When I first arrived at Aaron Dunford’s bike-fitting studio, I thought I was in the wrong place. I’d driven into a quiet residential street in the beachside suburbs of northern Sydney, near Manly. I pulled up in front of what looked like a family home under renovation, latticed with scaffolding and covered in tarpaulins.
This was just some guy’s house. I’d expected a professional bike fitter to work in, you know, a bike shop.
Not so Aaron Dunford, whom I now spotted sauntering up his side yard, barefoot and in t-shirt and shorts, giving off all the laid-back surfie vibes you’d expect of an outdoorsy guy who lives by the beach.
After rescuing me from my disorientation (and from his fiercely yapping pet dog), Dunford took me around the back to his studio, which, sure enough, was a converted room at the bottom of his house.
With his chickens and a banana tree in the backyard, my first impression of Dunford was of a family man with moderate hippie tendencies. I could imagine him taking his kids to the park to play soccer barefoot; or up to the mountains for a weekend hike, surviving only on organic food. His warm Canadian accent reminded me of a ski instructor working the slopes in British Columbia.
As I was about to find out, he did indeed have an inclination towards “alternative” methods.
The bike fit begins
I had booked a fitting session after being diagnosed with a torn meniscus in my left knee. I’d never had a bike fit before, so I figured the best thing to do was to check with a professional to make sure my position wasn’t worsening my injury. A friend from my cycling club recommended Dunford, so here I was.
His fitting studio looked like a workshop in a retail bicycle store. In one corner, it had a small work bench underneath some shelves laden with tools; saddles and handlebars hung from the ceiling; and cycling paraphernalia decorated the walls.
Things started normally enough.
First, Dunford put my bike on an indoor trainer. Using a laser, measuring tape and plumb bob, he measured and recorded my existing set-up as a base reference point.
Next, he put away the tools and sat down for a one-to-one chat. We talked about my cycling goals (I wanted to keep riding to work, rolling with the local bunch and racing club- and state-level races, I said). We talked about my medical issues, especially my torn meniscus. I also told him that my new shoes – Lake brand, as he’d recommended – felt a little loose.
After our conversation, he took me to the massage table for some flexibility tests. I lay down as he pushed and pulled at my limbs. Then, he had me standing up to check my posture. My hips are perfectly square, he said. I have a “good spine”, whatever that means. But, I have tight hamstrings and a tight right glute, apparently.
OK. So far, so good. The voodoo was to come.
A student of Hogwarts
Dunford didn’t study at any ordinary bike-fitting school. He trained under a famous (or infamous?) mentor by the name of Steve Hogg, who is now based in Canberra.
Hogg is renowned for his, shall we say, “unorthodox” methods. Instead of focusing on your body’s physical proportions and limb length, Hogg’s method, according to his website, also considers your nervous system: how your brain is communicating with the rest of your body. Apparently, it’s a process called “proprioceptive feedback”.
To me, as an untrained observer, this method isn’t as a clear and obvious as plugging my body measurements into a computer and letting it spit out some numbers. Supposedly, there’s something invisible going on inside my body.
So, it’s an approach that defies the industry standard and doesn’t appear to make sense on the surface. Training under Hogg, said Dunford, was like going to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
He was about to perform some magic tricks.
Magnets, a cordless drill and my right arm. What did they have in common?
According to Dunford’s method, these were key to a good bike fit.
He explained that he was going to “test” different parts of my body. Here’s how the test would work: with my right arm outstretched in front of me, he’d hold a magnet against my right shoulder. He’d then push down on that arm. If my arm moved downwards with his force, that was a “weak” test. If it resisted his push and stayed up, it was a “strong” test.
He’d prod different parts of my body, repeating the “test” while applying pressure to my belly button, my vertebrae, my waist, etc. If I returned a “weak” test, fine. If I returned a “strong” test, there was something wrong with that part of the body, or how it was responding to nerve signals, and Dunford would need to investigate further.
It seemed like new-age baloney, but I rolled with it.
It didn’t just apply to body parts. He said he could test any item of clothing or equipment, like my glasses, helmet, even my mobile phone.
That’s where the drill came in. Dunford had attached some magnets to the head of a power drill. When my glasses were found to be aberrant, he waved the spinning magnets at them like a magic wand. Miraculously (or coincidentally), the next time I put them on, they tested fine.
When it came to my phone, things were even more weird. He couldn’t wave magnets at it for fear of damaging the electronics. Instead, he asked me to point my finger at the screen, make small anti-clockwise circular motions and silently, intently, tell my finger that it was the magnetic south pole.
Like Luke Skywalker lifting his X-Wing out of the swamp, I was to let the Force flow through me, sending positive energy through my fingertip and onto the phone.
“Do or do not; there is no try,” I recited in my head. Apparently, it worked, and my phone was cured.
Shims and insoles
My friend had warned me beforehand that Dunford was a fan of cleat shims and custom insoles. Those were indeed the biggest changes he made to my bike fit.
After measuring my cleat position and magically “testing” how my feet responded to arch support and cleat wedges, Dunford settled on a couple of degrees of shimming for each cleat, plus dramatically increased arch support and some foam inserts inside my shoes.
The custom insoles were Lake branded, which he heat-moulded on the spot. They pushed my feet were snugly up against the inside roof of my shoes, closing off the cavernous space I’d felt before.
He’d run out of two-degree cleat wedges, but no matter. He ran upstairs and manufactured some immediately using his own 3D printer. Talk about value-add!
On the bike
Finally, after about three hours of measuring, questioning, “testing”, poking, prodding and shimming, I jumped on my bike on the turbo trainer.
Dunford examined each element of my position: were my hips rocking? Was my saddle tilted improperly? How were my hands placed on the hoods?
The biggest issue, as it turned out, was that my new arch support made my right shoe too tight, squeezing my foot to the point of cramping. Dunford made some modifications, cutting out a thinner piece of foam to replace the thicker insert he’d put in there before. I wasn’t 100% comfortable at the time, but over the next few weeks the problem would disappear as I grew used to the shoes.
He also replaced my saddle with a spare Fizik Arione I’d brought along. He said the angle was much better.
Other than that, he barely touched my existing position, besides raising my hoods and tweaking my reach to the brake levers.
“You’ve put a lot of time into setting up that front end, haven’t you?” he asked me. I felt a little smug about that.
With my position dialled in, he let me have a little fun with some aerodynamic testing. Using a camera and some software to measure my frontal area, he could calculate how many watts I could save by pedalling different positions. It turns out for me, riding in the drops was quicker than going into an aero tuck on the hoods.
Once I was happy with the position, Dunford measured it and recorded it in a file, which he’d later e-mail to me for future reference. If I bought a new bike down the track, he could use my file to quickly set it up.
Finally, as an added bonus, he gave my bike a quick once-over, pointing out worn brake pads, a thinning rear tyre and fraying gear cable, all of which I would go home and replace. That was a nice bit of extra service.
Do you believe in magic?
So, did I get value for my hard-earned coin? A bike fit with Dunford isn’t exactly cheap, at $440 for session, plus $80 for the insoles and a couple of bucks for the cleat shims. What did I get for it?
For starters, I got five hours of one-to-one attention from Dunford. To have somebody focus on you and your bike for five hours straight; to get that level of personal service, that’s worth something. Besides, he’s a warm and friendly guy, so the time passed quickly.
I also got to witness his bizarre methods. Not that I believed in the voodoo – it weirded me out a little, to be honest – but if it helped him provide me with a good bike fit, I wasn’t going to complain.
And that’s what it’s about, in the end: the fit. You’re paying for a good bike fit: a comfortable, high-performing and injury-free position on the machine that you’re going to ride for hours and hours afterwards.
It’s been five months since I saw Dunford, and so, far, all has been well. I’ve been mostly pain-free in my knee and I haven’t had any issues with my position. I do feel a twinge from time to time, but resting me knee for a few pedal strokes seems to do the trick.
Now, I have no experience with other bike fitters. It’s possible that another person could have produced the same result, with less wizardry and for lower cost. This post isn’t sponsored and I paid for it with my own money.
Would I recommend him? Yes, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t have recommended any other bike fitter. Dunford was a pleasure to deal with, and the session left me with confidence and a comfortable fit. He guaranteed that if I was unhappy with the results, I could have it adjusted free-of-charge within the first month or so.
Take my experience as warning, though. His methods are unusual. Perhaps the question to ask is, do you believe in magic?
You can check out the Fusion Peak website here.