Bicycle Fitting: Worth it for me?
September 1, 2013 8:28 PM   Subscribe

Are bicycle fittings best for certain types of riders, while others will see limited benefit?

I am a rather 'clydesdale' road biker who has enjoyed riding for a number of years, and generally understands bicycle mechanics. I have a modern Cannondale CAAD 10, and ride roughly 200 miles a month.

As many of us with hobbies do, we often purchase items or services that are generally targeted towards professionals (amateur photographers with pro-level lenses, as a course example). Is a bike fitting something that will generally help a triathlon athlete gain a few seconds over a long ride, or will someone who rides casually enjoy the process and have a more comfortable and productive ride?
posted by SirStan to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely worth it for comfort. I'm not a competitive biker but I enjoy my rides much more since my fitting, and have fewer strains afterwards.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:51 PM on September 1, 2013

No, it's worth it for anyone - a decent fitting will help you prevent strains and improve your comfort levels, even on shorter rides.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:58 PM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'd say they're worth it. I've been fitted four times over the past six years, starting when I was just a chubby guy trying to get my wrists and back to stop hurting on my first real road rides. Eventually when I started racing I was trying to get to lower positions and figuring out ways to make it work and it helped every time I've done it.

If you have any comfort issues at all, a good fitter should be able to solve any saddle, back, neck, and/or wrist soreness issues. You'll get to play with different saddle and bar heights most likely and they'll also help you with your fore/aft seat position and should also check our cleats if you're using those to make sure every point of contact on your bike is optimal for comfort. Totally worth doing, try to ask around to figure who the best bike fitter is in your neck of the woods.
posted by mathowie at 9:06 PM on September 1, 2013

I used to wrench at bike shops, and while it's not necessary for everyone, it's rarely a bad idea. You ride enough miles, on a nice enough bicycle, that you'll benefit— plus as a clyde you physically put more force onto the contact points between you and the bike.

Confirming what others have said— get the fit and you won't regret it.
posted by a halcyon day at 9:19 PM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a slightly more casual rider than you, and I think a fitting is worth the cost (about $75 at an LBS in my area, if memory serves). I had some problems I definitely needed help with, though—neck and upper back pain, in particular. If you already feel 100% comfortable on your bike for the length of rides you do, maybe you would not get as much out of it.

I paid to have my old bike fitted, and more recently, I got a free fitting thrown in when I bought a new bike. Both fittings, which happened at different shops, focused on my comfort on long rides. Marginally improving my speed might have been a byproduct of the effort, but it was not discussed as an objective.
posted by Orinda at 9:52 PM on September 1, 2013

I'm an Athena who rides mostly for fun and transportation, with long weekend rides and the occasional short tour, and I have zero interest in being faster, lighter, or more aero. My professional bike fitting was really helpful, and I'm very glad I did it!

I shopped around for a fitter at a shop that didn't cater exclusively to roadies looking to shave off seconds, and explained to him the type of riding I do and what I was looking for: to make sure I was comfortable, relatively efficient (as in, not making things unnecessarily harder for myself), and not hurting myself. I got a 2D fit (the 3D seemed a little overkill) and learned a lot about my particular body and the way it works with my particular bike, and got a few minor-seeming adjustments to the bike and my form that made a huge difference in how I feel on the bike. The most notable difference is how much longer it takes my body to get fatigued on long rides--now I run out of breath well before I run out of shoulder/arm and leg strength! ;)
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:10 AM on September 2, 2013

When I saw your question above the cut, I thought you would be a city cyclist. People used to bike share rides and cruisers are the only ones I would say don't necessarily need bike fittings. But even there, it's essential to know basics.

Then I came and read below the fold and immediately thought, man, you have no idea what you're missing (and I mean that in a "you've never had olive oil?? dang man, no idea what you're missing" way, not judgemental). It's not a question of seconds, but minutes. And that's just icing on the cake compared to the physical benefits.

I got back into mountain biking seven years ago, got a mid-level GT and a pro fitting from the bike shop. Only recently did I start riding non-fitted bikes (bike shares, lenders), and the difference was huge. On my GT I never get sore... I can ride until I'm pooped, and I won't be sore. Like rhiannonstone above. But dang, I took one city bike, adjusted it as properly as I could, and still had minor injuries from a 10km ride: very sore right wrist and fatigued lateral tendons in both knees. And I had been riding 10kmh (took us an hour to do the ten kilometres) due to a colleague having gotten a city bike that couldn't shift into third gear, the highest on our bike shares. When I've ridden lenders that are nicer than city share bikes, I start off wondering if I'm a crappy cyclist without knowing it... then slowly realize, no, it's because when you've got a bike that's fit to your body and needs, it makes a huge difference.

I am also an amateur photographer with pro-level lenses (bought used, originally meant for film cameras) and would say those are worth it too, btw. Tangent with a direct point: was chatting with our SUP guide Saturday (first time I've tried it), and we asked him if the boards were similar to those for windsurfing, then asked him if he knew why no one saw windsurfers any more. He explained, as a former windsurfer, that board manufacturers all pushed people to competition windsurfing boards, making it all-in or all-out. Either you were a competitive windsurfer, or you didn't windsurf, essentially. And that's why you won't see any windsurfers at all, any more, on the French Riviera. Assuming that "professional" is restricted, is in and of itself, restricting. There is a middle ground, and amateurs who get pro lenses for photography, and casual cyclists who get fittings, are the very sort of meat-and-potatoes of their pasttimes that make it possible for those pasttimes to continue to exist on a larger scale. They're why there is such wide choice available. This is a good thing for everyone who enjoys physical activity for enjoyment's sake. Keep in mind, even the Olympics were originally for amateurs, until the 1990s. Not professionals.
posted by fraula at 3:30 AM on September 2, 2013

I'm going to buck the trend and suggest that a fitting might not be necessary if you understand the principles involved in fitting and can apply them yourself. This article by Peter White is the best place to start. The late, great Sheldon Brown's article on handlebar height is also useful.

If you do decide to have a fitting done, make sure that the person doing the fit understands the kind of riding you do. The fit you want for racing a road bike or riding time trials is different from the fit you want for randonneuring or touring.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:25 AM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is like asking whether it's worth buying the right size shoes when you can stand the pain of stuffing your feet into a pair that's a half size too small, or manage not to fall too often when you're flopping around in a pair that's two sizes too big. You don't necessarily have to pay a bike shop to do it if you have some tools and time to figure it out, but *somebody* should adjust your bike's intentionally adjustable bits to fit you.
posted by jon1270 at 6:26 AM on September 2, 2013

No, it's not like fitting a shoe because with a particular model of shoe there is only one size that is the closest to the size of your foot. When fitting a bike you're adjusting a number of interacting dimensions in order to achieve one or a compromise between a number of possible goals (more speed? over short or long distance? time trial? group riding? touring comfort? endurance racing? just trundling around?), and within the limits of a particular bike's adjustability.

Consequently, it's essential to find a fitter who understands and has lots of experience fitting people with your goal. There are many fitting formulae, systems, programs and fitters who seem to subscribe to a disturbing idea that there is One True Perfect Fit for all. In the real world, the ideal fit for you might change over the course of a single ride, as you become tired. It will certainly change with style of riding, fitness level, experience, style of bike, weight you may carry, even clothing and temperature.

Absolutely, go get a fitting, for all the good reasons suggested above. But treat it as a single data point and a place to start, and allow yourself to be skeptical if you find yourself disagreeing with the fitter or they seem dogmatic. There's no substitute for experience and figuring out for yourself what works best for you over time.
posted by normy at 8:18 PM on September 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

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