When to See a Bike Fitting Pro

by Von Collins

Many cyclists seem to go through a familiar progression when it comes to fitting their bikes. They start by self-fitting or getting a little help from the bike shop salesperson. Then they get some advice from their cycling friends, and maybe watch a few videos on fitting. Eventually, they go to a professional bike fitter and almost always say “Why did I wait so long?”

A professional bike fitter can help you achieve the right bike fit for your body, riding style, and cycling goals. There is no comparison between tinkering on your bike fit yourself, versus seeking the services of a professional. You will get a better fit with someone who knows what they are doing.

The Importance of Proper Bike Fit

Having a bike that fits is a gamechanger on several fronts. You will find that with the right fit, you can ride longer, ride more comfortably, and produce better power output. 

The aspects of proper bike fit are many, and can be a complicated combination of variables that are different for each person. Tweaking one factor will impact another, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. 

Saddle height, angle, and placement, the reach (distance between the saddle and handlebar), angle of the stem, handlebar width, and even the cleat placement on your shoe can make a surprisingly big difference on how your bike rides and feels.

Times You Need a Professional Bike Fitter

There are a few “trigger events” on when it might be time to consult a professional bike fitter. 

New Bike!

If you've recently purchased a new bike, it's prime time to get a fit. Even if the bike is the correct size, there are a variety of factors that can affect how comfortable the bike will be and how much power you can crank out. It is rare for a new bike to not need at least some small component replacements or adjustments to get the bike to fit you just right. 

An underrated way to use a bike fitter is to actually go to them for a consult before you buy the new bike. They can fit you and tell you which builds and brands might work best with your body dimensions. Then, you can return to them once you have the bike to get it adjusted.

Discomfort During Rides

It happens to every cyclist sooner or later. You go on a few long bike rides, and every time you have some pain, numbness, or soreness develop during or after the ride. This is a sign that your fit is off. Common areas of discomfort include the knees, back, neck, shoulders, arms, and hands. A professional bike fitter will have the attitude that any discomfort can be fixed through proper fit.

Change in Your Fitness

This is an oft-overlooked factor. As your fitness level improves or declines, your bike fit might need to be different. Some cyclists get in top shape while training for months leading up to an A-race, with strong legs and a strong core. That might enable them to do more advanced things while in the saddle. Likewise, after a layoff or long cross-training period, your bike strength might not be what it used to be, and your fit should be slightly relaxed to accommodate it. 

Performance Plateaus

If you've hit a performance plateau and are struggling to improve your cycling speed or endurance, it may be time to consult a professional bike fitter. Sometimes the plateau can be caused or at least reinforced by the fact that your bike won’t let you take full advantage of any further gains in fitness. You want your training to translate to increased power output. A fitter can help optimize your bike fit to improve your efficiency and performance.

Post-Injury

If you've recently suffered an injury, a good bike fitter should look at your bike fit to ensure that it's not exacerbating the injury or causing any additional pain. Examples might be a shoulder injury that requires you to have less pressure on your shoulders during long rides, or a back injury that calls for your bike fit to take some pressure away from the lower or upper back.

An experienced fitter has probably seen your situation before and can make adjustments to your bike to accommodate any physical limitations you may have.

What to Expect in a Professional Bike Fit Session

If you haven’t had a professional bike fit, you will probably be impressed by the amount of 1-on-1 focus you get from the fitter. Bike fitters love the details of bike geometry and biomechanics, and you will likely be impressed by how invested in your fit they become during your sessions.

When it comes to what to expect in a bike fitting, here is what is likely:

Initial Consult

Expect an initial consult that might feel a little like a visit to a doctor. You will want to share with the fitter any issues or pain you feel while riding, and what you want your outcomes to be. For some, that might be more power. For others, maybe you want to get rid of a nagging injury. Others may be looking for advice on their next bike to invest in.

Dynamic Analysis

A dynamic analysis is a fun step and one where the fitter can really see how you ride, and what your body’s mechanics look like while cycling. This involves the rider cycling on a stationary trainer or a specialized fitting bike while the bike fitter observes and makes adjustments to the bike fit. The fitter will make small adjustments to the saddle height, handlebar position, and other components until the rider's position is optimized for comfort, efficiency, and performance. They will probably ask you many times how you feel, or if anything feels unnatural.

On-Bike Measurements

The next step in a typical bike fit session is taking on-bike measurements and then translating them to your actual bike. The bike fitter will take measurements of your bike, including things like the saddle height, handlebar position, and pedal stroke. These measurements will be really important not only for this bike, but for future bikes you own. Your fit typically should be consistent among all your bikes.

The fitter will have all the tools to do any adjustments on-the-spot. You should expect to leave the session with a perfectly-fitting bike.

Throughout the entire process, the professional bike fitter should communicate with the rider and explain the reasoning behind each adjustment. The goal of a professional bike fit is to create a comfortable and efficient riding position that allows the rider to achieve whatever their goals are. Your clear communication to the fitter is essential to this.

About the Author

Von Collins is an avid triathlete, endurance cyclist, coach, and the author of four endurance and fitness guides, including Your First Triathlon Guide: 100 Days to Your First Triathlon. He is part of the editing team at Complete Tri.

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