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Bike Fittings: What Every Cyclist Needs to Know

Bike Racing

Photo: Pond5

From first day pedal pushers to those who shred the gnar daily, cycling is a sport that attracts riders of all different skill levels. Some have loved the sport since they were kids, while others may have decided to take it up later in life because running started to hurt their knees or they wanted a new way to get around town. While the bikes and the way professionals and amateurs ride will very likely differ, there is one thing that all cyclists should be doing the same — getting a bike fitting.

The 411 on Fittings

A bike fitting is exactly what it sounds like — a professional service that helps personalize the fit of your bike for the way you ride. “It’s hard to get a bad bike,” says Alex Lugosch, co-founder of 3D Bike Fit, a fitting studio in San Francisco, CA. “But it’s really easy to get the wrong bike.” So how do you know which one is right? And which saddle and shoes are best? Fittings take away the guesswork. They ensure your positioning on the bike will allow you to have the most enjoyable, effective ride possible. If your bike fits you properly, you should be able to ride for three to four hours on it comfortably.

Cost Considerations

Many people are initially turned off from fittings, especially beginners, because of the price. Though they range in cost, a quality bike fitting generally comes in around $200 and usually takes no less than two hours. While that may seem like a lot, Lugosch reminds people to put it into perspective asking, “What’s more expensive ultimately — a fitting or buying a $1,000 or $2,000 bike that you only ride for six months because it’s uncomfortable?” It’s also important to keep in mind that this is a professional service and therefore paying less than the average rate may not provide you with the resources you need.

Bike Fitting

Photo: 3D Bike Fit

Finding a Fitter

The next step is finding the right place to have your fitting done. For this, Lugosch says that reputation is worth factoring in. “If you’re reading about a bike fitter in a cycling publication, there’s a reason the journalists picked up on those fitter,” he says. “Yelp is a good resource as well. Just be sure the shop or studio has lots of reviews.” Experience helps fitters get better, so look for ones that see lots of cyclists.

Ask the fitter what certifications they have and where they stand on protocol. Lugosch suggests telling them you want to be sized according to stack and reach (looking at the bike as a square, in its entirety, and measuring how long and tall the whole bike is) as opposed to top tube typical geometry (only the length of the top tube is taken into consideration, which doesn’t mean anything particularly when two similar bikes have different seat tube angles). And, it’s important to make sure that fitting is the person or shop’s primary function. “You don’t want to get a fitting from a random bike shop owner,” says Lugosch. “Because you could end up spending a lot of money and not see any improvement in your riding style.” The goal is to find out what bike fits you best and why.

Digging Deeper

While two hours may seem like a long time to adjust your saddle and purchase new pedals, a fitting entails a lot more than that. A good bike fitting always starts with a physical exam. “The fitter should evaluate your flexibility, the structure of your bones, and ask about previous injuries,” says Lugosch. “They use that information to create a profile about you, and extrapolate that to a position on the bike.”

If you’re told almost immediately by your fitter that they will create a custom bike for you, that may be a red flag. This “fitter” may just be interested in selling you a bike, and having you spend more than necessary. “Look for someone who has an understanding of how the body works,” says Lugosch. “You want a fitter to be able explain how the changes they are making will impact your position on the bike.” And while making a sale shouldn’t be the fitter’s purpose, it’s normal and expected for them to suggest different accessories that would make your riding better and more comfortable. So don’t be afraid to take these suggestions and make purchases. “You want to leave with everything you need,” says Lugosch. “

The Learning Curve

Post bike fitting, you should have a thorough understanding of what you need to work on to improve your riding experience. For example, if you’ve been running all your life and just recently started biking, you may need to work on flexibility issues, like tightness in your hamstrings. Or maybe you need to see a professional to correct your pelvic or spine alignment. Knowing who you are as a rider and how you can improve are definite takeaways from this process. “You should also have a thorough understanding of what you looked like when you rode before, and what you look like now,” says Lugosch. “Those should be different.” If your back was rounded before, maybe it’s straight now. You may now sit on a firmer saddle that allows for longer rides. You should be able to pinpoint changes.

If you’re using your bike just to commute less than two to three miles to work every day, than a fitting may not be worth your time and money. However, if you want to enjoy cycling as a part of your life, a fitting can make an even bigger difference than the actual bike you ride. “Biking isn’t a painful sport,” says Lugosch. “The only pain you should ever feel on your bike is pain you inflict on yourself.” If you are feeling aches, numbness, or having muscle spasms, something needs to be changed.

Lugosch’s recommendation for those who want to get the most out of the sport?

“Spend $1,000 less on your bike and $1,000 more on the fitting and accessories.”

Originally published on October 14, 2013. 

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