Help me like my bike
April 18, 2012 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Is it worth it to drop $175 for a pro bicycle fitting? I'm a injured former marathoner who desperately needs something to fill that moving-fast-outdoors-for-long-distances void, and I'd like for bicycling to do that...except every time I try to bike for anything longer than a few miles I get a terrible grinding sensation in one knee.

I've looked around and the only place in my city that appears to offer an extensive pro fitting is a local chain store. The fitting takes place over about a two-hour period, so it seems like it would be a serious deal. However, I'm a tad cash-strapped at the moment and $175 is not insignificant. It would be worth it, though, if it would resolve my damned knee problems.

I currently have a bike that I got off of Craigslist--a women's GT Vantara. I'm not a gear/equipment person and any time I try to research do-it-yourself bike fitting I start to mentally shut down. Hence, my desire to outsource this service.

Have you had a pro bike fitting? Was it worth the cost/time? Did it resolve nagging injuries or issues?

Thank you!
posted by indognito to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you had a basic fitting already? Are you sure your bike is the right size for you?

Most bike shops will be able to assess whether your hybrid can be made to fit you well, and adjust your saddle height and position for substantially less money than $175.

Fit sessions that are in that price range are generally designed to get already experienced cyclists in the best position for peak performance and comfort, who are already starting with a road bike that is the correct size.
posted by helicomatic at 6:48 AM on April 18, 2012

Without knowing what your injury is, we internet people can't tell you whether a pro bike fit will help you. You might be injured in a way that it is impossible to ride a bicycle without aggravating it further.

You need to talk to an orthopedist, not to us.
posted by workerant at 6:48 AM on April 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

workerant may well be right; it is possible that you have some kind of knee injury that will make riding impossible, so talking to a doctor about it would be a good first step.

As far as the fitting goes, I'd just go into a local bike shop during their off hours (maybe right after they open on a Saturday or Sunday) and just talk them through what kind of riding you're looking to do. They'll recommend some bikes and you can ride them to see if any make your knee feel better.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:02 AM on April 18, 2012

I'd say no, at least not initially. First try going out for a couple days riding with appropriate tools and go 5-10 minutes, get off and try some adjustments, try again, repeat as desired. Its a pain, but in the end its the right way to get your natural fit. Start with the book suggestions using plumb line in the door and whatnot, but then you need to tune it from there.

For knee issues, I'd initially focus on the cleat position, seat height, and seat forward/back. Hand numbness etc is a clue you need to adjust stem height/length etc. Also, you are using cleats that have some play, right? I dont even know if they make "fixed" cleats anymore but its really important that there are at least a couple degrees of wiggle room when you are clicked in. Lastly, another longshot, but back in the day some manufacturers (Shimano) made elliptical chainrings (as opposed to circular) and seriously wrecked some knees in the process. Make sure you are not using them!

It's also possible your knee problems are not fit related. Lots of people ride with gearing way too hard, creating needless pressure on the knees. If you go out for an hour spin with gearing *much* easier then you normally ride, can you reproduce the problem? For example, no big chainring action for the whole ride.
posted by H. Roark at 7:03 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you looked at (the late) Sheldon Brown's page on cycling and pain? There are a number of reasons why your knees might hurt, but having your saddle too low is probably the most common. Your knee should be almost but not quite fully extended at the bottom of your pedal stroke. If your hips rock back and forth as you pedal, your saddle is too high. You want the saddle just below that point.

If your knee is already injured, then I think you should take workerant's advice and see an orthopedist or sports doctor.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:04 AM on April 18, 2012

I was about to say "Yes, definitely" but for a Craigslist hybrid, and probably no clipless pedals, definitely not. Find a good bike shop you like, likely not a chain, go in, and tell them about your pain. Ask them to help you adjust your saddle and bars. They should be willing to either do it for free or for a nominal charge.* Chances are your saddle's too low, for one thing, but even a basic eyeballing of "oh man, let's raise the saddle, move it forward a bit, and raise the bars" or whatever will be way better than what you've got.

Once that's done, you may still have pain, at which point you should definitely go see a sports medicine doc. Orthopedists are great, but can definitely be a bit surgery-happy; a good sports doc will check you out and refer you to an ortho if warranted.

* This is one of the reasons why you'd ideally have bought a bike from a shop: because they do things like this. That said, I understand the need to be frugal. Going forward, try to build a relationship with a shop so you can just walk in and get help with things like this!
posted by The Michael The at 7:09 AM on April 18, 2012

P.S. H. Roark's advice is also good. Spinning in a relatively low gear is much easier on your knees than "mashing" in a high one. You should aim for a cadence (pedaling speed) of 70-90 rpm, which is a good range for a recreational cyclist.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:09 AM on April 18, 2012

Often, if you buy a new bike at a shop, you'll get a fitting, too. Ask around if shops in your area do this. They should.

A new bike might be the ticker - I looked up your bike and yeah, it's a hybrid, and that could be part of your knee stress.

Road or racing bikes intend for the body to be leaned over more than is likely possible with your hybrid. This allows more of the body to contribute to force exerted by the legs. The more upright you are, the more you're isolating and relying on muscles around the knees and not taking advantage of leverage and weight from your core, and the rest of the muscles in your legs and pelvis and whatnot. (note, i am not an expert, just somebody who's messed around on bikes for a long-ass time)

An exercise physiologist who knows something about cycling should be able to help.
posted by entropone at 7:23 AM on April 18, 2012

Former serious cyclist here - the problem is that the $$$ for the fitting is just the beginning. To adapt (or replace) the bike you have to conform with all their advice is probably going to run quite a bit more than that in replacement parts - different length stems, bars, cranks, etc.

Sounds like you've got an injured/worn knee from a lot of running, and H. Roark is spot on - gearing is a lot of it. Cycling is not like running, in that most of the time your legs should not FEEL like they're about to fall off. In fact, the key to maintaining speed over distance is to get in that groove where your legs feel like there's no load on them but they're turning very fast and keeping your heart and lungs ticking over. Also, there's just no escaping the fact that you can't start out going hell for leather on a new activity with an injured joint. WORK YOUR WAY UP.

The saddle height advice is also good - your legs should be nearly straight when the crank is at 6 o'clock. This requires some change in thinking from the way most of us set up on a bike when we were kids, and also requires getting used to a position where you can't just stand over the bike ON the saddle and touch both feet on the ground (for most bike geometries, anyway). If your saddle is too low, your knees will bother you.

I'd get with a local bike shop and bike club and get knowledgable advice from people who are seeing you ride. You can do a lot to improve the situation without spending the $$$.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:29 AM on April 18, 2012

Grinding sensation in the knee? Get thee to a doctor, now! Sounds like your meniscus is shredded, but only a doctor will be able to tell.
posted by wutangclan at 8:39 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Find another shop and drop the "pro." You only need a fitting, which you should be able to get for like $50.
posted by rhizome at 10:05 AM on April 18, 2012

I have for various reasons (including test-riding other people's bikes after I fix them) spent a lot of time on ill-fitting bikes and I've never had a bike fit so poorly it caused a grinding sensation in my knee. That is not a problem with your bike; that is a problem with your knee. You should really see a doctor.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:22 AM on April 18, 2012

IANAD but on a whim I googled "grinding sensation in the knee" and got links to all sort of helpful and alarming sites, including this self-evaluation from WebMD. I would not ride again until I got this checked out.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:44 AM on April 18, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, am I glad I asked Metafilter before dropping $175 on this! It does seem like this may be a waste of money and probably not the right route for someone just starting out with cycling. I got the bike a few years back and have only recently been endeavoring to use it.

Thanks for all your great answers--I am going to ask around at a few other bike shops next.
posted by indognito at 5:35 PM on April 18, 2012

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