Should I Get My Bike Professionally Fitted?
By Mikael Hanson (as appeared in Curated's Expert Journal)
Ok, you just spent a small fortune on a new, sleek carbon road (or triathlon) bike and are looking to take your performance to the next level. So, what now?
Giving your height and inseam measurements to your local bike shop or your Cycling Expert will produce the correct size bike; however, this does not mean your bike is perfectly paired to you and your specific riding style. As a former elite cyclist, coach, and even bike fitter, I firmly believe the most efficient way to improve your performance on your bicycle is to invest in a professional fit bike. Followed soon after by hiring a good cycling coach! Who Should Consider a Bike Fit?
As a bike fitter, I’ve performed hundreds of bike fits, if not over a thousand. So to start, it is perhaps best to begin with riders who do not need a bike fit. A professional bike fit can run anywhere from $150 to over $400. If your bike value is in the same range as the bike fit, then perhaps you can do without it, and instead, look to improve comfort by making sure seat height is correct (seat about even with the hip bone when standing next to your bike) and you have a comfortable seat.
Generally speaking, the longer you find yourself in the saddle, the greater the benefit from being correctly fitted. This group would include those who ride road bikes, gravel bikes, mountain bikes, and certainly triathlon bikes. I cannot think of anything more miserable than being tucked in the aero position for six or more hours during an entire Ironman race on an ill-fitting bike!
Time to get fitted! Now let’s look at the people ideally suited to get a bike fit:
A rider buying a bicycle for the first time (typically a road or triathlon bike)
A ‘newbie’ who has just upgraded his bicycle
Someone rehabbing from an injury and their old position might not be ideal any longer
Someone who has added new equipment to their bike (like a new seat or aero bars)
A rider experiencing chronic discomfort (saddle sores, numb feet or hands, joint pain, sore back, etc.)
A triathlete unable to stay in the aero bars for a prolonged period
Finally, the seasoned cyclist who has never had one
Where Can You Find a Bike Fitter?
Once you decide a bicycle fit is for you, the next step is figuring out just where to get a proper fit. I would first check with your local bike shop, especially if that’s where you purchased your bicycle, as many higher-end shops offer fittings. If your shop does not provide fits, ask cycling friends for their thoughts on bike fitters as nearly 100% of my own bike fit business is from referrals. If you are a triathlete or bike racer, members of your local cycling or triathlon clubs are also an excellent source for information on the preferred fitters in your area.
While there is no actual database for bike fitters, you could also Google “bike fitters near me,” which I did for New York City and got a pretty good list of bike fitters I know and respect.
What you are looking for in a bicycle fitter is one with plenty of experience in the category of riding you will be doing. If you’re a triathlete, find a fitter who has not only competed in triathlons but has performed fits on a variety of triathlon bikes. Are you getting started in bike racing? If so, then it’s best to find a fitter with experience in that field, as these two types of fits are very different!
The Fit Process
A bike fit will take anywhere from 90 mins to over 3hrs to complete, depending on the rider’s needs. Do they need new parts installed on the bike to make it fit properly, such as different handlebars, different lengths of the crankset, etc.? Read on to know more about what to expect.
1. The Interview All bicycle fits should begin with an extensive interview process and physical evaluation of the rider. Examples of some of the information one would gather before the fits include:
Why the rider is seeking a bike fit (new bike, never had a fit, specific riding pain to address, etc.)
Information about what the rider is doing off the bike (work, hobbies, family, etc.)
Identifying the rider’s cycling goals, both short term, and long term
Understanding the rider’s riding style and habits
Gathering information on a rider’s injury history and accommodating those injuries or asymmetries during the fit
Being aware of any prescribed corrective devices or orthotics the rider uses
2. Pre-Fit Rider Assessments Once the rider’s background information has been collected, the next step is measuring the rider’s range of motion related to cycling and identifying points of weakness and where you can make improvements. Areas of interest include overall flexibility (like, can you touch your fingers to the floor), hamstring and hip flexibility, and finally, looking for any discrepancies in leg length. Next, the fitter should address the rider’s foot/shoe/cleat alignment as an improperly adjusted cleat can lead to knee issues.
3. On the Bike
Photo courtesy of Glory Cycles
Once on the bike, I begin with motion capture to analyze the current fit. One can make an initial assessment from this video while sharing the video with the client and openly discussing the problem areas. Is the seat too high? Too low? Is the position too far forward? Too far back? Is the posture too aggressive for the
rider’s given flexibility?
After the video, time to start addressing each issue individually, beginning with seat height. With the crank arm stopped parallel to the seat tube (leaving the pedal the furthest distance from the seat), we measure the angle of the leg with three points—the hip flexor, the knee, and the ankle bone. We are looking for an angle between 147-150 degrees for a road rider, with triathletes, gravel, and mountain riders, something a bit less ranging from (144-147 degrees).
Following seat height, we progress to the fore/aft measurement or the position of the knee relative to the pedal axle when the crank arms are parallel to the floor. From our shoe and cleat adjustment, we have hopefully positioned the cleat directly under the ball of the foot to facilitate the power transfer on the downstroke.
For a road rider, we are looking to line up the soft spot behind the kneecap to the pedal axle for road riding. For a triathlete, this relationship is significantly different. A triathlete is in a more forward position on their bike, which allows for greater use of their thigh muscles and more excellent stability in the aero bars (as we now have more of our body weight forward on the bike). The knee/pedal relationship now has the knee ahead of the pedal, ensuring we are not beyond the toe box. How far ahead a rider is will depend on the length of their triathlon. In a short course triathlon like a sprint or even Olympic distance, a rider can hold a more aggressive position so the knee might be closer to the end of the toe box. However, in a full-length Ironman race where efficiency and comfort are vital to success, the knee will be closer to the pedal axle (almost mimicking the road position).
Once seat height and fore/aft are set, the fitter will turn their attention to reach and posture. This part will depend on the information you collected pre-fit on the riding style, their flexibility, and injury history. Ideally, we want a rider to be comfortable riding both on the brake hoods and in the drops on a road bike (or in the aero bars on a tri bike), with a gentle slope to their back posture that allows for a clear breathing path between neck and spine.
We also look for the upper arms to be greater than 100 degrees from the back while in the drops. This will ensure an open cavity between the torso, arms, and upper thigh during the complete pedaling phase to facilitate breathing. Not enough length in the posture (where arms fall at nearly a 90-degree angle to the back) will lead to upper back issues and general discomfort when riding in the drops.
The ultimate goal in a bike fit is to find the proper marriage between rider and bicycle. One which offers both comfort and efficiency and ensures a pain-free riding experience!