I did a bike fitting. Should you?


I think you should. But if you are not convinced lets go step by step in the process of a proper bike fitting session and see how much you can do alone. And how you can miss the target, like I did.  


Bike fitting is usually seen as a problem solving tool and you do it only if something really bothers you while riding a bike and you can’t solve it on your own. But I think bike fitting is a great tool also when there is no apparent problems and you just want to make sure that you doing everything right. Because only then you can get the most fun of your rides.

A good bike fitting session focuses on 3 main contact points between you and your bike: pedals, saddle and handlebar.



Let’s start with the pedals.


Do you feel comfortable while pedalling? Does your foot lay completely flat or maybe you roll up your toes to make pedalling more effective? Take a moment and just focus on your feets movement. If nothing bad happens than there is a strong possibility that you have a good enough position of your foots on the pedals. But if you notice something wrong then find out if ball of your foot is in line with the centre of the pedals and if not, make a small adjustments by moving cleats one way or another. Ride, feel the difference and then, if necessary make another adjustments. This is fairly straight forward process and sooner or later you will find a comfortable set up. And if your pedals allows for a side to side adjustment, experiment with that too (for example if your knee while pedalling is not in line with pedals but pointing outside you should move the feet also outside to counter this effect). Mine pedals are unfortunately fixed in terms of side to side movement (although I could buy a longer spindle for my Speedplay Frogs).



Moving on to the saddle.


This is more tricky thing to master. We are not going to talk about the impact of the saddle itself (it is very much a personal thing) and the proper width of the saddle (there are many different formulas to evaluate the proper saddle starting with measuring the distance between sit bones to the most novel ones like a WTB wrist measurement). Instead we will talk about the height and horizontal saddle adjustments. There is a lot of smart rules how to do it right. They seem perfectly reasonable but the real life is not that simple. I am the best example of that. To set the proper height I used the 0,883 rule. You measure your inseam and then calculate the 0,883 of it to get the proper saddle height measured between the centre of bottom bracket to the top of your saddle.


How to measure your inseam? There is also a Google answer to that. You put a hardcover book between your legs, bring it up as far as you can while standing back against the wall and then you mark the wall to take the measurement (you look for the distance from the floor to the mark). I did that and my inseam was 83,5 cm. So I calculated 0,883 of 83,5 and got the 73,7 cm. I added a little more because my seastpost is flexing and I was set. Or I thought so.

The reality is that a book measurement usually is not that accurate. On my bike fitting session it turned out that my inseam is 85 cm (it looks like I was not able to push the book enough to really measure my inseam). So in theory I should rise my saddle. But in the end of my bike fitting session I not only did not rise my saddle but even lowered it. How come you may ask? The answer is very simple. The saddle height is a result not only of your inseam but also of your current body condition (how flexible you are to be exact). If you are not that flexible the saddle height should reflect that and be lower than the rules suggest. This is why a good bike fitter is starting the session by making you do some exercises that will help him/her properly evaluate your current body status. I certainly did not take this into account while setting my saddle height.

But the saddle height is only a half of the equation. You have to properly set it up in terms of the distance to the handlebar. There is also a good rule based on a string and some weight put at the end of it. The rule says that you have to level the pedal to the ground (middle position forward) then stick the string to the top of your knee and see if the string is matching the middle of the pedal itself. Easy to say but much harder to get properly done. Again I speak from my experience. I did it countless time but I did not take into the account that probably every time I was doing it, I was getting a wrong measurement. Let’s start with the most obvious issue – to make the string move freely you will usually rotate the knee slightly because otherwise it will stuck on your shoe. And this may change the measurement accuracy. Then there is the foot position itself. It has to be exactly parallel to the ground. If you move your heel up or down it will also change the measurement. You can try to move the whole bike to one side (for example when you lean on the wall) but this also may interfere with the final measurement. From my bike fitting session I can also add that you should not be so strict in terms of finding the exactly right position (you should not put your knees too much forward but you can put them slightly back – the only downside will be a little less pedalling efficiency).

Yet even if you think that you have managed to properly set up the saddle position you still may be sitting wrongly (for example too far back on the saddle). To find if this is the case you need to see yourself. And this is for me the main advantage of professional bike fitting. You are recorded and your position is properly evaluated while you are riding and not standing still on your bike. This can reveal many wrong things you are currently doing but you are simply not aware of them (because you don’t pay enough attention and simply you don’t see yourself).

So if at this point you still think that you can manage the proper bike position on your own my advice would be that you need to have a trainer simulator where you put your bike and something to record you while you are riding it (it can be even your smartphone). Then just ride for couple of minutes, see the film and compare your position to the best examples you can find on the web. Or even better show it to other more experienced riders to get their opinion. You may be surprised what you will find. For me there was two big revelations. First was that I was sitting too far back on my saddle. I was simply paying so much attention to the saddle position that I stopped focusing on how I sit on the saddle itself. Moving it back did not change the relative position but made me sit more in the middle of the saddle (where you should really sit).



The other thing was my posture itself and this brings us nicely to the third crucial part of a bike fitting – a handlebar.

Due to my back issues I convinced myself that I need as much upright position as possible. So I brought up the handlebar as high as I could shortening also the effective reach to the hoods. This, in result made the distance between my shoulders and my bar too short and made my shoulders move up and my elbows was straight. Not a very comfortable position to be in as it turned out. But again I was not aware of it and only after I saw myself and heard the comments from the bike fitter I realised what I was doing wrong. Lowering the handlebar a good 2 cm increased the reach.  This combined with the saddle moved even more back allowed me to bend my elbows properly and get more comfortable position on my bike.

Proper set up of the handlebar position is the last thing that you do but before changing the stem length, stem angle or before removing spacers you have to be sure that the handlebar itself is properly set up. By this I mean the place on handlebar where you mount the hoods and the angle of them in relation to the handlebar itself. Many of good handlebar have the marks on them to help you properly position the hoods (in relations to the drops angle) but in general you should try to get the hoods in the same line with the handlebar and then manipulate them slightly to achieve an angle between 15 and 20 degrees measured between the tip of the hoods and the flats of the handlebar (if you have a phone big enough you can just use a one of many apps that helps measure the levels).


Once you mount the tops properly you can go to finding the right distance between saddle and the handlebar (you measure the distance between the saddle and the tops). This is very personal thing and it greatly depends on your current body fitness level and the kind of riding you are doing. The more aggressive riding and the better flexibility and overall shape of your body the lower and further away your handlebar can be placed. The less flexible the more upright position you want to achieve but bear in mind that you always should have some drop between saddle and handlebar and maintain a proper distance between saddle and handlebar. Otherwise you will end up with the problems that I have created for myself (aforementioned too much lift of the shoulders due to the too short distance between them and the handlebar itself).

But this is still not the end of the story. There is also a width of the handlebar. You calculate it by simply measuring the shoulder blade width. My Jamis Renegade Exploit bike in size 54 was equipped with 44 cm handlebar (measured centre to centre). For me it was nice size providing a strong and secure hold so I stuck with it when buying new handlebars. But as it turned out I was riding a too wide handlebar and this also was causing my arms to take not natural (not ergonomic) position. This is not good for us because only when the handlebar has a similar width to your shoulder blades distance,  your arms can rest in natural (not bended) position. Of course I am aware of the additional benefits of a wider handlebar and if you are feeling perfectly OK with a 2 cm wider handlebar then maybe you should not immediately change it. But still you should know that your arms are probably working with less than optimal position.

As you can see my bike fitting session was a true eye opener for me. I changed the saddle position, the handlebar position and now I will also change the handlebar itself (for a narrower 42 cm version) to see how it will work for me. Hopefully it will make even more comfortable ride. But I am also very curious how all of those changes will affect my vibrations readings. For now I can say that I already see the increase of vibrations measured on my arms and decrease on my back. Yet this is to be expected because by making my elbows bend much more my forearms started to move more freely absorbing the impacts better (more movement = more measured vibrations) and more stretched position moved the centre of the mass towards handlebar a little. In the end this poistion should decrease the amount of vibrations reaching my shoulders and my neck so my overall fatigue should be lower. I definitely need more time on the bike with a 42 cm handlebar to make final judgements though. So stay tuned…


I would like to thank a Veloart bike shop and Mateusz Naworol in particular for the possibility to experience the benefits of a good bike fitting session.