At BikeRadar, we’re strong advocates for a good bike fit. It makes cycling more comfortable, fun and helps limit injuries. On top of that, there are quantifiable performance gains to be had from an improved position.
The Guru Fit system is one of the newest and most advanced fitting tools available to cyclists and allows remote vertical and horizontal repositioning of bars and saddle with the rider still pedalling. This means the fit is a truly collaborative effort based on the fitter’s expertise and the rider’s real-time reaction to a changing position.
Having had a variety of fits in the past – from self-adjusted geometry based on formulas found online, to a fitter’s keen eye alone, Retul and even Apex (the system closest to Guru in its mechanics) – I was keen to see how Guru would measure up as a fitting experience and welcomed the opportunity to visit Cycle Studio in Stratford-upon-Avon for a fit.
The Guru Fit System allows precise horizontal and vertical adjustment of the saddle and bars
Clever as the Guru machine is, it’s only as good as the fitter driving it. Luckily for me, I had two. Helen Hall is founder and director of Ten-Point, the home of Guru’s European training academy and the European arm of Dan Empfield’s FIST bike-fitting institute. Mat Parker is one of the UK’s most experienced Guru fitters and has fit such athletes as double Commonwealth gold medal winning triathlete Jodie Stimpson and Paralympic gold medallist James Roe. Needless to say, I felt in very safe hands.
The Guru fit
The fit began with an assessment of my body walking off the bike – during which Hall’s keen eyes clocked a few issues and imbalances that might have a bearing on the fit once on the Guru. There’s no need for flexibility assessment, says Hall, because of the fact that the cycling action rarely takes anyone near their limits of flexibility – and if it did, the collaborative fit process would reveal it.
The system’s integrated Microsoft Kinect camera cleverly scans the body, inputting rider measurements. Then it was onto the Guru machine itself – getting up to speed at a comfortable cadence, holding exact wattage thanks to the built-in Computrainer.
The rider being actively involved in the fit is intrinsic to a Guru fitting and it’s this that makes it special, allowing instant feedback on how each change feels – rather than just being prescribed the ‘best position’ based on a bell curve of average angles.
It’s like going to an optician’s and being asked if your sight sharpens or blurs as lenses are added in front of your eyes. Except much of the work here is done by your backside. The Computrainer keeps you at the same power, so it’s easy to tell whether achieving that power becomes easier or harder as the fit progresses.
Undoubtedly the biggest revelation of the fit was how a simple postural alteration changed absolutely everything – not just the coordinates of saddle and bars, but the entire way my body interacts with the bike while cycling. And the chances are that most riders could benefit from this change too.
Working from back to front, Hall quickly diagnosed my self-selected position as that of a ‘Bananaman’ – that’s to say I sat rocked back and slumped in the saddle, reversing the natural lumbar curve the lower back should exhibit in order to bend forwards towards the bars. With only three lumbar vertebrae, a chimp would have no choice – but as a human with five, it’s not meant to be that way.
“I haven’t ever come across anybody, ever, who’s come for a bike fit and adopted a forward-tilting pelvis,” says Hall, making me feel a bit better. But if this position is one that’s long been adopted by the vast majority of both professional and amateur cyclists, what’s wrong with it?
“Among other things, holding the position of a posteriorly tilting pelvis puts the glutes into such a position that the upper fibres would struggle to contract any further and the lower fibres can’t stretch fully under load to provide the recoil of free contraction – effectively reducing both your power available to the pedal as well as cycling efficiency. Because the position of the pelvis influences the curves of the spine all the way to the head, the reversed lumbar curve couples with a flexed thoracic spine (the ribcage area) compressing the lungs so their potential for oxygenating the working muscles is limited too.”
Or, in more simplistic terms – holding this backward-titled pelvis position, as most professionals do, means you could be limiting your power output, harming your cycling efficiency and limiting your breathing.
This is a typical ‘Bananaman’ position – hunched with pelvis tilted back
“It’s not that Bananaman is ‘bad’ per se,” adds Hall. “After all, it’s a natural anatomical position that the body should be able to achieve – it’s just not the most effective position to maintain throughout the pedal stroke.”
So what’s the alternative? Standing tall with a neutral spine, there’s an inward curve of the lower back. It’s how we’ve evolved as upright humans and it’s maintaining this same posture while on the bike that stops us fighting against our bodies while cycling, allowing for more natural biomechanics. In turn, this improves comfort and can even unlock more power.
“It’s fluidity of movement through using the body in a way more sympathetic to our biomechanics,” says Hall. “Posture is the beginning, middle and end of every movement pattern, and the ramifications of a poor starting posture – being slouched on a bike – ripple through a fit all the way through to the final setup of the bike, and not in a good way.”
The key to this natural position is forward rotation of the pelvis on the saddle, allowing the long blades of the pubic bones (from the ischiopubic ramus to the ischial tuberosity) to take weight rather than just the back point of the ischial tuberosity. This lets the small of the back adopt a more concave posture, slightly engaging the lower abs and opening the hips to free the legs.
“It’s not an excessive rotation,” says Hall. “It’s simply bringing the natural arch we have when standing with good posture with us when on the bike.”
Despite the feeling of a distinct inwards arch of the lower spine in the corrected position, this key postural tweak is hard to spot with untrained eyes
With the UCI’s level-saddle rule, it’s perhaps only natural that so many professionals slump backwards into the Bananaman position in order to avoid perineal pressure – and mimicking the professionals is only natural. “They may be pushing out a lot of power,” says Hall, “but how much more might they produce with a more advantageous position?”
Luckily, unless you’re racing at the highest level, saddle position and choice isn’t a limiting factor. The designs of some saddles are better suited to the ‘Human man’ pelvic positioning. Hall points out the Selle Italia Superflow and Selle SMP ranges as examples, while Specialized’s Power saddle is also designed to allow such a posture. It’s worth noting that while several saddles, such as my own utterly comfortable choice, the Cobb JOF55, allow a perfect posture, it doesn’t mean you’ll automatically adopt one by fitting such a perch to your seatpost.
Keep on movin’
It’s from the establishment of this initial natural posture that the bike fit really begins. Already feeling immediately more comfortable and stable, it was time to move things around. It’s odd at first to feel the saddle moving under you with a whir of electronics, but with the Computrainer keeping you at a fixed power, the difference from one position to the next becomes surprisingly clear.
With Hall patiently asking ‘better or worse’, I just listened to my body to help hone my own fit, narrowing the increments between positions until finally hitting that sweet spot. As the saddle rose and moved further forward, it felt as if tension was leaking out of the legs, my cadence naturally picking up.
I also felt my whole body moving in time with each revolution of the pedals – hips wiggling slightly, shoulders rocking a little, head with a tiny bobbing motion.
The Guru Fit offers a truly collaborative fitting experience. Mat Parker and Helen Hall took me through every little change with my own feedback informing the fit
Despite being a try-anything triathlete as well as roadie, I hadn’t let go of the thought that stillness is important. ‘Only move your legs, or you’re wasting energy’ was the thinking I’d adopted when first starting to ride a road bike. Likewise, any rocking in the hip clearly means a saddle’s too high, right? Such attitudes are ones that have become gospel as correct cycling technique without many of us stopping to think why.
“The goal is power to the pedal,” says Hall. “If a muscle acts – whether it’s getting longer or shorter – then the bone it’s attached to is going to move. So if we want the glutes to fire, we’re going to have to allow the pelvis to move, because that’s one of the places the glutes are attached to.
“Suppressing movement of the pelvis will suppress activity of the glutes but if you’re still pedalling, the power is going to have to come from something moving. This could be the muscles of the upper leg, lower leg or foot. It’s not so much that keeping the pelvis still – or anywhere else for that matter – is ‘wrong’, but it’s certainly not efficient.”
The cyclists’ lore of suppression of movement also goes hand in hand with hip adduction – a pulling in of the thighs as illustrated by that oft-seen phenomenon in the Tour de France where any front-on shot will show knees kinking inwards above the top tube.
“As one leg comes into 12 o’clock position, that hip does indeed adduct – stretching the glutes under load – but the other simultaneously ‘abducts’, the efficient result of the elastic recoil contraction of the glutes,” says Hall. “You simply can’t have both hips adducting without overriding the normal biomechanics of alternate leg movement. So what would give? Pelvic movement.
“With both knees angling towards the top tube, you’re activating adductors, stretching the abductors under load and locking the pelvis down. One probable result: the dreaded IT band syndrome.”
It’s another reason to question, rather than emulate, the form of professional cyclists.
In addition to adopting a more natural spine, I found that keeping my feet relaxed was key to over-engaging the adductors, allowing pressure to ebb and flow from the ball of each foot on every pedal stroke.
Long ‘n’ low
As the fit progressed, a lengthening of the back along with a more forward saddle position to open the hip angle at the top of the stroke naturally meant the cockpit needed to move further forward. The process of better or worse continued as Hall sought to relieve ache in the upper back, shoulders and arms.
Conventional wisdom told me that raising the bars would alleviate pressure in this region. The reality for me, was that a lower position was more balanced and comfortable. Ignoring the drilled-in habit of stilling my upper back meant a constant changing of pressure from elbow to elbow, helping to diminish an imbalance in the right shoulder that’s often irked my trapezius following rides.
Finally, it was time to dial in the extension grip. This relied simply on the commonsense approach that kinking a wrist down on shallowly rising extensions creates more tension than a relaxed, neutral grip offered by ski bend types. It’s possibly slightly less aero, but keeping that comfortable natural movement takes priority for me – and I think the power figures will reflect that. This is the only point that isn’t instantly changeable, the application of hex keys seeming incredibly archaic by comparison.
A bit of tweaking later – the Guru also pivots to emulate climbing – and the fit was complete. I hopped off and towelled down to see the conclusion.
The surprise outcome
Without seeing changes to your position on an actual bike, it’s hard to get an idea of where you’ve actually ended up in relation to your current setup – and it’s also easier to keep an open mind about substantial changes in your fit.
One of the main benefits of Guru’s system is a massive database of frame geometries from almost every brand – updated weekly – that helps find a suitable bike for customers, including offering a comparison of different frame sizes with differing stem setups etc. It’s a boon for retailers (providing they stock the brand that suits best), and extremely useful for riders seeking a new bike.
“It holds a virtual warehouse of every bike on the market whose manufactures have given their information to Guru, so you can test to see if that bike would work for you. What you want is to buy as much frame as you can to match the way your body likes to ride. The Guru will pick up all the ones that will get you close, then the fitter can help you find the closest, most sensible build.”
As clever as the virtual warehouse is, its prescription was proving a little difficult for me.
As a rider standing at 178cm (5ft 10in) and with an inseam of 85cm (33.5in), I’ve always gone for 54cm road and TT bikes based on online fitting formulas when taking up the sport and that size being reinforced by previous fits. According to the Guru’s proprioception (the body’s awareness of itself when in motion)-based fit, and a long torso to leg ratio, I need to be on a 58 to 60cm frame in order to get the top tube length I need.
The problem is that standover height would become an issue with larger frames, while picking a smaller one would mean a long stem and compromised handling. Based on the fit then, it seems there aren’t any off-the-peg TT bikes suitable for me.
Denial based on drilled-in preconception fought my positive experience of the final position during the fit. ‘There’s no way I’m a 58 and definitely not a 60,’ I told myself. Then, ‘but it felt so good during the fit!’
In fact, at the end of the process, we compared my old and new positions. The Guru took me instantly from one to the other. The difference was amazing. It felt like going from a crushed tuck to an open, relaxed and strong posture that’s more comfortable, powerful and natural, the legs spinning faster for no more effort.
Here’s the direct comparison – despite the spot-the-difference, it’s a massive change, highlighting the importance of a few mm here and there
The guys at Cycle Studio were able to get me pretty close to my fit coordinates on my 54cm Cannondale Slice longtermer by moving the pads as far forward as possible and using a 120mm stem. So in reality, a 56cm with some tweaking is probably the best option for me going forwards – which doesn’t sound as mental as a 58 or 60cm frame.
Hall makes it clear that getting as close as possible to the final fit is incredibly important – and I can attest to the difference a handful of mm make between the body liking the position and it feeling totally wrong.
There’s some natural cynicism from some riders about the need to get re-fit periodically, but the body isn’t fixed.
“Some people think that it’s one fit and you’re done for the rest of your life, but if you’re busy as an athlete, your body will change and your fit will change. If you’re riding and racing a lot, then every six months is ideal. If you’re riding a bit less then once a year will probably do,” Hall advises.
During my first ride post-fit, I felt great apart from some steering twitchiness due to the longer stem needed. Using the cues Hall sent through, I was able to recreate the same sensation of relaxed power I’d experienced on the Guru. It’ll take a little while to fully acclimatise, but I’ll persevere to benefit from the comfort, and lower effort that were the results of the fit. The raised saddle, longer cockpit position and better posture probably also contributed to a new personal record at my last event.
One of the biggest benefits of getting a bike fit is the confidence it gives you while riding. You’re not constantly worrying there’s something wrong in your setup, letting you focus on your training or event.
Of course, any bike fit is only as good as the fitter themselves but the fact that the Guru system makes you complicit in your own fit means an even greater sense of confidence. You’ve not just been told you’re in the best position, you’ve felt it too and that makes all the difference.
“The amazing difference the Guru makes for the rider is that it’s instant. The bike fitter changes something and you feel the difference in the next pedal stroke – the reaction in your body is instant and you don’t stop pedalling.
“So it’s that real-time seamless presentation of all the reactions in your body to your central nervous system that makes Guru the best bike fitting tool in the world because you get the best possible information out of your body,” says Hall.
She also points to another advantage – reduced fitting time, which she says is more benefit to rider than fitter.
“Proprioception goes down with time and fatigue. When you’re out riding, if you’re tired and stop at a junction, it’s hard to get your legs going again. It’s the same with a fit – the more start-stop there is, the harder it is to get the legs going and feel the difference in the position. The stop-start effect of other bike fits reduces the clear proprioceptive signals of your body saying ‘Yes, I like this position’ or ‘No, I don’t’.
“People say ‘I get a four hour fit for half the price down the road,’ and I think, ‘Do you really want to be doing a four-hour turbo session?!’ Longer isn’t better, you get sensory overload and you brain struggles to deal with the signals.”
As a tool, Guru is similar to Apex in its mechanics, but with the added benefit of the virtual warehouse and the ability to simulate gradients. But what’s really important to a Guru fit – and a key consideration when choosing which fitting to invest in – is the forward thinking nature of Guru’s fitter training.
The prioritisation of natural biomechanics over traditionalism is common sense that’s incredibly and reassuringly logical once you’ve managed to banish those lingering preconceptions about bike setup.
Having had several fits in the past, I can say the Guru fit was the most interesting, satisfying and produced the most positive change. The value of feeling the difference instantly can’t be understated. I realised ‘old comfort’ was actually ‘just got used to it’ and I’ve got a feeling it’ll be the same for many riders out there.