My Path as a Bike Fitter
So, how did you get started as a bike fitter?
I get this question quite often these days. I suppose bike fitting is not a 'normal' career path to follow not only as a women, but also as sport scientist in general. Many bike fitters provide fits as a side service with a relatively low volume of fits, while others work as bike shop staff when there are no fits scheduled. Until recent years, I fell under both these categories at one point or another in my time as a bike fitter.
Let me go back to the beginning.
When I was racing, bike fits were not a thing, at all. My coaches at the time helped me set my bikes up and the whole thing took very little time and was very much an afterthought. I never had any injuries (other than as a the result of crashes) and always felt strong on the bike... Keep in mind that we are talking early 90's to early 2000's here - I was as a junior and U23 athlete (and thought I was invincible, ha!).
Bike Fitting Specific Research
I went to university in Christchuch, New Zealand and graduated with a sport coaching & science degree. Little known fact - I actually wanted to be a researcher at that point of my studies and I was interested in exercise physiology. It was during the first year of university in 2003 when I started thinking about cycling biomechanics and its affect on performance. I remember an assignment where we had to explore muscle recruitment during a sport activity of our choice. I picked cycling... It was the first time I started thinking about the bike-body connection and how the body worked on the bike. It was also then when I started questioning the role of various popular cycling drills that all of us cyclists/triathletes were doing and taking at face value, like single leg cycling. But that's a post for another time!
Going into my final year in university, I was accepted into an honors program and after a lot of discussions with my supervisor, we decided to look into how modifying the bikes effective seat tube angle affects V02max, lactate data and power output. This required getting a secondary supervisor who was a biomechanist. It was then when I started using 2D (video) to measure the cyclist position on the bike, as well as various angles on the bike.
I had a small sample size of athletes to work with (I should mention that we tested an equal number of men and women and they were all highly trained or elite level athletes) and the results were very interesting and pretty mixed, which made me rethink my research goals moving forward - I started wondering if maybe I should start looking into being the person manipulating the data vs the person measuring it. I also really enjoyed the process of explaining the data to the athletes after the tests and making recommendations with regards to their position on the bike.
Bike Fits at a Bike Shop Back in The Day…
Shortly after graduating, I immigrated to Canada (winter of 2006) and was set to start a masters program that fall, with the intent of using my honors thesis as a pilot study and dive deeper into that same topic. In the mean time, I needed a job asap. As luck would have it, I quickly got a job at a bike shop. There was one women working in that shop and she was leaving, so the shop's owner was looking specifically for a women to work at the shop. I happened to be at the right place at the right time.
In the mid 2000's, bike fits at that shop, and pretty much every other place too, consisted of a trainer that was pulled out if needed and ~15-20 minutes of very basic measurements and adjustments done by any of the shop employees who happened to have the time when a customer came in asking for adjustments to their bike. By the time late spring/summer rolled around, I managed to convince the owner that we can do better and bike fits were mostly done by me, there was a dedicated bike fitting area, all fittings were done by appointment and there was a fee! I also officially started Performance Training, offering coaching & lactate testing services. In August 2007, a women taking my women's learn to ride clinic suggested I started doing bike fits in her physiotherapy clinic. The bike shop owner was not thrilled by the idea of me working in both locations and told me I needed to choose. That September, Performance Training became my full time business and I started renting space at a physiotherapy clinic.
Bike Fits at Physiotherapy Clinic and Retul
I also applied for grad school (sports nutrition) and started looking for something different, technology wise. 2D was all nice and well, but I was interested in what else was available on the market and somehow stumbled across this company called 'Retul'. It was before they actually launched their first generation of 3D bike fitting motion capture system and there were less than 10 people using it as testers, mostly working with pro cycling teams. I contacted the company and after a long chat with one of the founders, I nervously took out a significant loan to purchase the equipment. There were road blocks being new to Canada as well as being self employed, and the physiotherapy clinic owners were a massive help in making this happen - I am forever grateful.
In January 2008, I started grad school and started using Retul as one of the first 10 people world wide and the only one in Canada to use the technology. I had to increase my fees to pay for office rent and the cost of the equipment, which was not something athletes were accustomed to, so it was very slow going at first. The word got around though, and I was lucky enough to start working with national team athletes, Olympians and everyone else in between.
Bike Fits in Recent Years
I moved to Vancouver in April 2013 and started working at a physiotherapy clinic. A few months later, I was approached by Graham at Bicicletta and added a few bike fitting days per week there. Since then, I have spent most of my time fitting at Bicicletta, with a few years of doing fits at Fortius also. A year ago, I left Fortius and Bicicletta has been the only location I work out of.
I have had a massive change in the volume of bike fits I do and how I approach them over the last few year. I have no idea how many bike fits I have done in the span of the last 13+ years, but it is several thousand for sure (For reference, 2017 was just under 400, 2018 was ~450 and I expect 2019 to be ~500). I get to work with Olympic medalists, beginners who have never ridden a bike before and all different types of bikes - Every day is a bit different and I am humbled to be able to help so many athletes of all ability levels achieve their goals.
A bit of a long story, but I have been asked so many times, so I figured sharing my path in a fairly uncommon field, especially for women, might be worth sharing. I definitely plan on continuing on the same path, but I really want to start bike fit related (and cycling in general) education for athletes and health care professionals. There is something brewing (always is!). There will likely be some new pieces of equipment added to the bike fitting process in the spring of 2020!