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What are the fundamental 4 legs of the cyclist's chair. And why you can't do without them 

The foundations of a well-rounded, healthy cyclist rest on 4 fundamentals. We call these fundamentals the 4 legs of the cyclist chair because all 4 are needed to achieve the proper balance. When all fundamentals are taken care of, a cyclist is able to operate at his/her best, putting in a solid performance after the other, for the long haul.

Like a chair, if any one of the legs is missing, the balance becomes precarious. If any two of the legs are missing, the balance becomes impossible.

In this article we discuss what the 4 legs are, how to execute a proper plan to attain all four and how to prioritize them on your way to achieve the ideal balance.

The 4 legs of the cyclist chair in order of priority:


  1. Bike Fitting

  2. Training and Coaching

  3. Nutrition

  4. Equipment


How does this apply to you?

When planning your training and performance improvements, you should consider the 4 legs of the chair as your guideline and check point to know you are building yourself a stronger cyclist.

We list here the 4 legs in the order of importance, as you begin to build/evaluate your cyclist chair. This is not just for beginners. Ideally, all individuals new to cycling would follow these recommendations; but often, it's the more experienced cyclists who will benefit from the 4 legs.

This article should function as a guideline if you are already in an advanced stage of cycling. It may help you uncover where there is a need for improvement if you plateaued in your performance, as the 4 legs of the cyclist chair may help reveal any gaps in your preparation or practice of cycling.

1) Bike Fitting.

We think that fitting is paramount. Not because it is our primary business. But because we know that if your bike doesn't fit right, you don't feel right; your performance is severely reduced. No matter how well trained you are or how well you eat or how light your bike is... If your bike fit is off, so are you. 

You know that most people who ride bicycles also talk about aches and pains - or feeling that something is missing in their best performance. Some came to accept that recurrent pain is just part of the cycling experience and will encourage you to just ride through it, get use to it:  "Build your sit bones." they say.

But you know that no amount of toughening yourself has really resolved the problem. The underlying issues are still there.  What you are seeing is the result of an improperly fit cyclist culture that has come to accept pain as part of the equation of bike riding. This is a culture that has not quite yet caught up to the reality of modern bicycle riding.

Why is bike fitting so important? Wouldn't the level of fitness be more important?

Thinking that having fitness and power is more important than being in harmony with your bike, is tantamount to thinking you can put a race car engine in an economy car and expect it to win a 24 of Hours of Lemans. The chassis is not going to perform. And it's not going to hold together. Your engine is your legs. Your chassis is your body - not your bike. (Gear-head and motor-head cyclists should appreciate this comparison...).

If you want to hold together and keep your performance level high for lifetime, you need to get fitted.

Bike fitting achieves the all-important goal of improving performance through efficiency and bio-mechanical alignment. This ensures a healthy pedal stroke, free of injuries and aches/pains caused by repetitive use and adaptations to a poor bike fit.

And it does so by being custom tailored to you, your application (road, tri, mtb, etc.) and your current condition (fitness, injuries, pains, flexibility, etc.). It strikes the delicate balance between giving you the performance of a lifetime and a lifetime of performance.

If you are not bio-mechanically safe, no matter how light is your bike; how much you can lift in the gym; how far you try to go; how often you ride. Eventually, you will succumb to a set back. In some severe cases, an ill-fitted cyclist may not be able to complete a distance or may have to stop riding because of a repetitive use injury and the time required to heal. In essence, if the bike doesn't fit right, you won't ride right and you won't be right.

Bike fitting has become the very foundation of cycling and the benchmark for performance. The science of fitting has made such progress that nowadays bike fitting is the very tool by which cyclists gain an edge, ride well into their aging legs and extend their distance/efforts to new levels.

3D motion capture technology like Retül has allowed fitters to see cyclists behaviors while in motion -in real time- and modify them for the better with unparallel accuracy. The details of an interaction between a cyclist and the bike are so fine (better than 1 mm of accuracy!),  riders can be maximized to incredible levels of power gains or injury recovery/avoidance.

But it's not only the power and aerodynamic improvements that benefits a cyclists. It's the prevention and recovery from injuries that make a difference. With a proper bike fit, riders who sustained injuries can come back to their bicycles. An experienced bike fitter with a Retul 3D motion capture system can achieve a fit position that neutralizes the ill-effects of the injuries and their resulting adaptations.

Retül bike fitting is a seriously scientific tool to improve your performance. All this data is calculated while you are in actual motion. No stopping.

You can spend more than the cost of a bike fit on a shiny, super-light carbon seatpost. It will make your friends go: "Uhhh! Ahhh!" when standing still at the coffee shop. But it won't make you faster. Or more comfortable. Or help recover from an injury.

Unlike expensive bling, bike fitting gives your performance a clear edge over others. Your friends won't have the breath to say "Uhhh! Ahhh" at all! (Maybe after the ride the will enquire about what you are doing...)

And best of all, bike fitting is the best bang for the buck, providing well-proven performance improvements that last -just like you will.

2) Training and Coaching

You may have the best bike. You may be comfortable on your bike. And you may eat clean. But if you don't train -and train properly- nothing else matters -other than your bike fit. There is no substitute for hard work. Even the best fit in the world is not going to give you the legs.

Training, just like bike fitting, has risen to a new level in the last few years. Knowledge trickling down from the formerly secretive Pro circles has benefited the everyday cyclists. Sports medicine has made a huge leap forward due to the miniaturization and proliferation of technology in this field. Thanks to new studies done with sophisticated equipment, we learned the very secrets of human performance.  This, in turn, has given coaches the benefits of a very advanced knowledge of human performance and the ability to apply it to your situation.

New and affordable equipment like advanced power meters, GPS and heart rate monitors have put powerful training tools in your hands. This, in turn, has further empowered coaches to closely monitor, evaluate and design training plans customized to you.

Training tools alone are not a guarantee for success. Do you know how to read the loads of data from your power meter or HR/GPS monitor?

Knowing how to train, is the key. You don't want to go out there and just ride hard, record your data and expect to see results. Data for data's sake is nothing but a bunch of numbers. Say, you hit 600W max today. That's good. But how was your 5 minute average Watts? And your 20 minutes? What was the recovery time in between threshold efforts? How many intensity training days have you had this week? Last 2 weeks? Last month?

Those are some of the questions you need to ask. They lead to the ability to put together a targeted training plan, one that includes periods of intensity, followed by rest, in a process called training periodizaztion.

You need to have a training plan: a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual schedule of workout at specific intensity and rest blocks.

With your GPS head unit recorded data, coaches can evaluate your performance using sophisticated software. Then, they can quantify your workload and design plans uniquely suited to you. The succession of building blocks of increasing and specific intensity with alternate periods of resting has become the standard for improving performance while avoiding over training.

Modern training tools give you and your coach the data needed to design your training plan

But data streams alone are not enough to prescribe the right workloads. Modern coaching depends strongly on performance testing as a mean for creating a baseline for your abilities and improvements over time. With performance testing, specific  workloads can be prescribed for your training blocks and can be adjusted as your body responds to them.

Long gone are the days of HR one-size-fits-all training zones. Remember? The heart rate zone table that everyone used in the 90s and early 2000s? The one that specified heart rates based on age...?

We learned how inaccurate that system was. Today, your HR and Power zones are calculated specifically for you at the end of every training block. Your HR zones vary as fast as you progress through your training. And only testing can determine where you are at.

Chronological performance testing gives you the data to compare and plan your training to exact specifications. You can read more about performance testing here.

The sequence of stretch loads in your training zones and rest blocks periodize your training and produce results that have no equal.

This sequence is somewhat of an art to get right. Get it wrong and you are likely to overtrain.

Overtraining is all-too-well established in American cycling. Blame it on our mentality: it's ingrained into us that more is better. The result? US Domestic Pros get spanked by their Euro rivals who train less.

You don't have to be a Pro to overtrain. Actually, the most severely overtrained athletes are the common every day cyclists. If 10 miles was good, 40 was better. So, 100 must be best...

And so, cyclists are out there pounding the pavement, driving themselves into oblivion because they just train hard and long, hoping it would work. And missing out on other fun things in life too.

A good coach will give you just the right amount of work to do, given your goals and the realities of your life -giving you back your time to live a life full of variety, not just training.

And with periodic assessments aided by performance testing, your training is set on track to achieve your life best performance -and maintain it.


A coach can periodize your training in blocks of workout and rest. This is important for your health and utmost performance development.

If you want to progress quickly and safely while staying healthy, a good coach and/or a good training plan should be a strong consideration. It's a relatively smaller investment as compared to some fancy equipment. But unlike that über-light carbon/Ti component, this is actually going to make you faster.

3) Nutrition.

In cycling, when we mention nutrition, most people think of sports drinks and energy bars. We have been well-conditioned to the idea of replenishing electrolytes lost in the sweat and getting shots of energy through little shiny packets. But nutrition goes well beyond the quick fix of an energy or recovery drink. And the benefits of nutrition can produce such performance results, they are well worth the efforts.

Especially for those cyclists who carry around a few extra pounds, proper nutrition can be the gateway to much success on and off the bike. For others, it can make a difference between cardiovascular disease, hyper-pressure, diabetes and a long life free of disease. For others yet, it can mean achieving the best performance of a lifetime. And for another group of people yet, a diet rich in anti-oxidant is vital to stave off their propensity for tissue inflammation.

We all know the benefits of a good diet. Improved mood; successful weight management; abundant energy. But as diets go through fad after fad, it becomes difficult to choose a good regimen and stick to it. To add to the challenge, we are in an ever-increasing fast food society, full of preservatives, pesticides, hormones/steroids, sugars and salts. If your diet doesn't seem to produce the desired results; you feel devoid of energy; your weight yoyos... it's time to get help from the professionals.

Nutritionist, just like coaches benefit from an unprecedented knowledge of the human body and can dial-in your food intake without robbing you of the pleasure of eating. Much of the failure of diets is simply due to this issue. But today, nutritionists can work out a proper meal plan specific to you thanks to the system "diet by blood type".

This diet recognizes that ancestry plays a vital factor on how our bodies process food. Written in our DNA is our ancestral origin and with it, our enzymatic heritage. The stomach of a European may be well suited to certain starches like pasta and rice, but will struggle tremendously with, for example, a central/south-American diet, rich in corn.

The body is unable to fully process the food intake that is not indigenous or compatible with our ancestor's original diet, no matter how far removed we are from that original geographic location. This was a huge "a-ha!" moment for the dietetic community as it helped explain why some people gain weight eating breads, while others stay perfectly skinny.

The ability to create certain enzymes is responsible for the digestion of food and is they key in nutrients extraction. If the food is not compatible with our enzymatic stock, we have issues with vitamin deficiencies, weight gain/loss and trouble with glycemic control.

Don't eat what your body can't process

That explains why some people struggle with carbs; some with proteins; some with certain type of grains, fruits and vegetables. It unlocks the reason why some people seem more prone to inflammation than others.

Knowing which type you are goes a long way in making your diet plan a complete and satisfactory meal that achieves your goals. A nutritionist is able to build a diet that is full in flavor, diversity and satisfaction.

And yes! Cheating is allowed. If you have a northern Euro, Icelandic enzymatic profile and love tacos... well... Go ahead. It won't kill you. Maybe just not for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Just keep it real.

4) Equipment.

We left equipment for last, not because it's the best, but because it really fits here. Too often we focus too much on equipment. We obsess over weight and bling. We get lost in the adulations of our fellow cyclists for our new equipment. We don't think twice about dropping $300 for a carbon seatpost or a fancy carbon saddle, just to save 50 grams. All it matters is that the bike looks good. But does it make you faster?

While there is nothing wrong with having the best of the best and blinging out our bikes, the performance improvement from equipment alone almost pales in comparison to the other 3 legs.

Of course, there is a huge difference in an entry-level bike and a top-of-the-line bike. A good bike can bring out the best of you. In some cases the quality of the equipment makes the experience and the overall performance significantly better. But never quite as much as a good training plan, loosing some weight (if necessary) or, most of all, a good bike fit. We need to keep that in perspective.

When resources are at premium, we'd rather ride a little less bling and invest the difference in ourselves, our performance and our fit. But if money is not an option, then, seeking the best equipment for your application can really step things up a notch.

In some cases dropping 1 lb off your bike can mean improving several minutes off a steep climb. In other cases, a set of aero wheels can mean dropping minutes off your Time Trial or bike split time (providing no cross winds). A good suspension fork will get you through the rocks much faster.

Sure, you can do an Ironman with a road bike and clip-on aero bars, but a proper Tri bike may make a difference in your aerodynamics and overall performance.

It's not only the equipment that makes a difference, but also having the right bike size and geometry can make a huge difference. If the bike is too big or small, no matter how light, aero or decked out, your experience won't be a satisfactory one.

That's why the process of bike sizing is paramount before buying an new bike (see here). Can you trust your bike shop to sell you what's right for you as compared to what they need to move off the floor? Can you trust yourself with not coveting the nice bike that's one size too big, but is on sale?

Bike Sizing is like insurance before you invest into a new bike.

Do you know what is the right size/geometry for your body?

There is a lot that goes into selecting the right size. And it's intimately connected to relationship between the seat tube angle, the length of the cranks and your leg anthropometric measurements. Did you know that?

Stock bikes make the best they can at being a great compromise between the size of the frame, its geometry and size of components - all based on the size of the average cyclist.

What if you don't have an average leg length ratio? Long femurs? Or you work out a lot and have really wide shoulders...





Read the article about bike sizing and the benefits on performance and cost savings.

You may learn the little dirty secret to bicycle geometry and sizing.

If you have never been fitted or sized, you may be riding the wrong size bike/geometry/components combo. Cranks are a typical example.

Crank length is directly related to your ability to generate power. It also helps in not putting weight on the foot in the non-active part of the pedal stroke (AKA, the back side of the stroke or 180 to 360 degrees of revolution) which causes power absorbtion. It improves the ease with which you clear the top of the pedal stoke, when your leg is at its highest point and the hips at their most compressed. Finally, it is directly related with the position of the knee as compared to the pedal axle - a key parameter for power and knee health.

The length of the crank and the seat tube angle of a bike's geometry play a dance of performance with each other. Find the right combination and it's pure performance bliss. Get it wrong and you'll be left with that nagging feeling that the bike never feels right.

Variable Length Cranks are used to evaluate the best combination of crank length vs. bicycle geometry.

Bike sizing is the process by which you get fitted into a "fit bicycle" to determine all these parameters. A fit bicycle is a funky contraption that looks like a bike and changes in shape and size to simulate any bike geometry you desire.

It's equipped with a variable length crank, a variable geometry stem and variable width bars, so an experienced fitter can find the exact combo of size, geometry and crank length for you.


A rider on a sizing bicycle, getting fitted to find optimal size/geometry

Once you have the information from a sizing session, it's shopping time.

Sizing gives you a geometry chart with a wealth of information, like reach, stack, handle bar reach, seat tube angle, etc. (see a full sample  here).

This allows you to  compare many brands and models to your ideal geometry/size, so you can narrow down bikes that work for you and those that don't.

It also helps you determine if some parts swaps are needed to change an OEM built as it shows off the bike floor. The handlebar width, the cranks length and the seapost offset (setback or not) are often the most common parts to swap out.

Knowing this before buying a bike is very useful. Most bike shops will happily work with you and swap parts before the final sale to make sure they give you the bike that you need.

Some manufacturers like Trek, Giant and Specialized even have a custom build program that lets you spec out the bike on their web site and they will build you the bike to your exact specs. Some have a 30 day components swap guarantee.

With this much support from your favorite bike manufacturer, there is no reason why you shouldn't be riding the right bicycle for you. And with the help of the bicycle sizing process, you should be in really good hands.

Usually, a good bike fitting studio will have you back after you buy the new bike and do the final fitting onto the bicycle you actually purchased - so you are all-powerful and comfy in your own bike, not just the bicycle sizing simulator.  This is what we do in our practice because we learned it yields the best possible result for your performance and comfort.

There are a few nuances that a sizing bicycle cannot emulate successfully enough to make a sizing fit the final bike fit (that's the shortcoming of some bicycle fitting systems that use only the bike sizing process; but that's a story for other times). In bike fitting the devil is in the details and many issues with comfort come from small adjustments. Transferring the measurements from a sizing bike to an actual bike does not yield the level of fine detail accuracy we want for you.

For example: the Q-Factor of the cranks and pedal combination varies by crank brand model. The reach and drop of the handlebar also changes by brand and model. The setback of the seatpost does as well. The sizing bike simulator uses "typical" components to simulate the many variations of all OEM components out there. It does a great job of helping us determine the correct sizing, but not the minute nuances that are seen on the final product. Things like the angle of the shifter hoods can change by 1 or 2 degrees and make a difference in hands comfort, due to the handlebar profile. That's why we do a two-step process, where the final fit is on your new bike.

It's a rather thrilling process that makes bike shopping an educated search and sends you on a performance mission. It ensures you'll buy the right bike.

There is a time a place for equipment. But it is only after the other 3 legs are on solid ground that we should really turn our attention to it. And maybe, just maybe, if our other 3 legs are strong - really, really strong - you can actually find someone to provide you with your dream equipment.

You never know...


"You don't have to be a Pro to get a bike fit. Everyone who climbs into a bike deserves to have a great experience, regardless of their fitness, expertise or equipment level."

A Perfect Bike Fit Pro Studio
Love your ride. Get a bike fit.

- Steffi Bici

A Perfect Bike Fit Pro Studio owner, founder, senior fitter

About the author: Steffi is a senior fitter with a long history in cycling. She has worked for Colnago as US Director of Sales and Marketing, wrote for sports magazines such as "The Racing Post", "Miami Sports Magazine" and Activate Outdoor Sports Magazine". Steffi has raced with much success with an International UCI Pro license in road and mountain biking. Cross and Triathlon racing followed, not a Pro level, but with more success.

Considered an advanced fitter with a propensity for troubleshooting, she has built her reputation as the go-to person for bike fitting. Retül certification and a degree in Aerospace Engineering seem to be the right combination for her to understand the complex relationship between cycling biomechanics and aerodynamics and injury prevention/recovery.

A deep understanding of people's behavior and coaching add a layer of inter-personal connectivity skills that makes her fun to be around and completely understood in your cycling life hurdles. Never afraid of blazing her own trail, she has had several breakthroughs in bike fitting coming from her active mind and constant research.

Steffi established her own business, A Perfect Bike Fit Pro Studio in June 2010 after over a decade of bike fitting research, experimentations and success with customers winning local races and state championships as far back as 2001.


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