Le Beau Velo is located in the heart of London’s fashionable Shoreditch area, but there is nothing transient about the service I’ve come to experience.
Instead, it’s a biomechanical approach to bike fitting based on hard numbers and occasionally hard stretching that forms the bike fit offered by Mal Pires and Jo McRae.
The pair use a joint approach harnessing Pires’ experience working with made to measure bicycles and McRae’s competitive and scientific background (she has a first class degree in sports science from Loughborough University and races for the Look Mum No Hands squad in the Johnson Health Tech series of races accompanying five rounds of this year’s Halfords Tour Series).
“I’ll be looking at things that can change, where Mal’s looking at things we can’t change,” Jo summarises.
In short, by taking my measurements and analyzing my flexibility, the pair will configure my optimum riding position. By prescribing and demonstrating a series of stretching exercises, Jo will help me develop the flexibility to attain it.
The session begins in a room equipped like an exercise studio with one mirrored wall in front of which stands a stationery bicycle in which almost every dimension is adjustable: a bicycle-shaped jig, in effect.
Mal examines my shoes (the Dromati Race tested in our Italian month) and nods approvingly at their newness. Many clients arrive with worn shoes, he says, which, though comfortable, no longer serve the function of holding the feet in place. Instead, they allow the hips to rock, distorting the fitting process
He takes the ‘key’ measurements that will guide his fitting process, including my height, weight, inside leg measurement, arm length, and shoulder width, the height of my sternum measured from the ground, and measurements from points on the knee and hip. These will be used as starting point from which to set the fitting jig’s top tube length, saddle height, and reach to create a simulated riding position. The analysis includes the ratio of body to limb measurement.
Jo asks a few questions to establish how long I spend in the saddle and how long I spend seated at work: not enough in the first instance, and too long in the latter (my analysis). Having placed me in some sort of context, she leads me to the centre of the room, takes measurements, and places me on a type of couch familiar to anyone who has visited a physiotherapist.
The bad news is that I’m considerably less flexible in the lower back than I’d imagined I would be, its curve some 10 degrees less than the ideal. More reassuring is the news that this measurement is typical of cyclists who are ‘seated workers’.
Jo takes measurements from my upper and lower back as I perform basic stretching exercises.
The bend I’m able to achieve with my upper back when leaning backwards is about 10 degrees short of the ideal. Bending forwards from my lower back is about right, but the angle achieved from bending backwards from my lower back is laughable.
“This stiffness in backwards bending is quite ‘typical’ for cyclists and seated workers who spend so much time bending forwards,” Jo reassures me. “Although it seems counter-intuitive, it is this loss of flexibility bending backwards that makes it hard to get into a good position on the bike.”
Additionally, I have short hamstrings, a fact Jo has established by various measurements, stretching exercises, and confirmed by placing me on the jig bike. A tight hamstring can pull on the back of the pelvis and reduce the angle of the hips, increasing the ‘roundness’ of the upper back, she explains. A more powerful pelvic position and flatter back is what I should be aiming for. Helpfully, Jo talks me through a series of exercises, some of which involve lying on a hard, foam tube, more of which in the coming weeks.
Mal applies the basic measurements to a template to create a ‘starting point’ from which to set up the bike jig. His final recommendation will be based on my feedback, Jo’s measurements, and his own analysis of my riding position on the jig bike.
A few days later, he sends a report in which he identifies a need to accommodate a slightly longer back length relative to my arms and lower torso than typical for someone of my height.
“If you imagine trying to find a frame that suits ‘medium’ legs and ‘large’ body, this might be the easiest way to understand the data,” he says.
Jo’s analysis of my (lack of) flexibility has identified scope for further improvement on my position and consequent performance benefits, he adds.
The product of their joint analysis is five key measurements, including stem length, handlebar width, seat tube angle, length of top tube, and saddle height.
“The key to a good fit is a stable saddle and hip position,” says Mal. In my case, the seat tube angle of 74 degrees set on the jig during my ‘test ride’ was found to be the most appropriate.
“With a solid base, we can achieve a ‘sportier’ position. Bio-mechanically you can operate at an optimum; you can manage the bicycle and handle it well while achieving an aerodynamic profile,” says Mal of Le Beau Velo’s ‘key goals’ for fitment.
Clients can have the set up of their own bikes ‘tweaked’, or get advice on a new machine, from any available on the market or from the brands offered by Le Beau Velo.
Cyclists recommended a very different riding position from their current set up are advised to ride ‘easy’ for the first 2,000 kilometres; heavy loading inspires riders to adopt their old position from habit, Mal explains.
Jo’s stretching programme is designed to aid adjustment to the new position – something I’ll be discovering in the weeks ahead. She’s holding a stretching workshop at Le Beau Velo on Wednesday June 20 at 6pm.