Why Bike Fit Matters

If there was one thing I kept hearing over and over and over it was this:

Get your bike fit.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard this statement. Everyone from casual riders to bike shop workers and experts to triathletes touted bike fit as one of the most important things a cyclist can do.

Benefits include:

  • Improve cycling performance
  • Position saddle for optimal posture
  • Reduce saddle discomfort
  • Eliminate numbness in saddle area
  • Optimal power transmission
  • Reduction/Elimination of leg twist
  • Reduction/Elimination of hot spots on feet/hands
  • More fluid and natural pedaling motion

So, I went ahead and listened. Something I kept putting off, I finally decided it was time. My clock will continue to get shorter until the bell rings and the gun goes off at Ironman Wisconsin, and my miles will continue to get longer, and as such, the risk of injury will increase if my bike position isn’t adequate.

The first thing I learned is that all bike fits are not created equal. There are multiple types of bike fit, including:

  • “Standard” bike fitting: this is typical of your everyday bike, taking into account foot length, inseam, torso length, arm length, shoulder width, sole thickness, pedal height, and saddle type.
  • F.I.S.T. Professional fitting: this is specific to triathlon and time-trial (TT) bikes and is used to determine the right seat angle, hip angle, knee angle and arm angle while in and out of aerobars. A spinscan is used to measure power and pedaling efficiency. More on F.I.S.T. here.

To be expected, all bike fitters are not created equal. Although there is no shortage of bike shops in the area, most do not have a triathlon-specific bike fitter trained on staff. This was a surprising discovery. The more I looked into it, the more I realized how specialized this fitting is. In fact, the shop I ended up going lists on their website that they are “the ONLY store in the region to fully evaluate riding application, anatomical measurement, full pedal power output and angular balance, as well as pressure mapping”. Although I am not honestly sure what distance the “region” technically refers to, I can tell you this is the only shop in at least the greater Cleveland area offering this scope of professional service (here is their website).

Since my main goal is to complete a full Ironman, my current average mileage per week is around 80-100 miles/week (this will only continue to increase, to a maximum of around 100-150 miles/week), I decided to go with the F.I.S.T. Professional fitting.

The next thing I learned is that this process takes a significant amount of time. My bike fit took two hours to be exact. You want this. I feel that anything less wouldn’t have a chance of being comprehensive.

Mike (my professional bike fitter) started by taking my measurements: height, inseam, shoulder to shoulder, elbow to wrist, and plenty others. This created my chart which customized the basic bike position to my body type. Flexibility also plays a part in the range they use – this is one of the many things I never would have thought to take into account if I was to do this on my own!

(an example of base dimensions)

It was about 30 minutes before I even got on my bike. The next part was the fun part. They were easily able to make recommendations based on my current position in order to get each joint angle into the acceptable range they were looking for. In my fitting, we adjusted:

  • Bike seat post – we replaced my current post with a reversible one that would essentially move the seat closer to the handlebars. This would aid the main fit issue being that the distance between my seat and my handlebars was too big.
  • Distance between aerobars – for better balance
  • Height of seat – for better knee extension/angle
  • Position of clip on left shoe – to minimize lateral movement during pedal stroke
  • Handlebar post – to lower the handlebars ever so slightly
  • Saddle – this was one specific update I knew I wanted, and was able to try out a few before selecting my favorite

All of this took place while my bike was on a trainer hooked up to the most tech-y of equipment. I could see the impact right away on something called a spinscan, which included a screen that measured my power, cadence, and so many other variables. At the end, we even put a seat cover that read and displayed the pressure points of my imprint on the saddle, something known as saddle pressure mapping.

Green and blue are the good colors, and red and orange are a bit more problematic. Slight changes make a world of difference. By the end of my fitting, my seat map showed only green and blue colors. Pretty cool!

Now that I’ve had over two weeks of training with my (brand new feeling) bike, I constantly am grateful that I listened to the wisdom of others and bit the bike fit bullet. Already I’ve noticed so much of a difference, including:

  • ability to stay in aerobars drastically longer, due to comfort level
  • comfort in saddle
  • knee pain gone (!!!) during and following long rides

I’d definitely say it’s worth it. The details matter, y’all. It’s amazing what a few millimeters can do! Thanks Bike Authority and Mike – you changed my cycling world!

Get fired up! If you haven’t already, GET YOUR BIKE FIT. Seriously, just do it. Thank me later 🙂




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