By Rick Schultz, DBA
Based on half-a-dozen recent clients ‘bad bike fit’ stories, several asked me to put a short article together discussing this topic. I discussed with them their increased risk of injury and that, as they get older, all of these micro injuries will eventually catch up with them.
Basically, my belief is that a bike fitter should do no harm. This means that if the fitter doesn’t know what he is doing, he shouldn’t be fitting.
Why Get A Bike Fit At All?
Everyone knows that a good bike fit will place you on the bicycle correctly which will allow you to pedal more efficiently (more power to the pedals), help you stay injury free and be safer on the bicycle. And that is my goal for every client. All good things! But, regardless of how well-intentioned a “bike fitter” might be, a bad fit will rob you of power, and more importantly, increase your risk of injury. I put “bike fitter” in quotes since there are three basic types of fitters;
- Those who have the education and know that they know what they are doing
- Those who have the education and think they know, but really don’t know what they are doing
- Those who don’t have the education and think they know what they are doing, but really don’t
From what I see in the industry, the majority of fitters fall into #2, #3, which his sad, since they are actually doing a great disservice to their clients.
If you think about it, there is also another side to bad bike fitting. This is one that the bicycle shops should take notice of.
I recently had two clients come in, both were fit by the same local shop. A third client came in from a second local shop. They came in on different days, but all told me the same story – “I got a bike fit from XYZ shop and I am in more pain now than I was before I got my [bad] bike fit.” They asked, “what did the fitter do wrong?” I asked them what happened and then I listened intently to what they had to say. All 3 clients mentioned that during the bike fit, they (1) knew something wasn’t right and (2) told the fitter that they didn’t feel comfortable, and, that the fitter didn’t listen.
It turned out that all 3 fits were horribly wrong, starting with the cleats. I went through each client’s new fit, explaining step-by-step what I was doing and why. I also asked them how they felt during and after completing each step. When we were done, they all said “Wow, I have no more pain!”
Here’s what happened next. In their minds, they started comparing their previous bad bike fits to the way I involved them throughout the fit process and they all told me “I’m never going back to that shop again!” Followed immediately with the question, “Which bike shop do you recommend?”
It turns out that we have a great bike shop in the area called G2 Bike. They listen to the client, believe that bike sizing is important and most importantly, ensure that their clients start off with the right size frame. They are all about real customer service. As a bike fitter, this is the type of shop that makes a perfect collaboration.
So, for those shops that think that they can just throw in an inexperienced bike fitter as a substitute, what you risk is losing a customer forever. Just like these two shops did.
So What Makes a Good Bike Fitting Pro?
Here is a great list of questions to use for your potential bike fitter, in no particular order. You can add to this list with your own questions and concerns.
What’s your background?
Not only being a bike fitter, but, being someone who has a background in or understands kinesiology, meaning that the bike fitter will draw on this experience (as to how the body should move) so that they can provide a better user experience. Also, it is useful to be a certified personal trainer or certified strength and conditioning coach, i.e., someone that knows and understands anatomy. It’s also beneficial to be a USAC or USAT coach and understand physiology. These ‘advanced’ traits are what you should be looking for in your bike fitter.
What are your qualifications/certifications?
You want to make sure that the bike fitter has certifications. In my opinion, as a minimum, they should have taken BIKEFIT.COM’s courses. For more advanced training, I believe that the Trek Precision Fit Level 2, 3 / Cyclologic Contact Point Analysis (both taught by Paraic McGlynn – current bike fitter for Trek/Segafredo Pro Cycling team), the new Guru Range of Right, or the Serotta Cycling Institute Advanced certificate are currently the best bike fitting schools. Another notable bike fitting school is called F.I.S.T offered through slowtwitch.com.
Other notable certificates are from the International Bike Fitting Institute (IBFI) list of recommendations including specifically Steve Hogg bike fitting.
How long have you been bike fitting?
Is this your full-time job or side-hobby? Also, ask the bike fitter how many bike fits they have performed. A good answer would be at least 250 successful and documented bike fits.
Any references, testimonials?
They should have a list of references for you to review. This might be part of their customer ‘testimonials’ webpage.
Do you ride and do you train?
A fitter that does hard club rides, races and/or trains will understand cycling better and ultimately do a better bike fit for you than someone that doesn’t.
Have you built any bikes? How many? Do you use a torque wrench?
This will show their level of understanding of safely changing out parts on your bicycle, I.e., their mechanic skills. A torque wrench is mandatory on carbon fiber parts.
Do you fit for local teams or groups?
A fitter that fits for local racing teams and/or cycling groups shows that more serious cyclists have trust/faith in this particular fitter. NOTE: just because someone that used to be a pro or semi-pro racer doesn’t necessarily make them a good bike fitter.
What is your fitting philosophy? What is your bike fitting process?
Bike fitting philosophy might include stating that they include the clients input as an overall part of a successful process. They also might include discussing how they do cleat fitting, static bike fitting (pros/cons), dynamic bike fitting (pros/cons), what their views are on adjusting the cockpit and even bike sizing might be part of their overall fitting philosophy.
Which bike fit system will I be fit on?
Will this be a static fit or a dynamic fit? Guru, Retul, Computrainer, etc. If so, ask them to give you an overview of the system and how it will be used during the bike fitting.
What is your pricing?
Question pricing and exactly what you get for the price? Ask about any upcharges that might occur (i.e., cleats, handlebars, stems, saddles, etc.) as well as any other recommended items other customers end up purchasing whether these be products like pedals and saddles or additional required testing such as saddle pressure mapping. Everything done and being charged for should be clearly identified prior to the fit. You basically want to ask, “what am I getting for my money?” and “what other items will I probably be charged for?”
If I don’t like the fit or how it feels, do you have a warranty or another plan of action?
What happens on a ‘fit that goes wrong?’ Is there a warranty, is there a refund? What will the fitter do to make it right? With this being said, don’t be that person that pulls this off every time they can. If so. You are the one committing fraud.
What other services do you offer?
Do they offer any coaching and, are they a certified cycling/triathlon coach? Are they a personal trainer that can help you gain strength, help you with flexibility, etc. Do they offer any other services such as pedaling analysis, Rotor ring regulation, re-programming Di2, etc.?
What are other potential “add-ons?”
What additional items does your typical fit client end up with? Do they sell items like stems, saddles, handlebars, shoes, insoles, etc.?
Which brands do they carry of the above?
Have you published or written any [bike fitting] papers or articles in any related publications?
If so, you would like to read their articles (to get a window on what their philosophy is).
Will the bike fit be documented?
Will you get a copy of the bikes new sizing to keep?
How experienced are you at correctly fitting cleats?
Have the bike fitter discuss the cleat fitting process in detail. References should be made to the differences/limitations/strengths on the BIG 4 (SPD-SL, SPD, LOOK KEO, SPEEDPLAY ZERO). Which models offer what (ex., SPD-SL BLUE vs YELLOW, etc.).
Also, the fitter should know about pros/cons of wedges, shimming and what different pedal stance widths will do for you and what is available. You want to make sure that the fitter places your feet in a non-stressed position when you are riding.
How will you correct my knees from going out at the top to tracking straight up and down?
The fitter should be knowledgeable in determining your correct crank arm length as well as be able to explain to you how this is achieved.
Are they knowledgeable with respect to insoles, arch supports, shoes, cleats, etc.?
Ask them about the importance of a good insole, arch support, etc. If you need new cycling shoes, ask them about their recommended shoe, last width, carbon soles, etc. In my opinion, the best bang-for-the-buck insole is ICEBUG and the best cycling shoe when it comes to quality and price is LAKE.
Do they measure your power output at each step of the fit process?
Your power output should be increasing after each step of the fitting process. Your pedaling stroke should be getting easier and more efficient as well.
Do they hold a detailed client interview with you?
At a minimum, they should discuss the following with you.
- Why you are here for a bike fit?
- What are the issues?
- What are your goals?
- Do you have any injuries, surgeries, etc. that might limit your cycling?
- How many miles are they currently cycling?
- How much time can they afford to cycle/exercise?
- Any other sports?
- Any other exercising?
- What is your current lifestyle?
- Do they hold a pre-fit mini-physical evaluation? At a minimum, they should be looking at a flexibility test, LLD test for Leg Length Discrepancies and ask you to do some pre-fit stretching.
For example, a Triathlon fit should put you in a different position depending on length of event.
Even though this is a pretty comprehensive list, there might be other items you would like to add for yourself.
My Qualifications and Equipment
After retiring from IT, I decided to get more involved with my love for cycling. I combined Bike Fitting and USAC coaching. For bike fitting, I started with BIKEFIT’s Foot/Pedal interface course which showed the importance of getting this right. Why? Because this is the only place where you are mechanically connected to the bicycle.
From there, I took Cyclologic’s Trek 2, 3 classes followed by Guru Range of Right and Triathlon fit.
Next, I enrolled into USAC’s coaching program and am now a level 2 coach. Next year, I will have enough time in grade to test for level 1.
Combining this instruction, I have come up with two areas that have been neglected in the cycling industry.
- What is your correct crank arm length? (See my article on this subject.)
What is the correct pedal width for race, club racing and sport road pedals? (See my article about pedal stance width.)
My bike fitting workshop includes a Serotta Size Cycle used exclusively for bike sizing. The workhorse Computrainer used for the majority of the bike fits as well as a new acquisition GURU DFU bike fit machine that is really a treat to size clients on.
I have the full assortment of bike fitting tools; goniometer, plumb-bob, torque wrenches, 2 motion-based real-time video cameras (used for the GURU fits), and all of the appropriate software to perform every type of fit.
Want to Learn Even More About a Proper Bike Fit? Read the Book. Newly Updated for 2018!
In researching Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit, Schultz read all of the books and articles from the best fitters and, combined with his own experiences as a GURU-certified bike fitter, he created a best-of-the-best bike-fitting process in the form of a step-by-step how-to manual that you can use to do a bike fit yourself, or fine-tune your fit.
But this book is more than that. It also provides a toolset for those of you who prefer to work with a professional fitter. It shows you how to find a quality fitter, and how to work with that fitter to get the best possible fit for your cycling goals and needs. If you approach a professional bike fit with the toolset and knowledge gleaned from this eBook, you’ll be prepared to work with your fitter in much more of a two-way relationship – enhancing the likelihood of a great bike fit for you.
Bike Fit 101 includes what is considered a “basic fit” up to and including an “intermediate fit,” but stops shy of a “pro-fit.” A pro-fit is best accomplished on a computerized fit-machine, which measures and compares power output through many iterations of small adjustments across the spectrum. That type of fit is useful mostly for serious racers looking to squeeze out the last 1% of power. For the rest of us, getting a good basic fit, and then fine-tuning it to the level of an intermediate fit results in the comfort and power we’re looking for.
Coach Rick Schultz is an avid cyclist who trains, races and coaches in Southern California. Rick is an engineer by trade, and in addition to being a coach, he's a bike fitter and prolific product reviewer. He's the author of Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist and Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit in the RBR eBookstore. Check his product reviews website, www.biketestreviews.com, and his coaching site, www.bikefitnesscoaching.com. Click to read Rick's full bio.