Friday Group Ride #451

Friday Group Ride #451

I’ve ridden some bikes that didn’t fit me. I suppose that started with my first bike, which had been my brother’s. Kids bikes are needs must though, right? This pattern repeated itself with my brother’s bikes. He’s taller than I am, and always has been.

In high school, once he had gone off to the Army, I adopted his Panasonic Villager. At first, I’d ride it by stepping through the front triangle and bobbing in the pedals that way, like a small clown riding an over-sized egg beater.

I think the problem was that I was always shorter than I wanted to be, and when I started buying my own bikes I imagined myself taller than I am (5’9″). I’m also bow-legged enough that bike fitters have guessed that I was injured at some point to cause the dramatic curvature in my tibias.

Somehow my first proper road bike fit me for saddle height, which is easier to adjust, but not for reach, so I spent my formative road years looking like a ski jumper on a permanent personal best. Later bikes got better, but sometimes worse, as I tried to eyeball my way to an optimal position.

I once rode 110 miles on a Surly Crosscheck two sizes too large. A friend said I looked like a rolling question mark on that bike.

Now I ride custom bikes, and those problems are gone. Thankfully. But I remain curious about how people get on the bikes they’re riding, how many of them have had a fitting, and even how many know that fitting is even a thing.

This week’s Group Ride asks, how does your bike fit? How did you get to your current riding position? Have you ever had a formal fitting? And what’s the worst fitting bike you’ve ridden for  any length of time?

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  1. Neil Winkelmann

    I’d never had a formal fitting until I ordered a custom frame. Oddly, the fit on that bike is the one I question the most. The builder put me a bit higher/longer at the front than I was used to. The justification being that it’s a gravel/commuter/all-around bike, rather than a racing bike. The position would be be more stable/confidence-inspiring on fast gravel descents. My “summer” bike with a lower front still feels better, though. I spend a LOT of time in the drops on the other bike. Neither position gives me any grief, so I’m not too worried.

  2. Michael

    Most of my bikes are custom and they fit quite well. My commuter bike is a little too big, in that it is too tall, but I have managed to get the reach right. The bike that is NOT quite right is the tandem I ride with my daughter. It is just way too stretched out for me, but we have done several long tours on it. I have NO explanation for why I haven’t at least tried a shorter stem.

  3. Aar

    Currently my bike doesn’t fit very well. I’m in a position that is designed to correct muscle imbalance and other issues. It is solving all of those challenges but it’s not comfortable and seriously compromises my power output on both legs. Working with my bike fitter who is a sports medicine doctor, I hope to eventually get in my best position ever. I’ve had about a fitting per year for every thirty years that I’ve been riding. The best of those fittings made minimal adjustments. The worst was interesting in that it was the only fitting that involved computerized motion analysis. The fitter put me in the position that worked best to his eye. Then he moved me into a position that was defined by the computer’s metrics. It was powerful and aero but caused the medical issues I’m working through now.

  4. Jay

    I had never given serious thought to bike fitting until about 2010 when I was offered a fitting as part of a new bicycle purchase. That was the best decision I’ve ever made when it comes to riding. That bike felt like it was made for me even though it wasn’t. The quality of that fitting was confirmed when I had fitting for a custom frame. The builder noted that the fit was very good and he tweaked it only a little. The completed custom fit like I had been riding it for years. So I am all in when it comes to bike fitting.

  5. Stephen Barner

    I used money from my first salaried job in 1971 to buy a yellow Motobecane Grand Touring. Not knowing anything about bike fit, I trusted the shop owner, who happily sold me a 23” bike he had in stock, when I should have been on a 20”. A month later they got another shipment, and a friend of mine bought a 21” Grand Touring from the same bike shop, when he should have been on a 23” By then realizing my mistake, I offered to swap, but he was in love with the flamboyant red paint job and would have none of it. It was a lesson in shop-owner greed that was further reinforced when I went to work for that same shop on a schedule that has us working through lunch, but having to be there from 9 – 5, Monday through Saturday, in order to put in a 40-hour week. It was not at all uncommon to work 50 hours, though I have yet to earn a single hour of time-and-a-half pay.

    I didn’t have a bike with the correct reach until I had a Marinoni custom made for me in 1982. Giuseppe eyeballed me, asked a few questions (there was a significant language barrier) and probably knew right away that standard Italian racing geometry of the day would be fine. Peggy took my requests for colors, chrome and engravings, and I went back a month or so later to retrieve the best fitting bike I’ve ever ridden. Since I was making regular trips to Montreal to import frames and other bike goods from them, I had a good working relationship with them, so the perfect fit was not a surprise.

    When the Fit Kit system came out, our shop jumped on the emerging bike-fit craze. After we got the hang of it, I had a fitting done and, other than a minor cleat adjustment, it confirmed that I already had things dialed in. No doubt the “science” of bike-fitting has come a long way in the 35+ years since then, but I ride a lot on a lot of different bikes, and I think I can figure out where I should be. I know when the saddle is a few mm off or has slipped back before I measure it. I have a lot of hand numbness that is a byproduct of years of abuse as a mechanic, and they let me know right way when the reach isn’t spot-on. While I would never dissuade someone from having a fitting done, I consider it a starting point, from which one can fine tune. Unless you have a history of joint issues or sports injuries, or an unusual body type, I would advise skipping an expensive bike fitting at purchase and instead having an experienced rider check your adjustments and then riding the bike 1,000 km before deciding if things are not right and you need a higher level of intervention. Different builders will produce different custom geometries for the same rider, and I suspect that different fitters will come up with different adjustments, as well. With bike fitting being a significant profit enhancer for shops, in addition to the boost to shop reputation that such a service provides, I am suspicious of the implications that professional bike fitting is a necessary part of bike ownership or that a precision fitting is synonymous with accurate fitting.

  6. Lyford

    My first real fit was a great investment. I had been watching racers half my age with flat backs and trying to make myself more “aero” and getting neck and back and hand pain in the process. The fitter talked some sense into me and put me in a position that was much more comfortable and stronger. He also gave me useful feedback on my pedaling technique and helped with saddle selection.
    Now I have a good sense of what works for me, and can look at geometry charts and eliminate a lot of choices that’ll never work.

    1. Parker English

      For whatever it’s worth, I’ve completely eliminated hand (and wrist, elbow, and shoulder) pain by using aero bars perhaps 75% of riding time. They’re mounted high enough that there’s no neck pain, tho this does mean there’s more wind resistance than with normal mounting. But it still involves more pedal power than when on the hoods. I always ask in new recreational groups whether anyone objects or feels endangered; and no one ever has. Would be different in racing groups, of course.

  7. TomInAlbany

    I had a fit done when I bought my Serotta in spring of ’99. Except for having raised the stem, I haven’t changed anything. I should shorten the old, quill stem but, that means giving up my sweet Ti stem with the Serotta logo on it. I’d almost rather buy another bike…

  8. John Jorgensen

    When I was 12 I had saved up for my first road bike. I was 5’-7”, everybody thought I would grow to 6’. I bought a 59cm frame, measured center to top as was the convention. Two years later I had a season of racing behind and that lifetime bicycle was the wrong tool. Bought a 56cm frame and transferred components. Considered a 55 cm but I was still growing a bit.
    I eventually grew to 5’ – 10” rounding up before gravity struck back. Now, 68.5” tall.
    Way back there were no fitting consultants. One looked at photographs and glanced to the side while riding past storefront plate glass windows as a meager mirror. I observed others who looked good on the bike and dissected what was working. Much later in college I worked for a shop that did market fitting services, he did a good job, was sensible in that not everyone was aspiring to be a category 1 racer. He asked once how I came up with my position and I told him the process. He laughed and stated that he could not improve on it. At the time if there was the money around I would have invested in getting video, so it goes.

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