2/16/06 – Bike Fit

I try to study bike fitting every winter. While I definitely have enough fitting appointments to keep me busy (and some of you keep me busier than others…just kidding), I think it’s important to keep up with new developments in physiology, bike geometry, and theory in general.

It’s this time of year that I get especially frustrated though, by being reminded of all the bad advice that is swimming around out there on the “Bike Club Circuit”. Now, that’s not a knock on bike clubs – they’re vital to the existence and continued growth of our sport – but it seems that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about how bikes ought to fit and about what you can and can’t get away with when it comes to choosing a bike and making it fit. Worst of all, some of those rumors are propigated by bike shops!

Poorly trained (or not trained at all) professionals some times give out the worst advice of all! Ultimately, this leads to an amazing amount of people running around on bikes which don’t fit and therefore aren’t comfortable to ride. (One fitting school puts the figure at almost 80% of cyclists. Now, what they don’t disclose is whether that number is just enthusiasts or whether it also includes the 11 year old who just got a bike for his birthday from Toys-R-Us which is 5 sizes too big, but no one knew better – he just thought it looked cool).

Now, there are a lot of good “rules-of-thumb” that function as guides for fitting a bike – but just like all rules of thumb, there are times when they are to be broken. There are also a lot of “guidelines” which many people (including bike shop employees – not ours) use which almost guarantee your bike won’t fit. I ran into it again yesterday: straddle the bike, pick it up by the seat and handlebars, and if you have a certain amount of clearance – you’ve found the bike for you. WRONG! This couldn’t be further from the truth! With all the different ways manufacturers measure their bikes, use different geometries, and with the advent of the sloping top tube – if this guideline were forgotten forever, I’d be a happy man. The problem is that standing over the bike only takes one dimension of the bike and one dimension of your physiology into account: the height of the top tube and how it relates to your inseam. This method completely ignores the length of the bike and how it matches your torso length and arm length (your “total upper-body length”) which are the most important dimensions when considering a bike’s comfort characteristics and handling characteristics. And we all want our bikes to be comfortable and to handle correctly, right? If you’re looking for a bike and someone tries to size you with this method – run; run very fast for the door – I guarantee you something will not fit correctly.

I could go on and on, but that would bore you and only serve as self-catharsis for me. My point is this: the only way to guarantee that your bike is going to fit correctly and therefore be an absolute pleasure to ride is to be measured and sized on the bike. And, by a trained professional at that, but we’ll leave the garbage-in, garbage-out discussion for later. There is absolutely no short-cut, guideline, or rule-of-thumb that can take the place of being measured and having a good fitting session with a trained professional. That is why we take the time to study bike fitting and to keep our employees trained on all of our fitting systems and philosophy.

Next to the different characteristics of frame materials and wheels, the most common topic you’re likely to overhear our staff talking about is bike fit. We’re passionate about it – on our own bikes and on yours. We know that if your bike does not fit, it will not be comfortable. If it is not comfortable, you will not ride it. If you’re not riding it, all you have is an expensive piece of “garage-art”.

If you’ve been battling bike fit or are looking at purchasing a new bike, I invite you to give us a try. We have the best tools in the industry and – here’s the difference – we’ve been trained to use them. If you’re buying a new bike from us, we guarantee it will fit correctly and comfortably. If you’re needing assistance with adjusting fit on a current bike, we guarantee that we’ll get it as comfortable as the frame will allow without compromising safety or correct handling and help you determine what you can improve on when you replace it – however we cannot guarantee any more than that if we didn’t sell you the bike.

Overall though – if you’re having any fit related issues at all, make an appointment with a professional in your area. There’s a lot of bad advice out there and a well-trained professional will usually help you sort through that and arrive at a solution to your problem, not just a “band-aid”. A well trained professional should charge a fee for their time and it’ll be some of the best money you’ve spent on your hobby.

In closing; my biggest pet peeve: changing stem length is not a fix for a poorly fitting frame. That’s not to say that it sometimes is not the correct move, but if you’re 6′ tall – I’m sorry, you cannot buy a smaller frame and put a 150mm stem on it and expect it to fit correctly and handle correctly. Conversely, if you’re 5’5″ and have a 58 cm frame, putting a 50mm stem on it is also not correct. Quit being lazy and get the right size frame!

Thanks for reading.

© 2014 Road Rage Cycling Blog