Is a bike fit worth it, you ask? Short answer: yes. Next post please!
For the most part, we like to spend money on a bike. On bikes, plural.
We can fantasise over magazines (bike ones) beforehand, we can enjoy the buying process, we have something afterwards that we can sit and gaze at in the garage.
But when it comes to complying with a core part of my bike buying dogma, intakes of breath are sharply delivered. Penury is claimed. Exits are sharply made.
That all stops now. In this post I’m going to try to persuade you to pay for a decent bike fit.
I firmly believe that despite the seemingly high cost, a posh bike fit (not a euphemism) can be excellent value for money.
In fact, for me… [pause for dramatic effect] … it saved my whole bike career.
[Exits stage left, pursued by a bear]
What Are The Different Types Of Bike Fit?
There are a few different types of bike fit, varying in purpose and cost. Broadly speaking, we have:
- At your local bike shop (or reputable bike shop chain) when first buying the bike
- A dedicated bike fit session (which could be at your local bike shop) with an experienced and/or qualified fitter or coach
Before You Buy Your Bike: Measure Twice, Buy Once
The pre-purchase bike fit is more about making sure you buy a frame that is in the right ball park for your own frame. The fit finessing comes later.
Buying the correct bike frame size is a subject for its own blog post (so don’t expect much detail here).
At the most hands-on (and safest) end of the scale, we’re talking about going into a knowledgeable bike shop. Here you would find an experienced fitter who could measure you up, potentially with the aid of an adjustable jig, and discuss the different bike types and frame sizes to suit your needs.
At the other end of the scale, in which your bike purchase may be entirely internet-based, you’ll be taking your own vital statistics and trying to map them to a set of frame geometry numbers on a bike maker’s website.
(Or maybe you just select ‘large’ because that’s your size at Marks & Spencer’s).
The latter (self-service) approach is free (obviously). Indeed, you hope that this web-based purchase strategy will save you money versus going into a shop. Of course things could go the other way and you end up making an expensive mistake. Jus’ sayin’…
The bike shop option is generally free as well, provided you go on to buy a bike from the shop that sized you up (if you’ve been sized on a jig and now have accurate measurements for safe internet purchasing, the shop may allow you to take them away for a small fee).
Post-Purchase Perfect Positioning
Most people think of a bike fit as something you get after you’ve bought your bike.
(Sometimes a long time after you bought your bike, after you finally realise that the setup is causing you knee pain and inhibiting your performance…)
In many cases, the fit will simply be a case of a friendly bike shop worker giving you the eye (hello sailor):
- Your new bike arrives in the shop. The mechanics assemble it, greasing all that needs greasing and tightening all that needs tightening.
- The bike is wheeled out to you, whereupon the bike fit takes place.
- The saddle is raised so you feel comfortable and, er, look more or less right on the bike.
And thus ends the bike fit.
Whilst you might be one of the lucky ones and get your position and fitting right, straight off the bat, for everyone else, it is worth considering something a little more scientific.
Who Should Get A ‘Proper’ Bike Fit?
Far be it for me to presume to offer up any advice, but I would suggest that if you suffer from (or have suffered from) any of the following afflictions, you may want to consider investing in a proper bike fit:
- You are a touch on the heavy side (or you are a ‘Clydesdale’, if you’re searching for an American euphemism)
- Knee pain (which was me)
- Back issues
- Hamstring problems (pain, too tight)
- Neck pain
Or perhaps you have no afflictions at all (yet) but you’ve just heard that the correct position on a bike allows you to generate more power (i.e. go faster) without exerting more energy.
That’s right: free power.
What Happens In A Professional Bike Fit?
Now I can only really talk to what happened in my bike fit. And that took place nearly five years ago.
To be honest it was a bit of a palaver. I went along for a fit with my old bike but it turned out to be so far away from the right size for me, that I ended up having to buy a new bike (or that’s what I told my wife…).
The fit, when it finally happened, used the Retul system. That link, if you click it, reveals a very mystifying bike fit process (amongst a range of other mystifying product offerings). In essence, the bike fit session I had:
- started with a discussion around the riding I did (and wanted to do);
- was followed by a physio-style assessment of my mobility and flexibility; and then
- concluded with video motion-capture being used to determine my optimal position on the bike.
The latter bit is the sexy bit, but I imagine the real skill in the fitter is using the information gleaned in items 1 and 2 in order to shape the general principles to suit the specific rider.
In my case, in addition to setting the correct saddle height and swapping out the handlebars and stem in order to achieve the appropriate torso angle, my fitter also set the amount of float on my pedals and added shims betwixt my shoe and cleat in order to correct for my flat feet and erratic pedal stroke.
For a full description of my experience, here is a link to a post I wrote at the time.
This video is a paid promotion (i.e. they paid Bikeradar – not me!) but it gives you an idea as to what happens in a Retul bike fit.
How Much Does A Bike Fit Cost?
The whole premise of this post clearly hints at the fact that a decent professional bike fit doesn’t tend to be cheap.
I don’t have my receipt – it was nearly five years ago – but I reckon the full video capture bike fit I had cost about £250. In reality I paid more, as I “needed” to buy a new £1,800 bike and £150 pedals, just to get to the start line of my fitting…
(This is probably one of the reasons my mini-retirement had to come to an end and I returned to working for ‘the man’…)
A quick Google search (which is the level of in-depth research that you’ve come to expect from me) suggests that the cost of a Retul bike fit has come down since 2013.
The chap who did mine, Andy Brooke at Bike Science Midlands, now charges £185. I think the range for many places seems to be £150-200.
Is It Worth It To Pay £200 For A Bike Fit When My Bike Cost £1000?
Disclaimer : I’m a bike fit evangelist
If you know you have a problem, or the potential for a problem, then I would strongly recommend paying a good amount for a professional bike fit.
In June 2013, a 30km ride caused me to hobble for two days and I was struggling to attain any sort of riding consistency. If you’d said to me then, “pay £2xx and I’ll take away all that pain”, I would paid you that minute, and gladly.
And that’s without the benefits in performance that come from riding in a position that more efficiently transfers power from my howitzers (okay, legs) to the pedals.
If you are particularly tall, overweight (both) and/or have a propensity towards back pain, I would think seriously about investing in a bike fit.
It may be that you don’t know how much strain you’re applying to your body unnecessarily. Until one day you do. When it breaks.
If you’re an experienced rider, or you bought your bike from a shop with an assistant/owner who could get your position there or thereabouts, maybe the argument for spending up to 25% of your bike budget to get it correctly fitted is perhaps less strong.
But Mont, I Don’t Like People…
For those that want to perform a DIY fitting, plus understand more about the exercise physiology gubbins that lies behind an effective bike fit, there’s a book.
(There’s always a book).
It’s called (wait for it) Bike Fit and it’s written by British Cycling’s Head Physio, Phil Burt (and if you’re interested, you can buy it from Amazon by clicking here.
Sadly, despite repeated pleas (okay, zero actual pleas) to the publishers of said book, they didn’t see fit to send me a
free review copy. So I had to reach into my deep Yorkshire pockets with my short Yorkshireman’s arms to purchase it myself.
I’ve bought the physical book, rather than Kindle version, due to the large number of diagrams and photos. I haven’t actually received it yet (I only just clicked buy) so you’ll have to wait to hear whether it can replace a professional bike fit (let’s face it, unlikely, but probably a useful accompaniment to your bike fit journey).
Have You Had A Professional Bike Fit? Is A Bike Fit Worth It?
If you’ve had a bike fit, whether hi-tech or lo-fi, share your experiences. Was it worth it? Let me know in the comments below.