What is Bike Fitting?
Bike fitting is a process of evaluating a cyclist and their bicycle (or proposed bicycle) and making recommendations and adjustments to the bicycle so that is safe, comfortable and efficient to ride.
A bike fit may involve educating the cyclist about how to best position themselves on a bike, and may involve recommendations to other practitioners if the achievement of a good bike fit is being constrained by the cyclist’s physical presentation. i.e a good bike fit position may require work on the cyclist’s body, not just adjustments to their bike.
The aim is to minimize any long term damage from the repetitive motion of cycling, and to promote the enjoyment of cycling through reducing or eliminating equipment induced pain or discomfort.
Bike fitting may also target performance enhancement through attention to body positioning to reduce aerodynamic drag, increase sustained or maximal power output, and improve metabolic efficiency.
Who would benefit from a bike fit?
A bike fit is not just for elite or competitive cyclists. It is for any rider who wants to optimize their bike-body relationship for comfort, efficiency or performance. Contrary to popular opinion, cycling is not meant to be a synonym for suffering. Discomfort, numbness, or pain are all indicators that a bike-body relationship is in need of attention.
However the absence of any discomfort does not mean a bike is perfectly fitted. Although cycling is a low impact activity, the repetitive action of pedaling on a mechanical contrivance can contribute to long term wear and tear in the joints, the symptoms of which may not be not apparent for years.
Many people are attracted to cycling because it is a low impact activity, but they bring an extensive injury history to cycling from other sports which they can no longer fully participate in. A proper bike fit can take into account this history, so that further damage is not done.
Like a health check up, a bike fit is not a “done once, done forever” service. The following situations are strong indicators that a bike fit is advised:
- buying a new bike (about to, or have recently done so)
- you experience discomfort, muscle aches and tension, numbness or pain
- you experience the early onset of fatigue (relative to your fitness levels)
- your physical condition has changed (older, heavier/lighter, stronger/weaker, injury/surgery)
- your riding goals or participation change, such that you are riding more often, further, faster or harder)
- you are looking for incremental improvement and an edge on your competition
Bike Sizing is not Bike Fitting
Bikes, like bodies, come in different shapes and sizes.
Two bikes the same size may be a different shape, or geometry, which can significantly affect the rider’s fit position. One bike brand’s size may not be the same as another brand in the same size.
Bike sizing is an evaluative process to determine if your current bicycle is suitable for you, or more commonly, to advise on the purchase of a new bike. Sizing precedes fitting. Sizing is not fitting. Sizing is the initial match making. Fitting is the process of fine tuning the bike-body relationship.
However bike sizing falls under the umbrella of bike fitting services.
Bike Fitting Services
Not all bike fits are the same.
There is wide variation in a bike fitter’s training, experience, skills and tool kit.
There is also wide variation in the type of services offered as a “bike fit”. These are the most common services, although they will be marketed under different names and descriptions.
For people who want an answer to the question: “what size bike should I buy?” It also encompasses what type of bike is appropriate (sometimes it is not what you have in mind), and what frame geometry is appropriate for both your riding intentions and body. Pre-purchase sizing can be a 10 minute to 60 minute or longer process. It should involve questions about your riding history and future intentions, relevant physical issues or limitations, measurement of your body proportions, and discussion about suitable bike options.
Pre-purchase fitting encompasses all of pre-purchase sizing, but you spend time on a bike simulator (size cycle / fit bike) to try out different riding positions, and the bike purchase recommendations are derived from your riding position. Alternatively different bike models and sizes will be simulated, and you try out the riding position each one offers. This is a good way to “test ride” bikes that may not be available in the store.
Pre-purchase fitting is more about sizing than fitting, because you don’t ride the simulator out the door. A bike you purchase should still be fitted, as the pedals, crank length, saddle and handlebars may all vary from what you experienced on the simulator. However the simulator does enable you to find and experience a comfortable riding position without being influenced by that the bike looks like, or how it is set up.
Post Purchase Initial Fit
This is the most common and visible bike fit service, as it usually takes place in a bicycle store when someone has bought a bike. The intention is to establish a good fit position on a new bike for a cyclist to get going with. It may be a “work in progress”, as an Initial Fit lacks the cyclist’s input and feedback in relation to this bike, as they have had none or limited riding time on it. An Initial Fit can vary from a quick 10-20 minute seat and handlebar adjustment, to a more thorough and much longer evaluation of the cyclist, both off and on the new bike.
A detailed fit is typically for cyclists with time and distance on an existing (not new) bike, who are seeking comfort or performance improvements. They have recognized that their riding experience could be better, and may have experimented with their own bike set up to no avail. A detailed fit typically involves a rider interview, off bike physical assessment (of mobility, stability and passive and/or functional movement), on bike observation and measurement, and then a discussion of observations and recommendations, followed by adjustments. Different components (saddle, stem, handlebars, cycling shoes) may be recommended to resolve issues and achieve a better fit. Conditioning exercises may be suggested, or recommendations made to see another specialty provider. Post fit follow up and feedback rounds out the process, and may result in further refinements.
A medical fit is a bike fit done by, or in conjunction with a health professional such as a physical therapist, sports medicine doctor, chiropractor, orthopaedic specialist or similar. A Medical Fit will place strong emphasis on the cyclist’s physical condition, injury and surgery history, and existing physical issues that are affecting the cyclist’s position, comfort and performance on a bicycle. A medical fit may be sort out by a cyclist who knows they are not a candidate for a “bike shop bike fit” because of their physical condition, or they have had one or more bike fits and these have not resulted in the improvements or relief they were seeking.
If you use cycling shoes and click in (clipless) pedals, then you are mechanically attached to a bicycle. Correct cleat positioning helps to reduce any equipment induced stress originating at this attachment point (the cleat), which can manifest as feet, knee or hip issues. Cleat positioning can address the 3 planes of cleat alignment (forward/back, medial/lateral, rotation) as well as shoe selection, in-shoe foot support (custom insoles/wedges) and external cleat wedging o rshimming
Pressure mapping is a digital technology that can be used to assess issues where your body directly contacts the bike: through the shoes, saddle and handlebars. Pressure mapping may be used to help select and adjust a bicycle saddle, handlebar and cycle shoes when issues of nerve compression, numbness, reduced blood flow or pain occur.
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