Bike fitter and physiotherapist
Today we ask Ernest Chao, a Physiotherapist and Bike Fitter, about how he combines his love of cycling with his career, what he has learned from the process and how cycling impacts his life.
By bringing his love of cycling to his work, he helps clients become more comfortable on their bikes, enabling them to enjoy the sport more, perform better, and deal with any pain or discomfort.
Why did you become a Physiotherapist?
This profession first came to my attention when I saw first hand how one Physiotherapist helped my Grandma get back to walking after she broke her hip falling down some steps.
Physiotherapy can help you break the pain cycle and return to health. I use a broad range of physiotherapy techniques such as manual therapy, exercise prescription, IMS/dry needling, acupuncture and electrotherapeutic modalities to achieve the goals of my patients. I always take a holistic approach to treating my patients as I believe there is no separation between one’s mind, body and energies.
It's been a highly rewarding career so far, and so great how I've been able to incorporate my hobby of cycling into my work through bike fitting my clients.
How did you get started with bike fitting?
When I decided I wanted to get into bike fitting, I looked around for a certification and by chance, the timing of the CyclePoint Bicycle Fitter Certification fit my timing of when I was looking.
I’m so glad I took that course… Of course I learned the fundamentals, but I also learned that bike fitting is both an art and a science.
My competence as a bike fitter grew as I completed more and more fittings. One way I make sure I obtain the best results with my clients is the communication following the fitting. If someone continues to have niggles or discomfort following our session, they are provided with free follow ups for tweaking the position.
This not only ensures that they are happy with the fit, but more importantly provides me with the feedback as to what I'm doing correctly and/or incorrectly as a fitter. That way I’m always learning and improving, and making sure that my clients benefit from their fittings.
What is a bike fitting exactly?
Fitting a cyclist to their bike involves careful and detailed assessment of a cyclist, and then using that information to make adjustments to their bike for an optimized position.
A good bike fitter who understands both body mechanics and the demands of the sport, is able to adjust the 3 contact points being: the cleats/pedals, saddle and handlebars, to maximize their comfort, safety and performance.
At my clinic, every visit is individualized and starts with some information gathering about your history. Next, a physiotherapy assessment will show any physical issues that may be affecting your posture on the bike (spine and limb alignment, leg length, posture and flexibility).
During the fitting, we may decide to make changes to your shoe/pedal interface, saddle position, handlebars and stem, and some parts may be recommended to be replaced.
Finally, you will receive an individualized exercise program to address any issues found in your assessment, to improve your comfort and efficiency on the bike.
How effective is going for a bike fitting?
Bike fitting is well known as the "best bang for your buck" spend to help improve as a cyclist. However new cyclists and the general public often don’t know this sort of thing even exists.
To the lay person, think of buying a bike like buying a suit or dress. Then, to get that article of clothing tailored to fit your body is a good analogy for what bike fitting is.
Cycling is an activity where there's a high degree of repetitive motion. Our proprioception, or sense of where our body is in space, isn't always accurate. Suboptimal body mechanics may contribute to pain, injury, or loss in performance.
Whether someone is new to the sport or is a seasoned vet, it's still worthwhile having someone look at the fit. Getting a proper fit will likely decrease the risk of injury, while improving comfort and biomechanical efficiency on the bike.
Why do you do bike fittings?
When I do bike fittings, it doesn't really feel like work. When someone comes in with their bike, it's nice having a chat about their cycling goals, and I get to tinker with their bike. I feel privileged to be able to bring cycling, one of my hobbies into my career as a physiotherapist.
A particularly memorable bike fitting moment was for a client of mine that got into a significant car accident. After some physio rehab to a point where she was strong enough to ride her bike, we decided to have her bring her e-bike in for a fitting.
The happiness she expressed after being able to enjoy the wind through her hair on her bike, and to be able to ride to meet a friend for coffee without pain, has brought me just as much joy.
The more people we can get on bikes, the more fit and healthy we all become as a whole.
You help people a lot… Why is this important to you?
Helping people is hugely important because, well, I think on a surface level, positive vibes just feel good. But in all seriousness, to help each other out is to be able to work past our own demons, like anger, jealousy and trauma in our lives. If we keep feeding the negativity in our lives, that's what will grow. But by consciously channeling my energy into bringing those around me to a better place, I'd like to think that it will cascade into something greater.
What seems to bring me most joy is to be able to spread value in any given capacity. In terms of my capacity as a physio, it's getting people to move better, and helping the profession by being a clinical educator for UBC physio students. As a father, it's being able to provide new life experiences for my kids. As a member of The Last Drop, it's backing the club with sponsorship, to help with its growth and reach within the cycling community.
You've studied a lot, so what motivates you in life?
My parents being immigrants to Canada, they always valued education and instilled this in me. I try to do at least one course each year on a topic that will shed light on an aspect of my profession that I'm not quite up to speed on.
I think for most people, the process of learning something new, especially if it's something that interests you, is a naturally joyful process. Being out of school now, I actually miss being in a classroom and learning. Though I don't miss the exams and stress!
My biggest motivator in life is always asking myself if I'm any more happy than I was yesterday at the end of each day.
Have you always been interested in cycling?
I learned to ride a bike when I was 6 or 7 years old. Ever since then, it was a mode of getting around the neighborhood and hanging out with friends. It then turned into exploring pockets of the city that I've never seen.
My first road bike was purchased from Costco in 2009. Ever since then I fell in love with road riding because of the speed I was able to achieve under my own power.
If I could give my younger self some advice, I would say “Buy once, cry once.” In other words, try to spring for at least mid-tier parts. Buy frames with threaded bottom brackets. Oh and stick to Shimano, their products just work.
How has cycling changed your life?
I’ve learned a lot from cycling. Anytime I've completed an epic ride on the bike, it's always been like a TV drama in my head. Throughout the ride I would go through moments of joy and ecstasy, moments of pain and agony, moments of meditativeness, and moments of questioning why I'm doing this.
I guess what I'm trying to say is the one thing I've learned is that things ebb and flow. Things are always transient, so just keep rolling with it. That sort of mentality has spilled over into my everyday life.
Cycling can give you a real feeling of achievement and so many great memories . I think one of the checklist rides as a Vancouver cyclist is completing the triple crown. This is climbing the three local mountains Seymour, Grouse and Cypress in one ride. I remember the sense of accomplishment when I completed the triple the first time.
What do you love about being part of The Last Drop?
Being part of The Last Drop has been wonderful. Since finishing university and starting a family, I've found it increasingly difficult to make new friends. However, from the beginning I felt like this club has been very open and welcoming. There's just so much camaraderie and celebration of each other's victories on their own journey.
In future, I'm hoping to keep growing my involvement in helping people get comfortable on their bikes. I foresee a future where I can do some supported bike packing and explore different cultures and places.
If you want to learn more about bike fitting check out my website at www.ernestchaophysio.com
You can check out some of my bike fitting videos on YouTube (EC Physiotherapy).