When you buy a new bike there are a few metrics that everyone uses to find the ideal size. For a quick fit in shop, salespeople usually use a combination of reach and inner leg length to find the right frame size for you, but if you want to get the best out of your new bike and yourself, then getting a professional fit is crucial. In this article we take a look at what a bike fit is and how it can translate into results.
What is a bike fit?
A bike fit is the process of perfecting the various dimensions of your bike to ensure optimum comfort and efficiency. You may already know the basics like how to alter your saddle position and front end, but a professional bike fitter will be able to adjust everything on the bike to totally transform your ride. A professional will know exactly what effect even the most incremental of changes can have and how they’ll impact other areas – e.g. saddle position and stem height – so it’s well worth going to an expert so your bike isn’t left completely out of kilter, which could lead to injuries.
When to get a bike fit
There are many instances when a bike fit might be called for, but as previously mentioned, a bike fit should go hand in hand with the purchase of a new road bike. This is especially important if you’re riding and racing your bike on a regular basis as you will need to unlock its full potential.
You may also need a bike fit if you’ve had some time off the bicycle and your body has changed as a result. This may include if you’ve lost a lot of weight or if you’re getting back into cycling after having a child. A short-term tweak to your position may be needed to make it a more comfortable ride.
One of the most crucial times to address your position on the bike is when you’re recovering from a common cycling injury, for instance, a broken collarbone or wrist. It’s also well worth considering if you are experiencing persistent pain and discomfort in areas like your lower back or knees when cycling.
What happens at a bike fit?
Bike fits can often take a while but be prepared to wear your ride kit and shoes to get as close to real-life riding conditions as possible – if you have more than one pair of shoes, take them along to make sure positioning is consistent all year round. Often an informal interview is the first thing that happens at a bike fit. This way the expert can assess what sort of rider you are and what you want from the fit before moving on to the next stage. The expert will then look at some or all of these areas in detail:
Saddle – specifically the position of the saddle over the bottom bracket (this is called setback). Finding the correct position is important because if it is set too far forward you will be overusing your hamstrings, but if it’s too far back your quads take the strain which can lead to knee pain.
Cleats – This is a small tweak but it makes a huge difference and could be the route out of possible aches and pains. Adjusting cleat position also makes a difference to the muscles used in your pedal stroke which in turn increases power production.
Hoods and break levers – These can be adjusted for comfort, especially if you feel a lot of pressure and discomfort in your wrists. The levers can also be brought closer to the hoods if you have slightly smaller hands and you struggle to pull the levers.
Stem length – For reach and position on the bike. This can help you get into a more aerodynamic position or conversely, if you feel overstretched on your bike, a more comfortable upright style.
Stem height – Changing the stem height can get you into a more aerodynamic position without having to increase the reach. This will encourage a flatter back when you’re riding and a more comfortable and efficient position.
New saddle – If you’re suffering from saddle pains, sores or a riding imbalance, this may mean that your current saddle (possibly the standard one the bike was sold with) is not well matched to your body. A bike fitter can assess your sit bone width and general flexibility, and using a variety of tools, they’ll be able to match you with a saddle that is ideal for you. Finding yourself to a new saddle can be a tiresome experience and is often a matter of trial and error with many different saddle designs so be patient with it.
How it makes you a better rider
Perhaps the best thing about a bike fit is that it has the power to make you a better rider. When you’re properly fitted to your bike, you’ll see an immediate improvement to your power output as you become a more efficient cyclist, meaning that there is no unnecessary wasted effort.
In short, getting a bike fit means that you will spend less time focussing on little niggles and pains, and more time on what really matters, whether it’s beating your personal best up a tricky climb or just wanting to have as much fun as possible on your bike. A fit, healthy, and comfortable cyclist is a quicker cyclist.