By T.C. WORLEY
Save for pro riders, dedicated roadies, and triathletes, the idea of paying money for a professional bike fit is a foreign concept to most bicyclists. But to truly get the most from your bike, whether you use it to race or just casually, for most people a pro fit will make a noticeable difference. Earlier this year, I took a few days off to dig in and see what bike fitting is all about. Over a three-day course at Specialized’s Bicycle Component University outside San Francisco, I was taught the science and art of making a human fit to a machine.
At the SBCU class, which caters to bike-shop fitters and trainers who work with pro teams, the instructors walked my group through textbooks, lectures, and then onto the hands-on “fitting” part of it all. Eventually, we rolled out onto some pavement to see if the techniques worked as they did in the lab. I am happy to report that I became a bike-fit believer. There were immediate, substantial results.
The following five points are a sampling from the bike-fit knowledge I learned over a few days at Specialized’s Bicycle Component University. Keep this in mind when you swing a leg over your bike this spring and contemplate how you might better fit and perform on your two-wheel steed.
Make a commitment to being “fit.” When you get a new bike, choosing the right size frame is merely a good starting point for getting fit to your ride. A true bike fitting is akin to taking your suit to a tailor, not just determining what size you wear. Now, every body is built differently and should be treated as such. A fit will cost on average a couple hundred dollars at many shops. While that may seem like a lot for the casual riders out there, consider that a well-fit bike may function good enough to propel you up from casual to a “dedicated rider” status. No matter your interest level, you’ll feel more comfortable, pedal more efficiently, and be less prone to injury on a custom-fit bike.
Bio-mechanic perfection. Bike fit is less about getting aero (in a tuck) or getting your bike to look like Mario Cipollini’s and more about trying to achieve bio-mechanic perfection with your machine. Primary goals include injury prevention and improving a rider’s efficiency on his or her machine. Once those items are in place, the result can often be an increase in the rider’s speed, endurance, and power on the trail or road.
It’s a procedure. Getting a bike fit is a lot like a visit to the doctor’s office — it’s full of science and analyzation, though there are fewer needles in the bike shop! A thorough body examination is a big part of getting a proper fit. Having bones measured, flexibility determined, angles assessed, and questionnaires about injuries and riding style are all average steps. With their custom tools, bike fitters can measure your sit bones, find optimal leg extension, identify your body’s limits, and more. All of this can bring you closer to that “bio-mechanic perfection” we mentioned earlier.
New parts. With any pro fitting, it will most likely be recommended that you get some new components and parts to yield a better fit. Typical replacement items are the seat, stem, handlebars, and your bike shoes. Costs will vary greatly, but count on setting aside a couple hundred dollars at least if you want the best fit.
The real costs. The money you spend on a good bike fit is almost guaranteed to give you more performance gains than the same amount spent on lightweight or higher-end components. No gram-saving carbon seatpost or titanium bolts will give you the same results. Indeed, few things a rider can buy will return dividends as much as a good fit can. Happy riding!
—T.C. Worley is a contributor to GearJunkie.com, a professional photographer, and an unabashed bicycling geek.