As with everything in the world of cycling, everyone has an opinion and there’s an awful lot of myth to bust. Bike fitting is no different, and we often hear the same old half-truths and all-out mistruths repeated.
BikeRadar spoke to Scott Holz, bike fitting and Retül expert from Specialized Bicycles, to get the lowdown on some of the myths and misconceptions he’s encountered over years.
1. There’s a perfect on-bike position
This is one of the biggest myths out there; that somehow, through manipulating the frame and positioning the saddle, all riders can achieve the one optimum position on the bike that can be measured in angles and lengths and is the best position for cycling.
The truth is that every rider is different. We have different bodies for a start, with different proportions, levels of flexibility and power output — not to mention that we may have different goals or desired outcomes from a fit, or may be riding different bikes. A good bike fitter will take all of these into account and find the position that provides each rider with the optimum blend of comfort, efficiency and performance.
2. Bike fits are only for hardcore roadies
While bike fits are highly recommended for road cyclists who are going, by the very nature of the sport, to be spending a long time working hard in a very fixed position — repeating the same movements over and over again — the truth is that a bike fit can benefit a wide range of riders. Mountain bikers and commuters are obvious examples, but it doesn’t just need to be something that people looking to race opt for — a bike fit can ensure your ride is comfortable and that you avoid cumulative injury.
On the flip side, a good bike fit can seem like a serious wodge of cash to spend when you might have already spent a fair bit on a new bike. However, even just getting a decent set-up on saddle height and reach can mean the difference between a comfortable ride, which means you cycle more, and a painful experience that causes you to throw the bike in the shed and vow never to ride again.
This is the kind of simple service that more and more shops offer, and it’s totally worth doing whatever bike you ride. Then, if or when you decide you’re riding enough to warrant a fuller fit, you’ll already know the difference a bike fit can make.
3. I only need one bike fit to get myself set up
Many people will invest in a bike fit when they first buy their bike, or if they are training for an event, and then won’t think about it again. This, says Holz, is a mistake.
“I’d really recommend getting a fit if you’ve had any kind of big body change,” he says. “Injuries, goals that are achieved such as regularly going to yoga and improving flexibility, big weight changes, pregnancy, and so on.”
4. All bike fits are created equal
There are many different approaches to bike fit out there. Some rely purely on average dimensions and angles, other are a more collaborative effort designed to work with you to find the optimum position.
Things to look out for include a bike fitter that listens and acknowledges what you are looking to achieve from a fit, takes that on board, and works with you to achieve those goals.
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5. The lower my position, the faster I’ll be
While it is true that position on the bike can affect how aerodynamic the rider is and therefore how fast they can go — as demonstrated by the strange position of The Flying Scotsman Graeme Obree, and his subsequently banned ‘superman’ riding position — as with everything in life, there is a trade-off. At a certain point an aerodynamic position begins to compromise power output and efficiency, so while you may have less drag, you aren’t putting out as much power.
6. A bike fit can make the wrong size frame fit me
While a bike fit can certainly ensure you get the most comfortable and efficient position for the type of riding you do, there are only so many tweaks you can make before you start to compromise bike handling. The truth of the matter is that first and foremost you need to make sure you have the right size frame, then go from there.
Bikes are designed to allow for a certain degree of flexibility in fit around each size, there’s a window of adaptation that allows riders who don’t sit exactly at height range’s centre point for each size to get a good fit without affecting how the bike feels to ride.
7. Suffering is part-and-parcel of cycling
If you’re in pain or uncomfortable while cycling, something is probably not quite right somewhere. Whether that’s to do with the bike fit or indicates an underlying physical or medical issue is something that a good bike fitter will be able to determine.
A key part of many bike fit procedures, and certainly the Specialized bike fit method, is a pre-fit assessment that looks at things like flexibility, sit-bone width, foot structure and so on. A conversation with the rider is also important to find out about any known medical issues, niggles or pain they have while riding and what they are looking to achieve from the fit.
“The key thing is that we’ve taught people to look at the body, then look at the person on the bike, then you’ll be able to say ‘X is happening because of Y”, explains Holz. “For example, medial knee pain has four possible causes, and I have no idea which of those four things it might be until I have done a physical evaluation, which then gives me a really good idea of which one or two causes are most likely, then I deal with the problem.
“For example, if you have someone who had medial knee pain, and has high arches but ones that collapse in when under pressure, that’s going to push the knee towards the top tube when pedalling. If they aren’t using arch support there’s a pretty good case that the knee pain is coming from that. Add arch support to the shoe and the problem should be solved.”
8. Changing parts like saddles won’t affect my fit
Think swapping a little thing like a saddle won’t affect your fit? Think again. Holz has observed this time and time again.
“Your number isn’t your number”, he says, referring to the bike set-up measurements. “Your number is only your number for that particular set of equipment. I think that’s a place where people make mistakes; they swap something out, especially saddles, and everything else is affected as a result. One thing can affect another.”
With saddles in particular, the difference between models or brands can result in a change of a few centimetres — more than enough to have a knock-on effect on the ride feel. Change something like handlebars or even pedals, and you can have a similar experience.
9. The fit ends when I walk out the door
Think of a fit more like an ongoing process and your bike fitter as your guide. You’ll inevitably take the bike home and start riding it, and it might be at this point that you’ll really feel the benefits — although you might also find you still have some niggles. Give your bike fitter a call and they should be happy to help.
Ideally, they’ll give you a call a week or so after the fit to check up on how you’re doing. If they don’t, and if you have issues, don’t hesitate to call them yourself; it might be something that’s easily fixable or it perhaps other issues will come to light. Holz has certainly experienced this himself.
“I’ve had fits that have gone that way,” he laughs. “You fix one thing, and that’s better, but then they notice this second thing that was bugging them that they didn’t notice before because the first problem hurt more, and now they want this new problem fixed.”
In fact, Holz also recommends catching up with your fitter every year so that niggles can be ironed out and problems alleviated before they become too pronounced or detrimental to health or performance.
10. A bike fit is going to take me a whole day
While thorough bike fits do take a couple of hours, it’s a myth that you need to set aside most of a day to have one done.
“An experienced fitter can do the pre-fit assessment and the majority of the bike fit in two hours or less,” says Holz. “There are obviously things that can derail the timing, like if the cleats are rusted onto the shoe, but in normal circumstances in two hours or less you should be out the door.”
As Holz mentioned, there are some issues that mean the fit might take a little longer but in general it should be possible to get your fit done in a morning or over a long lunchtime — depending on when your fitter is available. It’s worth booking it in advance and you may want to avoid busy periods such as rush hours.