How to get the perfect bike set-up
04 May 2016
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Gerald de Kock: Welcome to another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Bike podcast, great to have you with us, thanks for downloading. As you know, it’s all about the great sport of mountain biking and every facet of the sport. We try and cover, from riders, races and the personalities. Today a bit more of the technical aspect of it in terms of bike set up.
I’ve been joined by a man who earned a living as a road pro for a number of years but is know longer racing, but very much involved in the sport of cycling. He’s got his own set up business. Richard Baxter, thanks for joining us and tell us, how long have you been doing this business for, the setting up of riders on bikes?
Richard Baxter: Thanks for having me Gerald. I think for myself, personally doing bike set-ups, it’s a good number of years now. I think going onto the eight-year mark of doing bike set up. But in terms of being involved in riding and assessing my own riding and other people’s cycling, going onto about 15-20 years of bike experience.
I would say one of the most important things that I’ve found of late, in terms of assessing people’s riding and their enjoyment of cycling. Is not only the setting of the bike, but the setting of the human being on the bike. I think there’s a trend starting now where we’re breeding bad habits or bad techniques in terms of cycling. That’s one thing that you asked me earlier, how do you know when you have to have your bike set up?
If you are comfortable, how do you know if it’s incorrectly set up. I think the only way to tell is if you go see someone that is a professional bike fitter or bike assessor. You can actually then get that technique and that pedal stroke checked out and assessed.
Transferring more information than just a set-up
GDK: Obviously it’s a passion for you, as a rider, when you were still riding full time, was this something that, you know, some riders will take a lot of note of. Others will just say it’s fine, I’ll carry on. But as a pro, was it something you paid particular attention to?
RB: I think the problem with what we have nowadays is a lot of people try and compare themselves to the pros, which in some ways is good. But in other ways, you must understand that these guys spend up to 6-8 hours a day on their bikes. So it’s very difficult to compare yourself.
If you spend a lot of time in the office during the day and you don’t really have the time to spend on the bike, there’s certain things that you pick up when you ride that amount of distance and that amount of time. That just comes naturally to you.
I think that’s the thing that for me has helped me a lot to transfer a lot of my knowledge onto guys. Guys that maybe don’t have the time to analyse their pedal stroke or their position, or even just the things that they eat and drink on the bike while they’re riding.
The importance of a good set-up
GDK: How important is the right bike set-up?
RB: That’s quite an open question, I would say, nowadays. Obviously I would say for every guy out there, every rider out there, you need a bike fitting. But if you want to get the most out of your bike and the most out of your riding, that’s when you, there are small things that really give you a holistic approach to riding.
One of the most important ones to me is bike set-up. Obviously there’s a lot of different aspects to riding, but once you’ve got that covered and you’ve got the peace of mind. Even if it’s just mentally, that you are in the right position, you’ve already got the battle half won.
GDK: The key areas, obviously saddle and position on the bike, those are some basic things that have to be attended to. We have people that come into shops, buy bikes, spend a lot of money. Go out and they feel that they’re comfortable on the bike – as you’ve said earlier – come in and have it done properly. What are the key ingredients to making it comfortable?
RB: I think one of the most important, key ingredients, especially when it comes to mountain biking in general, is your balance on the bike. If you’re balanced on the bike, then your technical riding and your climbing is a lot better. That all ties into shock pressures, your handle bar position on the bike, if the height is correct and overall, if you’re centred on the bike.
GDK: By balance, we’re not meaning you’re not going to fall off the bike are we? It’s certainly a different type of balance.
RB: Yes, so basically your centre of gravity. If that is correct on the bike, you’ll really be on your way to controlling the bike better.
Comfort vs Technique
GDK: Technique and being comfortable and set-up on the bike, what’s the relationship between the two?
RB: I think they work hand in hand. You can’t have a rider that’s maybe incorrectly set-up and riding with the correct technique and vice versa. I think you have to really set your position up to get the most out of the correct pedalling technique. When I’m talking about technique, there’s a lot of theories out there and a lot of advice that’s been given.
But on the mountain bike you find out very quickly if the technique is wrong. For example, if you are a stomper, you won’t really get the full revolution and benefit out of the pedal stroke. You’ll maybe slip the back wheel on steep sections and maybe lose traction as you ride. That’s one of the things that you really have to tie in together with set up and I would say it counts really for 50/50 of set up and technique.
GDK: I don’t think we even need to even show you a picture of what stomping is. I think the expression itself tells you. That ties into what you were saying earlier in terms of breeding bad habits. I suppose we all love riding and there’s such a cult in this country, people get on the bike and they ride and soon enough they get into these bad habits. Is that one of those that is being looked at very carefully now?
Helping curb bad habits
RB: I think when you talk about breeding bad habits, I think the mistake a lot of people make is there is so much information out there nowadays. Like Power and training on heart rate and trying to increase your speed. I think everyone wants to get faster, ultimately. I think that’s where you can neglect the technique a lot.
A powerful position is not necessarily an efficient position. So that’s where you have to try and really find the sweet spot, if you will. Train the correct technique as well as trying to get faster and more powerful at the same time.
GDK: Coming to have a bike set-up with you, you can assist with all of that?
RB: Yes, I like to look at the position on the bike as not only the rider on the bike. I look at a few other things in terms of the rider’s flexibility. We do a full pre-assessment before we get you on the bike. There’s a lot of different factors that make a bike set-up great. It’s not only the bike that has to get set-up, it’s also that you have to look at the rider on the bike and different drills and techniques to get that right.
GDK: I’m sitting in your, I want to call it ‘surgery’ because it looks a bit like an operating theatre. You’ve got a mounted podium here with a fitness trainer on it and then the tools that you use. There’s a television screen, there’s a laptop, there’s a camera in front and a camera to the right. So all the tools are here, so it’s a pretty comprehensive fitting here.
RB: That’s where I must say, I’ve been quite fortunate to get onto the BG fit or the Body Geometry Fit brand by Specialized. They supply all of the equipment and obviously do all the training that comes with that. I’ve been fortunate enough to get onto this brand which for me, they’re really forward thinking in terms of technology and the R&D.
That goes into fitting and not only in their bikes, all their equipment. Their shoes and their saddles, so that’s giving me quite a good idea of, and a different approach to add onto what I already know. I think it’s going very well and I’m excited with how things are going.
Jaroslav Kulhavy’s bike position dissected
GDK: Talking about Specialized, a chap called Jaroslav Kulhavy, an Olympic Champion, he’s won the ABSA Cape Epic a couple of times. When he rode the ABSA Cape Epic, many of us looking at his bike were very surprised to see the angle at which his saddle was positioned. Which looked as though the nose was pointing right down, almost to the centre of the front wheel. What’s the theory and thinking about that sort of thing?
RB: I think it’s very easy nowadays when you see, like I’ve said earlier, to look at the pros and what they’re doing. Why can’t I ride like the pros and his position is a very technical position. There’s a lot of thinking behind it. It’s not like he’s just slammed it down and ridden it for the sake of being in a sadistic position. There is a lot of theory behind that position.
One of the main things being is that in cross country especially, in his discipline, you’re either going uphill very steeply or downhill very steeply. That particular saddle position, if you were to put that saddle onto a 25% uphill gradient, the saddle would almost look level. That’s almost the thinking behind his position on the bike and how he’s set it up. Like I said, it’s a very specific position, you need a lot of strength in your lower back and your core to ride that position, so don’t try this at home!
GDK: People spend a hell of a lot of money on bikes and it still amazes me and probably you as well, they go out there and ride them without being properly set-up on it. A final word on that, it might cost you a few bucks to go and do, but ultimately it’s the right thing to do.
RB: In summary, if you want to get the most out of your riding. The most out of the money you spend on a bike nowadays, as you know, they can go into their hundreds of thousands; I think that is one part of your riding that you can actually ensure and influence that it’s correct. If you start with a bike set-up, I would say you’re already going to get much more out of your bike and your bike position.
GDK: Do you still ride a bit?
RB: Yes, very much so. I’m actually hoping to do my next joBerg2c next year. I’m sure I’ll give that a go. But right now, it’s mainly on the road, which I’ve found a newfound passion for in the VA or the Vets racing, which I’m just loving the sport again.
GDK: That’s wonderful to hear. Richard Baxter, a man who has a passion for the bike and for the way we fit on these bikes and is ensuring that we get comfortable. Richard’s situated in Dunkeld Cycles in Johannesburg, just off Jan Smuts Avenue. If you are in the market for a bike or even if you’ve got a bike and you’ve never been set up, I suggest you come and pay him a visit, or anyone, wherever you might be listening.
Because it really will pay dividends in the long run, particularly over those long rides. Thanks very much Richard. Thanks very much to you for downloading another edition of our Old Mutual Live Mountain Biking podcast, until next time, cheers.