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What's A Bike Fitting?
"If you want to go fast, you have to make sacrifices. Sometimes your back is gonna hurt."
What is a bike fitting?
A bike fitting is an experience. It’s experi-science. There is no voodoo, no hocus-pocus. A bike fitting is the process by which a qualified technician assesses your body, your bike, and your desired goals...and fits the pieces together.
We’ve had thousands of conversations about bike fit. Any body and anybody is a candidate for a fitting. The reasons for a fitting vary widely.
- You are a competitive cyclist trying to find a few extra watts or a little less fatigue.
- You are five years post-op with a knee/hip replacement, 40 extra pounds and a taste for a pain- free activity.
- You have been riding a little while, and don’t understand why everyone can pass you with seeming ease and not an ounce of back/neck/hand pain. You thought pain=gain!
- You’re interested in competing in a triathlon or Ironman, but you’ve never been able to get onto a TT bike without wincing.
- 20 years after giving birth, you still haven’t been able to get back to riding like you used to.
- Basketball messed up your knees and you’d like to prevent further injury.
- Running, tennis, skiing, rugby, has messed up your....
- You want to improve your sprinting, climbing, descending, commuting, touring.
These are real examples, real people. And there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Just measuring an inseam, height and arm length isn’t going to get us anywhere. Every one of these riders needed a tailored approach to their fit. The basics are all the same.
But what do we actually do?
We begin by chatting about your riding, your history with the sport. Water, tea, or coffee are offered (and sometimes there’s beer in the fridge). Next we ask about your relevant medical/injury history. Then it’s off to the feet, ankles, knees, hips, pelvis. We look at your range of motion, anything that may impede it, and take notes for posterity. The coffee is usually cold or gone by this point. (Morning fits allow for a second cup.)
Now it’s time to get on the bike. If your existing bike is present, I’ll measure it. The Retul fit bike will be a good starting point. You’re pedaling and I’m observing: balancing what we saw and recorded earlier, your pre-existing complaints, and the reality of you on the bike. Depending on the rider and needs, we’ll either deploy the 3D tracking or we’ll skip it. Sometimes, it’s truly to no benefit, sometimes the changes we make are drastic, and there is no reason to try polishing or spending time on fine details. I hem and haw enough for two computers.
I record your current ideal position, and assess your bike for compliance. Your bike is assessed for compliance. If I need to change parts (stem, bars, saddle, seatpost, pedals), now is the time, or if I need to special order something, you can leave the bike for a few days.
My goal is not to sell you a new bike, parts, or the Tower of London. My goal is to make you comfortable, and effective on the bike you’ve got. But if it ain’t gonna happen with the frame you have, I won’t mince words.
Do some people need a custom frame? Absolutely. Imagine your bike’s three points of contact (bars, seat, pedals). Pedals stay fairly fixed, the seat has a decent range of adjustments via the seatpost. But the handlebars can only move within a “strike zone” about 5 cm x 5 cm.
Why is a bike fit so exacting?
Because riding exerts a stress on your body. And since your position on the bike is pretty stable during a ride, you’re effectively subjecting a few joints to repetitive stress injuries, and any improperly engaged muscles are improperly cycling 70-90x a minute without a chance for reprieve.
I have two goals during most of my fittings: prevent future injury and meet the goals you set out in the beginning.
Why do most “custom fittings” result in a high stem and an upright relaxed geometry???!!
Back to the averages. If you’re 28-35 years old, in good physical condition, and with average proportions, and riding a bike meant, designed, produced and marketed to someone just like you, then of course you’re comfy. What about your riding buddy? He works 70 hours a week, never has time to stretch, his legs are slightly longer than average for his height. His seat needs to be higher for the longer legs, but now his T-Rex arms can’t reach the handlebars. Guess which rider will be comfy, and which rider will seek out a fitting. Those without issues seldom seek solutions.
A fitting is about making your bike invisible, it’s about achieving speed, comfort, and the exhilaration that comes with being entirely in control of the experience.
What about triathletes?
Ironman tri fittings are interesting and almost exist as a separate animal. Triathlon fittings are, by their nature, race fittings. We have hard parameters and easily measured success. And after you’ve ridden 112 miles at race pace, you now have to run a marathon. The goal of a good tri fit is to make you maximally efficient during your ride, making you aerodynamic without compromising your power output, and without burning out your running muscles. Oh yeah, you’ll be there for 5-8 hours, so we have to make sure you can actually stay tucked for that long. How’s your breathing? Is your knee tracking well? Can you negotiate a turn? Are you going to be able to walk tomorrow?
All jokes extra.