Have you ever spent 2.5 hours being touched and recorded by a fully grown man in a polo and slacks? Turns out it’s not as bad as you’d think.
Bike fitting is a process that every bike rider has gone through to some degree in their lives. Most of the time, it only goes as far as a bike shop having you stand over the bike to make sure that it is the right size for you. But it goes much deeper. Much, much deeper.
A badly fit bike can cause problems in the neck, lower back, knees, hips, and shoulders. Turns out, you don’t want those sorts of ailments. Thus, as might be expected, having your bike fit you perfectly is a pretty complicated endeavor.
The difference in bike fits can vary, and it is mostly dependent on the qualifications of the person fitting you. The bike shop sales guy who fits you to a new bike is certainly experienced in selling bikes, and getting people the right bike for their needs, but he probably lacks in a medical or biomechanical background. Likewise, a medical bike fit isn’t often available in a bike shop, and can only be done by a medical professional.
I went to see Larry Meyer, owner of Boulder Movement. Larry is a licensed physical therapist and is certified in biomechanics. Bike fitters with this level of expertise are simply not practical or available for most bike shops to include in new bike purchases.
So a bike fit with Larry, with his doctorate degree in bodies and his studio featuring 3D cameras positioned all around, is pretty involved. It starts with an “interview.” Positioned in cushy chairs, reminiscent of a visit to the psychologist, Larry had me go through any ache or pain I ever feel. He had me go through all my injury history, and even had the audacity to guess at what the root causes of it all was (and like my psychologist, Larry diagnosed “tough early years”).
What follows is a full physical exam off the bike. If you’ve never had a middle-aged bearded man grip your joints and twist you into a pretzel, then enumerate all of your physiological shortcomings, it’s a quick and easy way to be taken down a notch. But the contortionism allows the fitter to better understand the limitations of each individual body, and how that can affect you on a bike.
Only after all of this do you get to actually ride a bike. Fits vary, and some have you ride a machine that allows for easy measurement and adjustment of the bike, but most put you on your own bike.
So now, after having had all of your joints grabbed and rubbed earlier, our so-called bike fit “specialist” begins recording you. From all angles. And live-casting it onto a TV. Voyeurism can take many forms.
But here’s where the value really comes from. After the touchy exam, and the awkward video recordings, your bike fitter can actually help you.
It can start with physical therapy. Injuries and ailments are often treated with exercises or stretches that are prescribed by the PT. In most cases, they are simple movements that take about 10 minutes per day to do, but can yield a big difference in your physical performance.
But the biggest thing that happens at a bike fit involves fitting your bike:
Aside from the size of the frame (which is what you are actually measuring when you stand over your bike at the shop), the biggest variables that affect how a bike fits your body are the stem and the saddle. The saddle holds the majority of your weight and provides support for your back, hips, and core, and the stem dictates the length and angle of your body’s position on the bike.
Saddle size, shape, and angle, along with stem length and angle can all be manipulated to provide optimal fit. And the difference can be quite striking.
The lower back is straighter, the overall body position more upright, the angle of the head and neck more natural, and the knee much straighter.
All told, the process took 2.5 hours and will require some further investment in a new saddle and stem. However, dollar for dollar, these costs pale in comparison to pricey surgeries and treatments to remedy injuries later. If you ride a bike often, get it fit to you. Your back will thank you someday.