When you’re new to cycling, bike fitting can appear to be something reserved for elite athletes or cyclists investing in a custom made bike. The fact is, a simple cost/benefit analysis will show that a regular cyclist who gets a bike fit can often reap far greater results than upgrading their equipment. The good news is that bike fitting is becoming more accessible and in this multi-part series for Bicycles Network Australia, we first look at the basic idea of bike fitting then, in future installments, delve into the details of each aspect of your connection with your bicycle. If you have questions or comments, just respond in the comments and we’ll endeavour to answer them.
What is a bike fit?
Your bike fit defines your cycling comfort, performance, and style. Get it wrong and you will have to work harder, you increase the chances of injury, and you will look bad. Ex-pro, David Millar recently commented in a UK newspaper, “The biggest faux pas for amateur cyclists is bad position. Bikes that don’t fit are not a good look. It doesn’t matter what you wear, if your riding position is wrong, it is never going to work – even if you wear the coolest clothing. If your position is wrong you look s*** and there is nothing you can do about it.”
Your goals are going to be the foundation of your bike fit. Your goals could be a ride to the park on Saturdays or racing cyclocross in Belgium; they are unique and personal.
And everybody is different, from your toes all the way up to your nose and out to your fingertips. General flexibility is an example of a body variable that can change from person to person and will have a direct effect on your cycling position. If your bike is well fitted, the amount of stress on your body is minimised; this allows you to ride without over extending.
Because we all experience cycling in different ways (racing, recreation, dirt, or road) the variations in setup are infinite. Combining your goals with your unique body means that a bike fit can add a great deal to your enjoyment of the sport and your quality of life.
Comfort is at the forefront of a bike fit, you want to ride the bike with your position on the bike causing the least amount of stress as is possible. If you are comfortable, you can ride all day long and train effectively. A comfortable bike makes the whole experience of being a cyclist a more enjoyable one.
A common cause of discomfort is over extension. When one limb reaches too far, the rest of the body has to stretch in that direction. This causes an imbalance on the bike and our body starts to spend energy just trying to maintain its position. Excessive or incorrect movement can lead to short term pain and long term injury. Similarly, under-extension can also be stressful for the body by increasing the load on the joints and making it harder to produce power.
Performance is direct result of your fit. Every millimeter counts when you want to get the most out of your bike and body. And if racing is your goal, you will need every advantage you can get.
Once you’re comfortable on your bike, subtle performance gains can then be made. A bike fit can help with aerodynamics allowing you to become more streamlined. A bike fit can change muscle recruitment, helping your body fire the right muscles at the right time.
Performance is also about bike handling, how the bike is ridden, and how much control you have while riding at the limit. The more comfortable you are, the easier it is to recognise the small performance gains and take full advantage of them. The good news for competitive cyclists is that performance is as infinite as our patience to try and test new things. Different handlebars, for example, can provide more aerodynamic hand positions and help keep your elbows tucked in. Control levers can be brought into the fingertips and even tyre pressures can be adjusted.
Even if you don’t have your eyes set on the Maillot Jaune (yellow jersey), racing bikes can be fun and a great way to challenge yourself. But you need to be comfortable riding first, then you can work on the performance aspects of your bike fit.
I am a bike fitter, so you can expect that I will recommend getting a bike fit. A bike fit is about you, thinking about your comfort, your enjoyment, and how your body will feel today and fare in the long term.
Stay tuned as we address the key differences between bike fitting for road cycling, triathlon/time trial and mountain biking, and I will read and answer your questions in the comments below.