Sorry, this is really long. But I want to share my experience having two professional fittings done on the same road bike (an ’05 Specialized Sequoia Comp). The specific problem I was trying to solve was that I wasn’t confident using the brakes from the hoods, and I couldn’t even reach the brakes from the drops (I have stubby fingers and fairly small hands.) I’ve got auxiliary brake levers on the top of the handlebars, which I use most often. I probably spend over 95% of my time on the top of the bars, just so I can have access to the brakes.
My LBS is owned by a woman who has a great reputation as a fitter, but my observations of fit sessions there had left me with the impression that they were tilted toward the “how does that feel?” end of the spectrum. I don’t know how it’s supposed to feel, and I’m an engineer (by training anyway), so I wanted something more “scientific.”
So last fall, I went to a shop that uses the Serotta Fit Kit system. It was over an hour away, but a friend had had a fitting there and was satisfied with the results. Rather than using my bike, I was fitted to the “Size Cycle” and analyzed by a fancy computer system, the “Computrainer Pro”. Then the measurements from the “Size Cycle” were supposedly incorporated into changes in my bike’s saddle height, stem length, bar height, etc. I also paid extra for a cleat alignment. The fitter never put me on my bike to make sure everything seemed right, and I was never observed riding the bike.
I got the bike home and felt the handlebars—38cm Salsa Pocos--were waaaay too narrow. I still couldn’t use the brakes from the hoods or the drops, and there wasn’t even enough real estate on the bar to comfortably fit the auxiliary brake levers. I found that after the fitting, I didn’t want to ride my road bike because the bars were so narrow; I think I only rode it a couple of times last fall. I called the fitter to talk about it, but he just said I had to ride it more. I didn’t want to ride it more—it wasn’t comfortable, and really didn’t even feel safe.
So last month I decided to try to solve my brake reach and drop discomfort problems by getting a different handlebar, a 40cm Bontrager Fit VR . This is a women’s bar with a very short reach and drop. When I went to the LBS (with the good fitter) to check the positioning of the hoods on the new bars before having them taped, a shop employee commented that my arms were much too straight and that my fit was way off. I decided to bite the bullet and have another fitting done, this time the “artistic” way.
Well. What a difference.
First I just pedaled the bike on the trainer. I complained that something seemed to be wrong with the trainer because it was very jerky, and I couldn’t pedal smoothly. She ignored me, and said that my left leg appeared to be a bit shorter than my right, so she repositioned my right cleat to make up for the difference. I told her that it felt like I was pedaling with my toes, so she moved the cleats back and tweaked them a bit, and angled the left cleat because my knee wasn’t tracking properly. She also moved the saddle back a tad, lowered it, and changed its angle. Voila! I could pedal perfectly smoothly now—the problem wasn’t the trainer, it was me!
She also changed the stem and its angle (went from 75mm to 110mm with a higher rise), and experimented with the tilt of the bars and the position of the hoods on the bars. I went back a few days later (after the brake cables were attached on the new handlebars) and rode it for about 20 minutes, with her observing.
On Sunday I did a 38 mile ride, and it felt (mostly) great. I never used the brakes on the top of the bars, and spent most of my time on the hoods. I may need to lower the bars a tad, and my right knee seemed like it was moving around a bit, but overall I had no aches or pains (which is remarkable since I haven’t ridden my road bike since last fall.) I know that the second fitter would never tell me to keep riding it if there was any discomfort; she wants to know right away and fix it.
Maybe the Serotta Fit Kit system works better when one is ordering a custom bike instead of using the measurements to retrofit an existing bike. At this point, I’m sold on the non-scientific method of fitting.