Bike fitting is the process having different parts of your bike adjusted to provide you with the optimal riding position. Some of these adjustments might include handlebar and brake set-up, stem height and length, seat fore/aft position, seat angle, seat height, and cleat position. It might also include adding risers under your shoes or custom insoles in your shoes. In addition to your riding position, flexibility should also be addressed as well as body position while on the bike.
So what is your optimal riding position?
Your optimal riding position is one in which you are comfortable and experience no pain. It is also a riding position which allows you to ride most efficiently. Efficiency can be defined as your normalized power divided by your average heart rate. Trainingpeaks.com has a good explanation of it here.
How do you know if you need a bike fit? Here are some reasons you should get a bike fit done:
- You are new to cycling and do not know what a proper riding position looks like
- You experience any pain or discomfort while on the bike (except for cramping or road rash from crashes, those don’t count)
- You want to maximize your power potential
- You feel cramped or over extended on your bike
Now you have decided that you need a bike fit. So, what is the process like? Well, first you need to determine how much you value a bike fit. There are many different types of fitters and those fitters usually offer different fit packages. For example, you can get an old school fit where the fitter uses different pieces of equipment to check angles, measurements, etc…. Or, you can get a Retül fit, which includes connecting sensors to various places on your body that ultimately produce a 3D image of yourself on a computer showing your position on the bike. Old school fitters also typically have different levels of fit. For example, they might offer a basic package for the beginner cyclist that includes seat adjustments only and have a more advanced package for advanced riders that includes every adjustment. Each type of fit will vary in cost with basic fits in the $40 ball park range and advanced fits nearing the $180-$200 price range. The Retül fits are up closer to $300. These might seem expensive, but a fit is definitely worth it. However, it is up to you to decide how much it is worth to you.
There are a limited number of adjustments to be made, and if you have been riding for a while, you’ve probably made many adjustments yourself and are already in a decent position. The fitter will probably watch you ride and make a few adjustments. More advanced fits might have you on a power meter and have you ride standard courses on a trainer to find your most efficient riding position. Then, they will make a few adjustments and send you on your way.
I recently scheduled, and had a bike fitting session, by Mike McKovich of Max Performance Bike Fit. My fit was going to consist of adjusting everything on the bike. Then, I was put on a CompuTrainer to ride a standard course, over and over, with different position adjustments, to see where I was most efficient. In addition to adjustments made to my bike, I was given some riding position suggestions and my body structure was analyzed. It was deemed that my right leg was a bit shorter than my left, so a shim was used underneath my cleat. After that was done, Mike tested my flexibility, made a few final adjustments, and sent me out on the bike.
Immediately, I could tell that my position had changed a bit. I was positioned a bit further back on the bike, but my saddle was pushed slightly forward (I had the tendency to sit very far forward on the seat to compensate for how far back it was pushed, so moving it forward made my position more comfortable and more powerful). It has since been about 2 months after I have had the fit done and I am very pleased with the result. I am shattering personal records that I used to hold and I am able to ride day after day without any knee pain or saddle sores. I don’t fade during long rides due to discomfort anymore.
I’d suggest that everyone get some type of bike fit done, at least once. You might think you have set-up your position well after reading how to articles, but without experience from fitting hundreds of people, you might not be making the best adjustments for your body type and riding style.