Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Bike Fittings: A Necessary Service?

July 24, 2008 by · 23 Comments 

A racing bicycle made by Cyfac using shaped al...Image via Wikipedia

I used to be a run for exercise, but after some knee pain, I was recommended to switch to something less ‘high impact’ on the knees. Thus, I began my return to cycling after having left it behind many moons ago during my college days.

Since I began cycling here in London, I think I have discovered more about London than any city before either by car or foot. The more comfortable I got pedaling around cars, the further I was willing to venture out and discover parts of the city, particularly on those rare sunny London days. However, the longer I went, the more I started realizing that something was wrong.

My bike did not fit.

Typical signs that your bike doesn’t fit you, or is ill-adjusted, are back pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, or neck pain. I did not discover that my bike didn’t fit me because, like clothing, it is an obvious thing to observe. I discovered it, because after going through 3 high-end saddles trying to solve some back pain, I still couldn’t resolve the issue. A detail-oriented tech at a ‘large’ London bike retailer was the Sherlock that spotted my issue during a shopping visit.

After substantive research on the web, I came to realize that I, in fact, had a bike that was one size too big for me. One size isn’t obvious enough for most people to catch visually, particularly if you are on the border of the two sizes. However your body will be over stretched if it is too big, and scrunched up if it is too small.

Because getting a new road bike is not a cheap affair, I decided to do something a bit more ‘thorough’: a proper bike fitting.

In London, I found a few places, but some didn’t inspire confidence, and others were ridiculously expensive. The one I found that was in the middle, but still not cheap enough, in my opinion, was Mosquito Bikes.

I feel bike fittings in general are expensive because the average person wants to pay less than 1000 Pounds / 2000 Dollars for a bike. A typical bike fitting ranges between 100 Pounds / 200 Dollars to 200 Pounds / 400 Dollars. Considering the average bike price range, this is a SUBSTANTIAL cost. The only way I justified it to myself was that I was serious about continuing to bike, and the last thing I wanted was to seriously injure myself through repetitive stress to a joint. However, my point is, after what I’ve discovered, I wish Bike Fittings were a bit cheaper so that the average person would be able to benefit from a properly fitting bike, which could further the sport and reduce injuries.

Anyway, I booked my appointment with Mosquito Bikes and arrived early on a Monday morning to meet with Roger, the ‘Bike Doc’ so to speak. I had no real idea of what to expect, since I was new to this. All I hoped was that it wouldn’t be a scam, and judging by the amount of equipment he had around, it would be a very expensive scam indeed!

Roger started me off by asking questions about my cycling style and level of interest. After the questions came the measurements. Everything that is needed for a bike fit I guess, but substantive enough to tailor a suit for me too, I think. After the sizing, he put my bike on a stationary thing so that I could warm up, and so that he could take pictures of my posture and see how I was cycling.

This is where I started to realize that this was just more than a few measurements here and there and spit out an excel sheet.

Roger proceeded to ‘coach’ me on my posture, looked at my pedaling style and adjusted my cleats to be in line with knee’s range of motion, and he took pictures of me in profile to get a better idea of where I needed to make adjustments.

After the exercise on my bike, he put a ‘jig’ on the stationary, which essentially is a ‘blank’ bike that can be adjusted in every which way to get your size ‘just right’. We proceeded to go back and forth in seat height, distance, stem height, distance, etc. Over the course of several minutes we honed the right position for me to be in relative to my height, flexibility, and level of comfort. We essentially arrived on my ‘ideal’ bike.

More pictures of me in profile for future reference. Bike paparazzi.

After this was over, we were essentially done. The whole thing start to finish, took about an hour and a half.

In most cases, I think the type of people that get bike fittings are serious bikers that are on their bikes for a long time or have very high end performance bikes. These people may have the budget to not only have a bike fitting, but then get a custom bike based on the results. Unfortunately, this was not the case for me, so I had a task for Roger.

Find me a bike that I can afford, and that fits me as close as possible to the ideal, as determined by the jig. Roger asked me what bikes I was considering, and I gave him the list. He promised me that in 3 days he’d get back to me with which one he though I should go with based on my ideal geometry.

Sure enough, 3 days later, I got my recommendation, not only that, but a few days after that I got a pack with my pictures of me with bad posture and good posture, a CD with specs on it, and several print outs of ideal bike geometries.

Now, the problem with buying a bike off-the-rack, so to speak, is that they are not a ‘perfect’ fit for you. they are a perfect fit for the average person of that size. You have to adjust things here and there to get them as close as possible, but even then, you may still be off, and depending on the bike, perhaps substantially off.

I was looking at a Bianchi and a Specialized, for example, and although they were both my size, one had more adjustment room vs the other (for me). This is the problem that you don’t realize when you just walk into a bike store and do the ‘quick and dirty’ tests for fit. It’s not as easy as it looks.

Once I was done selecting my bike, Roger specified in his email, which included a CAD drawing of the bikes, how to adjust my bike to get it just right. This involved getting a stem that was 8 cm long and with 0 degrees of rise. The problem is that you can’t find these in the market. They are very very hard to find. In the end, I had to go with a 9cm long stem with 12 degrees + rise and removing one of the spacers on my headset. This was ‘good enough’ but not perfect.

So, my only criticism of bike fittings is that you will probably have to compromise on some aspects of your ideal fitting bike, unless you fork over the money for a custom bike. One day… One day…

I must admit though. Even my ‘almost perfect’ bike, feels and rides much better than my previous one ever did. Was the bike fitting worth the money?

Yes, but be aware of what it can and can’t do.

It can’t take a bike you already have and ‘make it right’. Like a sculptor with marble, there is only but so much one can make if the raw material is not up to spec. You may end up having to consider a new bike that is more in line with your body physics.

Insofar as Mosquito Bikes are concerned, I can definitively recommend them and Roger, who was always willing to help with any questions and concerns I had during the entire process.

Now to save up money for that double titanium, self-pedaling, carbon breathing, Dura-Ace toting, custom bike rocket…..

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