Professional bike fitting transforms your riding experience. All of us who have had a bike fit will testify to a bike fits value. Increased power output, reduced pain and discomfort, and the “new-bike” feeling are all positive outcomes that you can expect from a bike fit. This article looks into professional bike fitting and answers some frequently asked questions. We also make a case for including a professional bike fit into your annual routine maintenance schedule.
Professional bike fitting – what does it entail?
A road bike and related equipment have adjustable parameters for saddle height, saddle position on the rails, handlebar height, stem length (altering the reach of your bars), and cleat position on your shoes. If any of these measurements is wrong, you may experience discomfort or even injury. Each directly affects your power delivery too.
A professional bike fit allows a technician to adjust these parameters with finite detail. Your technician may use computerised equipment such as laser guides and pressure pads to assist with setting up your bike. The purpose of the bike fit is to make sure you are positioned correctly for efficient power delivery and maximum comfort.
A professional bike fit technician will be well versed in what settings are required for aero-position, triathlon, time trial, touring and road racing. Always discuss your intentions with your bike fit technician. You should ensure that your bike fit is carried out by someone who understands your chosen cycle discipline.
Do I need a professional bike fit for a new bike?
The short answer is yes; you should always budget for a bike fit when purchasing a new bike. A bike fitting may seem unnecessary to you, especially if the bike shop has offered to set your bike up for you. However, before you rule out the idea, Team Cyclxr wants to share some thoughts with you.
Firstly, bike shops vary as much as bike shop owners. Old school bike shops may adhere to more general rules of thumb. Many traditional independent bike shops have decades of experience. However, it is not uncommon to find little attention paid to the finite details required for a bespoke bike fit. Famous old-school tips include such gems as; “place your heels on the pedals instead of the balls of your feet. Set your saddle height so that you can fully extend your legs with your heels on the pedals. When you switch back to the balls of your feet, you will be in the right position.”
Many traditional cycle shops will use this rule of thumb to set the height of a saddle. It is not a particularly bad method. In fact, it is a great tip should you find yourself resetting your saddle height mid-ride. But, it is not an accurate way to set a saddle either. You may still be half a centimetre or more from the optimum position. In cycling, just a few millimetres can affect your power and comfort. When setting up a road bike, accuracy is crucial. If your bike shop does not offer a professional bike fit or claims it is unnecessary, it might be wise to shop elsewhere.
Can I get a professional bike fit for a mail-order bike?
Online mail order services present a different set of challenges. Having accepted delivery of your bike, you will likely find that it is part-assembled. As a result, you may find yourself setting your bike up. Some may feel confident in dialing-in measurements from a previous cycle; however, frame geometry may not be identical. So, there will likely be some variation in the critical dimensions.
You should always engage with a local bike technician before accepting delivery when ordering online. Make sure your bike fitter is happy to work on the model of bike you order. Allow extra budget for the fit, as well as for a pre-ride inspection. If you are good with mechanics, you will be OK setting gears and brakes. However, if you are a novice with little mechanical knowledge, book a delivery set up with a mechanic!
Depending on the quality of your bike, you may also need a budget for a replacement saddle, a longer or shorter bar stem and new cleats for your shoes. Pay particular attention to the condition of your current shoes and the quality of the supplied saddle. Do not have a professional bike set-up and then replace these critical items as you will affect the set-up and likely have to be re-fitted.
Will I need regular bike fits?
Even when components are professionally set up, heavy impacts, routine maintenance, and wear and tear will cause settings to change over time. For example, your saddle stem may slip down with your weight and unexpected forces like potholes. Likewise, shoe cleats wear down with constant use, meaning your foot position will change. Handlebars can slip inside the headstock of your bike as well. Even though these changes are often minuscule, each will affect your position and power.
Even a millimetre or two can make a road bike feel remarkably different once set up. So Team Cyclxr takes bike set-up very seriously. We note down the critical dimensions of our set-up at the point of a professional bike fit, so we can refer to the measurements over time and see if there has been any movement. If we buy a new saddle, change our shoes or cleats, or if the bike is disassembled for any reason, a new bike fit is scheduled.
We recommend a new bike fit at the front end of every season. Springtime is a great time to do this. Shoes are often replaced or re-cleated after a winter of training. So before the better weather hits, have your professional bike fit. Then you can hit the roads, confident in your set-up.
How much does a bike fit cost?
In the UK, a bike fit can cost anywhere between £150 and £400, depending on the level of fit you require. You will likely still feel a significant improvement in your position at the lower end of the cost scale. As prices go up, gains diminish, although micro-gains still win races. Expect more high-tech services that use 3D modeling and saddle pressure pads to cost a bit more.
How long does a professional bike fit take?
A basic bike fit can take around an hour and a half to two hours. More technical services which provide lots of data may take up to four hours. Once data is produced, your technician will spend some time discussing changes you may need to make.
A bike fit is not just about the bike.
For example, after his first bike fit, staff writer Sean discovered his pedaling technique was entirely wrong. Sean was “pumping” the pedals. (Only applying force on the downward section of the stroke).
Having discovered this flaw, Sean’s technician spent twenty minutes explaining how to pedal more consistently. Sean was able to practice the new technique, visibly see the improvement in the power delivery, and ultimately retrain his body over the following months.
Sean also suffered from pain in his knee after thirty miles or so, numb hands after fifty miles and saddle bone pain. His first bike fit identified cleat position issues, a cheap saddle, and pressure on the ulnar sensory nerve as contributing factors. A professional bike setup may require some further investment and training commitment. However, a new saddle and tweaks to shoes and handlebar set up saw all of Sean’s issues dealt with in one go.
Making the most of your bike fit
Having decided that you are happy to invest in a professional bike fit, make sure you maximise the benefits. Always be willing to try new techniques suggested. Also, be prepared to make those investments in better quality saddles or new shoes if they are made. The tangible benefits far outweigh the costs, and very often, you will feel like you are riding a brand new, custom-fitted bike.
Ask your bike fitter to provide you with those critical dimensions once your fit is completed. Then, if you ever have to strip your bike down for repair, maintenance, or travel, you will be able to get close to your ideal set-up until you can book in again.
We maintain that a professional bike set-up is the best value upgrade money can buy. So if you haven’t had yours yet, search professional bike fitters near me, and get one booked in before the new season starts. You won’t regret it.
Enjoy the ride!