State of Bike Fitting

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I was enjoying a nice croissant while riding the other day and a man passed me and his knees were pedalling horizontally instead of up and down. I was in pain just watching him.What is it about bike fitting which gets the blood boiling? Is it the connection of the fitters artistic approach and time investment or the fact that once you see so many proper fits the bad fits leave deep scars in your eyes. Either way seeing a great fit is like seeing all the parts of a fine timepiece working in beautiful synchronization. But a bad bike fit, well, it makes me want to scream.

I’ve been fitting road cyclists and triathletes since 1999 and learned the craft first through certifications at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and then through ongoing education with experts in the field and at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine with the three worldwide experts in the field, Dr. Andy Pruitt, Neal Henderson and Todd Carver. These three were the innovators and brains behind what are the famous brand names today in the bike fitting industry. I went on to run two bike fitting studios, created a bike fitting education course for new fitters and have since completed hundreds and hundreds of bike fits on professional and amateur athletes all over the world.

The evolution of bike fitting into a professional career and industry has been impressive to say the least. As triathlon and cycling has exploded worldwide so has the need for good bike fitters and since the sports skew to an affluent clientele naturally the price points have risen along. What has improved and increased in the same time is the science and technology to ensure a good fit. Unfortunately, I see cyclists weekly who have not had even the most basic of fittings. How in the world a bike shop can sell a bike at any price and not do a decent bike fit is beyond me. But I’ll leave that issue for another post.

Fitting is mostly science (err numbers) and to a small degree art. It is the balance of power, comfort and aerodynamics and how those three are aligned for the individual rider. Yes, there are specific measurements to achieve during the fitting but the riders body type, foot measurements, flexibility, type of racing, previous injuries, riding habits and overall feeling have to be considered when measuring. I had one gentlemen who had prostate cancer surgery and could not sit straight on the saddle. Talk about a challenging scenario.

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Right now it is popular to get the high end computerized bike fits which use multiple cameras to capture a real time digital video of the rider and the system also captures the measurements. These systems are very good at what they do. The but is coming. They do offer a wide variety of information and do assist in obtaining a good fit. But, the equipment is only as good as the user and the fitter still has to know what measurements to put the rider in to achieve the results. Unfortunately even with these systems there are some fits which are incorrect. I frequently see and refit triathletes who have been put into road measurements and those two are not interchangeable. The fitter has to know what are the likely results when the elbows are widened or the cleat is rotated three degrees clockwise. I recently fit a triathlete on a 3K dollar bike and the fitter did not even use the tools he had at his disposal to measure the athlete. That is just lazy and the athlete was in considerable pain and could not stay in the aero position due to this laziness. Do I like the high tech systems? Yes. Are they helpful? Yes. But they are not the end all be all in fitting and most of the time you do not need a machine gun to kill a mosquito. They are also very expensive and let’s just say that most people don’t want to spend 300-400 dollars on getting a proper fit. What most people need is an experienced fitter who has seen many problems and delivered even more solutions. I recently changed a future Ironman athletes entire riding experience by making a one centimeter change. With that simple change she gained 1-2 MPH at the same power. A centimeter goes a long way in fitting!

There are so many components to bike fitting and many of them are all interrelated. As you move one thing it effects one or two other things and the fitter has to be able to forecast different scenarios. For tri fitters I think it also helps if the fitter knows first hand what it’s like to ride a steep angle bike for 6-7 hours. It gives the fitter another level of compassion for the person they’re fitting.

I routinely do what I refer to as the BodyZen Basic Bike Fit and I’m really ecstatic with the feedback from cyclists. I love hearing how comfortable they are after the fit or how I alleviated their foot pain. Because I’m passionate about cycling it’s truly rewarding. The BodyZen Basic Fit takes into consideration the foot angle, knee angle, torso angle, aerodynamics and all of the aforementioned parts to achieve a perfect riding position. I have three devices I use to measure, remeasure, remeasure again to ensure that either proper road or tri measurements are met in relation to the athletes body, training and racing. Just writing this brings back a memory of reading an article about Ernesto Colnago who founded Colnago Bikes. Ernesto once fitted a dozen reporters in the span of thirty minutes using only a plumb bob. The reporter wrote that each fit was spot on perfect. The point is that sometimes you don’t need a machine gun to kill a mosquito.

Here’s my early Santa wish list: Every cyclist needs to seek out an experienced and educated fitter to get fit. Every cyclist needs to asses if they are comfortable while riding (you shouldn’t be in pain). Once you get fit then ride for a 100-200 miles before deciding if you like the fit. If the bike shop you bought the bike at did not do even the most rudimentary fitting on a stationary bike with various measuring tools then go get a proper fit.

And my last wish is that I don’t see any more poor fits when I’m out cycling. It just makes my blood boil and well, I can’t have that going on while I’m enjoying my croissant.

If you’re interested in the BodyZen Basic Bike Fit please email leezee@bodyzen.com to set up your appointment.

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