What to Look for in a Bike Fit
When you’re new to cycling, you might be fairly content to just jump on the bike and go. You won’t give much thought to the details when you’re enjoying the rush of the wind on your face and the rumble of your wheels on the pavement.
But when that early enjoyment of riding turns into a serious commitment to the sport, you’ll soon realize the details matter. Whether you plan to put in long hours on the road or perform at top speed, you want to keep finding joy in the ride.
Cycling comfort and performance aren’t about any one choice you make. Everything from your chamois to your saddle matters, but there’s perhaps one thing that will make more difference than anything else: a bike fit. Having a professional tweak the small details about your bike and body positioning can make all the difference in whether you can keep pace or find comfort for many miles ahead.
It’s not as simple as just getting any bike fit, though. Not every bike fitter has the expertise and experience to help every cyclist. And, with over three decades of bike fit experience and more than 850 satisfied clients, Coach Darryl understands what it takes to make every cyclist comfortable. Here’s his definitive list of three things to look for in a bike fit.
Bike Fitter Essential #1: They Know Every Cyclist Is Unique
The first and most important feature you want in a bike fitter is someone who pays attention to your unique needs and preferences.
“Bicyclists are not all alike, and the bicycles they ride and the terrain they prefer vary significantly,” says Coach Darryl. “It’s like automobiles — some like a plush Cadillac, others like all-terrain vehicles, others prefer a sporty and light Miata. But no matter which bicycling vehicle you prefer, if you are properly fit on the bike, you are usually stronger and more comfortable.”
Unfortunately, far too many bike fitters are only equipped to handle one type of cyclist — a young, fit twenty-something who cares mostly about maximizing speed. Or, maybe they’ve taken a crash course on bike fits and learned how to do some basic measurements like the book test for saddle height. Either way, they haven’t learned the nuances of fitting a bike to each unique rider, so clients who don’t fit their narrow approach will ultimately be left unsatisfied.
“You don’t want the bike fitter to be a one-trick pony,” says Darryl.
This is why, when he starts a bike fit, the first thing he asks a new client is to order the following in terms of priority: comfort, endurance and performance. The order they choose dictates how he approaches the bike fit from there.
Bike Fitter Essential #2: They Focus on the Cyclist, Not the Bike
Some bike fitters make another mistake that fails to account for the individual cyclist. In this case, they don’t really pay enough attention to the cyclist at all — they focus instead on the bike.
This bike-first approach measures saddle height — one of the most important bike-fit measurements — from the bottom bracket to the saddle rather than from where the cyclist engages the pedal at the bottom of their rotation. Ultimately, this provides an imprecise measurement for this critical component, and it may leave the cyclist short on pedaling power or with pain in their knees.
A cyclist-first focus gets this measurement right, but it also does much more. After finding out this client’s top priorities, Darryl’s next order of business is to discover every part of the body currently causing pain and discomfort. Whether it’s the hands, wrists, elbows, neck or shoulders, he wants to know each spot that bothers them when they’re on the bike so he can address each issue.
At this point, we’re well into the bike fit process, and Darryl hasn’t even touched the bike or made any adjustments. That’s what it looks like to think cyclist first, and that’s what you want in a bike fit.
Bike Fitter Essential #3: They Have the Experience for the Job
This may be last on our list, but it’s possibly the biggest difference maker. When it comes to finding a good bike fitter, experience is everything.
A complete bike fit is far more complicated than what someone will cover in a quick crash course. Coach Darryl’s bike fits take about three hours, and he documents every possible detail and measurement you can imagine in order to create a complete, personalized fit.
“For just about every bike fit, I find that I learn something or I emphasize something that wasn’t emphasized before,” says Darryl. “You learn from doing this. That’s why doctors call their work of seeing patients a practice."
After documenting his client’s preferences and pain points, only then does Darryl turn to the bike to begin documenting all four saddle measurements. He then measures the handlebars, bike tubes, pedals and cleats. Finally, he gets the cyclist on their bike (and yes, it has to be their own bike!) to begin taking important measurements like knee angle and knee-to-pedal distance. And he takes “before and after” pictures and documents every measurement and change.
The point? A true bike fit is detailed and complex, something only an experienced fitter can provide. He projects his eight-page document on a TV and makes live updates so the client can interact with it and understand the adjustments he’s making. Besides making tweaks to the bike, he offers coaching on how the cyclist can adjust the positioning of their body to avoid pain in their necks and hands. When it’s all said and done, he sends the client on their way with a full document of measurements and instructions, along with more than a dozen pictures.
Bonus: They Can Easily Replicate Your Bike Fit
Those three features are, by far, the most important aspects of any bike fit. However, it’s worth noting one more thing that will save you time and money: If they take detailed notes, a good bike fitter will be able to replicate your fit on any bike.
In other words, if you have three different bikes, you don’t need to bring all three into the same bike-fit session, nor do you need to get a three-hour fit for each one. Your fitter should be able to bring you back for short 45-minute sessions to replicate the same fit on those other bikes without any trouble.
Whether you’re riding one bike or several, having a proper fit is essential. If you’re not comfortable on the bike, your riding days will likely be short-lived.
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Unsplash