Bike Fit Shopping Tips
1. All Fitters are not Created Equal:
Ask for credentials, references, and use the Internet search-engines to check the background of your prospective technician. The majority of “Bicycle Fit Professionals” have attended about 3-7 days training with minimal (if any) medical and/or academic training. Due-diligence will likely save you money in the long run. Approximately 75% of my clients have been fitted (poorly) elsewhere.
2. Technology does not Equal Good Bike Fitting:
“Technology is a poor substitute for experience.” (Richard Sachs). Technology should support, not define the decisions of a competent bike fitter. I’ve programmed integrated 3d/sEMG protocols for BTS Bioengineering, assisted in the engineering of automated fit-bikes and independent-leg power meters, developed protocols utilizing muscle oxygen levels for bike fitting, etc., only to realize what are poor substitutes for experience, education, attention to detail, and a genuine concern for each client.
4. Fit Bike or Size Cycle?
Automated fit-bikes (Serotta, Trek, Biobike, Guru, Exit, Shimano) are excellent for pre-purchase or custom sizing, but not actual bike fitting. If positioning with an indoor trainer is one-step from cycling outdoors, fit-bikes are at least two. Fitting “in vitro” reduces stabilizer recruitment as a function of restricted balance/sway. These are fine for preliminary setup, but the final fitting and follow-up need to occur on the bike you ride.
6. Physical Therapy is NOT Bike Fitting:
It’s increasingly common for orthopedic facilities to on-site “Bike Fitting” with a physical therapist.
In my experience, there is a disconnect between what constitutes proper anatomical function and proper cycling function, which is why I can count on one-hand the positive outcomes for bike-related issues addressed through physical therapy.
Cycling is neither natural nor anatomically correct. Leg abduction exercise to strengthen a weak glute-medius muscle for “IT” issues, might increase strength, but rarely in the context of cycling — especially if the position & foot/shoe interface produce lateral-leg recruitment patterns. The leg does not abduct when cycling, and glute recruitment is contingent on appropriate positioning.
If insurance is paying, and you want to save some dough, confirm that you will be examined on your bike. There is absolutely no way to assess cycling-related symptoms outside the context of that activity. If your PT claims otherwise, find another PT. Ensure that your therapist is an experienced cyclist, has mechanical competency and stocks an assortment of stems, saddles, handlebars, cleats and pedals. Why? Because he/she needs to know what it feels like to ride a bike (How can you understand saddle pain without experiencing saddle pain?), how to adjust/torque your parts correctly (Carbon components are delicate and expensive) and have parts inventory to change the way your bike fits (Because he/she needs to change the way your bike fits in order to change the way your bike fits).
If your symptoms occur only when riding a bike, the adjustments to your bicycle should resolve all said issues after the first- or second-visit.
7. Bike Specific Symptoms should be 100% Improved with Proper Fitting:
If your concerns are exclusively bike-specific, they should be entirely resolved from fitting. There are a few exceptions, typically limited to cases of severe scoliosis, femoral leg-length discrepancy (diagnosed with grid x-ray), and nerve impingement — though these symptoms are rarely bike-specific.
9. Pressure Mapping is not the Holy Grail:
Saddle pressure mapping is great technology, but what constitutes “optimal” is really only the best of that shops inventory. Insist on trying a number of saddles, regardless how well you “map” if the saddle is not comfortable. If you like one that maps “poorly” by his/her assessment welcome to the wonderful world of human variability; conversely, if none of the saddles feel good try another brand. I have the most success with Specialized, SMP and Cobb saddles.
10. Video Analysis/3D = Rudimentary Kinematics:
Reducing the human condition to stick figures subject to angles determined appropriate as (frequently variable) normative data is perhaps the most base form of movement analysis. Observed movement (kinematics) occurs in response to underlying forces (Kinetics). Many of these forces are observable with the human-eye, but require competency in anatomy and biomechanics (applied to cycling) and experience for proper utilization during a bike fit.