Over the last 18 months I have now carried out over 100 fits for Triathletes and Cyclists looking to improve, comfort, power and aerodynamics. It’s an absolutely essential part of the ‘total package’. What is most satisfying for me is SEEING the results, visually in the ‘look’ and then after HEARING how much better someone is riding now due to the work we have done. So please have a read and hopefully some of this will prove beneficial to you.
There are many people who ask, “Why should I have a bike fit?”, but first, let me pose a question to you. Would you go down to Saville Row, or Carnaby Street in London and buy an off the peg suit, without even trying it on? Then expect it to be a perfect fit and wear it day in day out for work? No of course you wouldn’t! Why do so many of us spend a small fortune on N+1, the new bike, but NOT have it properly fitted? It beats me!! (although I’ll admit it was something I was guilty of MANY times in the past!)
The joy we derive from our cycling passion is massively increased when we feel ‘at one with the bike’. A good fit delivers this.
There are numerous reasons why you should get a bike fit and it will only enhance both your performance and enjoyment. Below is an example list which I will then address in some detail once we cover the ideal bike fit ‘process’.
- Optimal power generation.
- Reduction or removal of any pain in either neck, foot, back, shoulders, saddle or handlebar areas (Almost all of these ailments can be caused, or exacerbated by a poor position.)
- Protection of key muscles in multi-sport, e.g.: making sure your run muscles are not compromised by an extreme position on the bike.
- Improved handling.
- Optimised and improved aerodynamics.
- Better race or performance results.
The bike fit process
An ideal bike fit should contain all the following elements:
• What are your goals from the fit? Improved power? Comfort? Aerodynamics?
• Riding goals? What are they?
• How long have you been riding? What is your riding history? What type of riding?
• Have you been fitted before?
A Physical evaluation:
• Have you any past or pre-existing conditions that affect your riding?
• Basic measurements to determine saddle height, bar width, stem length.
• Physical analysis of your posture, feet position and foot arch height.
• Flexibility assessment. An off the bike analysis and measurement of your current level of flexibility. This is to determine how extreme (or not) we would look to take your position (if relevant) in the fit.
Bike measurements pre-fit.
• What are your current bike key measurements? e.g.: Saddle height, saddle angle, handlebar width, stem length etc.
On bike analysis
- Starting with your existing position the fitter will take some angle measurements and determine initial areas of opportunity.
- Cleat set up. A review of your pedal cleat position for optimal comfort and power transfer.
- Crank length options
• The fitter will then make micro adjustments in a systematic way to ensure the optimal position. This may take only a few tweaks, or with a complex aero fit can be much more involved looking at head, hands, saddle and helmet position and even what helmets to wear.
• You should have the opportunity to go away and try the position and return to tweak if needed based on real life riding feedback.
Let us now revisit some of the key benefits you will get from a bike fit:
This is obviously critical as this is the biggest single determinant of how fast you will go. For example:
• If your saddle is too high you may be over extending your muscles in your glutes and calves and losing power at key extremes in the pedal stroke.
• If your saddle is too low its likely you will not be extracting all the available power from your muscles through the pedal stroke.
• Poorly positioned cleats will mean that the transfer of power from foot to pedal may not be optimised and you may get knee or other pain from a poorly aligned kinetic chain.
• Handlebar position, width and height will also affect your ability to maximise (or not) power generation.
Being comfortable and feeling no noticeable pain (apart from your legs screaming at you when pedalling hard!) is the goal with a bike fit.
Saddles are often the biggest area of problem. Saddle choice per se, is a massively personal choice. You will see many riders stick with a saddle or brand that they know and love throughout their career. It’s also important dependent on the type of riding you do. On a TT or Tri bike, the riding style dictates that your hips rotate over the saddle to maintain the position. This means different types of saddle, such as the Infinity Bike Seat below, or similar can be a good option for both comfort, aerodynamics and power generation.
An incorrect saddle height, as well as affecting power generation, can cause discomfort due to incorrect pressure in the pelvic area.
Saddle position, fore and aft, can also cause problems in both the pelvic area (due to your position over the bottom bracket). It can also affect power generation for the same reason and also neck/shoulder pain due to either being over stretched or too scrunched up from the saddle to handlebars. Optimising weight balance between the key contact points (saddle and hands / arms) is key here.
Stem and handlebar – position, shape and size:
When fitting a bike the key measurement is top tube length, seat tube length is less important as saddle height can be used to compensate for this, But top tube length can only be tweaked using stem length and generally there is much less options in this as the effect on handling with either a very short or very long stem come into play
Width of your handlebars:
As a rule of thumb your bars should mirror the width of your shoulders. Most bikes come with 42cm bars (road bikes) these days, which is generally ok for most ‘average male riders’, but for either smaller or larger riders, or women, a different size may be needed.
These days (again on road bikes) most bikes have a shallow drop (about 10cm). Older bikes can have much deeper drops. Shallower is better as the difference between riding on the drops and hoods is reduced, reducing the impact on position and comfort.
As mentioned above, this is the only real variable to affect reach. Most bikes, TT bikes included, have 100-110mm stems. It is possible to get much shorter and much longer stems, but these can have a negative effect on handling, either making it really twitchy (short) or less responsive (long).
A perfectly fitted bike will feel like an extension of you. You will specifically notice this when descending or in a racing bunch. A client of mine, who was a notoriously nervous descender reported the transformation in his skills after a bike fit. He was more confident, able to hold the lines and maximise the speed when descending as his handling confidence massively improved.
The same is true of bunch riding. You need to be so observant of the road, other riders and the parcours that anything but an optimal fit will hamper you.
Improved and optimised aerodynamics
The key to going fast on a time trial or triathlon bike is based around a number of things:
• Absolute Power.
• Power to weight (less important but still relevant).
• Efficiency of power transfer e i.e.: minimising power losses through the drive train by using the best possible drive train components and bearings.
• Rolling resistance.
• Aerodynamics and how much (or ideally little) air you displace as you ride.
The final point here. Aerodynamics is the biggest ‘free’ element you can affect (without massive outlay or improvements in power) on your bike.
A truly aero position can be a compromise from your most efficient power generating position. Just think of it simply, if you were to sit up, right above the pedals in ‘shopping bike style’ and give it all you have got, you may well be and feel more powerful than your position in the saddle. BUT I guarantee you will not be as aerodynamic! So the challenge we have is minimising any power loss against the gains we make in your aero profile (as demonstrated by the top picture).
When doing an aero bike fit our goal will be to balance these two things and ensure that you deliver the FASTEST performance. It’s not necessarily the most powerful rider who will win, it is the one who travels fastest through the air. And that’s a balance of all the 5 points above.
Some Key points to remember and watch out for:
- You can’t just transfer your dimensions from your old to new bike and expect everything to be the same. Frame geometry is often different which fundamentally changes how you will be positioned on the bike.
- Be very wary of making adjustments to ‘correct’ some niggle or other issue. There are so many parts to consider when fitting a bike and one move has compound effects. E.g.: If you move the saddle up, you are also actually moving it back due to the sloping geometry of the frame and this needs accounting for.
- TT/ Triathlon and road positions are quite different and if you specialise in either area you need to spend the vast majority of time riding the bike you will be racing, to adapt muscles to that position (If you have a spare, winter or Turbo bike, see how close to your race position you can set it up to aid this.)
- Don’t just ‘slam the stem’! This has effects on your upper body angle and also weight distribution and could lead to you putting too much weight through your arms and shoulders and cause discomfort.
- On your road bike think about handle bar width, is it right for you? For many this is one of the quickest and simplest ‘fixes’ to common niggles and complaints.
- Cleat set up is critical for power transfer, comfort and injury prevention – 80% of people I have seen have this set up wrong!
- Research well the credentials of your chosen fitter, plus any ‘ties’ or not they have. For example, many shops will offer a basic ‘fit’ service. But how well trained are these fitters and can you see examples of their results and testimonials from happy riders. It’s also worth bearing in mind that lots of shops are ‘tied’ to certain brands, and this encourages them to upsell you towards those brands. There is nothing wrong in this, but it can limit the true breadth of choice you have, and can, in some circumstances lead to sub-standard results.
I believe a good bike fit is one of the best ways to gain ‘free speed’! You may generate 10w more power in the perfect position, or be able to sustain your FTP for longer. All this is effectively ‘free speed’ that it would take weeks / months / years to generate ‘just training’.
Many people look to N+1, or the latest (well marketed!) kit as the best way to get freespeed, first and foremost get the fit right.
Finally if you want to read about HOW important and quantifiable the benefits of a bike fit are, read this example I produced following the UK CTT National 100m Time Trial, comparing the below hierarchy, to explain differences in the race time achieved.
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