Choosing a Bike Fit Service
Choose a bike fit service that best serves your needs.
First, we will identify your needs. Then we can identify the features of a fit service that will satisfy those needs.
Here are criteria to assist you in your choice:
- Your Needs (Reasons)
- Fitter Education and Experience
- Fitting Methods & Tools
Expect to pay $150-400+ for a bike fit. The wide range in price is contingent on how comprehensive your fit is, the education and experience of your fitter, the quality of the service, and the facility and equipment used.
How much should you spend? Start with this question:
“What is my investment in cycling?”
Are you riding for fun, or training for a goal event and lifelong improvement? How much time and energy are you really investing, and what are you expecting in return?
If you are investing hours a week on your bike, the monetary investment for a bike fit breaks down to “small change” per hour over the life-span of your bike.
What are your needs?
Performance? Is cycling your life-blood and passion? Do you meticulously record and analyze miles, watts, distance, elevation and speed? Are you seeking every possible performance improvement as you pursue noble goals? A higher-priced comprehensive bike fit service may be a revelation. Even subtle changes can produce significant results.
Injury or Pain? Perhaps you have chronic pain or injuries that are aggravated or caused by cycling. A higher-priced comprehensive fit – especially with someone experienced in Kinesiology or Physical Therapy – is likely to identify the cause and implement an effective remedy. The process of diagnosis may require some keen detective work. You need a “Sherlock Holmes”.
Buying Your Ultimate Bike? Are you ready to acquire your ultimate dream bike – either an “off-the-shelf” stock frame and build, or a “one-off” custom frame and build? Here again, the higher investment in a comprehensive bike fit service will yield the best return for your money. The precise measurements of a thorough fit will guide you and your “team” in choosing the right bike – custom or off-the-shelf. You will end up with a fine instrument that you can “play” like a virtuoso!
Serious Recreational? You fall somewhere in the middle. You are happy with your current bike and you ride consistently. You aspire to improve, but your performance has gone flat. Or, every time you ride beyond a certain distance, you experience the same minor pain in your knee. In either case, you want to address the limiters in your cycling. A minimally- or moderately-priced bike fit service that forgoes some of the comprehensive process may be your best value.
Easy Recreational? Are you happy to just get out on your bike, ride a scenic route and enjoy the changing seasons? Every cyclist - even performance-oriented "hammer heads" need to get some rides like this! If you don’t have any discomfort and are satisfied with your current recreational riding level and enjoyment, you probably don’t need a bike fit service at all.
Ongoing "Kaizen" Refinement? If you are performance- and goal-oriented, you will continue to develop and evolve as a cyclist. Your relationship(s) with your bike(s) will change. You may need periodic adjustments. Even minor adjustments can be profound for a cycling veteran. I “fine-tune” my bikes’ set-ups based on my current training focus and my upcoming goal races. When you find a fitter who serves you well, you should be able to periodically return for “fine-tune” adjustments without investing in a complete fit every time.
Fitter Education and Experience:
The price you pay will depend on how comprehensive your bike fit service is and your fitter’s education, experience and quality of service. A growing number of bike fitters hold degrees in Physical Therapy or Kinesiology. These specialists are often the best-qualified to diagnose and address discomfort and biomechanical issues. Your needs may or may not require this level of expertise.
Bike Fit Training Certification: There are three popular bike fit training and certification programs:
Serotta and Specialized offer training for both road and triathlon bike fitting. Serotta was the first to develop a bike fitting process and training program. (My formal training includes Serotta Basic and Advanced training.) FIST focuses specifically on triathlon.
Each of these trainings will provide the technician with skills, knowledge and protocol for embarking on a career. However, schooling alone – regardless of the brand – does not a fitter make! Experience (both fitting and riding), a passion for knowledge, a trained eye for biomechanics, genuine enjoyment and commitment are the key factors.
Bike Fit Service Methods:
There are three basic methods for bike fitting:
- Formula: Involves adjusting the bike based on a rider’s “dimensions”. For instance, your inseam length is plugged into an equation to determine saddle height. There is little or no consideration of your range-of-motion (i.e., hips and knees) structural asymmetries, or any other specifics relevant to you as an individual.
- Indirect Observation: The fitter uses a motion capture system to assess your movement on the bike. (Usually the camera perspective is limited to side and sometimes front perspective.) Using this method, a fitter can select a still image and measure angles (for instance, knee or hip flexion). This system provides valuable assistance, but the onus remains with the fitter to observe the subtle dynamics that are at play and respond accordingly. The ideal hip angle for one rider may be inappropriate for another.
- Direct Observation: This method requires that the fitter develop a trained eye for visual assessment and a working knowledge of the dynamic interrelationship between many factors. This is the most effective way of “navigating” the bike fit service process, but requires a lot of observational and analytical skill and insight.
For a far more detailed discussion on these methods, read “Perspectives on Fitting”, written by Steve Hogg and posted on his website.
Technology Tools for Fitting:
Motion Capture: Some great technological tools have surfaced in the bike fit service field. Most notable are the “motion capture systems” mentioned above in Indirect Observations. They include Dartfish and Retul.
While these tools can aide the fitter and enhance the experience, they cannot direct the fitting process. Motion capture systems can enhance perception. They cannot however assess your medical issues, injury history, range of motion, functional strength, specific goals, age, general athletic ability, cycling-specific fitness and experience, commitment to training, etc.
Computrainer: This is a stationary trainer interfaced with a computer. It provides conventional data like speed, distance, cadence and power output. Computrainer also provides a “Spin Scan Analysis” of your pedaling biomechanics: This visual display shows percentage of power for left and right leg separately, and the amount of power produced in each 15-degree increment of the full pedal stroke. Computrainers have found their way into many bike fit services.
Existing Bike or a “Fit Cycle?”
For a bike you are currently riding, or a new purchase, your fitter will most likely set the bike on a stationary stand (Conventional or Computrainer) and make adjustments to your current set-up. However, if you are looking to purchase a new or custom bike, your fitter will use a fit cycle. This is a “jig” with pedals, a saddle, bars and a crankset. (See photos) This jig can be adjusted – either manually or hydraulically – through a wide range.
A manually adjusted fit cycle requires that you either stop pedaling and sit up or dismount completely for the fitter to make many adjustments. If the adjustments are subtle, the interruption can make it difficult for you to perceive and compare the “before and after” and to evaluate the result. However, the unit is affordable and highly effective. I have used a manual fit cycle to provide measurements for custom bikes retailing at over $10,000.
A dynamic fit cycle allows you to continue riding as the fitter makes adjustments. You can feel even the most subtle changes in your position as they happen. Without any interruption, this makes it easier to compare and evaluate. However, you should expect to pay more for a bike fit service that uses a dynamic fit cycle. The investment to purchase a dynamic fit cycle is substantial.
Before the adjustment process, the fit cycle is like a blank canvas. After a patient adjustment process, the fit cycle transforms into your ideal “tailor-made suit”!
Select a Bike Fit Service:
- Be clear about your needs.
- Invest in a service that will meet your needs.
- Match the cost with your investment in cycling (monetary, time and energy).
- Word of mouth: If you find three or more cyclists (ideally with goals similar to yours) who are happy with their bike’s adjustment after enlisting a particular individual or service, the odds are in your favor. This is a better way to evaluate a service than how many high-tech “bells and whistles” they use.
For a detailed discussion of the many features and components of a comprehensive bike fit service: Bike Fit: Components of the Comprehensive Fit Process
Bike Fit Beta
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