Your Bike Fitting: What to Expect & Why You Need It

Bike fitting can increase comfort and performance, whilst reducing injury risk so why doesn’t everyone do it? We talked to Michael Bieber, IRONMAN Certified Coach and F.I.S.T. Certified Bike Fitter, to get the facts on what to expect from a bike fitting and why it is important.

Bike Fitting Essentials

Bike fitting has long been a topic of great discussion in the cycling and triathlon community. Is there a correct riding position, and if so, what is it? If such a position does exist, shouldn’t every rider be doing everything they can to achieve it? Both legitimate questions. The best answer is that a singular solution does not exist to such a complex question. However, there is process in place to find the best fit solution for the specific needs of each rider.

During my time as a triathlon coach, I have been asked many questions about the bike fitting process. Here are some of the common ones with the answers you need to know when considering getting a bike fit.

1) Do I Need a Bike Fit?

The truth of the matter is, if you haven’t had a bike fit, or haven’t had a fit in the past 2-3 years, you need a bike fitting! You are losing out on speed, efficiency, and comfort on the bike by neglecting this important step to optimizing performance. While most cyclists and triathletes have heard of bike fitting, it amazes me that there continues to be so many hold-outs to the process!

I hear quite a few objections in the retail space I work in. However, as soon as I show a cyclist or triathlete the tools at my disposal, demonstrate how comprehensive the process is, and show how I can improve their ride, the objections tend to melt away. That being said, here are some of the common objections and why they shouldn’t hold you back from your fit!

Cost

Depending on where you live and how experienced your fitter is, you can expect to pay between $150 – $500 (USD). Factors that will impact the cost include the type of bike being fit, the type of fit system, how in-depth the fit is, and if a follow-up is included.

Your Bike Fitting: What to Expect & Why You Need It | Michael Bieber | Linked Fitness CommunityMany fitters who work in conjunction with an Independent Bicycle Dealer will offer a discount if you are doing a fit as part of a new bike purchase. In my case, a fit ranges between $250-$350 (USD) depending on the type of bike being fit. This includes a 1 year guarantee for follow up fit adjustments.

An important note to keep in mind is that the fit pricing does not usually include any parts. Common parts to replace as the result of a bike fitting are the stem, handlebar and saddle. The price range on these items varies greatly. If you are on a budget, make sure to discuss that with your fitter prior to starting.

One other thing to consider is that if your bike requires significant adjustment, there may be a need for new cables and housing. The good news is that these are relatively inexpensive.

It all sounds like a lot, but consider what you spend on a mattress that you find comfortable.  A bike fit is to your ride, what a good mattress is to your sleep: a guarantee of a quality experience. Just like you can’t put a price on a good night’s sleep, the cost of a fit is a small price to pay to be able to enjoy your bike every time you ride.

Time

A typical bike fitting takes approximately an hour to an hour and half. This depends on the complexity of the bike, the setup of the fit system, and the number of changes required. If the fitter you have selected is manually changing parts throughout the fit, it may take a bit longer.

There are often significant adjustments made, especially with an initial fit. If this is the case, you can expect to leave your bike for a day or two. This will give the fitter time to install new parts, makes the necessary adjustments, and finalizes the fit. This is also the time that a fitter will address any maintenance items and replace cables and casing if needed.

You may be without your bike for a few days, but in the end, the time spent in making sure your bike is fit correctly and properly adjusted, is time invested in higher quality riding later on.

I’ve Been Riding This Way Forever/I’m Not A Serious Rider

Many successful riders have used their fitness and general genetic gifts to overcome a poor bike fit. That’s a complicated way of saying that good athletes find a way to overcome the things that hold them back.

Your Bike Fitting: What to Expect & Why You Need It | Michael Bieber | Linked Fitness CommunityImagine if you are trying to open a locked door but don’t have the key. You can either try to break it down, or try to find the key. Either way, the process is not a quick one. Now imagine that you called the locksmith to get the door open for you. It took no additional effort on your part, you are assured that your door will be opened (and still be intact), and you will be left with a new lock and key in hand.

The same goes for a proper bike fit. Set up your appointment with the fitter of your choice and let them help you open the door to better performance. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been on your bike for 30 years or 30 minutes, there are gains to be made.

2) How Do I Find A Qualified Fitter?

You’ve read several times already in this article the importance of a qualified and quality fitter. What makes a fitter qualified and/or quality? The answer is not entirely simple. There are many different ways to evaluate the methods of individual bike fit specialists. Regardless of method, the end result should ultimately be the same.

Case in point, the first time I was fit professionally, my Triathlon position changed drastically. The changes included a taller saddle height, longer reach and lower bar elevation. Less than a year later, I had a chance to be fit by Dan Empfield, the mind behind the X/Y positioning system used in most modern fitting, at a GURU fitting clinic.

The end result of that fit? Approximately 2mm change in the three areas I listed previously. Not because I was so practiced at that position that I knew it in my sleep, but because both fitters understood the process and were able to ultimately guide me to the same end result.

Knowing that there are different ways to proceed through a fitting, what should you as a prospective bike fit customer be looking for? That is a great question. Here are some things that can help you narrow down the list of options you may have:

Certifications

There are a number of fit certifications available in the market today. The main ones include GURU, F.I.S.T., ReTul, Precision Fit, and Body Geometry. Some of the certifications are offered by a specific bike brand and are not as comprehensive as others. However, they do provide the basic training a fitter needs to get started or to reinforce an already honed skill.

I am partial to the F.I.S.T. and GURU system training. In my opinion, they provide the greatest scope of training for both prospective and experienced fitters.

Tools

Your Bike Fitting: What to Expect & Why You Need It | Michael Bieber | Linked Fitness CommunityThere are many different fit bikes out there, some that are static and others that are dynamic. A static fit system is one in which the fitter observes and takes measurements both on and off the bike, then makes changes by changing parts on your bike.

A dynamic system involves the fitter taking those same measurements, but then making changes while you are on the fit bike itself, often with a simple button click. I am partial to the dynamic systems because of the ability to make instantaneous changes and see in real time how they change the riders comfort and output. Then there are the supporting tools: goniometer, plumb bob, laser, video capture, motion analysis software, to name some of the more common items.

When looking for a fitter, it is not necessarily the system that they use that you should be looking for. The main thing is that they have a system in place and they are experienced and comfortable using that system.

Experience

Nothing can substitute experience! There are great fitters out there who have never been to a clinic and have no formal certifications but can do a great job for you. There are also fitters out there who have certifications and tools galore who aren’t very good.

When looking for a fitter, one of the best things you can do is look to the cycling community in your area. Who do they value and trust? What were their experiences with a particular fitter or system? Would they go back? I live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, to which over 50 fitters call home. When someone is asking the questions above, there are only about 5-6 names that come up time after time. That tells you that those 5-6 fitters have the tools and experience to do a great job and they created a positive experience for the rider.

3) What Factors Impact My Position?

The common misconception is that a fit will be optimized purely on performance. However, what a good fitter knows and practices is that comfort equals performance. You can only tolerate an overly aggressive riding position for so long before having to move to a less aggressive position.

Your Bike Fitting: What to Expect & Why You Need It | Michael Bieber | Linked Fitness CommunityAn experienced and knowledgeable fitter will optimize you for comfort, which equals performance. A less aggressive position that can be comfortable all day long provides greater gains than a position which leaves the rider aching to sit up like a sail in the wind after only a few minutes.

There are 4 major factors that will impact your fit, both initially and over time. They are:

  • Flexibility
  • Age (none of us escape Father Time)
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Injury (past and present)

All of these individual factors will weigh greatly on your final fit position. There are other things that are taken into consideration as well, such as: activity goals, current fitness, physiological anomalies, intended ride scenario, etc. While all of these play a part in a comprehensive fit, comfort is still key.

Make sure that when you are working with the fitter of your choice, you have a dialogue before, during, and after the fit regarding factors specific to you and your ride position. In the end, you should both be happy and confident with the final fit.

4) What Can I Expect During A Bike Fitting?

When you’ve scheduled a bike fitting and arrived for the big day, there are several things that will happen:

Brief Interview

Your fit will likely start with a short interview of the factors impacting you specifically. This may have been done when you booked your appointment, or it may be right before the fit itself. Either way, it gives the fitter a broad scope of where to start and things to be aware of.

Measurements

Next there will be some measurements. Depending on the fit system, there may be more or less measurement done. Common measurements are height, shoulder width, and inseam. These measurements are primarily used to establish a basic starting point for the fit. If you are getting fitted to a bike you already own, you can expect some measurements to be taken from that also.

Bike Riding

After that, you’re on the bike! Make sure that you arrive to the fit with appropriate cycling apparel. Whether it’s your team kit or a skin suit, you want your fit done in the manner you’ll be riding. To that end, make sure you also bring your shoes and pedals. Many fitters have the most common pedals out there that you can borrow, but it’s always better to make sure you have your own. Expect a bit of a workout during the fit, as fitters often will take you through a range of efforts trying to simulate different ride scenarios.

Your Bike Fitting: What to Expect & Why You Need It | Michael Bieber | Linked Fitness CommunityOnce you’re riding, changes will be made to find your optimized position. This is most often a collaborative process between fitter and rider, especially on the dynamic systems. The fitter makes a change and observes the result, then asks the rider how they feel the change impacted their comfort.

When both agree that the change was good, the fit continues to progress. When both arrive to the point where the change became negative, the rider is returned to the last positive position. And so it continues until reaching the final fit position.

Verify Final Fit Position

When the final position has been attained, the fitter will then use confirmers to verify. They will then determine how to accomplish that position on your bike. If the fit is being done to help determine a bike purchase, the fitter will be able to recommend bikes based on the final fit position.

This whole process can vary greatly in the time that it takes to complete. The best thing you can do is talk to your fitter. They have experience with their system and methods and will have the most accurate insight as to what your particular fit may involve.

I utilize the GURU Experience fit system, for which I estimate approximately 1 hour for a road or mountain bike fit. It will take approximately 2 hours for a TT/Triathlon fit. Why the disparity? There is quite a bit more setup in a TT/Triathlon fit at the outset.  Once the fitting starts, the process is a similar time frame.

Applying Position to Bike

After the final position has been attained, the last step is putting that position on your bike. Talk to your fitter prior to the fit to see if that is something that is done immediately after the fit or if it is something that you will need to leave your bike for. For many fitters who are affiliated with a bike shop, it is something that is done by the next day provided all the parts are in stock. It can take a bit longer if something needs to be ordered.

If the fitter works independently, they will be able to tell you after the fit what the time frame will be. My practice is to prepare my fit clients to be without their bike for a few days. More often than not, they are able to take their bike the same day as the fit, but I would rather have them be happy at getting it back right away than upset that I didn’t tell them they may have to leave it with me.

5) What Do I Need To Be Aware Of After My Bike Fitting?

Your Bike Fitting: What to Expect & Why You Need It | Michael Bieber | Linked Fitness CommunityNow that you’ve been through the bike fitting process and you’ve gotten your bike all set up, what should you expect? First and foremost, plan on an adjustment period. Any time changes are made, you need to provide time for your body to adapt to the change. Don’t go out for a short ride and decide you hate the new position. There is a reason you came to it during the fit process.

I recommend somewhere between 150-300 miles before making any adjustments to the bike. This allows you to really feel and experience the new position entirely. This is not to say that there won’t be adjustments needed to your fit after the initial process. In fact, just the opposite is often true.

I offer a one year adjustment period at no charge to make sure that the position is dialed. This allows me, the fitter, to check-in with my fit client. It also provides peace of mind to them in that they are not going to pay extra to book additional time with me to address adjustments that may be needed.

Finally, keep a good relationship with your fitter. If you have questions about your fit, talk to them. If you think you may need an adjustment, discuss what is troubling you and what the appropriate fix may be. Once again, it’s a collaborative process. Your best fit is based on your fitters experience and your feedback! In the end, the fitter wants you to be able to accomplish what you want on the bike. Here’s to a fast, comfortable ride!


About Michael Bieber

Your Bike Fitting: What to Expect & Why You Need It | Michael Bieber | Linked Fitness CommunityMichael Bieber is based in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, and has experience working with athletes ranging from high school freshmen to elite age group athletes. He is an IRONMAN Certified Coach, F.I.S.T. Certified Bike Fitter, Licensed Physical Education and Health Teacher, and has been coaching for over a decade.

Main areas of coaching expertise include triathlon, distance running, strength training, cross training, and injury prevention/maintenance. He is also qualified to perform bike fitting, form/gait analysis, and swim analysis.

Michael’s philosophy is that everybody has room to improve. He believes that adding the accountability of a coach is a great way to aid in an athlete’s development. Michael loves to work with anybody who is willing to commit to the process of improvement and he gets a great sense of satisfaction from helping people work toward their goals.

To find out more about Michael Bieber and his coaching services, head over to his website Treis Athlos Coaching


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