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Position Optimisation with Adaptive HP

Position Optimisation with Adaptive HP

12th Jan 2024

The history of Sync Ergonomics is deep rooted and intertwined with bike fitting. Adaptive Human Performance (Adaptive HP) was the start of Ken Ballhause’s professional life in the cycling world. His aim was always simple:

“Improving the human-bike interaction”
— Ken Ballhause

It’s all about the fit - Adaptive HP provides fitting services for road, TT and Triathlon
Image by: @stefhansonproductions

Ken has worked closely with many of the top-performing athletes in the Australian Cycling Federation (AUS Cycling), with athletes on a personal level from a number of World Tour teams, and some of top performing triathletes in the Australasian region. Through sister company Sync Ergonomics, Ken consults to road teams like Greenedge Cycling and Team UAE Emirates and informally to other professional athletes and teams that can be spotted using Sync Ergonomics products. Not limited to TT and Triathlon, Adaptive HP has a sound reputation in servicing the needs of road athletes as well.

His history of working across a multitude of disciplines puts him in a unique position to comment on time trial performance and this is specifically the knowledge that Gerard and Jordan Donnelly wanted to tap into in a recent TriVelo podcast:

Secrets to a PERFECT Bike Fit with Ken Ballhause

In this article, we’re going to unpack some of the key considerations in time trial setup and understand more about the holistic approach that needs to be taken in time trial position optimisation. In this first installment, the focus is going to be on myth-busting, looking at the difference between mortals and pros plus something that is a recent revelation to myself, the importance of the humble bike saddle.  

I’m going to throw a sweeping statement out there to try and probe some more information out of Ken.

“You should NOT suffer any power loss going from road to TT position, and you should be no less comfortable than being on a road bike. Is that even possible?”
— Joe Laverick

I mean, I am trying to be controversial in making this statement. Let’s see where the conversation goes because I want to know.

But first, some context. By me, I mean Joe Laverick, I’m the writer here at Sync Ergonomics!

Growing up on the British TT scene, I’ve also dabbled in a healthy number of TTs over the years. I’ve taken a few wins in European TTs, and a Top 10 at Junior World TT Champs back in the day. But, across my time as a U23, my TTing focus fell away due to a multitude of reasons. In my new role as a privateer, TTing was back on the cards and Ken was more than happy to give me advice.

For me, changing to ISM PS 1.0 saddle was a game-changer. I'd been a sceptic of ISM, but was truly humbled. Ken was right, and the change of saddle was mind boggling. The technical details on that come up later in this article. 

I thought I was already pretty dialled on some other things, such as crank length. I run 170mm cranks and stand at 183cm tall, with a saddle height around 790mm. Ken opened my eyes that 165mm cranks could even be a possibility and the joys of a considered TT saddle, and now we have regular conversations on all the details that go into an optimised TT setup.

Time Trial Cycling

Not all forms of cycling are created equally, and they certainly aren’t set up the same. The difference between setting up a road and TT minded position is huge. Whether it be a Team Pursuit, Triathlon or a classic Time Trial on the road, the position is the most extreme possible in cycling when you look at the biomechanical demands.

A TT position is asking a lot of the human body
Image by: @stefhansonproductions

The more aggressive a position is, the higher the demands. More than any other discipline of cycling, time trialing is asking the most out of the human body. Something that has been spoken about in the time trial scene for as long as I can remember, is the dreaded “power loss” that comes with a time trial setup. I’ve heard athletes complain about a drop in power of as much as 20 Watts at their threshold power.

“I don’t think any athlete should accept power loss on the TT bike”
— Ken Ballhause

Like any topic in position optimisation, there is logic to the position Ken puts forward. I mean, this was precicely my opening stement to Ken, but I personally don’t know the reasons why.

“There are three main tissues that we have to be aware of as bike fitters - Nerve, joint and muscle.
For the average person, an aggressive TT position will be nudging the limits of range of motion for any combination of these. Specifically, the sciatic nerve, the hamstring muscle group and the hip joint.
And this is just the “bare bones basics” of achieving a well-performing position. With road cycling, the higher torso angle lessens the biomechanical demands, to a degree, no pun intended.”
— Ken Ballhause

But, to many, the power loss in TT position is so apparent and so prevalent. If it is so common, I want to know why it shouldn’t be accepted as so.

“A compromise to power would be strongly indicative of being in a position that is beyond the threshold of a ‘physiological’ limitation. That limitation could be nerve, joint or muscle. Or in some rare cases could also be vascular [NB you do not want that].
This “threshold” is something that is dynamic in nature, it might shift towards the end of a Grand Tour for example, or it might shift an hour into cycling a 180 km bike leg. So really, as an athlete focusing on the bigger picture of performance, you want to be riding in a position that is relaxed enough that you are not exceeding your physical limitations.
Power loss would be one of the first signs that you have gone beyond that threshold, so a really good rule of thumb is DO NOT accept a power loss on your best days, or in the situation that you must race in.”
— Ken Ballhause

The big ticket items to consider when combatting power loss is saddle choice, crank length, a cockpit setup that is ergonomically and biomechanically optimised, and correct athlete positioning - measured through using proper motion capture technology. If all of these things are done correctly, and your body is in reasonable “working order”, then you will not have to make any sacrifices.


There are plenty of myths in the world of bike fit. We’ve all heard stories and we’ve all looked at what the pros do at one point or another and tried to copy them. With all this in mind … I asked Ken to go myth-busting and put forward his theoretical knowledge and practical experience, around some of the common misconceptions.


Muscle tissue (the hamstrings) is the main limiting tissue factor in achieving a TT position…. “Geez being in the TT position kills my hamstrings.”


Nerve, or a lack of neurodynamic flexibility of the sciatic nerve plays a far bigger role. The sciatic nerve courses the back of the thigh, directly between the medial and lateral hamstring muscles, before splitting into the tibial and peroneal nerves. Tension on this nerve is ofen misdiagnosed as “hamstring tightness” or “calf tightness” simply due to the close anatomical proximity.

The clinical considerations in a bike fit should never be ignored
Images by: @stefhansonproductions


The hip flexor muscle group is problematic with TT and is the root cause of the dreaded "not being able to stand up straight" when trying to run off the bike.


In my experience this relates more to the load placed on the spine from a position of sustained lumbar flexion. In other words, that is an issue relating to the motion segments (joints) of the lumbar spine, not the hip flexor muscle group. Again, the close anatomical proximity makes these structures easy to confuse.


Crank length doesn't matter, the differences are so small.


By the time saddle height is corrected for a change of crank length, the difference is doubled. 10 mm becomes 20 mm, for example. Reducing crank length is the only way to meaningfully reduce the peak hip flexion, knee flexion and ankle dorsiflexion angles, measured on a pedalling athlete. Matching crank length to saddle height (leg length) is a critical consideration in achieving an optimal TT position. For someone with hip or knee joint pathology, crank length is absolutely critical.

Crank lenght is the main variable in an athletes knee and hip joint angles
Image by: @stefhansonproductions


My saddle seems comfortable, it must be fine for me.


A saddle should be evaluated from a more holistic perspective, considering the optimal kinematics for the longevity of health as well as the possibility of improving aero performance. A saddle can not be uncomfortable, but saddle interface "comfort" is simply a prerequisite, not the endpoint in understanding the effectiveness of a saddle.

Back pain (flexion pattern back pain) and the various manifestations of compromised spine health are rooted in saddle choice. So you might feel “comfortable” on a seat, but the back pain, the referred radicular pain (pressure on a nerve root), those “tight hamstrings” or the numbness you feel in the region of the piriformis muscl. Those are all centrally mediated issues associated with saddle choice.

Saddle ergonomics are critical in achieving an optimised TT position, for both comfort and performance
Image by: @stefhansonproductions


Angulation of the forearms is detrimental to aero performance. Just look at Jan Frodeno.


Is Jan the fastest biking athlete in the world? Not by today's standards. No one rides low-angle aerobar solutions anymore. The forearms are a small component in the overall drag on the athlete and if all other performance indicators in an athlete's position are improved by forearm angulation (which they almost always are), your overall aero gain trumps the local increase in frontal area.

World records are being set in all TT disciplines at the moment, partly through the evolution of athlete positioning. Yes through equipment as well, but these two go hand in hand, with position optimisation (forearm angulation) driving the evolution of equipment.

Matte Sobrero (Greenedge Cycling) in full flight at the 2022 Giro d’Italia
Image by: @gettysports

The Importance of Saddles

The humble saddle is often a final thought when it comes to bike set up. Many athletes leave the stock option on the bike. Barring comfort, few consider it as a performance minded upgrade …

“The saddle is a huge component in successful TT positioning with benefits to performance and in the maintenance of a healthy spine. I don’t believe they are forgotten, more that the biomechanical role the saddle plays is poorly understood.
This fascinates me, partly because it is one of the pieces of tech that made me interested in road cycling, but also because conceptually, for anyone who has studied Sports Science or Health Science, the biomechanics of saddle choice should be dead simple.”
— Ken Ballhause

Keeping to the context of TT position optimisation

A hallmark of any reasonable TT position is a low torso angle. Over the years this has varied. While we look back and laugh at the positions of yesteryear, it can be argued that the infamous Tyler Hamilton was one of the first athletes to adopt what would be classed as a “normal” position by today's standards.

“Torso angle is measured from the hip joint to the shoulder joint, this would typically be sub 20-degrees.
You want to achieve this torso angle through anterior pelvic tilt (on the saddle), not through flexion of your spine. Not only is it possible to achieve a lower torso angle through anterior pelvic tilt, but reducing flexion is a very good outcome for the health and longevity of the lumbar and thoracic spine.”
— Ken Ballhause

Remember I mentioned the setting up of my own Ribble Ultra TT bike, and specifically the saddle choice? I wanted to grab some of Ken’s input on saddle choice. His recommendation, perhaps surprisingly, was exactly the same as what he recommends to almost every athlete embarking on an optimised TT setup.

“The ISM saddle (PS 1.0) increases anterior pelvic tilt, for the same torso angle, in the order of 5 to 10 degrees. This is the “black magic” that really makes a difference, especially if you want to ride 180 km, then run a marathon off the bike.”
— Ken Ballhause

Keeping to the context of TT position optimisation

A hallmark of any reasonable TT position is a low torso angle. Over the years this has varied. While we look back and laugh at the positions of yesteryear, it can be argued that the infamous Tyler Hamilton was one of the first athletes to adopt what would be classed as a “normal” position by today's standards.

For the record, I do not want to run a marathon off the bike. The quest for myself is simply the lowest torso angle and the most “aggressive” position that I can achieve.

The ISM PS 1.0 is unique in design, so what makes it so special? Back to Ken’s experience:

“Locally, on the tissue of the perineum - I could share many horror stories of both male and female athletes doing permanent and irreparable damage to the nerves, blood vessels and soft tissue of the perineum.
But simply put, there are very sound anatomical reasons for effective pressure relief channels on bike saddles and for TT, where a sub-20 degree torso angle is desirable, the unique ISM saddle design is what facilitates this”
— Ken Ballhause

Keeping to the context of TT position optimisation

A hallmark of any reasonable TT position is a low torso angle. Over the years this has varied. While we look back and laugh at the positions of yesteryear, it can be argued that the infamous Tyler Hamilton was one of the first athletes to adopt what would be classed as a “normal” position by today's standards.

Pressure relief is a fundamental anatomical and biomechanical consideration
Image by: @stefhansonproductions

With all this bike fit talk, you’re probably thinking “but wait, isn’t Sync Ergonomics built in time trial cockpits?”

It is important to remember that Sync grew out of the passion that Ken has for position optimisation. His ethos of “improving the human-bike interaction” has infiltrated into the operations of Sync and every product that Sync is developing, but the desire is there to see a change in how athletes holistically approach position optimisation.

But maybe in the next installment, the focus will be a little closer to home in the Sync camp?

About TriVelo GetFast Podcast

A Triathlon and Cycling podcast dedicated to help improve you as an athlete. If you're a triathlete competing in Ironman, Ironman 70.3 or Olympic triathlon this is for you. Hosted by expert Triathlon coach and Australian Ironman Champion Gerard Donnelly, listen in to help you Train Smarter to Race Faster

About Adaptive HP

Ken Ballhause - Sports Scientist
B. Exercise & Sports Science
B. Health Science (Clinical Myotherapy)

Inspired by the application of exercise physiology and biomechanics, Ken’s keen interest in Sports Science lies in understanding the demands that competitive cyclists face and where improvements in performance can be made.

Ken’s background in cycling began with mountain bikes, racing downhill at both a State and National level. His interest in cycling is now focused on road and endurance track racing, coinciding with the diversity of options available locally in Melbourne.

AHP is the recognition of the role that a scientific approach has in improving the outcome of cycling, be it for health or performance. For Ken, AHP is the application of knowledge gained in both Exercise Science and Health Science degrees, mixed with a passion for the sport of cycling.


Images by: @stefhansonproductions & @brett_focusphotography

About the author

Joe Laverick’s cycling introduction was via the British time-trial scene, since starting the sport, he has been all about speed. He’s a freelance writer and privateer racer who mixes road, time trial and gravel racing. To this day, he remains one of the only riders on the planet to have beat Remco Evenepoel in a time trial.