Friday Group Ride #218

Friday Group Ride #218

I used to believe that a new bike, any new bike, that appeared in my life would take me 3-6 weeks to adapt to before I felt good and comfortable on it. My reach would change from bike to bike, lever set up, bar height, etc., etc. I just got on and rode, making adjustments as I went, finally arriving at some more or less ok position. I was younger, and doing it that way was intuitive to me.

Looking back, I probably benefited from that repetitive process, because it gave me a better frame of reference for how a bike should be set up, but it’s also true that I rode through some repetitive use injuries that could have been avoided (ITB friction syndrome anybody?) and even when actual injuries didn’t develop, I was uncomfortable a lot, which meant I was slower than I could have been and probably didn’t ride as far as I might have.

The first time I rode a custom bike, one built specifically for me, it blew my mind. Straight out of the stand, when I took it around the parking lot to see how it felt, it was as if I’d been on it my whole life. Everything was right where it needed to be. It caused me to revise my basic assumptions about what it was to ride a new bike.

And the thing is, I know a LOT of people who ride bikes that don’t fit them. I mean, they think their bikes fit, but then they tell me they have back pain, or that their hands go numb. They just think that’s what happens when you ride a bike. As the art and science of bike fitting develops, hopefully we’ll move on from this place. Right now, there are a lot of shops who do “fittings,” but not a lot of fitters with real training and the requisite experience to eliminate people’s real world, physical problems.

This week’s Group Ride asks if you’ve ever had a bike fitting, if you felt it helped you to be more comfortable and/or faster, and if you have aches and pains you think could still be addressed by an experienced fitter? If you haven’t had a fitting, is it because you don’t believe you need one, or because it seems cost prohibitive?

 

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24 comments

  1. Randall

    I was fit by Lloyd Thomas at Cyclefit, a person who works with many professionals ( http://www.slowtwitch.com/Interview/Up_close_with_Lloyd_Thomas_3742.html has a few pictures ). What he did for me, besides moving my seat forward and eliminating my knee pain instantly, was answer questions I had about fitting, my body, and what things “should look like.” Now that I have that data, for example, I adjust all my bikes to match the crank -> seat angle and distance, even my “city bike.” I might never ride that one more than 10 miles, but why not make them all match. Also, the Cyclefit Retül printout will be super valuable when I get my next bike, because I can make sure the bike fits before I pay for it.

    For anyone who rides a few thousand miles a year (or more), “skimping” on the fit fee doesn’t really makes sense.

  2. Lewis Moon

    I’d love to get a fitting…I just can’t afford it. I know some will immediately jump to the old saw : “you can’t afford NOT to have a professional fitting”, but after 40 years of riding without pain…
    I also worry about some of the inbred biases some fitters have. I had one tell me that he would refuse to fit me if I insisted on using long cranks. I’m 6’5″. 190s fit me like 170s fit Nairo.

  3. Aaron

    Your third paragraph says it all. I got my first-ever custom bike from Dave at Anderson Custom Bicycles just over a year ago, and I’m wishing I had saved all my pennies to have pulled that trigger long, long ago. Of course, the better part of wisdom is gained in hindsight, which of course is 20/20 (if you are not blinded by false perceptions, to which truth is a slave). Before that, I did go in for a fitting. It didn’t help near as much as having a custom bike built for my body. Sure, it was adequate, but the comfort level on my newest bike says to me that going custom should be much more common than it is, and going off the rack with a factory built bike, while not a bad substitute, it’s still a substitute. Go custom. You won’t regret it.

  4. Crits Are Your Friend!

    I have this secret fear that the fitter will recommend a variety of expensive changes…nonetheless, I am pulling the trigger with a local fitter. I’ll try to report back afterwards and we’ll see what the outcomes are.

  5. Cogfather

    Never had a fitting. The more I’ve ridden, I’ve changed things on my own. Went down to 170 crank arms, then to 167.5s to facilitate higher cadence. Lengthened my stem from 100mm, to 110, then to 120, coupled with slamming it to facilitate a more aero position in the drops. Though it may sound like I’m a Luddite, I probably won’t ever get a “fitting.” I set my bikes up how I like & how I’m comfortable & fast. I don’t use a computer, or even Strava. What was good enough for Coppi, Merckx, et al, is good enough for me. I don’t buy upgrades, I ride up grades

  6. August Cole

    It took me about four years of knee pain and enough iced peas to feed a football team at Thanksgiving before I finally got a fitting. That Wobble-Naught fitting, and The Stick, solved my IT band issues whereas trying to muck through it myself never made the pain go away. At the fitting, I found my bike was too small, but it meant looking for a 140mm stem, settling on a 130mm, which looks cool. It don’t remember how much the fit cost but that is only because it was worth every dollar.

  7. Dfjridesbikes

    I have not received a bike fitting yet. I too believe that one is needed at the moment. Like you mention in your first paragraph I too like to adjust as I go and finally come to my own “sweet spot” of comfort on the bike. My final decisions on how high my seatpost will go, how long my stem will be, the fore-aft position of my saddle and cleats are based on general “racing” guidelines with slight variations if things like knee pain or rocking hips ensues.

    The principle of fitting someone to a bike comes across as a subjective procedure IMO. If I were to buy a new bike that I knew very little about when it came to how I am supposed to be fit onto the bike, a general fitting would be fine for me. Anything more than getting a basic position down tends to drift off into the subjective unknown for me.

    I don’t want Calvin Klein to tell me what looks good on me or how to dress, and I don’t want a bike fitter telling me what feels comfortable. Just point me in the right direction and I’ll take care of the rest.

  8. Ken

    Put me in the “I should have done this years ago” camp. I turned 60 last year but have only been riding as an adult for a bit over 25 years. I’ve ridden a lot, have a lot of bikes, work part time in a shop and thought I knew enough about proper fit to not need any outside help with that. I was eternally fiddling with fits…stems, bars, seatposts, saddles, , ,tweak this, move that. Read stuff on the internets and in magazines etc. Last fall I decided to see what a formal fitting was like. Spent some time on the Guru fit machine that they can toggle between your current bike setup to something else and back and the difference is immediate and can be dramatic. .in my case, that something else was the exact positioning I’ve been searching for for a long time. Yes, since then I’ve changed bars to shorten my reach and moved my saddles and it’s been simply awesome. More comfortable, better handling, overall feels “right”. I also started riding rollers this winter and that’s been awesome for my pedal stroke, but I’m a fan of that fit system without a doubt. (It’s also going to make it interesting as I have Kent Eriksen build me a bike this year. . .but custom bikes are another subject…)

  9. Jay

    I had my first fitting back in 2010 at my LBS. I had been riding and doing things on my own for 37 years to that point. What a difference that fitting made. I was comfortable on that bike from the get-go and that just made me want to ride more. Move forward to the present: I picked up my custom Spectrum steel frame bike just this past Wednesday. There were small set-up details to complete, but no actual fitting at delivery. All of the notes and measurements recorded at my initial fitting last December were used to set up the bike. Tom meticulously used his notes and expertise to perform the final adjustments. I went out on my first ride later that afternoon and I will tell you that it felt as if I had been riding that bike for years. For me, that is the ultimate in bike fitting…

  10. Sami

    I only started riding road bikes in my middle age for the last 5 years or so. My first bike was a FrankenBike I got from a coworker for a few hundred bucks and after two years and couple of thousand miles I went for my first bike fit at a local shop using Specialized BG Fit system, just before my first 100-mile event. Big changes in cleat position, stem angle and length, seat position etc. Found out that the bike really was too small for me but with the changes I felt so much better right away. Couple of years later I spent many thousands on a much nicer bike and the shop eyeballed the position from my old bike. It felt OK and the bike was hugely better than the old one of course. I wanted to make sure I get my money’s worth so I had a fit at 3DBikeFit (then in Sausalito, now in SF) on a customized BG Fit system. Smaller changes this time but again a great experience and noticeable comfort improvement. I am fully convinced on the value and pretty much have insisted all my friends get fitted too.

  11. Aar

    I started riding in the wake of a blown out knee. At that time, my PT said “if you’re going to ride a bike as part of rehab, make sure it fits and make sure it continues to fit as your body changes year over year.” They also said to ride a cadence of 90 and above. Those two bits of advice have served me well from my first adult bike purchase almost 30 years ago through today. A good fitting is the 20 in the 80-20 rule but the percentage is more like .5-10% depending upon bike and fitter. I tell noobs all the time ” if you’re going to spend $1,000 on a bike, spend the first $200-250 on fitting, shoes, pedals and a computer with cadence and the rest on the bike.” I know that’s a lot of stuff to get for $250 but I believe the point is valid. I get a fitting every 1-2 years and find it a great investment. Often there is no adjustment but when there is, some discomfort goes away. I’ve never used a “bells and whistles” fit and always use the most experienced fitter I can find.

  12. Timojhen

    Ironically, had my first fit yesterday. Used the Guru system, as it makes sense to me that changes in fit are most apparent when I’m actually pedaling. Had two bikes to compare – one I’d eyeballed (not ideal) and another sorta fit yo me when I bought it several thousand miles ago.

    Curious to see how things go after the needed parts (stem/bars) arrive. For something I spend several hundred hours with a year, seems like the money should be well spent. Fingers crossed I guess.

  13. jorgensen

    I come from a time where some coaches, (less than a handful living in the USA) had some interesting notions. One team ended up with a bunch of riders on long or extra long toe clips, forget the shoe size. I worked it a different way, with photos of me on the bike racing. That was pretty useful. This was before video was easy to obtain, I would have used that if it was. From that I took a critical look of my position on the bike, did I look comfortable? How did my pedal stroke appear? It was very low tech and very useful.
    I have never purchased a custom fit session. I might benefit from one but it would but the gains I think would be incremental, racing is not on the agenda and no pain or discomfort is there to be addressed.

  14. cash

    For the last several years, I rode a Merckx with a slammed stem and a long top tube. It looked cool and i thought it was what I needed.

    When it was time for a new bike, I opted to go the custom route. It was actually a bit cheaper than a similarly equipped big brand wunderbike.

    Pro Peloton handled the fit and Mosaic built the frame, both in Boulder. The bike rocks. Dare I say it, but it’s nearly a perfect thing. Riding it wasn’t a revelation, more like a realization. It just worked and felt right from day one. The fit is shorter through the top tube, a bit taller in the head tube. Nothing groundbreaking, but noticeably different than before.

    It took a modicum of trust and a suspension of the conviction that I knew what was best. My Merckx wasn’t wrong per se but my Mosaic is more right.

    Pro Peloton nailed the fit. Mosaic built a beautiful tool. The bike rides quiet, but not in the auditory sense – I don’t think much about it. It gets out of its own way, which my previous bike didn’t do.

    1. Jonathan

      I went the same route with my custom: went for a fit before hand, got my specs sent to the framebuilder ( who tweaked a couple of things for clearances and aesthetics), then a bit later on picked up the frame.
      For me it was a bit of a revelation, and I totally get what you mean about trust. Putting a lot of money in the hands of someone who you reeealllllly hope will get it right.

      A mate went through the same process (same fitter, different builder), and after a long climb the other week he turned to me and said “how good is that fitter?” Sort of says it all.

  15. Mike Yakubowicz

    Hey Pat,
    As the lucky and proud owner of a small custom race bike shop, I’ve had the pleasure of working with professional fitters trained in a variety of school: Serotta, Slowtwitch, Retul, Juteau-Cantin, X/Y, and maybe one or two I’ve forgotten (plus seeing the Guru DFU and new Shimano systems up close). They are all good schools of thought. I prefer some to varrying degrees but any competent fitter trained properly should be able to make substantive improvements to both comfort and power output for most people. I’m dealing with a sample size in the hundreds, and I can say with confidence that a proper fit yields immediate and noticeable improvements for perhaps over 80% of riders – I’m talking first ride out. and only a very small number of people (maybe 5-15% depending on audience) are really in an ideal fit position, meaning little to no adjustment is required, and even for those folks, the conversation about position, geometry, body morphology, modern fit technology and other fun stuff is usually worth the time and money spent.
    In other words, go get a good fit. It is without a doubt more important than a new piece of equipment ;)
    Did I say that out loud?

    Best,
    Mike Yakubowicz

  16. LesB

    I got my one fitting from the same fellow in the picture with Patrick in the picture above, Steve at Bike Effect in Santa Monica. I got my bike at a time when I knew little about cycling and the shop did a good job of sizing the bike, as Steve did not recommend any major changes. Maybe my current bike is about as good as a non-custom can be.

    For new cyclists I would recommend getting a fitting early so that you can develop a good riding style from the get-go and not have to unlearn bad ways. Steve had me change my riding position and up my cadence. Those changes took time and effort for me to integrate into my riding. And Steve recommended exercises for muscle groups in my body that needed it. So much of cycling is about discipline.

  17. Mike Loftus

    I did my first bike fit about 3 years ago after riding pretty seriously for about 14 years at that point. Why did I go, the local shop was offering a free Specialized BG fit for all members of the racing team. I had a Cannondale Super Six which I thought rocked; suffered some lower back pain and never felt truly aero, but gawd that thing rocked in crits.

    Immediately after my 3 hour session, lower back pain gone, better positioning and I had new personal bests in power output after several years of plateauing. I went back and paif for a TT rig measurement. I am on a new bike now…guess what? My Focus has almost exactly the same geometry as the Cannondale. I went to the shop with my measurements from that BG fit and the new bike, known as Sophie, is a real gem.

    I believe after 3 years with no pain (well there is pain from hills, races, and trying to hang on the Sunday group ride). As RKP says, To Suffer is to Learn; and I learned that a fitting is worth it so I can suffer in new ways.

  18. Tom in Albany

    In 1999, I had gotten a big bonus at work so, I bought a Serotta CTi. I got measured up on a Serotta Fit Cycle. It was my first bike fit and I was clueless as to my role. They put me on a stock frame as I was told it was pretty close. Then they gave me a 110 mm stem length, which, 15 years later, seems on the longish side to me. I rode that bike on that setup for about 12 years. I suffered, and still do, ITB irritation. My back hurt sometimes. So, about three years ago, after reading a post by Padraig, I finally went back and got another fitting. They lowered my seat and stem by about 2 cm. My knees started killing me. I put the seat back. Knees fine and back still bothered. Recently, I tried to raise the stem – you gotta love quill stems! It was siezed – you gotta hate quill stems!

    I want to go get another fitting. I’ve gotta get the wedge of my quill stem free first, though.

    1. Tom in Albany

      Note: I’m NOT going back to the shop I had gone to before. I felt like they made big mistakes.

  19. Wendy

    If you’ve taken the time to develop a good relationship with a knowledgeable and trusted LBS, you know you can’t put a price tag on a great fit. It makes riding your bike “just that much more fun.” It amazes me how many good riders jump from shop to shop looking for the “cool -on -sale -bike” even if it doesn’t quite fit.

    During my 40’s thru my mid 50’s, Bruce at Schwab Cycles in CO fit me to stock and custom bikes for high end performance and endurance. For the past 5 years, after shoulder surgery, a broken hip and now a possible shoulder replacement, Bruce has helped me maintain a great fit on my 6 year old custom Guru Geneo. I love riding that bike (among others) as much now as the day it was built. I rode it without a tweak for 4 years…it was a perfect fit. When my shoulder got really bad, Bruce suggested wider bars and a shorter stem (he has taken the time to understand my riding style)…it helped tremendously.

    If you’re a newer rider, spend the $$$$ for a fit session … it provides a good starting point.

  20. Souleur

    put me in with the ‘Ive never had a fit’ but wish I could and would

    here’s my hesitation, many have eluded to the ‘relationship’ of your LBS, and truth is I know that my knowledge is on par with theirs and there is too much variabilty in ‘the perfect fit’. Look at the disagreements and arguements between the various benchmarks just on saddle height alone, Lemond et al, do you use inseam at 88.3% to your BB-saddle, or add 109% to your inseam for your saddle-bottom crankset position…and there are many more. I have been in a continual study myself as the LBS is afterall 60miles away, and I have purchased a geniometer, and I have been forced to diligently become very knowledgeable at the various ‘schools of thought’ on the perfect bike position. Believe me, it varies, and so has my bike position over time. I do think each time I go to the drawing board, I come a mm closer to being in the Eutopian position tho, and when my weekend race paycheck cashes in, maybe I’ll cough up the $300-$500 bucks for a P-R-O fit

    until then…well, I’m on a pabst blue ribbon fitting budget

    1. Padraig

      Souleur: I can see how many riders look at the myriad approaches (Retül, Cyclologic, Guru, SBCU, Serotta, etc.) and become concerned about which of those fits would be right for them. The fact is, if you toss out everything written before 2000 (which includes the LeMond book and the Eddie B. book), and then just look at the current schools of thought, what you find is that they all share strong agreement about what good positioning is. When I go through different fits today, they vary by a centimeter here or there at most. It’s not like my experiences back in the 1990s when I could be fit by an alleged expert and suddenly find my saddle rising by 2cm, or my reach increasing by 3cm. And all those formulas? They’re BS. Proper fit doesn’t require a calculator. Flexibility is the root for good fit. Unless someone is dealing with the rider at hand, rather than some mathematical model, the fit will be crap.

  21. Max

    I was big into cars and racing before I got into cycling and always believed that the first and best investment was on a high quality and properly setup suspension. I consider what suspension/alignment is to cars, a fitting is to bicycles. I’ve ridden a fixed geared bike around town for a few years and just got my first road bike. Before even purchasing the bike I picked out my preferred fitter and sent him my measurements so as to get the proper frame size for my use/measurements. Now that I finally have the bike in hand it’s off to be properly fit. Friends balk when I tell them the price of a fit, but I figure it’s the best investment after the frame itself and when you work out the price/hour it’s not that ridiculous.

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