Three Real Reasons to get a Bike Fitting

Lately it seems there are many people writing articles about “Why should I get a Bike Fitting”. Every reason from “ Improving your ride experience” to “ Because you are older”, whatever that means? This got me thinking about legitimate reasons people should seek the help of a Bike Fitting professional. My list of potential reasons was pretty long when I started making notes for this article.  I noticed some of the “reasons” were not reasons at all but were direct results of an improved position through a quality comprehensive bike fitting. So I went back though notes I have taken with fittings I have done over the years. I ask every client during the interview process of my fitting, “ Why have they come to see me and get a bike fitting”? Turns out the primary reason most people (some 90%) come to me for a fitting is they are in pain. While this is a good reason it is not one I like very much because it could have been very likely prevented. This leads me to the first of my 3 reasons to get a bike fitting.

Injury Prevention

One of the main reasons I believe people should seek out a bike fitting is for injury prevention. This is not why most people are getting fit in my studio every day but I still believe it to be the most important reason to get a fit. Crashes aside, the number one injury on a bicycle is an overuse injury. For most riders, it is not a matter of if , but when are they going to get injured from cycling in a poor position. The human body can handle a certain amount of activity in a poor position at a given intensity and adapt to avoid pain and injury. Once the duration or intensity exceeds what the rider is able to adapt to, injury is always the result. There are 4 stages of this type of injury. First, there is pain in the affected area after riding. Second, there is pain during rides but it does not restrict riding. Third, the pain during riding restricts the rider in some way usually resulting in compensation. Finally a rider experiences chronic pain even when not riding. People usually come to see me for a fitting in the third stage of this cycle because this is when they notice a change that gets their attention. A lot could have been done much earlier if they would have got the fitting to avoid the injury altogether. The problem here is that people are not thinking of preventative fitting as a way to ride longer and harder with less chance of injury. When nothing hurts there is not a problem.

Body Changes

Our bodies change over time. The easy example of this is in adolescence. As a rider grows their position will obviously change. Their bike will get bigger as they get bigger and stronger. But there are several other changes that should trigger a need for a new bike fitting from every rider. Things like changes in flexibility, core strength, or weight can play a big role in how you interact with your bike. If you have been going to yoga 4 days a week and now have some joints that are much more mobile but perhaps less stable as a result that can make knee tracking more erratic or pelvic stability be different than before. If you are a new mother who just had a child through cesarean delivery the core activation and strength can be incredibly impacted as a result. This will make stabilizing on the bike difficult and is something I find amazing the medical community rarely addresses with physical therapy for a postpartum mother if they are an athlete. Weight changes can make a huge difference in a person’s ability to rotate their pelvis on the saddle or close the hip angle at the top of the pedal stroke. If a rider has been in the same position for many years but now has what I refer to as “the lunch muscle” or “Milwaukee tumor” that aggressive position they used to race criteriums in, probably isn’t very sustainable or powerful  anymore. Going the other way is also common with the weight issue. If you are now more fit and significantly lighter as a result of riding your bike for the health benefits that more upright position and wider saddle that was needed to accommodate your 300 pound body is probably not working well for the new 185 pound version of yourself. Not as many riders come to me for a fitting because of body changes but still a large group of people need to keep this in mind.

Equipment Changes

This is the one I think is the most obvious but is still widely ignored for whatever reason. One day you are in the bike shop and you just can’t pass up the killer deal they are blowing out on you dream bike. Any new bike purchase should always mean a trip to see your bike fitter. Even if just to have the bike set up to your current position or what I like to call a numbers transfer. There can be things I might see as a fitter you didn’t think about when you bought the bike, like the new bike has 175mm cranks and you are currently on 170mm. This leads me to the second part of equipment changes. Any contact point change on your bike needs to be considered with your position in mind. This list of parts is staggering when you think about it. Shoes, pedals, cleats, insoles ( for some even socks), cranks, seatpost, saddle, shorts, handlebars, stems, shifters, replacement hoods, gloves, bar tape, among others. All of these things change how you interact with your bike. I am even looking at glasses and eye shields/helmet during a fitting if necessary. I see many people who got the killer deal (Black Friday) on some new shoes but they make their feet numb after 50 miles. A good deal is no longer a good deal if it is the wrong size and creates issues, even if it was free of charge. Remember nothing is free, there is always a cost. If you are changing anything on the bike ask yourself first, “How will this affect my fitting”.

In Conclusion

While brainstorming for this article I listed many things like comfort, performance, confidence and even optimizing the experience of cycling. While these might seem like perfectly good reasons for a bike fitting I see these more as results instead of drivers or reasons. You should expect with a good fitting you will be more comfortable but if that is why you think you are getting a fitting I would bet the pain you are feeling is more of a driver than the desire for comfort. Some folks come to me wanting more performance or aerodynamics and these are my favorite clients to deal with in a fitting. I often have to educate clients on how I am looking for more sustainability and better breathing that will result in lower heart rates and sometimes even lower power readings but faster speeds with less energy expenditure. Covering more ground in less time and using less energy for better recovery. Performance isn’t always about more. Sometimes more performance is about less. Less time, less energy, less pain, less recovery. When all of these things come together the experience of cycling is always optimized. If you are not having a better experience on your bike after a quality bike fitting find a different fitter or go back to your fitter and give them the chance to make it right. I will do whatever it takes to make the client happy on their bike. This makes me try things and techniques I might not otherwise try. This helps me grow as a bike fitter. The challenge of every person being different and every fitting being unique is what gets me in the studio every day.