“It looks like I’ve set all this up. Honestly, I haven’t,” says Phil Burt, after two women walked into his clinic and have him sign copies of his book Bike Fit. Given it’s a wheeze only Alan Partridge would ever consider pulling off, I took him at his word.
Phil was, for 12 years, the head physio at British Cycling and five years on a consultancy basis at Team Sky but is now, like most of those who made their name in the years between 2004 and 2012, going it alone, like a band breaking up and embarking on solo projects.
As seen from the outside, British Cycling in 2018 is a much-changed operation from the “nimble” start-up-like operation, as he puts it, of those early years, for better and worse. As has come out in the wash, there’ve been many governance issues that have come to light within the organisation, particularly during the years when Shane Sutton was performance director, post London 2012.
While he looks back on his time there fondly it felt like it was the right time to move on. With Phil Burt Innovation, he’s looking to use the knowhow and expertise he’s picked up in the past 12 years and help amateur riders hit their goals.
He’s still got his hand in with professional athletes – one of the last people he’d seen before me was the Olympic triathlon champion Alistair Brownlee, as part of his new role handling the bike fittings for British Triathlon – but most of the people he’ll see are people like me, amateurs wanting to improve their own performance. He’s fielded enquiries from cyclists concerned they might not ride at a sufficient level to see him but he’s keen to dispel that idea – anyone who wants to improve their comfort or performance are welcome through his door.
He’s in a good place to do that to, with a ground floor clinic at the Manchester Institute of Health and Performance, spitting distance from the National Cycling Centre. It’s an extravagantly kitted out building, operated by American private health care provider HCA Healthcare, with cutting edge facilities like MRI scanners that can, if needed, help diagnose more serious issues that may come to light from seeing Phil.
The Retül bike fitting system that Phil uses for his fittings is a respected, widely-used piece of kit, but it’s put into the shade somewhat by the biomechanical performance capture technology that exists in its sports hall – cameras in 360 degree surround that has lured the likes of Manchester City’s Argentinian superstar footballer Sergio Aguero.
Phil’s clinic is home to plenty of memorabilia and equipment from the successes on track and road that he’s been involved in: signed Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins yellow jerseys are framed on the wall (“they add a bit of colour to the place”), while the latter’s shoes, worn to gold medal-winning effect at the 2016 Rio Olympics, were also on show. A remarkable piece of kit designed with American custom shoe maker Simmons Racing – and worn by most of the British team in 2016 – they are fully carbon, with the tightening dial hidden on the underside of the shoe for maximum aerodynamic gains. They’re made by producing a cast of your foot and the mold is used to create a replica of your foot – and cost a pretty penny to do so ($1950).
As his physio role moved further into fitting and ergonomics, Phil was part of British Cycling’s famed ‘Secret Squirrel’ club which focused on getting the team on the best kit available and a club which included, at one time, the likes of Chris Boardman.
It is product development, particularly in the area of saddles, and working with major manufacturers, that he wants to explore with his company. Phil’s research in saddles and tilt forced the UCI to change its rules on saddle tilt for the 2016 season and saddle health assessment will be a key focus of his business. He uses the gebioMized system to determine the pressure you put through your saddle, as well as the other two contact points – handlebars and feet – that influence comfort on the bikes.
If required following your bike fit, you can get have custom products made that help you feel more comfortable, improve performance or both. These include your very own saddle, bespoke short chamois, and even a new take on the Wiggins shoe, redesigned to be more practical.
Cycling Plus Features Editor and tireless domestique John has been putting in a shift for the magazine for seven years. Despite having been a ‘proper’ road cyclist for the last decade, he still can’t work out what his main motivation for punishing all-day rides is. A freewheeling attitude towards cake is the popular theory, however.