By Arnie Baker, M.D.
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Just How Important is Bike Fit? More or less than you might think. I teethed into bicycle racing in the 1980s, watching the three M’s: Merckx, Martens and Moser. Merckx, perhaps the greatest bicycle racer of all time, famously and typically changed his seat height many times during the course of a single ride.
On the other hand, I have ridden tandem with Floyd Landis for years. As long as I eyeball his seat height to within an inch of his usual position, he is happy. Happy to be training different muscles than he is used to, or happy because a new position may work away the pain from his hip replacement.
I have ridden tandem time trials for years. With some riders, it has taken scores of rides for my partner to adjust and get used to tandem positioning. On the other hand, when I met Jane Gagne, we rode about 10 minutes one Saturday before she said: “Okay, I’m fine. That’s enough.” The next day we set the US mixed tandem 40-kilometer record.
I have fitted riders who have complained of nagging shoulder pain, related to cycling, for years. Observing a modest arm length difference, they have marveled that I have eliminated their pain by offsetting their brake levers by just a few millimeters (mm).
On the other hand, I have fitted track racers who have had two different length cranks (say a 165-mm on the left and a 170-mm on the right) for months or years without ever having noticed.
Sean Kelly’s saddle position was low and his reach short by any current bike-fitting standard. Nonetheless, he was the world’s number one racer for more than four years. Perhaps he could have been even better.
I believe a change in Sarah Hammer’s position helped her. She had already won the 2006 World Track Pursuit Championships in April. Two months later, in June, I was asked to consult about her position. We lowered her aerobars, improving her aerodynamics. In October, at the US National Championships, she rode more than 4 seconds faster, setting a record in 3 minutes, 32.865 seconds.
Most people who ride bicycles never get a bike fit. Some high-end stores routinely offer comprehensive fits for all customers buying a new bike.
In my experience, almost everyone can benefit from a 5-minute or less eyeball fit. A club coach, an experienced bicycle store employee, or experienced rider can help.
If you are a performance athlete, an experienced bike fitter may help you improve your performance. An annual bike fit “check-up” may be a worthwhile investment.
If you have a bicycling-relating overuse injury, read the section on Aches & Pains on page 110. An experienced bike fitter, especially one with expertise in medical-grade bicycle fits, may help or cure your woes. A medical-grade fit may take an hour or more.
Regardless of your fitness or the presence of overuse injuries, reading this book may help your riding.