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  1. #1
    red bikes rule! divingbiker's Avatar
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    bike fit--art vs. science (long)

    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.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Kurt Erlenbach's Avatar
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    I've long thought that "perfect fit" idea is oversold. Fit is important, probably the most important part of a bike, and for certain people with specific areas of concern (like the leg-length difference you describe), getting a good fit from someone who know what they're doing is important to solve those problems. Beyond that, I think you get used to what you have, and a few centimeters here or there are irrevelvant.

  3. #3
    Senior Member lighthorse's Avatar
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    diving,
    If this thread gets out to other forums we will be trashed, but here are my thoughts. A few years ago when I was considering buying my first bike I looked all over the web and found several different way to fit a bike. After studying them and trying to make them compatible, I realised that they are not compatible and are different because the people who thought them up have different ideas about how bikes should fit. So I just make sure that I can stand over the bars comfortably and fit the bits and pieces from there. Of course I have never had a custom fitted bike built just for me. Maybe if I paid a lot of $$$ I would become a believer. Good luck with your ride.
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  4. #4
    Small Member maddmaxx's Avatar
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    This is a common idea on the 50+ forum. Most bike fitting math and rules are aimed at what..........a 20 year old soon to be racer???

    I'm glad that the second fitting was done by someone who was willing to build what was comfortable for you, not change you into something that fit the "rules".

    These types of shops are to be kept a treasured, like a good doctor or a good taxperson......

  5. #5
    feros ferio John E's Avatar
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    Body asymmetries are too seldom considered in bike fitting, and some sort of compromise is generally needed.

    I don't know about the rest of you, but to me many brake handles, notably Mafacs, Modolos, and Campagnolos, feel as though they were made for people with hands the size of Sergei Rachmaninoff's. I feel much more confident with Weinmann, DiaCompe, or Shimano handles, which I can grip rapidly and securely.
    "Early to bed, early to rise. Work like hell, and advertise." -- George Stahlman
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  6. #6
    Senior Member
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    I've been fitted twice locally. The first was a long time ago at Bonzai near Falls Church and I made several monor adjustments over the years. especially when I brought new components. The second was three years ago at Spokes off Quaker Lane in Alexandria. That was for a new bike. What was amazing is the setup at Spokes was identical to my older bike. So I can only assume they found out exactly what worked for me. I highly recommend them.

    Another place where I'm told is very good is Contes in Ballston
    You're just trying to start an argument to show how smart you are.

  7. #7
    Ride Daddy Ride Jet Travis's Avatar
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    Speaking of the "artistic method," when I bought my bike, I asked the shop owner, "How old are you?"

    He said, "Twenty-seven."

    I said, "Ok, I'm old enough to be your father. Would you set this bike up the way you would for your old man?"

    It took him about 15 minutes to have me completely dialed in. I'm sure I could be riding that in some ways would be more efficient. But for me that's no longer what it's all about.
    "Light it up, Popo." --Levi Leipheimer

  8. #8
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    When I was young and living in San Francisco, I bought two bicycles from who is the one outstanding bike shop owner I have met. He was an East Indian with a shop near the west end of Haight Street. Each time I walked into the shop to buy a bike he asked me how much money I had. I told him and then he took a bike off the elevated rack and presented it to me. Maybe I did the top bar test, though I don't recall that. He was such a nice person it never occured to me to ask to see another bicycle. But the bikes he sold me fit perfectly. Well they fit my wallet! And they were beautiful bikes that I loved and road all over the place. When I had a flat, I walked the bike to his shop and he would patiently explain to me the method for fixing flats, then fix it himself and charge me a dollar. For years, and many flats, we went through this routine and he never showed the slightest impatience. The man was cool.

  9. #9
    Senior Member donheff's Avatar
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    I recently had a fitting that followed the lines of DivingBiker's second fitting. It was well worth while. I was surprised (as was the fitter) that I had the seat way to high. He also changed the spacers on the stem to bring the bars lower, which really surprised me. As with DB, he watched me pedal and corrected my cleat positions. I felt the changes immediately. I also find myself riding on the hoods most of the time now when I was previously on the tops (I too have interrupter levers). My wife is going to get a fitting by the same guy soon. The whole process took nearly two hours even though it was scheduled for one.
    Every man is, or hopes to be, an Idler. -- Samuel Johnson

  10. #10
    Ride Daddy Ride Jet Travis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RalphP View Post
    When I was young and living in San Francisco, I bought two bicycles from who is the one outstanding bike shop owner I have met. He was an East Indian with a shop near the west end of Haight Street. Each time I walked into the shop to buy a bike he asked me how much money I had. I told him and then he took a bike off the elevated rack and presented it to me. Maybe I did the top bar test, though I don't recall that. He was such a nice person it never occured to me to ask to see another bicycle. But the bikes he sold me fit perfectly. Well they fit my wallet! And they were beautiful bikes that I loved and road all over the place. When I had a flat, I walked the bike to his shop and he would patiently explain to me the method for fixing flats, then fix it himself and charge me a dollar. For years, and many flats, we went through this routine and he never showed the slightest impatience. The man was cool.

    Nice story. Seems like it could have come from a fine collection of essays by Henry Miller entitled "My Bike and Other Friends." I hope you'll consider that to be a real compliment.
    "Light it up, Popo." --Levi Leipheimer

  11. #11
    Senior Member
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    Kindly spoken, Jet. Thank you.

  12. #12
    Senior Member RockyMtnMerlin's Avatar
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    I had a fit done a few years ago to solve a hip problem (created by running - which I gave up on - but still bothered me on strong efforts on the bike). Had it done at Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. Cured the problem. The Center is run by, and the the folks there are trained by, Andy Pruitt - who more or less invented the modern "science" of bike fitting. They will also work with your insurance company to pay the costs - check with them first though.
    Interestingly, one of the online bike racing sites (either Velonews or Cylingnews) recently covered a symposium that included a session on bike fit. Pruitt was there along with a couple other professionals and on a few questions they disagreed as to how fit can help a specific problem.
    So, as stated above, there are various schools of thought. BCSM worked for me.

  13. #13
    I make stuff up
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    Some time ago I worked in a shop that had an early Fit Kit. If you went by their numbers you fitted a bike as if it was for racing only. Over time my method evolved. I'd start a conversation while measuring the customer and their bike. Then have them warm up on a trainer, still conversing. The numbers were nice, but talking about riding and watching them pedal was the real fitting. It was very enjoyable; I miss it.
    It's around here somewhere . . .

  14. #14
    Violin guitar mandolin
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    I know my position pretty well in a general sense, not specifically for one bike tweeked in. I ride about the same position now on a performance bike as I did in 1974. The devil is in all those pesky details. I go to the details, then change something, and back to the details. Changing something being a 5 mm change in stem, knocking the saddle fore and aft a bit.

    I notice that on fairly upright, mellow riding bikes my fit needs aren't too demanding. I can get on and ride, move a few things and be happy. I ride with my feet forward on the pedals for mellow bikes.

    The higher performance the machine, the more I find I want to get something special out of it. Takes much longer to get the details going. And each machine seems to like something a bit different to get me comfortable on it. I can't see how one set of numbers is going to do more than getting in the general ball park. Given that that I've been perfectly comfortable on good well fitted bikes with a 1.5 cm difference in fore and aft saddle position relative to crank, I have to wonder how 1 particular position will be very close to ideal for one bike. If I have high bars for touring, my saddle ends up back a bit. If I have the bars down, then the saddle ends up forward.

    And that's just the general fit. Current bike, I rode a few months, then decided I was getting understeer just a bit and and wasn't comfortable in my arms. Narrower bars first. Moved them up and down. Still wasn't quite comfortable or locked in. Slipped the saddle forward a few mm. Better, then I started to get cramped shoulders. Longer stem. Back and forth on the saddle. Then change the bar angle and click. In the zone well enough to start fine tuning. Now the machine feels good and handles great. And the position is substantially different from the previous one (still set up) that feels fine, but is a high-bar fast cruising setup, rather than a cranking fast handling setup.

    How on earth is a number machine going to do anything but get sort of in the general ballpark? And for what style of riding? Over what terrain? If I'm going to ride across the midwest I'll use a different setup than for bashing over our Appalachian hills.

    A good eye watching position on the road and making recommendations might be better than any fit system. The road is different from a trainer.

  15. #15
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    There was an excellent article in the most recent Road Bike Action mag about riding position as it relates to comfort. Intersting how some of the experts who either will soon qualify for 50+ or are already have changed their views on riding positions. Can not really sum it al up but the best quote was "Can you bend over and lay the plam of your hands flat on the floor?" As many fit systems are designed to put you in this riding(racing) position, not many of us find it comfortable for very long a time.

    The most comfortable position may not produce the most power. My quote to my riding buddies is "I don't care to finish first, I want to finish".

  16. #16
    Violin guitar mandolin
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    That really hits it - power and speed don't necessarily mean comfort. Related - a position maximizing power and speed may be relatively comfortable at a fairly high power output, but not loafing along. And vice versa. Loafing on my fast bike isn't very much fun. Trying to push my slow bike fast doesn't do me very well, either!

    And there's just different style choices that influence pedaling. If I set myself up on a tall long frame I start pedaling toe down, stretched out. If I set myself up on a shorter bike with more reasonable drop I end up with a neutral foot position. Just as comfortable. Drop into my old "touring" type position (short TT, bars level with saddle) my saddle ends up back a bit and I have a bit of heel down, fairly slow cadence. I haven't ridden either of the end members in forever and consider that middle "standard" position as normal. That seems where most of the fit systems seem to direct people.

    http://www.prodigalchild.net/Bicycle6.htm#FrameChart seems to give almost as good a result as anything else for "normal" geometry bikes. I fit almost like this chart for a 73 x 73 bike. I ride a 73.5S x 72.5H these days, so the TT is a little shorter, same fit. Then add the drop http://davesbikeblog.blogspot.com/20...ebar-drop.html which is dead on for what I ride. Makes me look like I really fit on my bike. No surprise.

    Moulton also points out that for touring or comfort, go up to 2 cm larger. Sounds like Rivendell fitting. I'd have a 58.5 with Riv fitting. Gives me NO crotch clearance and a 58 cm TT. I'd be quite stretched out even with very high bars. Weird. But add 2 cm to my usual per Moulton suggestions and I end up with a 56 or 57 x 56.5, which is what I used to ride touring with a load.

    Funny how experience gives a basic good fit for almost everyone without fancy $$$. And the fancy fits don't give the ultimate fine fitting details anyway. Exact reach, exact handlebar tilt, etc. When I get my saddle right I can learn against a wall and reach forward to grab my front quick release.

    The performance positions can be very comfortable but don't seem to offer much room for misadjustment, and certainly are unlikely to be comfortable for loafing. The really high performance positions for really reaching out ahead of everyone start to get into compromises in comfort. I see this reflected in the peloton. The big boys have the super fancy racing positions giving solo speed. The domestiques seem to pop up on traditional mellower stage race bikes. The Specialized Roubaix seems to show up for example. Fast enough, but just enough mellower in geometry and positioning to be distinctly comfortable when set up appropriately. Colnagos tend to be that way too, surprisingly comfortable when carefully fitted.

  17. #17
    Senior Member freeranger's Avatar
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    I've never gone through a fitting, just test rode many bikes, found one or two that felt right, and went from there. My last purchase (Lemond Reno), was bought after test riding many diffterent brands and styles of frames ("traditional" and "sloping top tube"). The Reno just felt right, though I did have them swap out the stem for one 10mm shorter. My mtn.bike has a short top tube (typical for older GT's I'm told), but works for me. I guess a custom fitting might be advantageous, but for me, test riding has done OK so far.

  18. #18
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    I went through a fitting. It took about two hours. The guy who owned the bike shop is about my age (maybe five years younger) and has been fitting bikes and working as a mechanic for national cycling teams for years. He wouldn't sell me the bike unless I agreed to a fitting. (No extra charge for the fitting.)

    This was the fifth moderately expensive bike that I have bought in the last 20 years. None of my other bikes were fitted (although I did read and try to fit them myself). The very first time out on my new, fitted bike was a BIG eye opener. I will never buy another new bike without a fitting!

  19. #19
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    Fit for new bike

    I have a 1988 Derosa that fit me well when I was 20 years younger and more flexible than I am now. In Jan I went to a fitter that was recommended to me. He raced in college and has a degree as an exercise physiologist. I had the bars raised and several shorter stems over the past 10 years and after trying several bikes that I could probably not find one to fit me off the shelf.

    So we started a two hour session with me on my bike mounted in a trainer. The first change was to add what in effect are wedges between my shoes and cleats due to my ankles rolling outward. We then moved through several changes including seat height and moving it back. Then after taking different measurements of the frame I got on a fit cycle which went through many adjustments alternatives positions to find what worked and felt best. He even needed to change the angle of the seat post to 72 degrees to accommodate my long femurs. Needless to say when it was all done he said that no one made a frame that could be adjusted to fit me well. So after looking at a number of builders I am awaiting my new DeSalvo frame that should arrive Fri. or Sat. within the promised 90 day delivery window. Hopefully I will jump on after it is built and never need another adjustment. Time will tell. I will let you know how it works out.

  20. #20
    Senior Member PirateJim's Avatar
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    I’ve been reading this thread with considerable interest. I’m a new lurker on the 50+ forum (fully qualified at 54). I’m one of those folks that has owned a bike pretty much constantly all my life, but I haven’t ever been what would be called an avid rider (i.e. real hobbyist). When I was young I road all over because I couldn’t drive; later I road (some) for fun and exercise, but not avidly. For a long time I had an old Schwinn road bike (Super Sport?) that I KNOW didn’t fit worth a darn. This was probably a factor in not riding more.

    About 12 years ago or so my wife and I traded in our old bikes for a couple of Trek Navigators (comfort bikes). These we tooled around the neighborhood on when the weather was fine and that was about that until two years ago when I decided to start riding to get into better shape. I put several thousand miles on the ol’ Navigator and dropped over forty pounds (yeah, you can exercise on any sort of bike, and adjusting the diet helped too). But just recently I decided to kick my riding up a notch and get a road bike.

    After trying out a number of bikes, road and hybrid, I came upon a Trek Pilot 5.0 that was decidedly more comfortable than others I’d sampled and on sale being an ’07 model. Soon the deal was struck, but I didn’t haggle in a fitting, though the dealer talked about it and suggested that I should partake for about a hundred bucks. At the time I sort of mentally brushed it off and focused more on some other things I thought were important. Now I’m starting to think I’ll spend the hundred bucks after all since what he described sounded more like the ‘art’ fitting than the ‘science’ fitting that doesn’t involve talking to the rider. Then there’s the question of clipless peddles, cleats, shoes, etc. I don’t want to hijack this thread so will ask that in a post of its own.

    Jim
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