Whether you are purchasing a bike for the first time, or a seasoned veteran, one thing that will always remain an integral part of any cyclist’s arsenal is a proper road bike fit. Professional bike fits are crucial to not only performance but your comfort on the bike. When your bike setup is comfortable, this makes it easy to spend many miles in the saddle enjoying the freedom bikes give us. When we are fighting our cycling position, this can make rides not only uncomfortable and painful but cause a myriad of issues for you off the bike as well.
Depending upon your local bike shop, there are different levels of fitting that are available to cyclists. While not every shop will have a professional bike fitter at their location, it is important to find locations that do in order to optimize your cycling position. Bike fitting sessions can range from 30 minutes up to even 3 hours or so given the nature of the fit. If a fitter is starting from scratch with a cyclist, meaning a new bike, new shoes, new cleat/pedals, there are many bases to cover in order for you and your fit to be cohesive.
Learn More about bike fit from world tour bike fitter Phil Burt.
Professional fitters may begin a session by taking an assessment of your mobility, flexibility, and any limitations you may have. You can expect to perform some basic moves such as squats, toe touches, and checking hamstring flexibility. Why is this important? If you or your fitter are unaware of how you move off the bike then how will you know where to begin in setting up your bike fit. For example: if you struggle with a tight low back and have pain, then asking your fitter to make your handlebar drop as low as possible will not be in your best interest. Working with your body, and not against it, will make you a better cyclist.
Once a fitter has performed a physical assessment, then you will begin to work on making changes to the bike, shoes, saddle, and cleats. Each piece of the bike and its positioning can make a difference in fit for a rider. Changes to a fit can include, but are not limited to:
- Saddle height
- Fore and aft of the saddle (how far the saddle is forward or back on the rails)
- Stem length to adjust arm reach
- Handlebar width (women typically have narrower shoulders and therefore narrow bars)
- Cleat positioning….crucial!
- Shoe comfort – in order to eliminate any hot spots you may feel in the shoes
Do not be alarmed if you find your fitter changing many aspects of your fit if it is your first time. Getting used to a position will take time, and you can expect to sometimes feel a bit awkward in the first few rides after a fit. This makes it important to take it easy on the bike immediately following a comprehensive bike fit. Do not jump into high-intensity intervals right after, instead spend a few days spinning or doing some general endurance rides to get an understanding of how things feel and if there are still areas of concern.
When a professional fitter performs a bike fit on a rider there are many aspects of the individual and the bike they must take in. A bike fit is a holistic approach where the fitter must understand the rider’s current range of motion and the position the rider is looking to achieve. For example, not every cyclist can, “slam the stem.” Perhaps you see the pro peloton with low stack height and a long stem, but that position is not for everyone. In fact, that position is for very few people. Your ideal position is the position where you can produce power while remaining comfortable. No matter your position, if you can’t produce power due to discomfort or pain, you will be reducing your performance. Another important piece of a bike fit that is crucial to understand is that adapting to a position and altering a drastic position occurs over time. If you are looking to make an overhaul on your bike position, and that requires a large drop in the stem height and reach, these changes probably will not happen overnight. Your body needs to become accustomed to small micro-adjustments in order to adapt. On the bike itself, stem height and length are not the only pieces of the bike that a fitter will consider. Other pieces of equipment that can be changed are: crank arm length, position of the brake/shift levers, position of handlebars, reach of the bars, saddle position, and saddle height. All adjustments made are based on ideal angles that are to be achieved when riders are positioned on their bike. These include a slight bend in the elbows when hands are placed on the bars, a slight bend in the knee when your foot pedals through the downstroke, as well as your hip angle when on the hoods or in the drops.
It is also important to note that pain due to incorrect fit does not just affect your knees, hips, or back, but can also affect issues such as numbness in hands and feet. This is also where a fitter can make adjustments to ensure your arm’s reach is correct and not overextending or causing you to be scrunched.
Sometimes one of the most important pieces of equipment you can get is the right saddle. Saddle fit and comfort are extremely important for not just your derriere, but also for your hip health and back health. Have you ever found yourself sliding around or readjusting your position on the seat in order to find an area that wasn’t painful? Perhaps you are a rider who sits higher on the nose of the saddle, or you sit further back. Each type of saddle position can be accommodated with a specific seat to fit those needs in order to ensure comfort. Saddle fit is also very important when it comes to certain disciplines of cycling. For example, riders who participate in time trials or triathlons will benefit from a saddle that will allow them to sit high up on the saddle nose due to the position these types of bikes/disciplines demand.
Proper Cleat Fit and Adjustment
Cycling differs from most sports as it uses equipment that keeps riders in a fixed position, and this is due to the pedal/cleat system. This fixed position has both pros and cons when it comes to cycling. Cleats and pedals provide performance benefits due to increased power transfer throughout the pedal stroke. This allows you to pedal more efficiently. This performance does come at a cost though if the position of your cleats is misplaced. There are a plethora of issues that can arise from improper cleat position that can include: ankles, knees, and hip pain. Muscle imbalance can develop over time due to constantly adjusting the lower leg position that will travel up the leg. Many cyclists find themselves with nagging IT Band pain which can sideline an athlete for a few weeks.
Using a pedal/cleat system that allows for a wide range of adjustability can help alleviate any cleat problems, and can also be proactive in avoiding future injuries. Speedplay pedal systems are a great option for riders looking for a range of adjustability for comfort, and a pedal produced for performance. Speedplay boasts the highest degree of float adjustability out of any cleat on the market. Speedplay cleats allow riders to make float adjustments from 0-15 degrees. This range of adjustments allows riders to customize their cleats to their body’s unique makeup. Speedplay also allows riders to create precision tuning of the side-to-side position of the cleat, as well as 14mm of fore/aft adjustability. With such a wide range of adjustability, Speedplays are bound to find your feet and cycling position a happy home for the miles to come.
Learn More About Speedplay Pedals.
Jeff Hoobler is an elite strength and endurance coach with over 30 years of experience coaching athletes of all levels, from beginners to world champions in a variety of sports. He has a degree in Sports Psychology and Exercise Science from the University of Kansas and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is a USAC Cycling coach, MAT (Muscle Activation Techniques) therapist, professional bike fitter, and Foundations Training Instructor. In addition to coaching, Jeff is a competitive racer on the road, mountain bike, and cyclocross.