Bike shops are usually intimidating to beginners. When I was a boy, they were small, dingy places with sparkling steel racers sold by a nuggety old cycling pro who assembled them himself. Nowadays, they tend to be gleaming show-rooms, crammed with bikes starting at £1000 and ending with ethereal carbon slivers that cost more than a car.
When bought my first road bike I was intimidated by the higher end places and walked into the local branch of a large chain. Thirty minutes later, I had test-ridden one Giant and one Bianchi up and down the road assisted by a teenager who advised me I was a "medium" frame by standing next to me. I chose the Bianchi because it was the prettier of the two.
It was also the wrong frame size for me, it had too short a head tube, meaning I was to spend the next two years with my weight far too far forward for anything but a short sprint, it had no lugs for mudguards though I was planning to ride it all year round, and the stock tyres and brakepads were nothing short of lethal in the rain.
Worse, as my rides progressed from two laps of Richmond Park to 50 miles on a Sunday, I was plagued with sore shoulders, a sore back, a sore neck, cramps in my hands and cramps in both calves.
After many, many adjustments, a change of brakepads, pedals, pads, saddle, tyres, wheels, cassette and stem, I finally realized that the cause of most of my aches and pains on my increasingly-long rides was not poor fitness, it was poor fit. Which led me, belatedly to Cycle Fit at Pearsons.
Pearsons is a very nice bike shop indeed, and I have visited lots! It is located close to Richmond Park, right where I need it to be. It has approachable and knowledgeable staff, who do not laugh at foolish questions or push customers to buy things they do not need or that will not suit them or their style of riding. It has a coffee bar, an almost indispensable asset in the winter, when most of my rides seem to end there. I have lost count of the useful tips and bits of free advice and useful bits and pieces I have picked up there. Thèse guys all ride, they all like bikes and they like people who like bikes. That isn't always the case in bike shops.
The Cycle Fit process would be a little daunting if it were not for the unflappable, methodical and reassuring presence of Stuart. He guided me through what is a fairly highly technical process, he answered my countless foolish questions and, like a magician, in two hours flat he identified what was wrong (everything) and set about putting it right.
I chose to abandon the bike I should not have bought, it is my winter commuter now. Even the cycle fit process could not rescue the wrong frame size and the wrong geometry, but I have now improved my position on it using the measurements provided and I can bear to ride it for up to an hour or two at a time.
I also ordered a custom- built bike, and I would say that the difference in comfort has to be experienced to be believed. I have now completed my first sportive (the Cape Town Argus) and a very hilly century ride in Surrey with less discomfort than rides of half that length round Richmond Park used to cause on my old bike. Because I am more comfortable I ride further, I ride faster and I enjoy my ride.
Equally importantly, I have more energy and enthusiasm for playing with my kids when I get home every Sunday!
I would recommend a Cycle Fit session for anyone who is planning to ride a road bike for longer than one hour and or anyone who is planning to spend more than a few hundred pounds on a bike. You will save yourself a lot of time, money and discomfort in the long run.
Words by Dr. Mike McPhillips