What Is Bike Fitting?

Relationship counseling for humans who ride bicycles. A bike fitter assesses the interaction between you and your bicycle, and adjusts your bicycle to best suit your physical condition and riding intentions. 

The objective is to improve the harmony between you and your bicycle, which translates to improved comfort, efficiency and performance. Adjustment's will be made to your bicycle. A cyclist's body can adapt to a bike that is not well adjusted for the rider. However, a poorly adjusted bike places greater demands and stresses on a rider's body, forcing greater adaptation. This can cause strain, discomfort, and the early onset of fatigue. Where is the cycling fun if you're dealing with this?

However sometimes the issue is with the cyclist's body more so than the bike. The fitting may include bringing awareness to your riding posture and technique, and recommendations may be made to see a physical therapist, sports massage specialist or trainer/coach for additional support.

When Should I Consider a Bike Fit?

Before Buying a Bike
Sizing precedes fitting.  If you are in the market for a new bike, make sure you are choosing the right style, size, and geometry before buying a bike, especially if you are shopping in the used marketplace or online.  A size that works for you in one make and model does not always translate well to another make or model. This is especially so with triathlon bikes, where the fit range of the armrest pads is a critical and widely variable factor. Pre-purchase sizing or pre-purchase fitting is a service offered by most bike fitters, and ensures a subsequent "fit" is readily achievable.
You have Just Bought a Bike!
Congratulations! It doesn't matter if it is new or pre-ridden, low cost or high spend, it's still new and exciting for you.  A wise rider once said that the best accessory you can buy for a new bike is a bike fitting session. No other "upgrade" is going to improve your riding experience and enjoyment as much as having your new bike properly adjusted to suit you. An Initial Fit session will work through cleat, seat and handlebar positioning so you are well set up for a comfortable, effective and enjoyable riding experience. Further refinements may be necessary though, as once you start accumulating time on a new bike there may be some niggles show up that need attention.
You Experience Discomfort or Pain

Persistent and recurring discomfort or pain should not be a part of your everyday riding experience. If it is, your body is probably asking for a bike fit.

If you enjoy riding but cannot ride as far or for as long you would like without a distracting protest from some part of your anatomy, a bike fit can often make a significant and positive change to your riding experience. A cyclist may experience discomfort in one or more of the following areas:

  • hands / wrists
  • elbows
  • neck
  • shoulders / upper back
  • lower back
  • crotch / butt
  • knees
  • feet

There are many possible reasons for these symptoms, including:

  • a correctly sized bike frame that is incorrectly set up for you with regard to seat and handlebar position
  • attempting to launch from the couch to a century ride in too short of a time frame
  • unsuitable components for your body, most commonly the saddle but could be cranks or handlebars
  • general physical conditioning, core strength, mobility, or lack thereof
  • a history of accident / trauma / surgery reducing your comfortable and effective range of motion
  • a bike frame that is fundamentally too large or too small for your proportions

A Complete Fit take a diagnostic approach to gather evidence of cause and effect relationships to help identify and resolves issues. In some situations you may be recommended to see a physical therapist or other body work professional for additional support.

Your Physical Condition Has Changed
Strength, flexibility, injuries and aging all affect your optimal position on a bike. Significant changes to any of these can result in a sub-optimal fit. A bike set up that works for your 25 year old body is not going to be the same for your 48 year old body.  A stronger core and greater flexibility allows for a more aerodynamic position. A broken neck or spinal degeneration is going to require a modified position. If you have experienced notable changes in weight, fitness or age since your last bike fit, you should definitely consider being re-fitted.
Your Riding Goals Change

A bike fit that is adequate for one goal may not be optimal for another, especially if the intensity and duration increase. Maybe you are going from 30 mile rides to doing your first century, or from Gran Fondos or casual mountain bike rides to competitive racing, or from a sprint distance triathlon to your first full Ironman.
A significant change in the sort of riding you are doing which asks your body to go further, faster or harder is going to create additional stress.
Bike Fit issues that are snoozing on a casual ride may suddenly spring awake and inhibit your ambitions, and what works for one level of duration and intensity may not support you for riding longer or harder.

Early Onset of Fatigue

This is often a symptom that your body is working too hard just to hold you in place on your bike. You may not experience any acute symptoms of pain, but may just tire out sooner than expected or desired, given your level of physical conditioning. If your riding position is not optimal, energy is expended simply supporting and stabilizing you on your bike. This compensation takes its toll on the duration you can sustain or the effort you can expend. Likewise, poor pedaling mechanics (technique) can detract from your overall forward motion. You are expending energy and literally spinning the wheels without going as far or as fast as is reasonably achievable. A bike fit can increase your cycling efficiency.