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Old 01-22-13, 02:11 PM   #1
Steve Sawyer 
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Bike fitting - what does it cover?

It has been impressed upon me both here and at a couple of bike shops I've been talking to that getting the right fit on whatever bike I buy is critically important.

I want to make sure I know what should be included in an initial fit; there seems to be a bit of variance between what shops include as part of the delivery of a new bike. I don't mind paying a bit extra for a good fitting, and suspect that a shop might be more inclined to take more care when the customer is paying extra for the fitting, than when it's simply part of the delivery.

On the other hand, I think that for the non-competitive rider one can quickly reach a point of diminishing returns in the cost/benefit equation.

At a guess, it would seem that the fitting might include:
  • Seat height
  • Seat angle
  • Seat fore-and-aft position
  • Handlebar position (would this be both height and for-and-aft position? Not sure I know how the fore-and-aft would be adjusted)
  • Handlebar width (do you have a choice when purchasing, or are you stuck with what you get?)
  • Pedal cleat position

Have I covered the important items?

From some of the reading I've done, and talking to a co-worker who is a marathoner and triathlete, the fitting methodology can get extremely sophisticated (and correspondingly expensive) but my sense is that this is for those that have money to burn or are looking for a competitive edge (I just want to feel good and go fast! ).
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Old 01-22-13, 02:27 PM   #2
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On the other hand, I think that for the non-competitive rider one can quickly reach a point of diminishing returns in the cost/benefit equation.
I'll let others comment on what is involved in the fitting process but I do want to comment on the above quote. I do not agree that the diminishing returns part applies, a good fit is a good fit whether your riding in the tour or do three 20 mile rides a week. I don't want the diminishing returns part pop up 15 miles into my 20 mile ride in the form of knee, ITB, shoulder, hand, hamstring or any other pain when another $50-100 could have taken care of it.
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Old 01-22-13, 02:40 PM   #3
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If your not familiar with adjusting your bike to fit you, then I would call on some help from your LBS. Or you can get alot of help online and on this forum. First you need to make it clear to them exactly what you want, either a performance / competition fit, or a comfort less intrusive fit. In all my years of riding, I have found that there is a difference in setting up for maximum performance or a more leisurely approach. I have always used the knowledge I learned from others and more recently online, to adjust my own bike for comfort and preventing injury. It does take time and alot of trial and error. You simply cannot go to a shop and get fitted then take off and expect it to work for you. You will find after some riding that you either hurt somewhere or are uncomfortable somehow and start fiddling with the adjustments until you get it right for you and that simply negates your original fitting. So it all depends on what you need.
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Old 01-22-13, 02:40 PM   #4
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I think you have it pretty well covered. Handlebar location is set by the stem length, angle, and spacers. Lots of adjustments there. The overall goal is to get you balanced and centered on the bike.
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Old 01-22-13, 03:10 PM   #5
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I do not agree that the diminishing returns part applies, a good fit is a good fit whether your riding in the tour or do three 20 mile rides a week.
Point taken. I guess I was speaking pretty much from an efficiency/performance standpoint, rather than comfort/injury standpoint. I understand that you can spend $500 or more on a fitting (my co-worker did just that for a dynamic fitting that took several hours!). But it's really hard for me to see how I could justify that kind of expense if I can get a good (not perfect) fitting for less than half that price (and hopefully MUCH less! )

I don't think for a person buying their first road bike that there can be a "perfect" fitting.
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Old 01-22-13, 03:16 PM   #6
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Point taken. I guess I was speaking pretty much from an efficiency/performance standpoint, rather than comfort/injury standpoint. I understand that you can spend $500 or more on a fitting (my co-worker did just that for a dynamic fitting that took several hours!). But it's really hard for me to see how I could justify that kind of expense if I can get a good (not perfect) fitting for less than half that price (and hopefully MUCH less! )

I don't think for a person buying their first road bike that there can be a "perfect" fitting.
Yeah, I agree. So your coworker, $500, your kidding right?
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Old 01-22-13, 03:19 PM   #7
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If your not familiar with adjusting your bike to fit you, then I would call on some help from your LBS.
Absolutely. I could futz with it for quite awhile before I got it in the ballpark, or I can get (and learn from) some professional input.

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make it clear to them exactly what you want, either a performance / competition fit, or a comfort less intrusive fit.
Moving from a hybrid to a road bike, I'm going to be conservative on the comfort side of the equation. Also, I can't see getting a perfect fit on my first road bike no matter how much I spend, as my definition of "perfect" is bound to evolve, especially in my first riding season. I think that the best I can hope for is a fit that is safe (won't cause injury) and initially comfortable enough to allow me to settle into it and decide what fine-tuning the fit needs. As you wisely point out, it has to be a cut-and-try process, and part of what I hope to gain from a professional fitting (whether I spend $50 or $250) is knowledge of what the variables are and their effect so that I can tweak the fitting to my preference over time.
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Old 01-22-13, 03:29 PM   #8
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Absolutely. I could futz with it for quite awhile before I got it in the ballpark, or I can get (and learn from) some professional input.



Moving from a hybrid to a road bike, I'm going to be conservative on the comfort side of the equation. Also, I can't see getting a perfect fit on my first road bike no matter how much I spend, as my definition of "perfect" is bound to evolve, especially in my first riding season. I think that the best I can hope for is a fit that is safe (won't cause injury) and initially comfortable enough to allow me to settle into it and decide what fine-tuning the fit needs. As you wisely point out, it has to be a cut-and-try process, and part of what I hope to gain from a professional fitting (whether I spend $50 or $250) is knowledge of what the variables are and their effect so that I can tweak the fitting to my preference over time.
You're on the right track. It will evolve over time as you ride the new bike and you may find yourself changing or upgrading some of it's features and components that in itself further lengthens your set up time. You'll get it, Best of luck.
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Old 01-22-13, 03:30 PM   #9
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Yeah, I agree. So your coworker, $500, your kidding right?
Heh, heh... no.

This girl is in her late 40's, unmarried, no children and has money coming out of her ears. She's run a marathon on every continent - yes, including Antarctica. When she decided to add triathlons to her competitive regimen, she went at it like she does everything else - full speed.

I understand that they take videos of the rider from multiple angles while riding the bike in a rigid stand under varying loads, consult with the rider, review the videos, adjust, rinse & repeat until they've gotten every erg of energy from the rider's body to the wheels. Sounds like an amazing process...
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Old 01-22-13, 03:46 PM   #10
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Heh, heh... no.

This girl is in her late 40's, unmarried, no children and has money coming out of her ears. She's run a marathon on every continent - yes, including Antarctica. When she decided to add triathlons to her competitive regimen, she went at it like she does everything else - full speed.

I understand that they take videos of the rider from multiple angles while riding the bike in a rigid stand under varying loads, consult with the rider, review the videos, adjust, rinse & repeat until they've gotten every erg of energy from the rider's body to the wheels. Sounds like an amazing process...
Interesting, I never knew anything like that existed.
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Old 01-22-13, 05:09 PM   #11
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Bike fits do work for some but I would be a bit cautious in paying serious money for one at the stage you are at right now. This will be your first road bike and the bike should be of a size that will fit you. By that I mainly mean that the saddle will be able to get to the right position and that the bars will be the right height for you as a "Novice" road rider -and be the right distance from the saddle to give you the correct length of cockpit.

That is for how you are NOW

Your body will change and adapt and what fits now- could be wrong in a few months. Doesn't happen to everyone but the first criteria is the correct size frame. Saddle height- fore and aft position and saddle tilt comes in next. That may change a bit over time but not much. Reach to the bars and bar height could change greatly though.

The LBS should set these basics up for you when you buy the bike. If they don't then it is not the LBS for you.

But other items like bar width- stem length and changes to the initial fitting can only be found as you adapt to road riding. Then in a few years time and you need the ultimate in performance- It might be worth paying for a professional fitting. On my second bike- the LBS set the bike up for me and changed one item which was the bar stem length. Then sent me out for a ride and I was gone for a couple of hours. Went back to the shop and they asked what needed changing and my reply was nothing. Since then I have modified the fit but that is due to me changing my riding style as I aged/improved/progressed.
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Old 01-23-13, 09:49 AM   #12
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Bike fitting often times does NOT look seriously at whether a stem swap is useful. Handlebar reach is, imho, THE critical thing. Seat height is easy. Fore/aft isn't as critical as many people think and people often move their butt back and forth quite a bit but how your seat position relates to your reach is really important to allow you to NOT have too much pressure on your arms or to be too bunched up. Most shops are also ill equipped to get your foot in a perfect alignment. Those are the two things that distinguish a professional bike fitting from an average one; getting the cockpit perfect and the foot angle (with orthotics if needed) correct. We have no local bike shops that do a serious, professional fitting and that's true for most small towns so the best one can do is try to educate oneself (like you're doing).
Most bikes come with a standard handlebar width determined by the frame size. It's probably reasonable for most people to go with that and see if it's going to work unless you are unusually built for your height. Mtn bike handlebars can simply be hacksawed (if not carbon) to length.
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Old 01-23-13, 10:42 AM   #13
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Bike fitting often times does NOT look seriously at whether a stem swap is useful.
The bike I've been looking at (the Specialized Secteur) has a stem that is reportedly highly adjustable, so I'm betting that the stock stem will be adequate to be starting out with.
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Old 01-23-13, 12:05 PM   #14
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The bike I've been looking at (the Specialized Secteur) has a stem that is reportedly highly adjustable, so I'm betting that the stock stem will be adequate to be starting out with.
Steve - If you're getting a Specialized, see if they're a BG Fit shop (Specialized's proprietary fit program). The shop will probably do a basic fit as part of the bike purchase; you might get a discount off the price of a more involved fit. If so, it's money well spent. As for the stem, it's common for a shop to swap out stems as needed - they usually have a box full of them.

Around here, an involved fit costs ~$250. Some cyclists (not me) pay more than that for a jersey. That's what I paid, and it's the most cost-effective investment I've made in cycling.
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Old 01-23-13, 01:00 PM   #15
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I spent $150 for all of the above. I also had to pay extra for a new stem. It all made a huge difference. I was "done" riding until I got that fit. I went to an outfit that came recommended by a friend.
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Old 01-23-13, 01:04 PM   #16
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Steve - If you're getting a Specialized, see if they're a BG Fit shop
They are, and I believe that one of them offers a 1/2 off on the $200 BG Fit service. The $250 service (according to their website) is for the triathlon fitting using aero bars.
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Old 01-23-13, 04:50 PM   #17
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Everyone has given you some pretty good advice here about fittings so I'll throw in my two cents. If you plan on doing some serious riding, don't skimp on the fitting or the price because you will get what you pay for. I ride between 5 to 6,000+ miles a year and a LBS initial fitting just isn't going to cut it when you put that much time in the saddle. Personally, I opted for a Retul fitting and it was the best $250.00 I ever spent on cycling, other than my bike. I don't race or do tri's but I do a lot of hard riding and I have not been dissatisfied with the fitting process. Find a system that will meet your riding needs and if your riding needs change, find a new system that will work for you.

Edit: I would also advise that you check out all the different fitting types and learn as much as you can about them. Don't just leave it to the guy behind the counter to tell you what sounds good. Also, find out as much as you can about the fitter. Find out how many fittings he has done and if he is the only one in the shop that does the fittings. I realize that depending on where you live that some fitting systems are not available, but the better prepared you are when you go for your fit, the less chance there will be in getting ripped off and get a poor fit.
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Old 01-23-13, 06:04 PM   #18
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I can't see getting a perfect fit on my first road bike no matter how much I spend, as my definition of "perfect" is bound to evolve, especially in my first riding season. I think that the best I can hope for is a fit that is safe (won't cause injury) and initially comfortable enough to allow me to settle into it and decide what fine-tuning the fit needs. As you wisely point out, it has to be a cut-and-try process, and part of what I hope to gain from a professional fitting (whether I spend $50 or $250) is knowledge of what the variables are and their effect so that I can tweak the fitting to my preference over time.
You seem to have the right attitude going into this. And your expectations seem grounded in reality too. Providing that you and your fitter speak the same language, things should turn out just fine.
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Old 01-23-13, 07:33 PM   #19
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Hope this isn't too much of a hijack. . .

I have several bikes. I was fit to one of them a couple of years ago and guessed on the rest. Anyone ever take several bikes in to get set up when they are fitted? I am casually wondering how much extra they will charge. I suppose I can ask a bike shop or two.
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Old 01-23-13, 08:35 PM   #20
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I recently had a BG fit on my new Roubaix. I rode it first for a few months, including one century before getting the fit ( I got a much simpler free fit when I purchased the bike). The fit ran a fine line between making improvements to my set up, to upselling me on equipment. Some of the changes proposed would have cost several hundred dollars for a a few millimeters of change that would likely not have any impact on someone with my fitness level ( or lack thereof). As it was, we swapped out for a new seat, new shorter handlebars, and inserts in my shoes, and made some adjustments in seat height, and position, clip position and handlebar position. Since then I've had no more hotspots on my feet, rode 50 miles last weekend with no rear end issues, and no longer get a sore Rear, so the fit did make some significant improvements that are worth the cost to me.
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Old 01-23-13, 08:59 PM   #21
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I have several bikes. I was fit to one of them a couple of years ago and guessed on the rest. Anyone ever take several bikes in to get set up when they are fitted? I am casually wondering how much extra they will charge. I suppose I can ask a bike shop or two.
I haven't done that, but I've taken the measurements from the bike I was fitted on and transferred them to my other bikes. It works for me.
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Old 01-23-13, 09:15 PM   #22
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Hope this isn't too much of a hijack. . .

I have several bikes. I was fit to one of them a couple of years ago and guessed on the rest. Anyone ever take several bikes in to get set up when they are fitted? I am casually wondering how much extra they will charge. I suppose I can ask a bike shop or two.
Yes. I did this a year ago October. It was the best thing I've done for myself in a good long time.

I had four bikes. My position was just a bit different on each one. Not so bad that any of them didn't "fit", but different enough that each one engaged my muscles differently, so switching between them meant breaking-in my legs again. Beyond that, one was easier in the drops, another made me feel cramped, a third felt too stretched, etc.

One bike was pretty close to what I thought was ideal, but still not quite right. We started with that one. Five hours later, including a couple of rides and a trip to a running store for sports orthotics, we agreed that bike was right on the money. They documented the position, and we moved on to the second bike.

I rode them for two weeks to be certain that was the way I wanted them. Then I took the other two in.

I don't recall the breakout, but between the four bikes, two stems, and tax, it was just over $400.

If you have a tape measure (preferably metric, I bought one last time I was in Canada) drywall square (a big, giant T-square used by drywallers), a stand of some sort that keeps both wheels on the ground, and a patient helper, you can transfer the measurements yourself. I have none of these things, so the shop did it for me. See http://www.parktool.com/blog/repair-...stioning-chart
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Old 01-24-13, 04:53 AM   #23
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Interesting on fitting for a bike. I now wonder if my lbs is for hicks. No one has said "Lets fit the bike(or any item) to you". "If it feels comfortable to you" and "We can justify it anyway you want" are two common responses I get from them. Maybe I am not spending enough money there???
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Old 01-24-13, 05:23 AM   #24
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Have 3 road bikes and never had a professional fit on any of them. The first bike- Boreas- took a bit of time to set up and to an extent was trial and error.Second bike and on assembly with the mechanic at the LBS I had the critical measurements to guide assembly for fit. Only part that I changed was the seatpost to the same as the one on Boreas as it is an inline seatpost that allowed the saddle and post to be interchangeable between the two bikes (Same diameter and similar saddles by the way) But over the years those two bikes have been set up differently. Boreas is the "Go faster" bike with a more stretched out and lower bar position and the TCR is now set up for hills with a slightly higher bar and saddle 1/2 cm further forward.

When I got the Pinnie last year I got a frame with the same seat and head angles- 1 cm shorter Top tube and 1cm longer on bar stem. Assembled it with the bars low but they got raised a bit for the use it is put to.

So 3 bikes- each has its own strong points and each is basically the same but with subtle changes for the use that the bike is put to. And each is comfortable although I would not like to do a hilly century on Boreas due to the gearing and the low bars.
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Old 01-24-13, 09:07 AM   #25
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One of the things that I'm picking up here is that I might want to opt for the less-expensive of the two models I'm considering, and put the $200 difference toward the cost for the fitting and any parts that need to be replaced (handlebars, stem, seat) in that process. I hadn't thought about the fact that I might be looking at replacing parts before I'm even out of the store!
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