Bike fit: do I need one and what can I expect when I’m there?
Most people new to cycling tend to jump on a bike that seems about the right size and just ride it, accepting whatever niggles come along as a part of the process. It doesn’t have to be that way.
There are increasingly sophisticated tools out there that to have detailed look at what size bike you should be riding, what components you should have on it and even what alterations you need to make to your technique.
Whether you’re thinking it may be time for your first fit or a trip back to the bike fitter, read on to find out more about the process and the reasons why it could be a worthy investment.
Why get a bike fit?
There are many different fit providers with different approaches, tools and philosophies. For the purposes of this article, I headed off to The Freedom Machine in Melbourne to get a Trek Precision Fit with technician and cycling coach, Ben Douglas.
“Without having a bike fit you don’t know what you are missing out on,” said Douglas. “It’s about ensuring that you are fitted comfortably to avoid injury but also maximising your potential efficiency.”
According to Douglas, there are three main reasons for getting a bike fit:
- You are simply buying a new bike or equipment and want to make sure you choose the right size
- You have an injury or some type of issue on the bike and want to improve your comfort
- You want to improve your efficiency on the bike.
Eva Heraud, a pilates physiotherapist who specialises in cycling and refers clients to Douglas, said while it’s crucial to make sure your muscles are giving you the right support, a well-fitted bike is an important part of the picture.
“It’s opening up the opportunity to make your muscles work better for you, give you more body awareness … and on top of that put you on a bicycle that is made for your body. You have this opportunity to prevent injury, rehab really well or ultimately get your efficiency running to its absolute point,” said Heraud.
The Trek Precision Fit uses a highly adjustable jig to establish the fit. The measurements from this set-up are then used to help you choose the best fitting bike or to adapt your current steed. It also goes well beyond simple measurements, looking at issues like your pedaling technique, power and efficiency with the help of video and spin scan analysis.
Here’s the process we went through step by step:
The interview – Before getting on the bike, the first step is to find out a bit more information about your riding, so looking into issues such as what type of cycling you do, if there are any problems that need to be addressed and what you are hoping to achieve with the fit. After all, there is no point getting you set up for an aggressive racing position if all you want to do is long leisurely rides.
Physical assessment – The next step is still off the bike, looking at physical characteristics like shoulder width, flexibility and measuring sit bones to help with the assessment of seat width.
Shoe setup – This one is just what it sounds like. Checking the positioning to make sure the foot is clipped in at the right spot to optimise power.
Starting position – The fitter will either measure up your existing bike or, if you are starting out on a new bike, measure you up to work out the initial position to set the jig at.
Lower body set up – It’s time to get on the jig and start pedalling. There is quite a lot of pedalling actually so make sure you are kitted up and ready to roll those legs over. (Don’t do what I did and schedule the fit the day after an epic ride like the Giro Della Donna when your legs are just screaming to be given a break).
The flexibility of the fit jig means you don’t have to get on and off to adjust position, but can stay put as the changes are taking place so it is easy to go back and forth and make a direct and immediate comparison of what feels best. Issues such as cleat position, leg extension, saddle selection and position are examined to put the rider in the right posture and optimise power output. At the same time, the spin scan analysis is working away so technique changes can be suggested and practiced to improve efficiency.
Upper body set up – Now we move onto stem angle, reach and handlebar width.
Record and advise – With the adjustments made, its time to have a look at the results, make changes on the bike or if the aim is a new bike check out what bike, model and size would be the best fit. This is also the time to examine what the changes in position look like with the before and after video analysis and variations in the pedal stroke with the spin scan analysis.
Assessment forms – After the fit came the forms summarising the changes. There were the new measurements versus the old, a report from the video analysis looking at things such as elbow angle and max extension with a handy visual of the before and after to really demonstrate the difference, a reminder of the technique alterations and some tips for improvements that needed ongoing work.
What did I get out of my fit?
It’s about five years since I’ve had a bike fit and it was on a different style of bike to what I’m riding now. That initial fit helped me deal with ongoing issues with my knee that were threatening to derail a long planned overseas cycling trip. It was undoubtedly money well spent as some bike adjustments, along with complimentary exercises and changes to technique turned rides that would have been nigh on impossible because of the agony, into challenging but enjoyable days out. It meant that this time I didn’t have to be convinced of the merits of a bike fit, as I’d already felt them. The question was with no big comfort issues or niggles now, was I really going to feel any obvious immediate benefits of another?
As it turned out there were adjustments made and it was excellent to be able to easily try a number of different positions easily on the jig to see how they felt and then settle on the most comfortable one. My seat position was moved forward, dropped and angled a little less. It was clear to see in the before and after video analysis that my arm position became more relaxed as a result. Additionally I got to try out a slightly smaller width in handlebars, which left my wrists at a more comfortable angle. The seat changes were made straight away and while they weren’t huge, the position did feel just that bit more natural and right on the hour-and-a-half ride I did straight after the fit. I’m looking forward to a couple of longer rides this weekend on the Ella Soigneur trip to really test it out. I won’t be rushing out to buy new handlebars straight away, as my current ones are only a little off the ideal, but will make the change in time.
The biggest and most unexpected piece of information I got from the fit was walking away with a greater awareness of my pedal stroke through the spin scan. I worked on some alterations Douglas suggested and made changes to the way I pedalled and the improvements in the power through the stroke were clearly displayed on the screen at the front of the jig, so it was easy to get a good feel for what worked and what didn’t. Now that I know what it feels like to pedal more efficiently it is something I can continue to work on and should give me some relatively easy to achieve improvement on the bike.
Have you had a bike fit? What was your experience? Did it make a difference?
Thanks to Trek, one of our Ella CyclingTips supporters, for arranging our bike fit at The Freedom Machine.