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.
7 thoughts on “Is A Bike Fit Worth It?”
Had a splendid session – well, two! – with the Bike Whisperer in Ealing. So good an experience, removing knee pain, that I took a second bike back to him. He’s now in Newbury – well worth the train trip.
Scherritt changed my walking fundamentally, too – but that’s another story I’m pleased to tell.
Unfortunately, due to the high cost, it’s not one of those things you can try to see if it works for you.
Also, I wonder if there isn’t a level of confirmation bias once a bike fit has been paid for?
Interested in your view of the Bike Fit book though.
I’d concur with the blog post above about the benefits of a proper bike fitting. I live in Dublin and a modicum of research took me to a reputable local bike fitter who went thru the rigmarole, video-d me, looked at my gait, changed the bike set-up, adjusted my pedal angles etc. I am tall, overweight (but isn’t everyone, he said defensively), prone to back and shoulder pain on longer outings. I cant say these issues all went way, but the fitting definitely helped a bit with the backache. I would also think I’m getting more output for the pedaling input I put in. But then I would say that :-). The cost in Ireland was around 125 Euro. The epilogue was that after my initial bike-fitted bike was nicked (it does happen), and I got a different brand replacement, I went back and the second fitting only cost about 60 euro. So I am a fan of the concept, and the bike shop where I have bought my bikes also are adamant that ‘it’s a good idea’. And I’d see them as expert advisors at this point. My views…
When you’re 6ft. 7inches tall, you just have a tendency to get the tallest frame…which is generally a 64cm frame.
I couldn’t see anyone having longer legs getting a shorter frame.
Sometimes you need more than just a bike fit followed by adjustments to a stock bike. Stock bikes come in enough different size frames to fit most people assuming they all fall within a range of “normal” proportions of truck to torso lengths. If one does, then changing saddle height, stem length, and bar height can achieve a pretty darn good fit and a good fitter can do that. But, if like me, you have the bad fortune to not fit in that normal range—I am just over 6’1” (yes, American) and all my height is in my legs. That is, I have either very long legs or a very short torso. Your choice. My proportions are so abnormal—I take what in the old days would be a 60 or 61 cm bike but need a 54 cm top tube—that, at least at my current age of 73, you just can’t get a comfortable fit by tinkering with a standard frame. That means I need a custom frame and that requires a very good fit before the frame is built. A fit for me and those like me is simply not, it is required.
And, I consider the need for a custom frame, which also means a full custom choice of components, to be “bad fortune” since there are so many great stock bikes out there. If you go custom not only is the frame way more expensive but, even with internet prices, you can’t get components at anywhere near what large manufacturers can get them for. True, a custom builder will say something to the effect of “We will tune this frame just for you and your unique riding needs with just the right tube sizes and characteristics and nobody else in the whole entire world will have a bike just like it”, to which I say, “Which bridges are you planing on selling me?”
Thanks for your article Monty. I can’t say enough good on the value of a fit, in my case it was the Retul system as well. I have a custom made frame that I sourced directly from the frame builder then carefully chose my group, wheels, etc. Six weeks later the frame shipped to me and I had a local bike shop build it up. Given the frame was custom I was close on the fit certainly, but after 2 years and a few niggling problems I paid for the Retul and I wished I had done it earlier. The most noticeable improvement was the feeling of efficiency. I also added a cm to my stem so a little more stretched out but much more comfortable on long rides. Completely happy now, also a huge fan of Columbus tubing – old school I guess.
I would add that the fitter is far more important than the tech that they use.
I have had excellent Retul bike fits and I have had retul bike fits that miss the issues that I needed correcting.
I have also had excellent bike fits where the guy has had no fancy tools at all.
Retul is great for recording the position of your bike so you can return to that state (or even apply it to a second bike) but it is only a tool that provides data. The data still needs to be properly interpreted by a skilled fitter.