Bike fit – is it worth it?
A few weeks ago I went into Total Rush to get a proper fit done on my new bike. I’ve always been a big advocate of making sure your bike fits you properly. That said I’ve also been sceptical of the absolute need for these fitting services – some people see them as a big up-sell opportunity for bike shops. This was my chance to be a guinea pig and find out for myself.
The whole point of a bike fit is to make you sit more comfortably (which will let you ride for longer) and to help you ride more efficiently. The transmission between the motor and the bike if you will.
The fitting system that Total Rush and other Specialized dealers use is called BG Fit (BG for “Body Geometry”). The system was developed by Dr. Andy Pruitt from the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. Dr. Pruitt recently visited Australia to give BG Fit training to Specialized dealers who offer this service. The guys from Total Rush have been offering this for a number of years now.
The whole process is very personable and thorough and takes about two to three hours to complete. They first take you through a pre-fit interview and flexibility assessment to gauge where you’re at and to see what problems might exist that will need to be taken into consideration. You may not even be aware of some of the problems. For example, one of my legs was found to be considerably shorter than the other.
Shoes, Cleats and Insoles
One recurring theme that I’ve noticed in bike fits is the importance of the shoe, insole and cleat adjustments. I previously did a post on the topic of initial cleat positioning but there is much more to this if you want to get it right. I’m sure whole books have been written on this subject.
A good portion of the whole bike fit process is working on the cleat position and finding the right insole. These small adjustments are what gets your legs tracking perfectly straight. You can clearly see this when you’re put in front of the camera against some reference lines on the monitor (see photo below). Small adjustments to the cleat can make all the difference between having an awkward knee jerk hitting the toptube and your legs firing up and down like pistons.
Having a view of how your legs are tracking on the camera is an excellent way to see how the adjustments affect your pedalling and position. What you think might be happening when you change the position of something may be completely different than what’s actually happening.
I use Speedplay pedals for a number of different reasons, and you’ll often see bike fitting specialists recommending these pedals. The amount of adjustability in the Speedplay cleats is superb. You can compensate for almost anything with them. I had a few shims put into mine to account for the differences in leg length and some small adjustments to the cleat position itself.
Making sure you have the proper insoles for arch support is just as important as cleat position. Having an imbalance of pressure on your foot during hours of pedaling is a major reason for “hot foot” and other discomforts. Specialized (and other brands such as eSoles) have multiple insole options from $50.
The trick is to find the one that’s right for you. A bike fitting specialist will know this. Having a proper insole is one of those small things I never thought would make a difference, but actually made the biggest impact on my comfort.
One of the biggest mistakes that bike fitters see is that many people’s saddles are too narrow. The BG fit system has an “arse-o-meter” (I’m not sure of the real name) to measure your sitbones which will determine the right saddle width for you. We’ve previously done a post on how to choose the right saddle which will give you a good start.
The saddle that came on my new bike was 130mm wide. I wouldn’t say that it was overly uncomfortable, but my sitbones were definitely too wide according to the measuring device. I decided to try out this Specialized Romin saddle that was 143mm wide which I’ve really grown to like. My all-time favourite saddle, which fit me very well, was the San Marco Regal. I love the retro look of it, it fit me perfectly, and I could ride on it for hours without any discomfort.
The positions that can be adjusted on the bike itself are saddle height, saddle fore/aft position, stem length (reach), and stem height (drop). In my case, these adjustments were the things that needed the least amount of tinkering.
The side view camera angle was able to measure the angles I was sitting in and adjustments made based on my flexibility assessment. It’s good to be able to see your position on camera to pick out all your imperfections and spot the big differences that small adjustments can make (in areas you wouldn’t expect too).
Bike Fit Report
At the end of the process you get a detailed final report of your before and after positions, your exact measurements of the final bike fit, video analysis of your pedal stroke and a heap of other useful information you can take with you.
Most bike fit specialists are very detail-oriented and might tell you that your fit dimensions on a particular bike will not necessarily transfer to another. I understand how that makes sense, but I don’t necessarily want to be going through this process with every bike I own. Unless I was switching to a drastically different frame size or geometry I’d be willing to take these measurements to another bike and give it a shot.
This final report is one of the things that impressed me most throughout this whole process. In the past my bike position measurements haven’t been much more than a bunch of notes scribbled on a scrap piece of paper in the bottom of my tool chest.
Is It Worth It?
In the end my bike position didn’t change very much but it felt substantially more comfortable. I initially set my bike up based on feel and what I’m accustomed to. I’m lucky to have a very forgiving body and am not overly fussy about a millimetre here and there, but these little adjustments make a big difference when done in a holistic manner.
There are many different fitting techniques and theories out there. My opinion is that there’s a way to set someone up to look like a pro, and there are other ways that don’t make the rider look so good. I know the politically correct thing to say is that comfort should be the top priority (and it is), but there’s a certain amount of panache that needs to be incorporated into a bike fit. “Happy stems” (i.e. a stem that’s not horizontal) are a big no-go in my own set of bike fit rules (but that’s just me being shallow).
I think there are a few groups of people who would benefit most from a proper bike fit:
1. Beginners who aren’t familiar with how a bike should fit and feel. An expert consultation will also give you a good reference point of how comfortable a bike should fit going forward.
2. People who can’t get comfortable on their current setup or have nagging injuries. A good bike fitting specialist will know how to translate your discomforts into a better setup. Nothing will turn-off someone from cycling quicker than an uncomfortable ride.
3. Competitive cyclists who are looking for marginal gains. There’s no doubt that more power can result from tweaking your bike position, however I don’t necessarily feel this is the low hanging fruit that should be considered right away if you’re not winning races.
The cost of a BG Fit at Total Rush is $350. This comes with a two-three hour consultation, video assessment, and a USB stick containing your report and video analysis. I know of more expensive options out there and I also know of cheaper ones. I’d say it’s good value for money considering all the cash we spend on this sport.
The one thing to keep in mind is that you might be tempted into buying accessories such as insoles, a new stem, new saddle, etc. This is the up-sell part that I’m not so comfortable with, but there’s no way to get around it. If you need a longer stem, you can’t just cut it off. When I asked Total Rush about this they reassured me that they never advise on anything that’s not required to make the bike fit you better.
The BG Fit system is probably the most well known bike fit service in Australia at the moment. That’s not to say that it’s the unequivocal best. I’ve had one other bike fit done by Cycling Edge and a similar process was undertaken (using the Serotta personal fit system). They did an excellent job.
There’s also the Retul fit system that’s quite popular and which I’ve heard good things about. Steven Hogg is considered to be one of the most knowledgable bike fitters around and has written countless helpful articles on the subject. His fitting studio is located in Sydney.