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by Dave Rome
October 30, 2017
Photography by David Rome
Walk through the pits or among the team buses at a professional bike race and you’re sure to see large (and expensive) jigs in use to achieve precise saddle positioning. In a game where a millimetre variance can be the difference between performance or injury, it’s no wonder most large teams go to the effort of bringing these cumbersome items to every race.
However, outside of pro racing, it seems the humble tape measure and plumb bob are the right tools for the job, and many don’t even go that far. But what do you use when you seek more accurate, repeatable results and simply can’t justify buying a rifle-sized professional fitting tool from the likes of BikeSettings.com?
Enter the Abbey Bike Tools Fit Kit.
Designed with professionals in mind – whether that be race mechanics or bike shop mechanics with an eye for accurate fits – the Fit Kit serves a rather specific purpose: to help precisely replicate the height, angle, and fore-aft position of a saddle.
While a tape measure can do the job, the issue is consistency. When using a tape measure, most will start from the centre of the crank and then measure to the top of the saddle. But where exactly is the top of the saddle? And are you actually measuring from the centre of the crank? Chances are, even the most careful will see a few millimetres variance when they measure, and that’s enough to potentially ruin that expensive bike fit you just had.
The core of the fit kit is a plate of 3mm-thick anodised aluminium. This flat plate has had its centre cut out and folded downward, providing a consistent point for locating the saddle nose. The plate is then slotted to host the toe-strap that lets you affix the tool to the saddle.
The plate is then notched on both sides, in two locations (10 and 15cm from the saddle nose, for stub-nose and regular saddles, respectively), for use as a consistent height reference point with a tape measure.
Adding to this, the plate is laser-engraved with precise ruler markings to assist with saddle setback, including a clear notch for the UCI-approved placement of at least 50mm behind the bottom bracket. That latter point requires a plumb bob (not supplied), with the width of the plate providing clearance from the frame, bottle cages, and cranks. To use, simply run the plumb bob along the markings until the string falls inline with the center of the crank bolt.
The plate also offers a flat surface for use with a spirit or digital level (such as those offered in mobile phone apps). Just like using the plumb bob above, the slope of the ground or supporting device will be a deciding factor in the accuracy of this, but the long flat edge is a useful addition when working with saddles that aren’t completely flat across the top or have weird channels that prevent the consistent placement of a level.
Three machined aluminium “crank bullets” are buckled into the plate with a silicone rubber strap. These slotted bits fit into 8mm and 10mm crank bolts, and Shimano preload caps, providing a consistent starting point for the tape measure hook. An integrated magnet helps hold the hook in place, too. The Shimano crank cap tool pairs with the 8mm bullet, and it also works as a preload tool — it can even be used with a 5mm hex key for additional leverage.
All of this fits into a tool that’s 460mm long and 127mm wide, and weighs in at 428g.
Watch Jason Quade of Abbey Bike Tools show how the tool works.
This tool does its desired (and relatively simple) tasks admirably well. No doubt, it allows you to get your saddle height and setback more precisely dialled to the numbers you know. And it delivers in terms of precision, consistency, and build quality.
However, it’s not without its limitations.
Firstly, even when using a toe strap to hold it in place, the tool can pivot at the back of the saddle during use. However, it does take an obviously skewed tool to affect the measurement.
Wrapping the toe strap from the back of the saddle makes the tool far more secure.
Part of this issue is that Abbey’s own marketing materials show the toe strap being pre-wrapped, slid over the nose of the saddle, and tightened. However, this allows the tool to slide off the front of the saddle during use, and the pointed edges of the tool are not something you want coming into contact with the frame’s paint. Instead, looping the toe strap over the back of the saddle, so that it sits at the back of the seatpost clamp head, forces the tool to be pulled back against the nose, creating a firm and secure hold.
It would also be nice if the tool could reference a particular width point of a saddle, and not just the nose. While referencing the nose is handy for reproducing a saddle position on a different bike when using the same saddle, it isn’t nearly as useful when setting up a different bike with a different saddle.
This could potentially be offered by having a two-sided design, with the other side having two flipped-down tabs at a preset width. This would require etching on both sides, but would get the job done with the same tool. No doubt, adding such a feature would see the cost of this tool increase, but it would also increase its usefulness, too.
Likewise and as suggested above, the setback and saddle level features of this tool will be impacted by the slope of the ground on which the bike is rested. This is no different to doing similar measurements without this tool, but it’s certainly worth pointing out that its repeatable accuracy is only as good as your care for the finer details.
The provided slotted crank bullets are fantastic in principle, and the simple cylinder design of the 8 and 10mm bullets is purposefully there to slip into crank bolts and allows them to swivel to the required angle. However, they have a tendency to fall out during use. The issue is certainly worst when using the Shimano preload tool and the 8mm bullet together; there’s no mechanism to keep them from separating.
According to Jason Quade of Abbey Bike Tools, he looked at alternatives to make the bullets more secure, but wasn’t happy with how consistently they located within the bottom bracket spindle. In the end, Quade, a race mechanic himself, decided that holding the bullet with your thumb was a reasonable requirement for accuracy.
The slip fit of these bullets highlights that this kit is best used with the bike held perfectly vertical (whether on a race stand, indoor trainer, or held by a helper) – a second set of hands helps.
The crank bullets also won’t work with every crank on the market. For example, they don’t fit the countersunk crank bolts of Cannondale Hollowgrams, and those using Campagnolo Ultra-Torque will need to purchase the relevant crank bullet separately from Abbey (US$15). The fit kit will still function without these items, but they’re nice to have. And in case you’re wondering, the included bullets are also available separately, for US$15 for the 8 or 10mm, and US$25 for the Shimano preload cap tool.
Those looking to travel with this tool (or even fit it into the home toolbox) will certainly find it more cumbersome than a standalone tape measure and plumb bob. And while you could easily fit more than 10 of these inside the case of a BikeSettings.com jig, the Fit Kit’s folded centre edge means it won’t lay flat. Still, at its weight, it should find plenty of appeal amongst travelling mechanics.
If you’re the type to look cross-eyed when setting a saddle straight to the frame, this tool won’t offer any further assistance. You’re still on your own, tapping the saddle side-to-side until it looks right.
And finally, there’s the price. At US$150 (AU$195), this is by no means a cheap tool, but then again, Abbey Bike Tools isn’t known for attempting to hit favourable price points. Quade has a history of building things (in-house, in the US) to the way he wants first, and then arriving at the final price afterward. And while its price may seem like a shock when compared to more intricate tools offered in Abbey’s lineup, Quade is quick to point out that the margins are not any different to his other tools. As a further saving grace, it’s still more affordable than more comprehensive fitting jigs.
Right now you’re likely in one of two camps: you’re either a professional or someone who often fiddles with saddly position and sees the value in this tool, even with its limitations and US$150 asking price. Alternatively, you’re in the camp of just about everyone else who simply doesn’t understand how this tool costs what it does, especially given you can probably achieve a similar (albeit slower, less precise, and more fiddly) outcome with a metal clipboard, tape measure, and plumb bob (and those two latter tools are needed for the fit kit after all, so really it’s just the $5 clipboard). And quite likely, for most riders who are less worried about precise fit, this is perfectly adequate.
However, that first camp is exactly who this tool is aimed at, and no doubt Abbey Bike Tools will sell a lot of these to bike shops, bike fitters, race mechanics, and obsessive enthusiasts. After all, there are plenty of people who spend hundreds on a bike fit every six months and expect it to be millimetre-perfect.
For further details, visit Abbey Bike Tools.
Slots are provided on the plate for repeatable saddle height measurements. There are two slots, one 10cm from the nose, and one 15cm back.
A closer look at those two saddle height slots.
The wide plate creates plumb-bob clearance from bottle cages and cranks.
The tool uses the nose of the saddle for a repeatable measuring point.
Like other Abbey tools, the Fit Kit is made to a very high standard.
The bullets feature a small magnet to help retain the hook of a tape measure. However, there’s nothing to retain the bullets in the crank.
The 8mm crank bullet fits into the Shimano preload tool.
These three crank bullets are supplied. The middle one doubles as a preload cap tool for Shimano cranks and can be used with a 5mm hex key for additional leverage.
Ready to use.