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Old 05-21-11, 07:02 PM   #1
Don in Austin
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"Scientific" professional bike fit -- am I missing something, or maybe not??

I am puzzled why anyone would need a high-tech "bike fit" except maybe a professional racer -- in which case perhaps it should be done in conjunction with power meter readings. I understand the cycling novice needs some common sense help. We have all winced seeing somebody panting and sweating like a hog with a saddle so low his knees are practically hitting his chin. But I question the point of the typical high $$ service such as offered at my LBS - a shop where I do a lot of business and for which I generally have a lot respect. I think it costs $150 and they use laser beams and digital readouts right down to a fraction of a mm! So now you adjust the bars to within 1 mm (or whatever) per all this high tech measuring, but what does it mean when road bars have 3 or more hand positions all of which are considered valid, and which are 100 plus mm's away from each other? Is it really that hard to set the saddle at the right height. look at your knees with pedals at 3 and 9 o'clock and then tweak to personal taste?

I think once you are in the ballpark, it comes down to trial and error and what you are comfortable with. Three years ago -- when I was only 62 years old -- I rode only occasionally and casually. I didn't get much other exercise. I got "born again" and now cycle maybe 100 miles/week, go to the gym 3x/week, and did a century + 12 miles the other day. During the last three years I have been dropping the handlebars on all my bikes as my core fitness has evidently improved. I used to get backaches unless the bars were 4 inches above the seat, but now I am happy to have them anywhere from level to 4 inches below the seat. (This is flat bars plus bar-ends -- I don't care for drops.) How would the high-tech, "accurate to 1 mm" fitting, have helped me with this?

Currently I have 5 bikes. None have been "scientifically" fitted, no two fit the same. I am always looking for bargain stems on e-bay, Craigslist and the local Frankenbike swap meet to add to my collection. I swap stems around and play with height until I like how a bike feels. I play with saddle setback until it feels good. Although none of my bikes fit the same, they all feel good to me, and, in fact, I find it refreshing and energizing to ride one I have been off for a while and which has different feel and fit than what I have been recently used to. It might seem a little "off" until I am 15 minutes into the ride, but then it is good.

If I am missing out I am happy to take under advisement an explanation of why this is so. Perhaps none of my bikes fit me and I don't know what I am missing, or perhaps they all fit OK -- just different? My personal opinion is that bike fitting is made far more complicated and difficult than it needs to be. I think there are so many variables re' the rider, that the hair-splitting scientific precision fit is an absurd premise.

Don in Austin
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Old 05-21-11, 08:43 PM   #2
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Don, I fit my bikes using the same method as you. I know the ballpark of what I want. I have a collection of stems and bars, and I fine-tune until I get it right. And by "right" I mean "comfortable".

My bikes are also not set up all the same. I like that I can grab a different fit depending upon my mood and the terrain I plan to ride. I actually learn a lot just from experimenting with different cockpit arrangements.
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Old 05-21-11, 09:19 PM   #3
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Agree totally. Old-school fitting methods plus trial and error is as good as it gets.

At the elite level, trial and error might involve wind tunnels and power meters, but it's still a question of trying variations on the ballpark fit.

Lasers and 1mm tolerance just seems like silly wank; no formula is going to reliably get you closer than almost there.
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Old 05-21-11, 09:34 PM   #4
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Same here. The important thing is I'm balanced and aligned.

Scientific fitting seems to have started with the Fit Kit. Its primary developer in the 1970s was a mathematician by training and a racing coach. At the time he was puzzled and possibly exasperated by the strange setups of amateur racers in the US who didn't have coaches, so he compiled fit tables by measuring top pro and amateur riders and their bikes.

Professional fitting has evolved into a considerable profit center for bike shops and various cycling, triathlon, and fitness coaches, so it's a service that isn't going away soon. And my guess is that with new cyclists on the road every spring, cyclists on new bikes, cyclists who don't have clubs with experienced coaches, it really is a good idea. But for riders who are in touch with their bodies and interested in becoming more proficient on the bike, who ride with experienced buddies and read the better coaching literature that's available, and who need no anatomical accommodations, a professional fit is not a necessity.
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Old 05-22-11, 08:36 AM   #5
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This is part of the way that cycling in North America has been pushed into an over-specialized, over-techy, sport enthusiast pursuit.

Every time a customer comes in requesting a "professional fitting" for their seawall-cruising comfort hybrid, I want to scream.
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Old 05-22-11, 08:37 AM   #6
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The shop I normally go to just had two guys trained and certified by Paul Swift. I've never been professionally fitted and my bikes feel fine but then again. It's like saying you've driven a 1973 Ford F150 with a bench seat most of all your driving days. Then jump into a newer F150 with fully adjustable leather bucket seats and seen the top of the mountain. You've grown acustom to what you've been driving for so long you've pretty much just accepted it for being comfy. Now I'm not saying it's the only way to get the "right" fit but it has me interested to a point. They have different levels of fitting also so you don't have to be setup so see how many watts you've gained from the fitting. They have a basic fitting where they setup your shoes/pedals/cleats, saddle/post, and stem length and then go up from there where they bust out the lasers and powertap and really start cracking numbers.
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Old 05-22-11, 08:52 AM   #7
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My son fitted a bike for a friend who subsequently took it somewhere in Texas where it was fitted by a pro-racer mechanic using some fancy computer software.

Net result- no changes what-so-ever.
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Old 05-22-11, 09:06 AM   #8
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For me, the pro fit is a starting point, then when you go out and ride, you do minor adjustment to find the best fitting. I do think it is worth it to get a pro fit as a reference.
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Old 05-22-11, 10:41 AM   #9
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As far as I can tell, most fitting 'systems' are based on a set of positioning rules derived from some statistical data collected from some unknown population of riders with unknown riding habits. That's all well and good and 'scientific', but... Statistics work fine when applied populations, but they rarely have any relevance to individuals.

So what I do is take a video of myself riding my bike on a set of rollers. Then I run the video through play back software that lets me look at it frame by frame, and I look for things like is my back flat and not hunched up, are my knees in positions throughout my pedal stroke that I know are comfortable and efficient for me, is the angle described by my femur and tib-fib likewise appropriate for me, arm angle in various positions on the bars, etc. Sounds time consuming, but really it takes more time to describe the process than to do it. After that, I go out and ride the heck out of the bike, and usually the need for fine adjustments, if any, becomes apparent pretty quickly.

Admittedly I used the 'conventional wisdom' as a starting point, but once I went through the usual process of trial and error (with the emphasis on 'error') to find what works for me, all it took was finding a way of documenting it, and the availability of video capable digi-cams solved that problem nicely.

Anyway, that's what works for me. As always, YMMV

-Bert
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Old 05-22-11, 10:42 AM   #10
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For me, the pro fit is a starting point, then when you go out and ride, you do minor adjustment to find the best fitting. I do think it is worth it to get a pro fit as a reference.
If I had got a pro fit three years ago, I would have had to make much more than minor adjustments. Until I got my core in shape I need the handlebars way up high to prevent backaches. I would say a pro fit is indeed better than no fit. I just can't see why you can't find the starting point yourself.

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Old 05-22-11, 10:56 AM   #11
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While Im sure that all the super expensive bike fit will work. When bent riders mention pain people suffer when riding DF bikes they use the proper fit excuse, and claim there is no pain at all. Yeah sure.
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Old 05-22-11, 10:57 AM   #12
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Don,

Good point. A 'proper' fit is dynamic.
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Old 05-22-11, 11:06 AM   #13
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Every time a customer comes in requesting a "professional fitting" for their seawall-cruising comfort hybrid, I want to scream.
We once had to set up a Trek 7100 according to a fit chart signed by Dr. Andy Pruitt.
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Old 05-22-11, 11:35 AM   #14
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As far as I can tell, most fitting 'systems' are based on a set of positioning rules derived from some statistical data collected from some unknown population of riders with unknown riding habits. That's all well and good and 'scientific', but... Statistics work fine when applied populations, but they rarely have any relevance to individuals., and usually the need for fine adjustments, if any, becomes apparent pretty quickly.
That's what I think too. I suspect the population of riders that all the computer software is based upon are Olympic level and professional level riders. They tend to be in better shape than guys like me.
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Old 05-22-11, 11:40 AM   #15
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We once had to set up a Trek 7100 according to a fit chart signed by Dr. Andy Pruitt.
I once had a mechanic working for me whose girl friend wanted him to fit her road bike to her based upon 3 different magazine articles. I was torn between escaping and sticking around to watch the fun. I decided escaping was the better choice.
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Old 05-23-11, 02:00 AM   #16
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We once had to set up a Trek 7100 according to a fit chart signed by Dr. Andy Pruitt.
Geez. I would probably eat the chart and walk out.
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Old 05-23-11, 05:32 AM   #17
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What is the alternative, un-scientific, un-professional fit? I see that all the time on the MUP, would it kill a rider to set the seat to the right height? Proper fit will increase rider efficiency, some people are interested in getting better at their hobby.
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Old 05-23-11, 05:37 AM   #18
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What is the alternative, un-scientific, un-professional fit?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma
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Old 05-23-11, 05:53 AM   #19
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...Lasers and 1mm tolerance just seems like silly wank; no formula is going to reliably get you closer than almost there.
Eddy B set me up in 1978 at the OTC, no lasers, no magic. When I make make my final adjustments, I move the seat by 1-2mm increments. Overlaying the bikes in photoshop shows the bikes' seat/pedal position lines up spot-on. If you've never learned, you might just not know any better.
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Old 05-23-11, 06:00 AM   #20
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All I and others are saying is that any formula isn't going to be the last word; therefore a tolerance of something more like 5mm is going to be more realistic, given individual idiosyncrasies.

Only trial and error is going to get you from the ballpark to perfection (and what's perfect depends on many factors, some of which vary); it's not something any formula can do for you.

The formulas are to get you to the starting point of finding your best position. Via trial and error, not laser.

I'm sure lasers are invaluable when it comes to transferring your position from bike to bike, though.
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Old 05-23-11, 06:44 AM   #21
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So why slag a bike shop for offering the service? I have a professional measure my eyes for glasses, I don't go the the pharmacy and try a bunch of different ones, I ask a pro to get me close. Why not ask a pro to help with bike position fitting, esp if the rider isn't experienced? Why wouldn't one use a scientific process to arrive at correct position? Tolerence of ~5mm isn't tight enough for correct seat heigth, forward/back could be that sloppy depending on which saddle is used.
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Old 05-23-11, 06:49 AM   #22
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Don, I think I can conjure up a statistic to support the professional bike fitter based on cost of new bike v. how much it hurts while riding v. cyclist's experiance. Pro fittings are probably necessary for some and are a source of LBS income, plain and simple.

Brad
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Old 05-23-11, 10:17 AM   #23
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I don't think it's needed.

If you ride enough,you'll stumble on proper fit,whether you like it or not.I haven't met a single person that's riding their bike everyday/weekend for a year,who's bike doesn't fit.They either have a bike that fits or they quit riding because it's to painful for whatever reason.

It's like learning to drive a stickshift car,if you drive enough,you'll learn.

People riding around at the beach don't count,I'm talking about people that actually ride their bikes with a purpose(racing/commuting,ect.),not on a pub crawl.

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Old 05-23-11, 10:22 AM   #24
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So why slag a bike shop for offering the service?
You're straw-manning me.

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I ask a pro to get me close.
Like I said, a pro fit can can only get you close. The exception is if you already have your position dialled in and want to transfer it to another bike.
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Old 05-23-11, 10:45 AM   #25
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This thread is full of morons.

A bike fit isn't just for 'pro racers'. It's for everyone that rides a bike, especially people are going to be spending more than 30 minutes clipped in for a ride. Cruising the bike paths on a fat tyre laid back bike? Probably won't matter that you didn't get a 90 minute fit.

Got a road bike and you're riding 1+ hours? Yeah, you want to get a fit.

If you actually went through a 1.5 hour fit, including fitting for shoe wedges and leg length discrepancy that there is a hella lot on a bike you cannot fit easily yourself. You can trial and error it but it is *really* difficult to measure yourself for various angles *while* riding the bike. You can get close with trial and error but it'll take you much longer to get there, if at all.

If you actually like riding your bike for long distances, which is why I assume most people are on here to begin with - spend the $100-$200 and get a fit. That's a negligible price to be spending on a bike 'accessory'.
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