointed downwards. This usually tells me either that the saddle is too high, that the rider has a toe-down pedalling style, or that there is potentially an issue with crank length. Or all of he above.

- Knee flexion: I measured her knee flexion (top of the pedal stroke) at 71 degrees, an unusual and quite good number considering the saddle height/leg length/crank length equation. The same number was measured during the seated climbing test we did which was also a good sign.

- Knee position: Now I am quite vocal about the classic knee-over-pedal-spindle, how irrelevant it is and how it often leads fitters to position riders in ways which compromise other aspects of the fit. So I usually take this measurement light-heartedly and out of interest's sake. Turns out her knee was 1-2cm further forward than the recommended classic position. Fail in the classic book.

- Torso position relative to BB: This was crazy, way far forward of the “balance point” as I like to call it. This was be due partly to her long torso, partly due to the forward saddle position, and partly due to the long reach to the bars. In my opinion, given her personal circumstances (mostly riding relatively short distance races where an aggressive, over-the-front position is beneficial), this was a non-issue.

Ultimately I felt that the only real things I wanted to do was to lower both the saddle and the bar. Nicole was resistant on the saddle, enthusiastic on the bar. I also suggested a shorter crank length as this could potentially solve both the saddle height and toe pointing issues.

In conclusion, Nicole's fit is a very good example of why the rules sometimes don't apply, and why fitters are required to question what they see, and find the correct position for that rider and in that circumstance, irrespective of how the position relates to classic principles. Nicole is the perfect example of why a functional approach to fit is better than a measurement based one.