An Upgrade That Improves Your Comfort and Performance Without Pricey New Gear

Cycling

A properly fitting bike is key to a woman’s efficiency and comfort during a ride.

Many shops offer bike fits, and the price will range between $150 and $350 dollars, most places. I understand how this could seem like a sizable investment for something you might assume the internet could teach you, but getting a professional bike fit is a surefire way to improve your performance and transform your riding experience into something your whole body enjoys. It’s an upgrade that can benefit all types of cyclists. Before springing for a new bike, a carbon wheel set, or even a new saddle, try this and see if a better bike fit (meaning: the orientation of your seat, pedals, and handlebars in relation to the cyclist’s body in riding position) doesn’t diminish pain or discomfort and make you happier and more efficient on your bike.

Speaking from personal experience, I can assure you that getting a bike fit is a painless and super interesting experience. I bought my road bike a couple years ago and had a physical therapist friend informally set it up for me according to Andy Pruitt’s fit philosophy. It has worked fine but I still experienced some crush-age down there and found myself repositioning my hips after an hour or so in the saddle and experimenting with various holds on my handlebars. So, I got a more in-depth fit last week and thought I’d share how it went so you know what to expect when you get a bike fit.

1. The fit specialist will measure where your cleats should be positioned on the bottom of your shoes. And, if you’re me, he’ll comment on the unusual length of your toes.

I made an appointment with a cyclist/triathlete/mechanic/bike shop guy named Adam, who has 11 years of bike fitting experience under various philosophies. He now uses a custom fit bike and a combination of the methods from each school of thought to fit all walks of riders on their bikes. The bottom line of a good fit, he says, is whether the rider is in a powerful and efficient position and whether he/she is comfortable.

To start, he had me put on my cycling shoes and put pressure on the balls of my feet. He marked my shoes at the balls of my feet then adjusted the position of my cleats accordingly. First thing, he said, “You have some really long toes.” It was just a professional observation but his ability to know that without having ever seen my finger toes made me laugh. He likes to position the cleats closer to the rider’s midfoot that toes to prevent hotspots and maximize power. Adam suggested I get an extension plate and position my cleats even further back than the shoes allow.

2. The fitter will get the bike roughly set up for you; then you’ll do a quick warm up. Adam lowered the bike seat and slid back the handlebars on his fit bike then asked me to hop on. After a couple adjustments to get me in a normal riding position, he had me spin for a few minutes as a warm up. “It doesn’t really make sense to do a bike fit before all the juices are flowing and you’re really in your groove,” he explained. “Anyone can look good on a bike for the first couple minutes.”

3. You’ll work up a sweat. In this fit method, Adam viewed a real-time feed of my power output to determine where I was putting down power and how efficient I was in each position, so I had to spin pretty hard and fast (for me) to get a true power measurement. Which is why you should probably expect to sweat during a bike fit.

4. The fit specialist will watch you while spin and stop you occasionally to make adjustments. You’ll spin in front of mirrors while the fitter makes adjustments to the height and position of your seat and handlebars. The fitter will track your efficiency, study your position, and ask you to evaluate your comfort.

5. He or she might give you pointers, like “Roll your hips forward,” “Allow a slight bend in your elbow,” or “Remember to drop your heel during each rotation.” For example, Adam said that, overall, I have great riding posture. However, he said I wiggle side to side. “That’s because your core is nice and weak,” he said. “Work on those stabilizers muscles with side planks.” He also noticed I let my right ankle rotate freely and lock up my left ankle, spinning with my toe pointed down. He told me to try letting my left ankle move fluidly, too. He also warned me not to lock up my elbows and shoulders while riding, saying, “Rest on the hoods like you’re shaking someone’s hand.” He had me relax my chest forward and rest on the hoods of my handlebars with a slight bend in my elbow. It’s tough to correct all at once, but I now have things to work on during rides.

6. The fit specialist will fine-tune your position and give you a set of numbers that represent your ideal position. By the end of my bike fit, Adam seemed pleased with my efficiency and worked mostly on fine-tuning the fit to get me comfortable. He adjusted the handlebar height, had me ride a while, and asked. “Better or worse?” I couldn’t tell. He adjusted it again, asked me opinion after a couple minutes. “This feels more natural?” I tried. So he moved on to the length of my reach. He slid the handlebars either backward or forward—I couldn’t tell. “Better or worse?” Worse. He adjusted the reach again. “This is better,” I said finally, with conviction. “Okay, you’re set!”

I hopped off the bike and over to his computer, which listed my magic numbers:
675mm seat height, from center of bottom bracket (cranks)
480mm reach, from front tip of the saddle to the center of the handlebars
4mm setback, how far the tip of the saddle is behind the center of the bottom bracket

Adam said this is a typical female fit. Plus, he noted that I have really long femurs, which I think is also pretty common for women. Relative to my previous fit, I went up 1.2cm in saddle height and forward 2cm in fore/aft. I got set up with a shorter (by 1 cm) stem and also lowered it 1cm.

This isn’t the end all, be all. Minor adjustments are probably okay. Adam said the difference in my power output from when I first got on the fit bike to my last few minutes on it was pretty huge, and I’ve felt great the three times I’ve ridden since then. Time will be the true test.

However, I’m sold enough on the positive result of a professional bike fit that I’m going to try this on my mountain bike. And that will be truly interesting, because my current mountain bike fit is actually worse than my road bike fit, as I often experience low back pain from riding in an upright posture in attempt to produce more power and calm my “favorites” (as my younger cousin used to call her privates). I know my legs are pretty dang strong but feel slow and weak a lot of the time on my mountain bike, which I understand now isn’t entirely my fault.

Have you had a professional bike fit? Tell us about your experience. How did it improve your riding?

I tried filming the bike fit but my camera stopped before the core part of the fit began. So, here’s a blooper reel of sorts that also depicts what you can expect during a professional bike fit.

Last modified: May 23, 2013

3 Responses to :
An Upgrade That Improves Your Comfort and Performance Without Pricey New Gear

  1. Mindy Caruso says:

    Agree with discussion, having a professional bike fit with a reputable fitter is the most important element of riding a bike efficiently with power and comfort. John Verheul of JBV Coaching has fit me on TT, road and cyclocross bikes. If I had an adult trike, I’d have him fit me on that, as well. Here’s my testimonial, http://www.jbvcoaching.com/BikeFits.asp.

    1. Jennifer Olson says:

      Glad you agree, Mindy! It’s fabulous that your knee pain has diminished, thanks to a proper bike fit and a naturally powerful position. Thanks for sharing your story!

      And… John’s actually a friend of mine, too. Great guy and coach!

  2. Sarah Lough says:

    John of JBV Coaching fit me on both my road and TT bikes. Immediately I felt stronger, more powerful, and more comfortable. And I’m getting faster.

    I think the difference between an “ok” bike fitter and a “great” bike fitter is the ability to problem solve with a number of different variables. We are all so different in our proportions, flexibility, and the bikes we already own – and to get the ideal fit may take some creativity. For example, John found the position I needed to be in on my TT bike – but to get there, we had to flip the bars, find a saddle I could actually sit on, find a new stem, and dig up about 20 washers to make the bike do what it needed to do. This is problem solving/bike fitting at its finest.

    http://www.jbvcoaching.com/BikeFits.asp

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