Sometimes minute adjustments are the best changes

Cycling is both the lowest and highest tech hobby on the planet. On the one hand, even the most expensive and carefully designed bikes on the planet would look recognizable to the Victorians who road the first “safety bicycles” of the 1880s. On the other hand, bikes made from more and more advanced materials arrive on a regular basis, and the sky is the limit for the number of sensors a single cyclist can attach to themselves and their bike to manage every conceivable health and performance metric.

But for all of the new gadgets and geometries in cycling, one of the biggest areas of improvement possible is one that most recreational bikers never approach — making sure your bike is sized correctly to your body. Lots of variables affect your stamina and speed on a bike, but your comfort is a surprisingly big factor in both. This has led to a cottage industry that appropriately reflects the high- and low-tech nature of cycling: the computer-supported bike fitting shop.

This is a service that has emerged in the last decade. For about $300, you bring in your bike to a shop, get sticky dots attached to multiple points on your body, and then you ride in place while being video taped while a technician analyzes the tape for indications of appropriate posture. Measurements are made on the computer against the video, and adjustments are made to the angle of the handle bars, the position and height of the seat, and parts are occasionally swapped for others that fit better.

At the end of it all, you wind up with a bike that encourages you to adopt an ideal posture more often (slight bend to the elbows, feet that remain close to flat throughout the pedaling cycle, slightly swayed back, loose shoulders) and make it easier to get to and stay at your highest speed. I’ve embedded by After and Before video above (the video before adjustments is on the right side) so you get a sense of the change that’s possible.

How effective is it? Quite a lot. In the four months since, biking has gone from painful to enjoyable once again.

It’s a good reminder that sometimes the best changes happen not by throwing out everything and starting over, but by making minute adjustments to what you have until it turns out just right.

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