Happy Freedman is a 40-year bike fitting veteran and expert. Prepare yourselves for another round of bike-fitting nerd-dom. Happy and I don’t agree on every aspect of bike fitting, so I hope you find the explanations of our respective thought processes helpful. We share our separate opinions on the merits and pitfalls of selling bike saddles, seat-posts, cleats, etc. as a bike fitter.
Happy’s Site: HappyFreedman.com
Medicine of Cycling Conference – https://www.medicineofcycling.com
Science in Cycling – https://science-cycling.org/conference/
Podcast: What is Bike Fitting? Live from the Philly Bike Expo https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/ep-6-what-is-bike-fitting-live-from-philly-bike-expo/id1477543731?i=1000456088411
Colby Pearce 00:25
Greetings and salutations listeners, you have returned for another episode of Cycling in Alignment, and for that I am grateful. Today’s bicycle fitting fractal wormhole takes us into a conversation with Happy Freedman. Happy’s been bike fitting for about 40 years, which is about four times longer than I have. This was a valuable opportunity to learn Happy’s methods of operation and his thoughts and practices when viewing a client on the bike, and for me, it was a valuable conversation to learn from the perspectives of this, you might say grandfather of bike fitting, Happy’s been doing it long enough to really be one of the people who started bike fitting, he’s kind of like Tom Ritchey, accept in bike fitting. I will say that Happy and I don’t agree on everything, he’s got some methods that I’m not quite on the same page with, and I’m just being honest here, and I’ll also say that Happy’s got so much more experience than I do, that I readily recognize that maybe I’m just not there yet. It is entirely possible, I can’t quite see what he does.
Colby Pearce 01:37
So there you have it, we’re all on our journey. A couple of brief points about our conversation, one thing I’ll mention at some point in our discussion, I misspoke, and I said that lats support the arms, and that’s not true, the deltoids and traps, support the arms, the lats, pull the arms down, amongst other things, just want to make sure that that little anatomical detail did not go unwitnessed or clarified. The second bit that’s more significant, perhaps is that, Happy and I talk about a time when there were less complaints about saddle sores, and Happy has been around long enough to observe this, and his input is that when riders rode on leather saddles, there were far less complaints, and what he means by that, I want to clarify, is not a leather saddle that we might see on the market today, which is really a plastic, or thermal plastic, or carbon infused thermoplastic base, covered by a thin layer of foam and then a leather top cover, that’s not what Happy means, he’s talking about a true old school Brooks leather saddle, which is a giant chunk of cowhide spread between the rails, and that piece of cowhide has tension, and on many Brooks saddles for example, there are probably other manufacturers who make similar models, but Brooks is sort of the most well-known old school leather saddle, you can apply more or less tension by adjusting a screw at the end or a knot, I should say at the end of the saddle, and this enables you to make the ride harsher or a little more forgiving. The advantage of these saddles is that they broke into the shape of your undercarriage. The disadvantages, It took a few 100 kilometers to do that, but once they broke in, the saddles tended to travel from bike to bike. They were well made and last a long time, and once you took the effort to break it in, you might as well just keep using it. This is what Happy means when he’s talking about a leather saddle, I want to be clear on that point. Another thing I’ll mentioned is Happy and I have a discussion about carrying retail items in the fit studio, and Happy does not carry any items for sale in his fit studio, he sells service only. I can see his logic in this, the idea is, simply that he doesn’t want to have a conflict of interest between himself offering a service and selling some object. That object could be a stem, or a seat post, or handlebars, or a saddle or shoes, and I understand his perspective for sure. What that allows is for the client to walk through the door and have confidence that the fitter is giving them their honest opinion, that they are giving them an authentic recommendation. So if Happy says, “you need Lake shoes,” then the client can go out the door knowing, that because Happy doesn’t sell Lake shoes, he didn’t have a vested interest in making that recommendation. It’s pretty clear. I do sell things in my Fit studio, and for me I have a slightly different perspective, and that is simply that for me these retail items are problem solvers. If a client comes to the door, and they need 120-millimeter stem on their bike, and they’ve only got a 100- millimeter stem, and I don’t sell stems, and the client doesn’t have that length stem, then it’s a showstopper, we have to go have this client make a trip of the bike store, I have to make a trip to the bike store and buy stem, and then bring it back and install it. And that’s a giant inefficiency in the perspective, or in the total process of bike fitting, which has a lot of intricacy, and a lot of detail. So I make the best effort I can to attempt to have all the tools I need at my disposal, so I can solve problems, and stems and seat posts are problem solvers. I will also say that there are certain items I carry in my fit studio that I have had the opportunity to play a role in the input of the engineering or design of these products. The perfect example of this is the Wave Handlebar. The RR Bar before it came out and was designed, I had the opportunity to work with the team at Coefficient Cycling, to have influence on how the bars were designed. And I will consistently recommend that product to my clients, because in my opinion, it’s the best bar in the market, no other bar even comes close, in fact, some bars are miles away.
Colby Pearce 06:22
So in that case, I know I can recommend an RR Bar to my clients, based on the fact that it’s got superior engineering and ergonomic performance benefits. This I feel makes it an authentic recommendation for me, even though, Yes, I sell them and I do make a markup on that product. I’m not bashing fitters who sell stuff, everyone’s got to pay their rent, and you can sell service, you can sell objects, you can sell things, all these serve a point. Ultimately, remember that economics is simply an exchange of money for someone else’s time and energy. That’s all it is. We play the economic game all the time, unless you’re Leonardo DiCaprio living in the Alaskan wilderness, battling bears, this is the game we play, and I’m happy to pay people for their time and energy when I need a new phone, for example, or when I need to purchase a new set of tires for my gravel bike. I’m not gonna go out and make tires, you see what I’m getting at. So there’s nothing shameful or bad about economics, but there can be a rather pointed edge when a fitter sells only certain a certain brand of something in the studio, in particular, those items that involve contact points, that specifically shoes, saddles, and handlebars, and you could argue even pedals. All of those have ergonomic implications, and while there are some saddles, or some handlebars, some pedals, and shoes that tend to serve a larger group of riders, ultimately, the goal of any fitter should be to send the rider out the door with the best possible fit solution, independent of what manufacturer makes that solution. So I just want to clarify that point. If you are shopping for a bike fitter, then you may want to take into consideration a little bit about their surroundings and what stuff they’re selling. It’s gonna be hard for a fitter to make sales with authenticity, or in your best interest if they only sell a single brand of shoes, for example. If you’ve listened to my podcast about how to buy a bike shoe, you’ll know what I mean by that, the best way to buy a shoe is to go to a big bike shop with a large selection, ask the salesperson to bring you one shoe from each manufacturer in your size, and leave you alone for 45 minutes you can try them all on them back-to-back. That’s the best way to figure out what shoe is going to be the best option for you, not to go to a bike shop with one shoe only, and ask them and figure out what size you’ve got. Contact points are highly individual. I’m going to stop talking now so we can enjoy our conversation with Happy Freedman. Thanks for listening.
Colby Pearce 09:17
Happy Freedman, welcome to Cycling in Alignment. Thank you for making time to speak with me today.
Happy Freedman 09:23
Oh, my pleasure.
Colby Pearce 09:24
Please tell us a bit about your path. How did you find bike fitting? How did you come into bike fitting as a passion and a career?
Happy Freedman: How He Got into Bike Fitting as a Passion and a Career
Happy Freedman 09:33
Well, I started before most people knew what it was. I started in 1978, when I was working in a bike shop and switched handlebars for somebody who they were too big for. And it is as the thing became available, I took advantage of them. We started with basic handlebars, and then we go to cranks, then we started looking at crack angles, and we were looking at spacers, and then we started looking at actual frame design. I didn’t realize when I first started doing this, that they could be built to order anymore.
Colby Pearce 10:14
So from that perspective you started, is it fair to say, just disassembling the way bikes came to the consumer and critically thinking about all these dimensions, some of which many of which are taking kinda for granted?
Disassembling the Way the Bike Comes to the Consumer
Happy Freedman 10:27
I’ve been thinking about that since I got my first custom bike in 1978. It was a Jim Redcay.
Colby Pearce 10:36
Steel lug frame, I would assume?
Happy Freedman 10:37
Colby Pearce 10:39
Do you still have it?
Happy Freedman 10:40
No, that one has gone on into history. Most of them have gotten on into history. I’m a believer in, you should know the name of the guy who built your bicycle.
Colby Pearce 10:53
And tell us how your journey went from there, how did you get more involved in bike fit? And what was your what were your next steps? As you said, bike fitting really didn’t exist back then.
Happy Freedman 11:02
No, I think it was Michael Sylvester and I, and Andy Pruitt, without knowing each other.
Colby Pearce 11:09
Opened Bike Shop in Kingston, New York
Happy Freedman 11:10
So I was switching out bars, and stems, and trying to make and I got in work. Then at one point, I opened my own little bike shop in Kingston, New York, and I had a guy come in and say, “Can you figure out what size I need? I’m having one built for me.” Well, the playground just opened up, and I’ve never stopped since.
Colby Pearce 11:37
And eventually down the road, you ended up being involved with Ben Serotta’s Fitting School.
Along the way, I got hit by a cab before that, so part of it was trying to get myself back on a bike, and then I was offered a chance to teach for Ben. I think I was the second incarnation of the school.
Colby Pearce 11:59
Happy Freedman 12:02
Michael Sylvester was the first, and we would bring different things to the table. I had more of a background in foot orthosis, orthotics. I actually worked with Bill Peterson, who taught me how to make foot orthosis, and we worked on developing a cycling version, after the ski boot ones. I was his test dummy.
Colby Pearce 12:33
And so Bill Peterson, just to paint the context for people, is I suppose you could consider one of the grandfather’s of foot orthotics in cycling shoes, it sounds like you were intimately involved in the development of that process, and if I recall correctly, I never got the chance to work with Bill, but he had a system where riders were on the bike in their cycling position, and he would use a laser to track how their knee the knee loading under load in a cycling position.
Happy Freedman 12:58
That’s his system. I’ve moved on from there.
Colby Pearce 13:03
Happy Freedman 13:05
For the last 20 years, I worked at the hospital for special surgery in New York, where I was doing my fitting, but I was also making foot orthotics, and occasionally braces and other things, not just for cyclist, but for other patients. And I became very opinionated about what I think a foot orthotic should look like in a cycling shoe.
Colby Pearce 13:32
Will you unpack that philosophy for us, please?
Issues that Arise When Making an Orthotic
Happy Freedman 13:34
Sure. You, you have a number of issues that you have to deal with when you’re making an orthotic. Issue number one, will it be tolerated? Can the person where what you’re making? Issue number two, Can you put it in their shoe? Issue number three for me, does it meet the prescriptive needs of the doctor for the patient? In other words, will they wear it? Can I make it work in their shoes that they want to wear? And does it fix the problem? Those are issues you don’t have to deal with in a bike shop, other than fit the shoe and keep them comfortable.
Colby Pearce 14:20
Yeah, I would say I have a pretty extensive list of clients who come to me with foot orthotics that have been made by podiatrists or just footbed makers, and they’re really not suited to go into cycling shoe, and so I know exactly what you mean. A lot of times the heel cups too, has too much volume, so the client loses the ability to get the heel all the way into the shoe, and they lose purchase there, and the foot becomes unstable, or frequently there’s too much volume in the footbed overall, the top cover is too thick.
Happy Freedman 14:49
Well the problem is most of these people know what runners like, and they confuse our feet with runners.
Colby Pearce 14:58
Happy Freedman 14:58
We need a low volume, we need minimum, this device, I think of it more as proprioception device, then I think of it as a hard rigid correction device. Because rigid devices are not tolerated well on a long ride, and if your foot swells, it doesn’t fit.
Colby Pearce 15:18
Yeah. Yeah, that’s a perfect segue into my next question, which was, how do you feel about the spectrum of a footbed, that’s a little more proprioceptive in nature, we might use as an off the shelf example, the G8 would be a good example of that, the arches very pliable, it’s really there to tell the foot that there’s something under it, but it’s not there to mechanically support the foot, or prevent pronation or supination, so much, because the arch is so mobile that stability is really left up to the ankle and foot of the patient or the rider, right? Whereas a much more, a stiffer footbed, like a Tread Labs.
Colby Pearce 15:54
Um, sorry I’m forgetting the name, they have a pace, which is a thermoplastic, which is pretty rigid, then they have a carbon model, which is much stiffer, and this is an example of a rigid footbed, that’s really going to provide a very stiff platform for the arch and the heel, to be supported by. It sounds like you’re more on the side of the proprioceptive for most riders, or all the time, how would you say that fits your philosophy?
Happy Freedman 16:21
We see what their needs are, do we have to deal with lesions on a foot? Do we have to deal with any other pathology? Is it unstable foot? Does it collapse? Is there no structure because it goes up and down, and all over the place? You have to treat the foot, not anything else. And as far as how rigid or how soft, part of that’s an issue of toleration, part of that’s an issue of mechanics, and this is where it can get very confusing for people looking for a foot orthosis. The more rigid the devices, the more power transfer from your foot to the pedal. Sounds like a wonderful idea, but it means you may be blocking and locking out the plantar fascia. Many of the people listening have had plantar fasciitis, which you can tell because the pain is the first step or two in the morning. The plantar fascia is a pump, and it pumps fluid out of your foot, if you get a shoe that’s too rigid, or put a orthosis in, that’s too rigid, you can block the pumping mechanism and lock it up, and therefore make the foot less efficient and pumping fluid out. You ride occasionally at altitude, and your feet tend to swell when you do that, everybody’s do. Or it could be a hot July ride, and your feet are swelling. Without the help of the plantar fascia, you’re just gonna keep feeding the swelling, because you’re not moving fluid as well. So there are reasons you do not want to lock the foot completely down in a cycling shoe.
Colby Pearce 18:14
And along that same line of thought, when someone drives the pedal, the force we could say, originates at the hip and travels through the upper leg and the lower leg and into the ankle and foot, and in that process, I’m sure you’ll agree with this statement, you know, we tend to think of joints very simplistically, we tend to classify them as ball joints or hinge joints, and that’s on a very 50,000 foot view that’s accurate, but really all joints are tri-planar to some degree, so when you generate force at the hip, we have rotation of the upper leg, rotation of the lower leg, rotation either internal and external of the foot, you know, for someone who’s a pronator, we’re going to have internal rotation typically of the femur, for example, and when you get to the foot, then we’ve got some rotation and, and people tend to think, I think, tell me if you agree with this Happy, I think a lot of people tend to talk about pronation or supination, sometimes, but frequently, pronation is a bad thing. But the reality is,
Happy Freedman 19:17
It’s a phase of gait.
Colby Pearce 19:18
It’s a phase of gait, it’s part of gait, it’s also part of power production, right? Anytime you push, lift a heavy object off the ground, if you’re squatting down to pick up a weight or a cooler or your cat, we have a pretty overweight cat, so that’s why it comes to mind, when I pick up my cat, you know I’ve got a I’ll have some pronation that happens some rotational force that happens in the upper leg, lower leg, and foot and if we completely restrict that motion, then we’re going to impede the amount of force that we can drive the foot against the ground with, or in cycling drive the pedal with.
Happy Freedman 19:51
to some degree, yes, but there’s more to the picture. It’s where does the power come from to drive the foot? And from my point of view, the power comes from the glutes, and from your hip driving down, more necessarily than you flip pushing up. So we have a bigger muscle, more power supply in your glutes, then you’re going to get out of your quad below. So that’s the big jam you’re trying to tap into.
Colby Pearce 20:27
Happy Freedman 20:28
When you’re riding.
Colby Pearce 20:30
Happy Freedman: “I don’t touch your cleats”
Happy Freedman 20:31
So you’re gonna, you might find this surprising, I don’t touch your cleats, and when I start a fit, I may not even adjust them during the fit at all, because I want to make all my corrections that I can make from above. And if I’m doing things down below, I may mask some pathology in your hips, or in your lower back, so sometimes I don’t do anything to you shoes in a fit, because there’s enough going on that I want to, I don’t want to mask it, or I don’t want to change what you’re doing. So your mechanics, don’t do something I’m not used, you’re not used to, before we even get started.
Colby Pearce 21:17
Happy Freedman 21:18
I will replace a broken cleat, I will put one on if you lost it, but I don’t want to change what you’re doing until I understand what you’re doing, and that doesn’t always happen during the day of the fit. Not quite classic fitting.
Colby Pearce 21:42
Well, when you’ve been doing it for forty years, I’m sure your methods have certainly evolved, at least I hope so, mine might have evolved in the decades I’ve been doing it for sure.
Happy Freedman 21:51
You learn about little bits and pieces.
Colby Pearce 21:54
Happy Freedman 21:54
And how they go together.
Colby Pearce 21:56
Yeah. So yeah, on that topic, I find clients frequently one of the questions I get when I’m interacting with my clients, before we have our fit appointment, they’ll email me and they’ll say, I’m really out of shape, or I’m still recovering from an injury, or I had surgery not that long ago, or you know, I crashed a few weeks ago, and they I think they perceive the question is commonly, “do you want me to be in kind of the best shape possible before you come and see me?” And my perspective is, any snapshot in time is worthwhile, I just need to know the context behind that, but if you’ve got, if you’ve been struggling with a chronic injury, it doesn’t, it actually makes my job potentially a little more challenging, If you got a whole bunch of chiropractic, acupuncture bodywork, deep tissue massage, and you know, allegedly straighten yourself out, and then came in and saw me, if I’m good enough, hopefully I’d still see the pattern anyway. But there are moments when athletes can really respond positively to those therapies, and then they’re kind of camouflaging the deeper issues, it’s almost better for me to see a rider when they’re at their worst.
Fitting Athletes When They’re at Their Worst
Happy Freedman 23:02
Oh, I totally agree. I see often the walking wounded, and you treat them differently. If you get a pro who’s into Peloton, you can treat them by temporarily accommodating their change in body positions, from trauma, from the loss of sleep, all of this affects how you sit on a bike. For a pro, we may make temporary changes, in saddle, stem, and bars, and I know that sounds like sacrilege to some people who say, “your bike is sacrosanct isn’t set up.” But I’ll move stems, I move bars, I move saddles, to keep a rider from being dequeued and falling out the back. So that’s one side of it. The other side of it is I see hip replacements, knee replacements, shoulder replacements, all sorts of chromatic injuries on the bike, there we need to figure out how to make the body work and then fit the bike to the body.
Colby Pearce 24:11
That’s a good point. I’ve had this discussion with many fitters about kind of that spectrum of owning the company, but there’s a company out there that repeatedly says their goal is to fit the bike to the rider, and that’s their general MO, you know, whatever you want to call it, their mission statement. And then on the other side, we have the education of the rider about their postural syndromes, the education of the rider about their dysfunction, their asymmetries, and fitting the bike, how I tend to describe it in this case, and this is for riders who are not in the category you just mentioned, you know, people that are still recovering from a hip replacement or you know, big shoulder surgery or whatever, that aside, for me, I tend to think of like fitting as kind of buying a wedding suit for a wedding that’s about three months away. Not six months away, not two years away, but three months. The analogy being that I want to set up the bike, I want to educate the client about how to sit with, for example, some attention to axial extension and anterior rotation of the pelvis, or forward rotation of the pelvis, so that they can develop proper breathing mechanics, so they can recruit glute more effectively, so they can protect the condition of their spine over time, and I want to set up the bike to enable that position when they are paying attention to posture. Now, if they come in, and they exhibit symptoms of poor postural awareness, or a lot of flexion in the spine, a lot of that very, rainbow shaped spine that you used to see in old photos of Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche, for example, to pick on two really good cyclists, and we have that position, then I’m coaching them to elongate their spine, and focus a little bit on axial extension, and I’m explaining all the reasons why that works. I want to set up their bike to encourage that position, If I put them in a Sean Kelly reach, they’re gonna have no choice but to flex and round over. But on the other hand, if I go too far, and make it unsustainable, then of course, I work against the function of the rider and making improvement. So that’s kind of my wedding suit analogy. What do you thoughts on that whole equation?
Focusing on How the Athlete Breathes
Happy Freedman 26:17
Yeah, I start with the airway. I want to see how they breathe, I want to see how much volume, I have a spirometer that I can use when I need it. So I’m starting with very simple, listening to their breathing, watching their breathing. Are they belly breathing? Are they breathing through their intercostals? Are they nose breathing? Are they mouth breathing? One of the things I will have people do when we’re looking at them, is put an index finger in their ear. You listen for the click, that will tell you what you got TMJ. TMJ can affect the airway, so an underbite will do that. So we want to get the job push slightly forward, to allow better airflow. And we work piece by piece from the mouth down into the torso, getting them to lift the ribs cage, and shooting for J-spine, not an S-spine. Most people who sit and work in computer, myself included, have a little bit of an S-spine. Because that’s the way everything stacks up, your core kind of goes on vacation, and you’re bent over, so nothing is straight. You know, unless you got a walking desk, which you can work on standing up, and then you can keep the spine in proper alignment. J-spine basically, is learning to bend in your hip, while keeping the back relatively flat, and arguably not using the muscles you don’t need to support you at the time. People use too many muscle groups to do too little on a bike, so what we want to do is we want to figure out, first how you breathe, and then everything comes that you do after that, comes in defense of airway. Too often we sacrifice airway for perceived aerodynamic advantage, for perceived performance advantages, and I say perceived because we think if we look more aerodynamic, we are going to travel faster. You don’t go faster if you’re not breathing. You run out of gas so to speak, and you go anaerobic much earlier than you need to. So we look at posture to allow the largest volume of air and the easiest exchange possible.
Ways that a Rider Would Sacrifice Their Airway for Aerodynamics
Colby Pearce 29:00
What would be some of the ways that a rider would sacrifice their airway for aerodynamics? Are we talking about too narrow of a handlebar? Are we talking about slamming the saddle forward?
Happy Freedman 29:10
Sometimes too wide a handlebar. You can lock out the intercostals from breathing, if your hands are too close together, you can open the intercostals and the abdominals, if the bar is narrower. What I do when I’m fitting is I measured to the volume of the lungs, not to the width of your shoulders, when I’m fitting bars. I’m looking for the elasticity. When we if you take a simple exercise, stick your hands straight out in front of you, and then you can let me and then open to both hands, take a deep breath, inhale and exhale, and then open your hands all the way wide, then do the same again. You feel how you get less volume as you get all the way open?
Colby Pearce 30:10
I’m not sure I felt less volume, but I definitely felt tension around T12, probably from the lats supporting the arms.
Happy Freedman 30:16
And your intercostals aren’t moving, and elasticity in the intercostals can make a big difference in your volume. So I’m looking at the line and your wrist, I’m looking at your elbows, I want everything to be relaxed, that can be relaxed, to allow your ribs to expand and perform their job. If you bent over, and you have a half curve in your lower back, you’re going to lock out your diaphragm. Right? Basically, it’s stuck in your rib cage.
Colby Pearce 30:55
Happy Freedman 30:55
So we’re looking for a position that allows the diaphragm to open and grow volume, as well as your intercostals, expand to take the more you are inhaling. If you don’t get there you’re reducing your performance, and you can basically kill yourself trying to get performance by not breathing, and we’ve all seen people riding, who are gritting their teeth and holding their breath. It’s a classic novice racing, they think they bridging the gap, so they’re bent over the curved, they’re leveraging for what they perceive as power, in reality, they just running out of gas. But it feels fast, because you can hear your heart racing.
Colby Pearce 31:49
I think it’s also quite common for people to sort of suffer from beginners syndrome, or you might say, you might even call it imposter syndrome, where people start a new sport a new activity, and they feel very self conscious that they’re, you know, air quotes, not very good at it, and they feel self conscious about that, and as a result, they sort of try harder than they should, but we all know, at the elite end of sport, what is elite sport? It’s a blend of effort and relaxation, that is the synergy of flow state, and when you’re trying too hard, you can actually be self defeating, you can, you can put in more neuro muscular tension, more effort, more nervous system stimulation, but you can be overstimulated where you’re just contracting muscles and clenching your face and making the pain face and, you know, causing tension in different areas, and that restricts movement and flow of muscles, it restricts blood flow, ultimately, the harder you punch a muscle the less blood flow.
Happy Freedman 32:49
Exactly. One of the reasons I have a pulse oximeter, when I’m fitting, I can stick it on a finger and you can see how you’re cutting down the oxygen saturation while you’re working. It’s a wonderful little tool that doesn’t take up much space, and is very effective for showing you how you’re burning yourself out.
Technology and Efficiency
Colby Pearce 33:14
And so on that topic, have you ever worked with the Moxy device to look at SmO2 in the quadriceps, for example, or in the glutes?
Happy Freedman 33:24
Colby Pearce 33:25
Happy Freedman 33:29
I used to work in the motion lab at the hospital for special surgery. When I first started working there it was we had more toys than anybody else, the lab is still there, It still has more toys than anybody else. We have EMGs, we have pressure plates, we have motion capture with 14 cameras, we have high speed video, we can sync all of these different technologies together to make one picture, and basically you can pick on everything. The problem was, when I do that, I don’t get a better outcome than what I was fitting without it, I was just adding layers of technology, layers of cost, and layers of time. Most people who use the technology use it in little, short bursts. So you’ll see a file, that’s a ten second file, and they’re making their decisions about your fit, from this short little video clip. I would do upwards of a two-minute file, multiple times during the fit, and by saying I, it was not me alone, It was with the rest of the team. So you’re not only had to cover my salary, you had to cover everybody else who came into work to put this together, and then I would have to go crunch all the data for several hours afterward. So I went from super technology oriented, to realizing it was very time inefficient. And I have backed out, I still use lasers, I still use pulse oximeters, I will use a metronome occasionally to teach people about cadence and get your legs feet where it should be, but I’m now traveling very light. Altering shoes, I will do that, I will alter saddles, that’s, but I don’t think you need as much technology to fit a bike as most people think you do. If you know what you’re doing, I’m sure you do this the moment person walks into the room, you’re evaluating their gait, you’re watching the swing of their arms. Most of the information you need to develop, you can pick up with your eyes, your ears, you can hear the changes in cadence, you can hear the regularity of along the chain, If somebody does not have a smooth stroke, you can palpate and feel which muscles they’re using. It’s all available, if you take the time to learn how to do it. You don’t have to be a doctor, you don’t have to be a nurse, I’m a bike fitter. It’s what I do. But to do what I do well, I look at other disciplines, and I learned from them. I once had a woman come in whose glutes were asleep, she couldn’t generate as much power as she would like, so we started off with an exam with a physical therapist. I often do that, because I find they will pick up on things we won’t, and when we went back to doing the fit, and it’s not that I can’t do my own exam, I’ve done that many times, but sometimes, it’s nice to have a fresh set of eyes. It’s also important time management, I have found that my patients do not always have the patience to sit with me for two or three hours, sometimes 90 minutes, is all I’m going to get of their attention, and then there’s no point in going further, because they’ve checked out.
Colby Pearce 37:44
Happy Freedman 37:45
So using other people’s time, I get to sit in and watch somebody else work before I go to work with you, and it makes me more effective at doing what I’m doing, because you’re not bored with me when we get started, and you can be bored with me, before we get started if we have a long exam.
Colby Pearce 38:06
Fitting the Rider, Not the Bike
Happy Freedman 38:07
And sometimes it’s more complicated than others. So I have stopped doing my own exams because of that, so I can focus on you, and this goes back to fitting a bike, who are you fitting the bike or the rider? We’re fitting you the rider, not the bike. Bike doesn’t complain two hours out if the saddles not happy, the rider complains if they’re not happy with the saddle. So we have to keep that in mind, who is our audience? Who are we taking care of? Often, we get mixed up, we can do this and this to the bike, what can we do for the rider to make them more comfortable? The bike is not going anywhere, it’s not going to change.
Colby Pearce 39:02
Right. Yeah, and I find on that topic, I frequently end up in fifth sessions educating my riders on the difference between, you might say, pain and suffering, and in the context of riding, the way I’m thinking about this is, suffering is something we intentionally sign up for when you go climb a 30 minute hill at 12% grade, you’re going to suffer you, your legs are gonna hurt, your lungs are gonna hurt, your back is going to be a little bit sore, perhaps from lactic acid buildup, but pain is when your nether regions go to sleep, pain is when your toes fall asleep because your shoes don’t fit properly, or your foot beds don’t fit in the shoes, pain is when you have sharp, sharp discomfort in one side of a shoulder, or the neck, or your lower back is on fire on one side and becomes debilitated and you can no longer produce power. And those are two separate categories of experience on the bike, the problem is, the old school line of thought in cycling is, there was no distinction between those, when you went out January 1st or December 1st, whenever you started your Winter training, you expected your nuts to fall asleep, or your lady bits, and was just part of toughening up and doing the kilometers. You also expected your legs and lungs to acclimate to training, and they did that through pain and soreness. But there was no differentiation, now we’re starting to make progress in that, but I feel on the other hand, the modern Zwift era rider has taken a step backwards in that respect, because now we’re back in some ways where we were, because of course, riding on an indoor trainer exacerbates all problems on the bike.
Happy Freedman 40:43
Colby Pearce 40:45
Happy Freedman 40:46
You’re not able to move unless you bring your trainer, a set of rollers in and can hook up. Your, you know, you’re gonna just do the same thing over and over again and doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a form of insanity.
Happy Freedman 41:03
Alternatives to Smart Training
Happy Freedman 41:05
You know, the question is, what’s the purpose of doing this? Is it to entertain yourself, racing on a computer? Or are you training? I’m of the school that says, “If I’m training, I don’t do anything that can lead to possible injury or distraction from my desired goal.” I also used to coach, I spent more than a decade coaching at Columbia University, and I did development camps for Eddy B. So I’m rider-centric, I don’t want to see time and energy spent on things that in the long-run, are not productive. There’s lots of alternatives out there to smart training, you need to know what you need to know, you need to think about where you’re riding or racing, what kind of events you’re doing. I’m a big fan of picking an event, and then reverse engineering my training, from the date backwards.
Colby Pearce 42:11
Happy Freedman 42:13
This is where my fitting overlaps, because where you are on the bike in December, is hopefully not where you are on the bike in March, ss your season starts. Hopefully we’ve made you stronger. Hopefully we may allow you to breathe better. Hopefully, your balance is better. And most importantly, hopefully you’ve learned how to move on your bike. Most people think bike fit is giving you a sweet spot, there is no sweet spot if you’re riding well, you shift your weight around, depending on the if you’re climbing up and forward, If you’re descending, you’re down and back. You’re moving on the bike all the time, If you sit in a sweet spot, I can guarantee you ratios are going to bother you. If you’re in perpetual motion as you ride, you stand a lot less of a chance of having severe saddle pain. So I’m going to tell you a little story, back in about 1978 or 1979 when the bike show was still in New York, I went and I brought an article I had read in one of the cycling trades that said, Shimano brakes not better than Campagnolo brakes, you saying what a breaks have to do with fit? Well, I walked right into the Campagnolo booth, up to old man Campy, and he was there probably with his son, who was translating, and I said, “I’m a big fan. My bikes are all Campy. This article is upsetting me.” He looks at me and he smiles, “My brakes are not for stopping your bicycle. My brakes are to make you go faster.” And he proceeded to go through how if you drop your shoulder in and you lightly touch the front brake, on the corner you’re trying to get into the bike will dive much quicker with better traction.
Colby Pearce 44:24
Happy Freedman 44:25
This is suddenly where fitting changed in my life. I’m not fitting for a spot, I’m fitting to get you so you can move to different spots. I want your right shoulder to go in for a righthand turn, I want to left shoulder for left hand turn. Many people also complain that their bike feels light on the back end as they come through a turn, so they have to hit their brakes to slow down and then accelerate, very inefficient. What you want to do is help them get their weight back on the wheel, so they can get traction and power out of the corner. You’ve seen people who go into a corner, and they’re on somebody’s wheel and they get dropped, because they can’t stay with them, they can’t generate the power to get out, or they can’t hold the corner. So they hit the brakes and they’re back out. If you’re not racing, you still want to stay with the riders who are in your group, If you’re riding on a weekend, and if you’re racing, that’s gonna cost you a shitload of calories.
Happy Freedman 45:32
Yeah, sorry about that. But you need to plan accordingly with what you’re doing on the bike, and you need to understand what you want from a fit. My fits are about movement, in not isolating you in one spot. They’re teaching you where you need to be when you need to be there and anticipate. I was in Montreal a couple years ago, actually, a little more than that pre-pandemic, and they were having Triathlon Worlds, it was the scariest event for me, watching these riders flying to the corners, and then hitting the brakes, and jamming them on. You could hear squealing, nobody could ride through the corner without hitting the brakes, this is exceedingly inefficient. If you’re riding, accelerating, decelerating, accelerating, decelerating, and you’re a triathlete, you are going to burn your legs out before you even start to run. Excuse me. You want to make sure when you’re fitting that you’re fitting to make the bike work for you, so that you can corner better, you can get traction when you need it. You’re not a victim of your own bike.
Colby Pearce 46:54
So it sounds like you’re saying you want the rider to be very dynamic on the bike, and be able to adjust their center gravity relative to the axles or the bottom bracket according to the demands of their event, Is that a fair way to synopsize that?
Happy Freedman 47:06
Yeah, the only thing dynamic in a dynamic bike fit is the rider.
Colby Pearce 47:11
Right. With exception of a drop of post, but yes.
Happy Freedman 47:16
You know, I mean, we’re, we’re trying to I’m trying to get you to take advantage of what your bike will do. Your limits are greater as a novice, because you don’t know what the bike will do, then if you’re a seasoned rider, and many seasoned riders, including pros, don’t realize how much movement they actually generate on the bike. I’m sure you’ve seen some guys, you’re riding in the field, and you say I’m not riding on his wheel.
Colby Pearce 47:47
Yeah, during fits, I frequently I’ll film people with an iPad, and then I’ll show them what I see, and they’re shocked at how much motion they have in their hips. They’re shocked at how much movement they have in their own shoulders, when they’re when I instruct them to look in the mirror, and I’ve got a mirror that’s aligned parallel with a trainer with some simple lines down the center, and some references so that people can see is the shoulder moving to the left more or to the right more on each pedal stroke? Is the head directly centered over the stem? Or is it moving side to side? Is it moving symmetrically or asymmetrically? And when I point out these features to riders, they start to understand their own patterns of movement, and then that’s an insight for them to begin to understand their own physiology, which I think is an important part of bike fitting. For me anyway, I I’ve never really thought that a successful fit couldn’t happen without some education of the rider at a minimum, because if a rider comes in and I make radical changes to their bike, I lower their saddle 12 millimeters and move it back, you know, 12 millimeters, I’m just making up numbers, and I move up their brake hoods, and I drop their stem a little bit, and I make subtle adjustments that are cleats, and we add foot beds when there were none and, you know, maybe change their stance width slightly, these are relatively common changes for me. Also, it’d be pretty common for me to change a saddle, if I make these changes, but I and I put the rider’s contact points all in different positions, but I don’t explain why I did it, or how I want them to try to make power in this position, the basic philosophy, then I think the chances of success are pretty slim, because the rider is going to get on their bike and everything’s just gonna feel alien, and they’re not going to be able to make power and that’s normal, when we make changes to a bike, It’s normal for a rider to feel relatively powerless or disconnected. It’s more often that that’s the case then the opposite, sometimes you have people who feel like rockets right out of the blocks, but more it’s more often in my experience that people feel just things feel weird or feel disconnected, feel powerless and then over some period of time a week, perhaps two weeks, they begin to acclimate to the new position. Their central nervous system adapts to the new loads and the new demands of their environment and then they feel better in the long run.
Happy Freedman 50:00
Exactly. When we grow up, we’re taught how to pedal a bike. We’re not taught how to ride a bike. So my assumption is, in my fit, I’m going to teach you how to ride your bike. It’s my numbers are not going to be the same as anybody else’s numbers, for starters, my numbers change, If I measure you in the morning, I’m going to get a different set of numbers than if I measure you in the evening. So when I’m doing a fit, I’m keeping in mind that we can get up to four and a half centimeters of deviation in the spine, over the course of the day, we can get up to a centimeter and a half in the arch over the course of a day. That’s over five centimeters of change that you can go through over the course of the day. So don’t complain to me that you’re a millimeter off on your saddle, because you’re not a millimeter off, you’re somewhere in that middle jello land.
Colby Pearce 51:05
Happy Freedman 51:05
Nothing is nothing is exact. And if you keep thinking, there’s a precise position where you’re riding, you’re going to be so limited in what you can do. You need to be able to move, you need to understand what the bike can do, you need to understand what you can do to make this work. So I’m assuming change, I’m assuming evolution in your riding. I’m also assuming fatigue, because I’m making you use muscles that I know you didn’t use before you met me.
Discomfort in Saddles
Colby Pearce 51:39
Yeah, I agree. I think it’s it’s so common for athletes to be just completely quad dominant in cycling, and I find myself explaining that concept to a lot of clients as well and educating them on why we want them to hip hinge properly. This makes me think about Paul Chek’s teachings, he teaches a method where you can break down all sports into six primal movements, and these are simply put a hip hinge, a squat, a lunge, a twist, a pole, and a push. And the result of those is gait, right? But all sports can be broken down into those elements. Well, if we look at what Cycling is on this line of thought, this method of teaching, first and foremost, it is a hip hinge, it is a static hip hinge, you are flexed at the hip, and if you cannot hip hinge properly, then arguably you’re not I’ll say how do I say this eloquently? Try to say it eloquently, you’re not a proper cyclist, you’re not doing it right if you can’t hip hinge, and what do we mean by that? That means that when you forward bend, the axis of rotation should be around or through the center of the pelvis, not in the spine, not in the lumbar spine, not in the thoracic spine, the spine should remain relatively straight, right? And one big factor, Happy, that I find in that simple starting point is an equation one of the biggest factors is the saddle, because if you’re riding on an old school saddle with a bulb shaped nose or a banana shaped nose, take your pick, Physique Arione, Turbo, Flite, there are so many saddles that fit this description. As soon as you rotate the pelvis forward, which is necessary in a proper hip hinge you are by definition, increasing perinatal pressure dramatically, so now you’ve got the rider in this wrestling match. They may know that they make better power when they rotate their pelvis forward because they can feel the glutes engaging, maybe not consciously, but instinctively, some riders figure that out. But then that’s offset with the discomfort of riding with your hips rotated forward on the saddle, where you’re basically getting kicked in the genitals, man or woman doesn’t matter, it’s the same problem for women and men, roughly speaking, I mean, obviously, we’re different, but.
Happy Freedman 53:58
Here’s a little anecdotal story. When I first started working in a shop back in the 1970s, for years prior to 1975, there were almost no complaints about saddles. Most people were after the first 500 miles of hell, they were fine.
Colby Pearce 54:20
Happy Freedman 54:21
All the saddles were leather.
Colby Pearce 54:23
Happy Freedman 54:24
All the saddles had more surface area. The surface area spread the load over a larger surface, so you didn’t get the irritation points.
Colby Pearce 54:34
And the leather conformed over time.
Happy Freedman 54:36
Time to you.
Colby Pearce 54:37
Happy Freedman 54:38
Hence the 500 miles of hell.
Colby Pearce 54:39
Happy Freedman 54:40
When we went to plastic, we started getting complaints.
Colby Pearce 54:44
Happy Freedman 54:44
We were still getting complaints from plastic, if you deal with people around in ears, almost to all of them will go with a leather saddle.
Colby Pearce 54:55
like a Brooks style, right?
Happy Freedman 54:56
A Brooks style, a Selle Anatomica, they will go there, because they know they’re spending a long time, and you want as much surface to defray the level of force for larger surface area. My old practice at the hospital, we had a motion lab downstairs, and upstairs, we had a prosthetic and orthotic shop. I would take saddles up to the orthotic shop and modify them, I would reshape them, I would add padding, subtract padding, big divots where there’s an ulceration that’s irritate to saddle sore. So you could basically manipulate nylon or polyurethane shell into a custom saddle to help the person you were working with. You need surface area, and we are getting away from it. We’re trying to make everything smaller, thinner and lighter, and usually stiffer. It’s Yeah, you’ll get better transmission of energy, but most people who ride a bike don’t know how to pedal it, so they’re sitting on these tiny little things that irritate, and most of the time, most people look at a bike and they say, “Okay, you got a limb length discrepancy. And that’s what’s causing your saddle irritation, because you’re twisted on the saddle.” Maybe it’s not a limb length issue, maybe it’s your pelvis is off, and we need to get you to straighten your pelvis, and suddenly, the limb length issue is gone, maybe your pelvis is a little twisted, so we turn the saddle five degrees off center away from the point that you’re irritated. You’re riding and you’re not getting the pain, the saddles just slightly off, and you just pray that the mechanic next time it goes into the shop doesn’t fix your saddle. You fit the body you meet the needs of the person. So I’m always looking at what I’m starting in the middle, I’m looking at the pelvis, I make my corrections in the middle first, I start looking at glutes, glute action, I also look at the gastroc soleus complex, also a vascular pump. If you are pedaling in a very aggressive position, you may lock out the gastroc soleus complex. If you tend to focus on generating power on a clock face of between one and five, you may be riding like you’re wearing pumps. Now granted, cyclists have great calves and look good and pumps, but I don’t want to ride in them.
Colby Pearce 57:42
Bike Fit Unplugged
Happy Freedman 57:44
So looking at how vascular return to the heart, if you’re not getting the gastroc soleus complex to activate, you’re not pumping up large volumes of blood, you’re requiring the heart to push down to push the blood back up. There’s something called Sterling’s Law, which talks about the volume of blood that the heart can reabsorb. So to me, it’s about efficiency, I want to get the blood back up to the heart so I can cycle it through the lungs and back out again. If I’m not careful, I’m locking it out, and I’m making myself again, less efficient. My technique I call bike fit unplugged, because I’m pulling your power meter out, I’m pulling almost everything out, but I’m tracking your heart rate, and letting your body do what it can do. Which is breathe and circulate. Sometimes you get foot pain, because your hip is off, it could be because your foot is swelling and you have a neuroma, It could be because you’re ischemic and you need more oxygen to the area. You need to look at the physiological responses the body as to what you’re doing when you’re fitting. If we put you slam jam, and down on a set of bars in a very aero position, you may be very clean in the wind tunnel, but you’re physiologically a wreck. You know we need to keep the air going in, we need to keep the blood going round. We don’t always do that, because we’re taking a snapshot in time. We’re not looking at actual function, we’re looking at wind cheating, as if that’s the desired object of what we’re trying to do on a bike.
Happy Freedman 59:49
It’s not the wind cheating, it’s making your whole body efficient. The aerodynamics I worry about what I’m fitting, are between your lungs, and your mouth and nose, I want, I want airflow to be smooth around the curves in the airway, the back of the throat, going into the lungs, you can create turbulence and make it harder to breathe, or you can open the ribcage and get a much easier breath and improve pedal flow. Nothing in isolation, everything interacts with everything else. When you make a change in one spot on the bike, you make a change everywhere. I don’t measure joints, when I’m fitting, because you take everything in isolation, I look at the whole kinetic chain and see what’s going on, a little change in the foot can be a big change in the hip. A little change in the shoulder, can be a big change in the hip, or the spinal cord, or your job and how you breathe. So nothing gets left to itself, everything is looked at how it connects with everything else. I look at all the antagonist muscle groups, and that’s what I fit to, using them as my tools, first before I start wedging, shimming, or making an orthosis, I want to try to teach you how to use your body to make the adjustments you need to ride better. I want to know where your torso fits in space, so that it will work well and be mobile, I want to know that you can breathe, I want to know that your back is relaxed, I want to know that you can carve an edge with your tires, going around the corner much like the skier, Carson Edge, going down around the curve. You know, knowing where your center of mass is, understanding how it affects everything. Nothing in isolation. If you stop looking at the joint angle in the knee, and then you go to the next joint, you’re not seeing how they function, you’re just recording numbers as far as I’m concerned.
Colby Pearce 1:02:17
Happy Freedman 1:02:18
It’s got to be a whole package.
Colby Pearce 1:02:24
Would you agree with this statement, when someone’s learning bike fitting early in their bike fitting career, you might say that they’re using technology to teach themselves how to bike fit. In the midpoint of their career, you might argue that many fitters are using technology to teach the client what they’re doing, as you evolve further, you realize that you can just leave technology altogether, not completely, but as a general as a sweeping statement, and then you rely on the most accurate camera ever created otherwise known as the human eye, to quote Steve Hogg?
Happy Freedman 1:03:01
Well, I would say in the beginning, when you don’t, we get two different pools of beginners, we get physical therapists who know the body, and we often get bike mechanics and salesmen who know the bike. So they’re just focused on their comfort zone. This is what the other is doing. You need to be able to be comfortable in both, and sometimes having a camera helps speed the process, sometimes having a camera can be misleading, because you’re not sure what you’re interpreting as data. We as an industry, we don’t teach interpretive courses, you can learn how to use a camera, but nobody, or for that matter, pressure mapping. There are very few courses that teach you how to interpret what you’ve just done underneath. If you’re pressure mapping and you find a ulcer, you don’t know if it’s an ulcer until you examine the foot, you see a high point pressure. If you are novice, you’re gonna say that’s where I want to set the cleat, it’s the most energy transfer. We do not do ourselves a favor as an industry by not teaching these types of classes to our students. I’m on the board of the IBFI, Steve, and we’re probably two of its biggest critics on what people learn and what they don’t learn, because technology can be wonderful, but technology can be a crutch. And if you don’t know what you’re looking at, it can be interpreted wrong, and sometimes technology is being used to hide behind because you don’t know what you’re doing. In the hands of somebody who’s skilled, and who knows what you’re doing, the technology can be wonderful.
Colby Pearce 1:05:06
Yeah, I agree. I agree. I think, you know, I’m not trying to bag fitters who use technology, there are a lot of good fitters out there who use quite a bit of it, but I will say that I think one of the risks of using technology that puts metrics into big piles of numbers, the risk there is that we start to fit based on orthodoxy, and that’s never the right policy, because as you said earlier, you know, everyone’s an individual in fitting that’s the first rule, the only rule, Steve taught me when I trained with him, was everyone is unique, and there are no rules in bike fitting. So if the moment you, thank God, the moment you start to assign one rider a certain saddle height, because they look like the rider who walked through your door the day before, is the moment that you’ve begun to really assign metrics or make decisions based on orthodoxy, and, and there are a lot of places where orthodox numbers or standards piles of data have meaning, I’m not saying those numbers aren’t significant, they’re useful, but when you make decisions based on the bell curve, that’s where the problem happens. Because, you know, same discussion about building tract homes. I mean, by making a house for an average man, you’ve made a house that works for no man, because there’s no such thing as an average man, I’ve yet to meet an average person who’s exactly 50th percentile in height, weight, arch height, symmetry, hair color, distance between eyebrows, bone mass, like there’s no such human. Right? When we make decisions based on this hypothetical peak of data, this this bell curve, then we’re fit, we’re not serving anyone, we’re just guessing, and you might as well just take a dart and throw it at a dartboard then.
Happy Freedman 1:06:51
Well, but that’s part of the problem with data collection. Are we collecting the right data?
Colby Pearce 1:06:56
Happy Freedman 1:06:56
And do we have the ability to actually use it? When I was at hospital for special surgery in New York, excuse me, one of the people I work with is a director and we went to a meeting, where they were demonstrating a new machine that measured gait. And they said, like 25 different things that it measured in your gait, to give the therapist tools for analyzing. And I remember this one therapist, sitting there saying, “This is wonderful. We got all these 25 things.” And my immediate superior, asked the question, “what are we supposed to do with the 300 other things I see with my eye, that the machine doesn’t record?”
Colby Pearce 1:07:47
Happy Freedman 1:07:48
And the point is, do you play to the machine? Or do you play to the body? So I will use the technology in conjunction with my skill set. But the goal is to develop your skills, and put yourself in front of the machine, not put the machine in front of you. Technologies come and technologies go, If you’re going to do this thing, however, and fit bikes for a living, it’s not the technology, which is going to keep you in business. It’s you who are making people feel better, more efficient, more comfortable, that’s what’s gonna keep you in business. You can use all the computerized stuff you want, but understanding what the bike will do, and understanding what the person will do on the bike, is really what makes you a great fitter.
Colby Pearce 1:08:47
Yeah, I agree. And just to rewind for a moment and comment on one thing you said, you were talking about the difference between, I thought your comment was very interesting when you were speaking about the difference between someone who’s a PT, and they’ve got a very clinical application versus someone who and they go into bike fitting, versus someone who’s a salesman or a mechanic and they get an interest in bike fitting, and both of those types of people tend to stay in their comfort zone. And for me, there’s an exact parallel in the world of coaching in this respect, there are coaches who grew up in labs, doing lactate testing, and Vo2 and all the things, and then there are riders who were racing in the Peloton, maybe as pros, and this is certainly the, this is the path I followed to become a coach. And I’ve got lots of practical experience, you know, I know what it’s like to be in a gutter in Belgium, at 56k an hour, getting dropped by 50 dudes and how to solve that problem, or how to drop back to the car to get bottles. You know how to handle your bike while you’re riding in the rain, things like that, and maybe some people who were in the lab don’t have that experience, but I also my job is to understand their experience and understand their principles and teachings, which is, what do the numbers of lactate mean? You know, understand and study physiology, at least on a level where I can discord have a discourse with them, and I can apply it to my riders and think about both worlds. And I would argue that that’s the same parallel, I think that’s what you’re saying in the world of fitting as well, you can take any path to get there, but ultimately, we’ve got to see both sides of that coin or that equation, that spectrum. Yeah.
Happy Freedman 1:10:24
You need to understand as much about what rake and trail means on a bike, as you do, about understanding what a shoe size is between metric and non-metric.
Colby Pearce 1:10:37
Happy Freedman 1:10:38
It’s all the same, it’s all tools for the job. And we often under define what we do, I’m dreading the day when insurance companies start defining what bike fitting is, at some point, somebody is going to submit an insurance company is going to say, this is a bike fit, this is what we expect, this is what we expect for a report. It’s coming. There are enough PTs out there, who’ve taken enough classes, that sooner or later some insurance company is going to decide what it is we do, we dread that day. I have been fitting longer than most, and I have many the clinical skills to work with the therapist or other clinicians, I see a schism someday, coming between the medical fitter, and the non-medical fitter, and it is approaching and they will be different skill sets. We all have people who claim to be experts, I’m still learning, I’m not a medical fitter. I don’t know what one is, I have yet to meet anyone who says they are who didn’t go to medical school. The flip side is you can know all about the body, but if you don’t understand what its gonna do on a bike, you’re not gonna be able to make the proper adjustments. I live in New York now, when I first moved to New York, I was riding in Central Park regularly. Some of the guys I was riding with were maitre d’ in some of the finer restaurants in New York, but it was midday, and they were out doing a ride before dinner. And I used to talk to these guys, because they raced as pros in Europe years before, and many of them got custom bikes from their local builders, and I would say, “what’s the difference between custom and production?” And they would say, “a guy would measure me, one bike would have a 57 top tube, the other bike would have a 54 top tube.” Why would they make them different sizes? And one would be my crit bike and my stage bike, which is your stage bike and which is your crit bike? This is where it got interesting. The stage bike had the shorter top tube, and the longer step.
Colby Pearce 1:13:20
Happy Freedman 1:13:21
And the crit bike had the shorter stem and the longer top tube. So the position didn’t change, but the steering changed.
Colby Pearce 1:13:32
Happy Freedman 1:13:34
And this is what I always think about, what are we looking at the bike to do? If you’re a recreational rider, you don’t need to drive into a hole in the middle of a sprint to try to get by somebody, you don’t need to put a short stem to speed the steer, you’re not going to have that kind of circumstance. The flipside is, if you’re riding for a very long day, you may want to step it’s a little more forgiving as you ride and not quite as quick and to steer to keep yourself comfortable. Stem length can be used to serve a purpose other than as a fitting tool, It can be for refining the use of the machine. So we need to know our bikes, as well as our bodies, and what we’re trying to provide. We also need to understand the machines we’re working with. Less and less today, we find fitters who know the bikes, I mean, fitting used to be custom builders when I first started. They would measure you, they would come up with their own formulas, and then Ben Serata it with the size cycle.
Colby Pearce 1:14:55
Happy Freedman 1:14:55
Wasn’t the first, but it was the first commercial.
Colby Pearce 1:14:58
What year was that?
Happy Freedman 1:15:01
That was like 1978-79, somewhere in there.
Colby Pearce 1:15:07
Happy Freedman 1:15:09
We’d have to ask him to be precise. I have one sitting in the closet from about that era, as well as other tools from that age. I don’t use a plum anymore, I don’t need it, I also don’t think it served the purpose we all thought it did. When you drop a plum, you’re picking an arbitrary point to drop off of, to an arbitrary point, without looking at the mechanics of what they do. Today, when I’m setting up a bike, I’m looking to reduce hip flexion, I’m looking to reduce shearing off the top of the patella, we’re looking to reduce what I call impulse time. If you get somebody who’s having knee pain, the longer the crank, the greater the amount of time, they are going to spend pushing down on the tibial plateau. So for injured cyclists, one of the things I look at is impulse time, trying to reduce the amount of time and downforce generated on top of the patella during the fit.
Colby Pearce 1:16:26
So it sounds like what you’re saying is to reduce to accomplish both those things, reduction of sheer force on a patella and also prevent excessive hip flexion, the simple solution is shorter cranks? Right?
Happy Freedman 1:16:38
Sounds good to me. Yeah. In the last three months, I have recommended that as short as a 145. I’ve used swing cranks on top of short cranks. I had a guy a couple years ago, who had both of his femurs, both of his tibias is cut off, and reinstalled. He had issues and he had 10 degrees of flexion on one side, and 30 on the other, and we still managed to rig a bike up that he could ride. We used a swing crank on both sides, so he was never passing the plane of the spindle with his foot, but he was able to ride and generate a decent clip.
Colby Pearce 1:17:32
Steve talks about this as well, I think you and Steve probably see a cross-section of people that the average fitter certainly doesn’t see, and I haven’t seen a lot of either, and that’s people with we’ll say exceptional medical challenges, that requires very creative problem solving sometimes and bike fit, right?
Fitting Athletes with Exceptional Medical Challenges
Happy Freedman 1:17:50
Oh, they’re the most fun. The most, the most satisfying.
Colby Pearce 1:17:54
Happy Freedman 1:17:57
You get to do something that most people don’t, and when you’re successful, it’s just so pleasurable.
Colby Pearce 1:18:08
Happy Freedman 1:18:09
And what we do is we’re problem solvers, I mean, that’s, if you think about what you’re doing, we’re not salespeople, we’re not, we’re looking for a solution to a problem, and just to keep people feeling more comfortable with me. I also don’t sell anything, I don’t sell bars, I don’t sell bikes, I don’t sell saddles, I will loan them to you, but I sell nothing.
Colby Pearce 1:18:40
That’s presumably so that people don’t perceive there’s a conflict of interest?
Happy Freedman 1:18:44
There is no conflict that way.
Colby Pearce 1:18:46
Happy Freedman 1:18:46
You’re only getting my opinion and you’re paying for my time.
Colby Pearce 1:18:54
I understand that. I definitely can see that line of thought I haven’t gone that way in my own fitting. I take the the route, just as a contrast, I do sell some bars, I do sell some saddles, I’ll be selling some shoes, I do sell shoes currently as well. It’s pretty simple, I sell the products that I use myself and I recommend because I know they’re really good products, and they are they’re problem solvers for me, I mean, the number of riders I have that end up on SMP saddles is pretty staggering, and I try really hard not to have a bias in that respect, I sell other saddles also, It’s just a function of numbers. The majority of riders I put on those saddles have, like a nirvana experience where they can’t believe how much discomfort they’ve been tolerating their entire career until they’ve gotten on this saddle, and it’s not a perfect solution for everyone, and that’s not the end goal. The goal fit for me is not to sell someone a saddle, it’s to solve problems for them, just as you said, we’re problem solvers, I think that’s an excellent way to say it, but sometimes I need tools to help solve those problems. I also need to pay my rent. So you live in New York City, I won’t complain about how rent is expensive in Boulder, because you probably got a beat there.
Happy Freedman 1:20:12
It’s like Aspen prices.
Colby Pearce 1:20:13
Right. Right. You’re one of the few places in the US that’s more expensive than here, but so I try to I do sell people things, I try to do that with authenticity, and how I handle that equation is simply to just to talk about this philosophically, is to only recommend products that I use myself, or have used myself and believe in as products. I mean, there are a lot of good products out there, there’s a lot of garbage on the market that I would never have in my fit shop, It doesn’t matter how much someone wants it, If they want to go buy it, they can buy it somewhere else.
Happy Freedman 1:20:44
Fortunately, half the time they come in with it already on their bikes.
Colby Pearce 1:20:49
Happy Freedman 1:20:49
When they come to see me, I’m biased against integrated cockpits.
Colby Pearce 1:20:53
Oh, the bane of bike fitting right now, it’s a real challenge.
Happy Freedman 1:20:58
It is so unfair to the cyclist who buys the bike, because they don’t know that there aren’t parts available. There’s one company that I had a discussion a few years ago, as they were about to come into the US market, basically, I said, “so if you want me to fit your bikes, you have a kit available to me with stems and bars that I can swap out.” And he said, “no.”
Colby Pearce 1:21:25
Happy Freedman 1:21:26
I said, “would you put together a kit?” He said, “Why?”
Colby Pearce 1:21:29
Happy Freedman 1:21:31
The discussion went on, “Can I buy loose bars and stems from you to have? He said, “No, we make just enough to go on their bicycle production.”
Colby Pearce 1:21:42
Right. Yeah. Yeah, it’s, I mean, I get it on both sides from a manufacturer’s perspective, and from a, I’m going to beat up on roadies here for a second, for a weenie roadie guy, or lady who wants a super clean bike, I mean, aesthetically, a bike with fully integrated cables, it looks really cool when you’re at the coffee shop. It is a total pain in the ass to travel with and to work on, and if you want to change something, even making a change, assuming you have the proper tools to make the change, assuming that you want to go from a 110 by 40 bar to a 120 by 42, or whatever, assuming you’ve even got those to the bar, you want to change to what frequently as you pointed out, you don’t, that the time and attention and mechanical knowledge needed to make that change is way beyond my paygrade or desires as a fitter. Like, you know, there are times when clients want me to tape their bars, and if somebody wants to pay me $120 an hour to tape bars, I’m happy to do that, that’s an easy way for me to chat with them and learn about them while we get the bars taped up. But you couldn’t pay me enough to learn how to deal with all this di2 internal wiring, and all the gizmos you got to deal with to make these changes on these Aero bikes. And it’s an imposition, for the fitter, Sorry, I’m kind of ranting now, but I gotta say it’s a it’s a real challenge in the world of fitting, because someone walks in the door with one of those bikes, and I already do the math in my head, it’s like, Okay, I’m basically going to be using my fitting crystal ball to say, Well, I can’t change your bars or your stem because I don’t carry this stuff, I couldn’t carry it if I wanted to, and you don’t have this stuff, so I pretty much have to guess to tell you, you need to go 20 miles shorter on your stem and 10 mils higher, now go spend $700 on that setup, take it to a mechanic, spend another $300 of maintenance for them to disassemble and reassemble, and this is a challenge because as a fitter do I want to take on that grand, that’s a grand in my opinion, now, that’s what we’re paid to do is give our opinions for money. That’s what all bike fitting is really, but this most the time, I can put someone in the position at least and make sure that that’s where things are gonna go, and of course, you can use a fit bike to do that, but there’s still a certain amount of crystal ball that you got to have there and that’s yucky sometimes, is the adjective I would use, yeah.
Happy Freedman 1:24:04
I had one person come in with a bike, they didn’t want to fit, they just wanted to know, does it fit? Or is it too big?
Colby Pearce 1:24:15
Happy Freedman 1:24:15
I took one look at the bike, one look at them, and said it fits in it doesn’t. The saddle height was fine, but the top tube was eight centimeters too long.
Colby Pearce 1:24:32
Only eight, Hmm.
Happy Freedman 1:24:34
Well, I could have been seven and a half in the morning, it could have been 10 in the evening, as their bodies change over the day, but it was eight centimeters too long, a reasonable point. And part of the problem is I don’t believe in women’s and men’s bikes, I believe in bikes that fit, and the top tube was very long, they weren’t that tall, and they weren’t that, well they were that flexible, actually too flexible, which is why they were sold this bike, ligamentous laxity, which is hypermobility, she could rest on the drops if you had the bike on the trainer, but you wouldn’t last more than five minutes, not that the salesman waited around long enough to see that. So she was sold a bike that did not fit in length, and unfortunately, it’s very hard to find the bike with 650 wheels these days, which would have been perfect for her.
Colby Pearce 1:25:48
Lack of Standardization in the Cycling Industry
Happy Freedman 1:25:50
She wasn’t that long, she was just flexible. And if we had found a bike, the 650s, she would have been within the reach on the top tube that she could hold and support with her torso, and she would have been able to breathe, and she would have been able to move on the saddle. So instead, she had saddle sores, she had numbness elsewhere in the crotch, she had shoulder problems, and she had poor bike handling, it was a struggled to stay safe. And it wasn’t the lack, It wasn’t the intent of the salesman to sell or buy the didn’t fit, It was they didn’t know any better. We don’t think about it, we don’t teach in retail how to size a bike as well, we say “Oh, you want to red one? You want a blue one? You want a green one?” I’ve got that, “I can put fancy handlebar tape on.” But what are you looking at when you’re picking a size? We don’t know. Because the other side of it is, there are no two bike companies measure their bikes the same way as the others, so you are comparing apples to doughnuts.
Colby Pearce 1:27:14
Yes, I agree. I mean, lack of standardization in the cycling industry is a massive challenge, in so many, we’re talking about bottom brackets, we’re talking about frame sizing, we’re talking about, there are mountain bike companies that have geometry charts on their page that are literally half an inches and half in centimeters.
Happy Freedman 1:27:33
Yeah, I mean.
Colby Pearce 1:27:34
It drives me insane.
Happy Freedman 1:27:35
The consumer has no chance.
Happy Freedman 1:27:38
Happy Freedman 1:27:39
You can’t compare bikes. The salespeople half the time, don’t know the difference. You know, they’re both 54s, which 54 Did they measure? 54 center-to-top? 54 center-to-center? 54 center to a theoretical point that doesn’t really exist?
Stack and Reach
Colby Pearce 1:28:00
Right. That’s an eyeball point with the bike level maybe, Yeah, I mean, I there are probably people who don’t even know what center to top means anymore, I would guess, because it’s an older reference, Right? But I don’t know, maybe it’s not.
Happy Freedman 1:28:15
it’s still used.
Colby Pearce 1:28:16
Colby Pearce 1:28:19
I tend to work mostly in stack and reach, much to the I’ll say, well, Steve not thrilled about that metric for a bunch of reasons that I don’t need to go into, but I find them to be pretty useful to compare frame geometries, do you stack and reach a lot too?
Happy Freedman 1:28:37
They should have never been invented, because people come in looking for stack and reach, and don’t realize there is more of a bike behind it.
Colby Pearce 1:28:45
Yes, of course there is, but for me, it’s a good way to at least make things in the same fruit basket.
Happy Freedman 1:28:52
Your fitter, your skill set, enables you to use stack and reach, custom builder also isn’t able to use stack and reach. The consumer is not trained to realize that there’s more bike behind the stack and the reach. Today, people don’t know the difference between 74-degree seat post, and a 72.5, and don’t understand what it will do to your bike handling.
Colby Pearce 1:29:21
Happy Freedman 1:29:22
Today people don’t understand what a road bike is versus a crit bike, the gravel bike or cross bike, but that bikes are built for different purposes and will handle differently. I am not a big fan of carbon fiber bikes, because they have a limited variety. Most people buy a carbon fiber bike, and they come in four sizes, I remember what a production run was 11.
Colby Pearce 1:29:51
Yeah. Yeah, well look at Colnago is one of the few carbon manufacturers that maintained that ability to have such a broad set of size range, right? And Pinarello as well.
Happy Freedman 1:30:01
Yeah. But that’s the point is to consumer, they don’t know the difference.
Colby Pearce 1:30:06
Happy Freedman 1:30:07
And unfortunately, by the time they get to me, they usually got the wrong bike.
Colby Pearce 1:30:11
Happy Freedman 1:30:12
You know, if you came to me to start off with, we would figure out what was the proper one, and then, send you out shopping with bar recommendations, probably not with seat recommendations. But with being taught how to sit on a saddle. Most people again, go to nautilus, I want you floating and moving. So there’s more latitude for finding comfort, then if you just plop down, and sit as if you’re driving a tractor trailer, which most people do, you see them there on the bike they’re like, “yeah this is kinda comfortable,” they’re wiggling their hips, that’s not riding a bike. Riding a bike, you float, you’re floating almost in the air, because you’re generating lift, as you’re generating downforce. Remember, your crank is doing things on both ends of the spectrum, part of you is coming up, and that can be used off way the saddle as part of you is going down and driving that saddle. If you’re not able to leverage the saddle, spoon to produce more power, then you might as well take advantage of the lift to keep you from being irritated by your saddle. And sometimes when I’m fitting, I’m intentionally trying to irritate you, it’s the easiest way I know how to get your glutes to fire, I’ll put you back on the back rail of a saddle, and just say keep pedaling until something gets aggravated with being pressed against, and we can get a reflex that causes the glutes to fire. So if we can get you to learn to fire your glutes, we can, we may have to do it manually, I’ve taken my thumb and shoved it up into reflex point for an hour and a half. You can get people going, as long as they’re not neurologically shut down, if it’s just atrophy, which most of it is, you’ll get it to fire, and then they’ll wear it out in five minutes, but that’s okay, they learned.
Colby Pearce 1:32:30
Yes, they got reintroduced to their glutes, you might say.
Happy Freedman 1:32:33
Yes. Yeah. It’s nice to know you have them.
Colby Pearce 1:32:40
Yeah, so well, thinking about your, discussion on frame size and handling characteristics and such, Um, I’d like to share a quick story when I was working with the Garmin team in 2014, I had a chance to spend quite a bit of time in Girona, Spain with the team, and they gave me a bike to ride over there, and this is when the team was on Cervelo, on the first generation S5, was a very common, the guys rode, they had a choice between the R5 and the S5. The first generation of S5, as you remember probably had you probably remember this, but they had massively tall, huge head tubes for the size frame, the 56 I think how a, I don’t know, it’s like a 17-centimeter head tube or something. It was huge, 14 centimeters.
Happy Freedman 1:33:27
They were people who weren’t crazy, who could ride that bike?
Colby Pearce 1:33:31
Who could ride that bike. Yes. And that’s really what the bike was made for, but it was very problematic for a team of pros, who of course, want a very aggressive position. So we had three exceptionally tall riders on the team that year, we had Johan Vansummeren, Ryder Hesjedal, and David Millar, and all three of those guys are about, you know, six-two, six-three, that’s like 192 centimeters, I think, and if my conversions right. And the solution for them when they if you tried to put them on a 58 or a 60 the head tube was way too big for them to get the bars low enough, so the team worked with 3T to make some stems that would solve the problem. So all three of those riders rode S5s, in a 56 size frame, with a negative 17 by 150 stem. And so obviously, that’s more what you were saying about your, the stage race bike geometry for your custom bike example it was it’s a much longer standard, a much shorter top tube yet, and those guys managed to drive those bikes, you know all year long, just fine. I don’t think any of them felt they were limited in their handling at least if they were, they never indicated it to me, I was also given one of those bikes in size 54, and I ride a very long low frame. So I ended up pilfering a 150 by negative 17, 3T stem from the mechanics to get that bike to work for me, and I also rode that bike all around Girona, not nearly as much as those guys did that year, you do less riding when your staff member, of course, but I was able to keep up with them on the decent just fine, and the other guys too, you know, Talansky and whatnot. And that was a bit of a lesson for me because I think at that point, I had sort of a conventional model in my head, which is that there is one all say perfect size bike frame for any person, and I don’t really look at it that way now, I look at it more of as a spectrum, you know, a lot of riders could fit on, for example, a 54, or 56 in a given manufacturer, and we could make, we could make their contact points in space, the same, but what you’ll get is different handling characteristics. And I think this is what you were saying earlier, you got a longer wheelbase, you’re gonna get a bike that’s more stable at high speed, you get a shorter wheelbase, you’re gonna get a bike that is will say twitch year, and response to change in direction commands more quickly. Sometimes frequently, I would argue at the peril of the rider, you know, I think it’s real common for bike racers to think, along that old school line of thought, a smaller frame is stiffer and lighter, which I think that argument has no weight at all, I think that’s a total piece of crap argument, to be honest.
Happy Freedman 1:36:17
I’ll take it a step further.
Colby Pearce 1:36:19
Happy Freedman 1:36:20
If you get a small timeframe, and you put a stiff set of wheels on it, you’re gonna be bouncing off the pavement every time you hit a bump.
Colby Pearce 1:36:28
Happy Freedman 1:36:29
And you’ll have less control.
Colby Pearce 1:36:31
Yep, I would agree. you’re also replacing what is an engineered structure, a bicycle frame is an engineered structure, with basically extensions. Seat posts and stems are just gap fillers, you know, it’s it’s a, it’s a tube designed to attach a saddle to a frame, it’s a tube designed to attach handlebars to a steering tube. It’s not really, I mean, yeah, there’s a small amount of engineering in that structure, and yeah, we can make square shaped stems or rectangular instead of round, but really, it’s just an extension. But the actual engineered structure, the thing that an engineer most of the time most engineers have control over is the frame as a unit, and everything else is not really considered in that engineering structure, so when you look at it that way, it makes way more sense to have more frame and less seat post. Way more frame and less stem.
Happy Freedman 1:37:23
Yep. There’s a rider, JP Partland, who interviewed me for an article he wrote called, Tour De Crash, where we looked at stem to frame ratios, and you can see how more riders were going head over handlebars in the modern bike, than they were in previous years in the tour. And it has gotten worse in the last 10 years than it used to be, they used to lose back wheels and slide out, now they go over the front.
Colby Pearce 1:38:01
And you’re saying that that’s probably because bikes are more front weighted, because everyone is slamming the saddle forward and using longer stems?
Happy Freedman 1:38:08
That’s part of it, and shorter, tighter, backends.
Colby Pearce 1:38:12
Happy Freedman 1:38:13
When you put all that together, you make for very tippy bike.
Colby Pearce 1:38:17
Happy Freedman 1:38:18
And some of those guys are riding 19 and 20 stems.
Colby Pearce 1:38:21
Yes, it’s crazy. I gotta say, you’re concerned about insurance agencies standardizing bike fitting, is kind of my concern about manufacturers starting to really alter geometry to accommodate these really far forward positions, which I think are by and large a disaster. Yeah, yeah, I really hope manufacturers don’t start putting 78 degree C2 angles on road bikes and, and making the top tubes six centimeters longer, It’s just going to destroy the consumer, and it’s going to destroy handling, it’s going to cause, well, I mean, to be a jerk about it, it’ll increase our business flow, because we’re gonna have a whole bunch of quad dominant people come in with SI joint problems and knee problems, Well, that’s, that’s for the dentists to deal with, but I don’t wish that on anyone, but it’ll cause more physical dysfunction, for sure.
Happy Freedman 1:39:20
Colby Pearce 1:39:22
Not the direction I want to take my business though, I’d rather be for you know, the majority of my athletes who walk in my door are either athletes who are relatively happy with their fit and they want to, you know, cross some eyes and dot some T’s and optimize performance, or their athletes who are on the verge of quitting the sport because they’ve got chronic injuries and they’ve already been to three or four fitters and they can’t fix their, you name it, knee pain, hip pain, back pain, chronic IT band issues, saddle sores, I’ve had a rash of people come through recently, no pun intended with chronic saddle sores, where they’re on the verge of quitting because they can’t sit on a bike seat without extreme discomfort. It sounds like your cross section of clients is much more broad, you’ve obviously got people who have real medical issues and are referred to you from hospital.
Happy Freedman 1:40:13
I’ve got that end, and on the other end, I’ve got pros. And I define pros, two different ways, there are pros who earn a living that supports cycling, and there are pros who support their live life by cycling. If you have a day job, you’re in a different tier than if you’re fully funded by a team. And the big issue for pros besides injuries, is speed deficit, everybody wants to be faster. And the question is, why are they not faster? And it’s often an issue with poor mechanics, and it’s not physiological, but they don’t know how to ride the damn bike. They generate plenty of horsepower, but horsepower doesn’t take you around a turn.
Colby Pearce 1:41:11
Happy Freedman 1:41:12
horsepower will take you up the hill, horsepower will take you to a sprint, but horsepower doesn’t take you around that corner, doesn’t take you over the cobblestones. You got to learn how to ride the bike.
Colby Pearce 1:41:26
Cycling is About Repeatability and Sustainability
Happy Freedman 1:41:27
You know, I think was DeBakey? Who is the doctor did the first heart transplant in South Africa, I believe, that died when I was a kid, who is a cyclist, I’ve been told, and somebody once said, that DeBakey was asked, “what do you think about training by power?” And he said, “Doesn’t tell you when you’re going to have a heart attack.”
Colby Pearce 1:41:58
Happy Freedman 1:41:59
Meaning if you train by heart rate, you can see deviations in your numbers, which can alert you to a problem.
Colby Pearce 1:42:08
Yes. I see.
Happy Freedman 1:42:11
Fitting and producing power are not necessary, I can set you up and boost your power output, I can also blow your knees out.
Colby Pearce 1:42:22
Right. Cycling is about repeatability and sustainability. Yeah.
Happy Freedman 1:42:25
Colby Pearce 1:42:26
Not just over a long five hour ride, but over months, and years.
Happy Freedman 1:42:29
Colby Pearce 1:42:30
Happy Freedman 1:42:30
The point is, what is the goal of what we’re trying to produce? Are we just trying to make horsepower? Or are we trying to make you a better cyclist and give you longevity?
Happy Freedman 1:42:43
I can always find another 10 watts somewhere, it’s not necessarily going to be a nice place to pull it form.
Happy Freedman 1:42:51
You may screw up the tracking of your knees, you may put a little extra stress on your hips, but I can find it, but I’m not going to go looking for it. For me, I’m looking for lowering your heart rate, making you more efficient, making you more comfortable, making the bike handle better, and as a byproduct, getting a few extra watts.
Colby Pearce 1:43:14
Right. Well, yeah, and to expand on that concept, I think people tend to think very superficially about this problem, from the conversations I’ve had, I try really hard not to imagine what other people think. But I’ll say that people come in and they think well, you know, will this change, this raising my saddle, lowering my saddle, you know, putting in these foot beds, whatever we’re talking about, will it give me another 10 watts on my 20-minute power? Or, you know, however many, will it increase my power over a given duration? Whether that’s at the State Time Trial Championships, or up a hill climb, or for my 20- minute efforts that I do to impress my coach, or to establish my zones and my threshold power. Okay, that’s a reasonable question, but all too frequently, I think that’s a very first grade level way to look at the problem. If you’re making a rider more comfortable on the bike and more energy efficient, it doesn’t mean their threshold, or their five-minute power will ever get a single watt higher, but what it can mean is that over the course of months of training, if we select a single hard road race, for example, you know, six months after the fit, after three or four hours of racing, you may be able to more reliably repeat efforts. Right? And it means so that’s not going to show up in the data, I mean, it could in time in zones, we can do things like look at 20-minute power after 3000 KJs, I mean, WKO has got all kinds of ways to slice up the data. The question then becomes how do you attribute that increase in power? How do you attribute that ability the riders, ability to maintain 98% of the same 20-minute number after 3000 kj worth of work? Do you attribute that to their fit? Or do you attribute it that that to them just getting stronger through six months of training? And it’s impossible to disseminate those factors, but these are the types of conversations we have to have, a rider can figure it out if they really have a good intuition, and they have a good understanding of what their own limits are. How many times did you finish a road race, or your 140-mile gravel race in pieces, because your lower back was so stiff, you couldn’t stand up at the award ceremony? Versus when you finished your last 140-mile gravel race, six months after your fit, which was by your standards, perhaps more conservative, I’m saying the rider standards, but they were able to complete that race and then not only stand up at the award ceremony, but maybe they were part of it. These are the types of fitting outcomes that are really hard to quantify, and it makes our profession arguably a difficult one at times to, I won’t say argue for because it’s not my job to argue for it. But to explain, perhaps.
Happy Freedman 1:46:04
But there aren’t many of us yet in the caliber to have these issues. We have a small pool of high-end fitters, can create the problem you’re having of distinguishing whether or not it was training, or fitting that made the difference. I view my addition to the component is the recovery phase in your pedal stroke. If you don’t recover, you are limited in what you can do, racing on the caliber you’re racing, you’re racing more than two days a week. So having a recovery phase in your pedal stroke is an important portion to your career. If you have no recovery, it limits the amount of racing and increases the amount of rest you have to do in between workouts. So looking at the gastroc soleus, that’s your recovery phase that’s pumping the blood back up, it’s making your heart work less, you know, if I can knock it down to three beats a minute, times, eight hours, that’s a substantial amount of reduction of wear and tear on your heart. And if you figure that out over the course of a whole season, the math gets really interesting.
Colby Pearce 1:47:33
And so when you talk about that gastroc soleus complex being a pump, are you Is it the same thing as ankling?
Happy Freedman 1:47:42
No, it’s the same, you can ankle and not get a contraction.
Colby Pearce 1:47:46
Happy Freedman 1:47:47
You need the contraction.
Colby Pearce 1:47:49
The contraction on the downstroke.
Happy Freedman 1:47:51
Just as you need the contraction, on the plantar fascia, to pump fluid out of your shoes.
Colby Pearce 1:47:59
Happy Freedman 1:48:00
If you don’t get the contraction, you don’t get the benefit, when you lock up the gastroc with too long a crank arm, you come over the top and your riding pumps, you are up too high, your hip may be rotating immediately or laterally to accommodate, we need to think about more than just the watch generated, we need to think about the efficiencies we’re losing.
Colby Pearce 1:48:30
Mm hmm. Yeah. Which takes us right back to that conversation about how do we quantify things, and there’s some stuff you can’t double blind, right? Um.
Happy Freedman 1:48:40
I’m trying to figure out how to measure actual blood flow. The problem is, if we do cardiac catheter in the artery, that’s very invasive.
Colby Pearce 1:48:53
Happy Freedman 1:48:54
We can measure the amount of blood coming out of the gastroc and back up. We can also go to radioactive isotope, but that’s also Invasive.
Colby Pearce 1:49:05
Happy Freedman 1:49:07
Well, we could do a Doppler, the problem is the velocity of a calf on a bike racer.
Colby Pearce 1:49:14
Happy Freedman 1:49:15
We tend to launch a rather expensive instrument, ultrasound machine.
Colby Pearce 1:49:22
Happy Freedman 1:49:23
Across the room.
Colby Pearce 1:49:24
Happy Freedman 1:49:25
So that doesn’t work. So I’m waiting for a smaller lighter ultrasound machine, that we can strap to the back of your calf that will stay in place so we can get a good measurement.
Colby Pearce 1:49:38
I’m not I haven’t used this device a ton, but I have several colleagues who have it sounds like you’re describing a Moxy to me, but um, they use mirrors to measure blood flow, right? That’s what it is.
Happy Freedman 1:49:49
Yeah, I’ve had this conversation with them. They don’t think they can give me the data I want.
Colby Pearce 1:49:54
I see. Yeah. Yeah. Well that’s, that’s quite interesting, the other thing that makes me think of is all the years that I raced on the track and did six days in particular, where I’m quite sure there’s very little pumping of the gastroc soleus complex at those cadences, I mean, maybe there’s these fractions of a second word happens, I’m sure you’re pushing down on the pedal with the calf, but you’re pedaling so quickly and subject to such high G-forces during those races. I mean, I had, I had, six days where I was racing at 55k an hour for an hour straight in a, you know, 50.
Happy Freedman 1:50:39
It doesn’t mean you can’t be trained to do it.
Colby Pearce 1:50:41
Happy Freedman 1:50:42
It’s understanding that it’s there, and that it works. And if you don’t know what’s there, you’re not looking for it. The next time you go out for a ride, you’re gonna look for it, I bet.
Colby Pearce 1:50:55
Yeah. Well, if I make it out this afternoon, we’ll see what happens, but it’s nicer today.
Happy Freedman 1:51:01
By getting your glutes to fire, we can bring your knees in the line, and we can get your gastroc to fire.
Quads are Poor Knee Stabilizers
Colby Pearce 1:51:13
Yeah, as you said, I think in your article that I read, we’ll definitely put a link to this in the show notes your, bike Fit Unplugged article, I think one of your observations there is quads are poor knee stabilizers.
Happy Freedman 1:51:25
Yeah. Really bad at it.
Colby Pearce 1:51:28
Happy Freedman 1:51:28
And we rely way too much on your quads to keep your knees tracking straight, the flipside is, we can rely way too much on putting something underneath your shoe or in your shoe to do the same.
Colby Pearce 1:51:45
Happy Freedman 1:51:46
When if we get, you can manage your own glutes, so you can get as much correction or little correction as you want, once you understand the mechanism.
Colby Pearce 1:52:00
For me, it just comes down to, you know, too much repetitive use of, of the same limbs, and in particular, when you’ve got dysfunctional use of those limbs, sorry, joints, I guess I should say, really? It’s going to lead to you’re going to spiral further and further down into kind of a negative wormhole of crappiness, and that’s, that’s what we’re talking about here, Is that quad dependence, right?
Happy Freedman 1:52:25
Yep. Quad dependence is not going to help you.
Colby Pearce 1:52:30
Happy Freedman 1:52:30
It’s a limited resource. To me, it’s the last sprint, that you’re going to need it, and that’s where you should save it for. Or if, you know if you know you’re going to run on your bike like in the cyclo-cross, you’re going to need those quads.
Colby Pearce 1:52:49
Happy Freedman 1:52:50
Don’t burn them out, just because you don’t have another resource, learn to use your body.
Colby Pearce 1:52:59
Yeah. Yeah, one of the big takeaways here is that I think beginning cyclists, or cyclists with saddles that are slammed really forward and really high, tend to generate most torque around the knee, we really want you to generate most of your torque in the hip, and, and that’s not only from a physiological perspective, or an anatomical perspective, this is an energy perspective, your dantian is where you generate your creative and will force, from an energy standpoint, this is your dantian is the spot just below and inside of your belly button. In martial arts, this is the area where you generate power, right? When you stand in a horse stance, this is your energy center. I know I’m getting a bit out of normal bike fitting talk here, but that concept serves to illustrate that the hip hinge is the essence of cycling, that’s what you’re doing, you’re bending, that axis passes right through the dantian. This is where power is generated from, and if you watch old school cyclists, you can see them generating power from the hip. I have to be a little selective about the examples I use there because there’s some that don’t necessarily pedal that way. But anyway, we are not going down that rabbit hole. Well, on that topic, Happy, we’ve been going for a while here, maybe I can just ask you one last question, if you don’t mind, and then we’ll, we’ll call it a day. I’d love to know what you think of maybe you could give us a couple of examples of riders, if you feel up for it, you could pick on some modern riders, you think their positions might use some improvement, but if you don’t want to go there, maybe you can give us some shining examples of modern riders, professional riders who, or even old school riders who you think are outstanding examples of a rider with good function and good fit.
Examples of Riders with Good Function and Good Fit
Happy Freedman 1:54:53
Well, I’m going to go old school, because I know too many people.
Colby Pearce 1:54:58
Okay, fair enough.
Happy Freedman 1:55:00
I watched Eddy Merckx in Montreal, at Worlds years ago, his form would not be what I call perfect, but very efficient. He would adjust his bike on the fly.
Colby Pearce 1:55:20
Yeah, I remember him. Didn’t he used to pull over sometimes, and raise a saddle a couple mills before long mountain passes?
Happy Freedman 1:55:26
Yes he did.
Colby Pearce 1:55:27
Yeah, I remember that, reading that somewhere.
Happy Freedman 1:55:29
He’s looked at it, everything he could to be as efficient as possible. He wasn’t worrying about being the most powerful guy in the field, which he was.
Colby Pearce 1:55:40
Happy Freedman 1:55:42
But he knew the race today was today, and he was going to be doing it somewhere else tomorrow. So the point you learned from Eddy, is you don’t burn yourself out, beating everybody, you just beat them, and go ahead and do it again. I think somebody did the calculations, and like the last two years of his career, he won three out of every five bike races, or placed in the top five, three out of every five during the last couple of seasons.
Colby Pearce 1:56:19
I’m pretty sure to this day, he’s the winningest rider in cycling history by a good margin. Yeah, if you’re listening to this, and you don’t know who Eddy Merckx is, or you can’t spell Merckx, shame on you. Go forth and educate yourself.
Happy Freedman 1:56:33
By comparison, you have Lance.
Happy Freedman 1:56:35
Happy Freedman 1:56:37
Lance is a big good old boy. He stretches out all over the bike, but he’s not that mobile.
Colby Pearce 1:56:44
Happy Freedman 1:56:46
He doesn’t move, and that over the years, got him into trouble. If he wasn’t powering away from you, he was not great in the field. You would see him sit off the back. You know, so his talent was huge amounts of horsepower, we now know he had more than gasoline in the tank.
Colby Pearce 1:57:11
Yes. Yeah, you’re right. His racing tactics were all blunt force instrument, which is, you know, I also want to point out highlight, I’d say that this isn’t just random coincidence, this is also a function of Lance as a human. He, Look at his personality, his entire personality is a blunt force instrument, if you if you had to make Lance into an object that would be a baseball bat or a mace, You know? If you made Eddy Merckx into an object, it would be a chessboard, or right, is that fair to say?
Happy Freedman 1:57:44
He did no more than he needed to.
Colby Pearce 1:57:49
Right. Which that’s how you win multiple jerseys during a Grand Tour, not just the overall, the yellow jersey, but the points jersey, and the climbing jersey like this is how you do things like this is by being calculating and smart about your strength, Right? Not just smashing people left, right and center all over the place when it works for you, different perspectives.
Happy Freedman 1:58:13
Colby Pearce 1:58:13
Both amazing athletes in their own right, I mean, Lance, you know, Sawsan, Oprah or not, he was unquestionably a ridiculously talented athlete. I’m not disparaging his ability to go fast on a bike, but I’m just commenting on how Lance did the things he did and does the things he does do a degree to this day.
Happy Freedman 1:58:35
Finesse was not his skill set.
Colby Pearce 1:58:37
Happy Freedman 1:58:40
If you want finesse, we go to the track, and look at, who was an Olympic sprinter from Japan, who was just beautiful to watch, taking you from behind or in front, it didn’t matter, he was going to pass you. And it’s a whole different, it’s still bike racing, but it’s a whole different ball of wax.
Colby Pearce 1:59:07
Happy Freedman 1:59:08
And it’s all about finesse.
Colby Pearce 1:59:13
Well, likewise, we can also have blunt force instruments on the track, Marty Nothstein, being the example that I would argue.
Happy Freedman 1:59:19
Oh, definitely steam roll you, if he needed to get by you.
Colby Pearce 1:59:25
Or hook you and take you to the rail.
Happy Freedman 1:59:27
Yeah. But that also happens even with roadies, there were a few I can think of who would if you were up there and they didn’t know who you were, you had to look out for each light post to the end of the course.
Colby Pearce 1:59:42
Yep. Well, Happy, I really appreciate you taking time to speak with me today and share your philosophies on bike fitting. You know, you It’s a real honor to be having discussion with you, you’re certainly one of the founding fathers a bike fitting, I think it’s fair to say, and thank you for your contribution today and your time and your input. I really appreciate it. It’s been great.
Happy Freedman 2:00:09
My pleasure I had a lot of fun.
Colby Pearce 2:00:13
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