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Is it worth shelling out a couple of hundred quid to find out what you might already know?

I would hazard a guess that most of the road.cc massive have, at one time or another, considered a professional bike fit. I’d also wager that quite a few of you have not yet taken the plunge.

Shelling out Rapha Softshell money for information that might turn out to be redundant or even counterproductive certainly felt wrong to me until a few months ago and I know many cyclists who still hold that view.

But then it struck me that balking at paying a couple of hundred quid for something that might just transform my experience of cycling – making me simultaneously quicker, more efficient and more comfortable – is worth questioning. After all, some of us are perfectly happy to hand over that much for a pair of shorts, or three or four times that for a pair of wheels – and these are things that will need replacing. It’s not like we’re short of a few quid or shy of spending it, is it? And I could always ignore the advice if it proved to be duff.

For me, the trigger was the prospect of a heavier than usual year of cycling in 2015 - the focal point of which is a ride over the Pyrenees in June - together with a few fresh aches and pains. I’d started to feel pinched nerve pains down my left leg and my neck was stiffening up on longer rides. My spring chicken days are long gone so I figured I should take what steps I could to minimize the risk of these issues escalating.

So it was that I approached the fine fellows at Bespoke Cycling in London. They use Retül fitting technology, which involves sticking Velcro pads onto your feet, ankles, knees, hips, hands, elbows and shoulders, connecting them all up with wires and then capturing a 3D image of your cycling motion as you pedal away – either on your own bike or, as in my case, on a jig.

I won’t bore you with the finer details; it’s all out there online and most of you will know the drill. Suffice it to say I emerged with a gratifyingly large pile of data about the way I sit on a bike and move those pedals round, together with a set of measurements for each of my two main bikes. These measurements take into account my flexibility and fitness levels as well as the kind of riding I do so they will hopefully change over the months as I get fitter and more flexible (perhaps that should be ‘if I get fitter...’)

The changes I had to make to accommodate the new measurements weren’t very big. Elliott at Bespoke recommended shorter stems and moved my cleats back a fraction, both saddles down a touch and one of them forward a few millimetres and tilted ever-so-slightly down.

His colleague Ben also recommended a series of exercises designed to improve my stability, strength and flexibility, and offered some suggestions about my pedaling technique (my ankles were flexing a bit too much at the top of the stroke).

So, not a lot of change for a relatively large amount of cash then. But I’ve now been using those measurements and doing those exercises for a couple of months and I’m definitely feeling more comfortable on the bike. I get those nerve pains in my leg much less often and my neck and shoulders are more relaxed. I’m no faster but then I’ve only been doing endurance rides since the fitting so no surprise there (and, truth be told, I’ve been a bit slack on the strengthening exercises lately anyway).

And so to the bottom line: was it money well spent? Well I wouldn’t describe the improvements as transformational exactly but those leg and neck pains were beginning to worry me and they’re not any more. It’s hard to put a price on that kind of reassurance but it’s certainly worth a couple of hundred quid to me.

I think it’s the knowledge about me rather than my bikes that I’ll benefit from the most. I’ve learned a fair bit about my position on the bike and my technique and I’ve emerged with a tailor-made - if fairly rudimentary - series of exercises geared towards getting my wonky body in better shape.

I don’t know about the relative merits of the different fitting systems but based on my limited experience I’d certainly recommend finding somewhere that offers a service covering both body and bike. Adjusting the bike is the easy bit really.

At the very least, a bike fit gives you the chance to sit down with someone who loves cycling as much as you do and talk about yourself for a couple of hours - and it doesn’t get much better than that does it?

Lifelong lover of most things cycling-related, from Moulton Mini adventures in the 70s to London bike messengering in the 80s, commuting in the 90s, mountain biking in the noughties and road cycling throughout. Editor of Simpson Magazine (www.simpsonmagazine.cc). 

27 comments

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crikey [1251 posts] 2 years ago
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There are a few problems with the bike fit industry, and the first of those is that it is an industry; it's about selling a service.

Either there is a set way of fitting someone to a bike using measurements, in which case we should all be able to take those measurements and do it ourselves, or there is an element of personal preference about it. In the latter case, you end up paying for one set of prejudices over another.

An article I would dearly love to see is a comparison of bike fitting done by a number of fitters; I suspect this would show that the basics are easy and the tweaks are personal and that paying silly money for either is not money well spent.

An additional problem is that paying for a bike fit absolves the payee of the responsibility to do any thinking for themselves; if you take time to learn about how you fit on your bike, you can make sensible changes to affect that fit. Paying someone else to do it teaches you little.

Further to this, bike fit is a dynamic process. Fitting someone to a bike at one point in time means very little a few months down the line; every bike fit should include another assessment at 6 months, then 12 months, then at 18.

Cards on the table; I think some bike fitting is a racket. I don't pay extra to be fitted for a pair of shoes, or for a salesman to help me adjust the seat in my car. If I buy a bike from a bike shop, fitting it to me should come as part of the price, not as a £200 extra.

Taking the time to study how bike fit affects you and your relationship with your bike is part of becoming a cyclist. It's not a skill you should discount and pay someone else to do.

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jacknorell [996 posts] 2 years ago
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Cost aside... shoe fitting involves seeing you run in them and evaluating your actual movement.

Just taking measurements for a bike fit wouldn't work without that dynamic movements evaluation as well... and that won't work suitably without experience in evaluating.

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crikey [1251 posts] 2 years ago
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Quote:

shoe fitting involves seeing you run in them and evaluating your actual movement.

Not the last pair of shoes I bought, for a wedding....

If people are paying £500 - £2000 for a bike, fitting should not be extra. It should also not be a one time thing because fit changes as you change.

I don't think 'bike fitting' is wrong. I think paying someone to do it for you is counterproductive. Give a man a fish and he can eat dinner; teach a man to fish and he can avoid his wife every weekend for the rest of his life...

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Martin Thomas [384 posts] 2 years ago
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crikey wrote:

If I buy a bike from a bike shop, fitting it to me should come as part of the price, not as a £200 extra.

Lots of interesting points there crikey, some of which I agree with, some of which I don't. But as a small point of information, I would say that several retailers - Bespoke included - would much prefer to include a fitting whenever they sell you a bike and will actually include one in the price of the bike.

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crikey [1251 posts] 2 years ago
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I object to the 'Get a bike fit!' response which is so common these days. Bike fit is not rocket science, but it is becoming a default money spinner for some.

The basics have been around for some time and take little effort to learn. By learning, one develops an experience base which can then be refined and developed to cope with the changes that occur over time. Simply buying a set of measurements is wrong and the more you spend, the more you can end up locked into a position which may not be right for you.

I agree with the idea of bike fitting, but I think it should be something people set out to learn rather than buy.

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Colin Peyresourde [1830 posts] 2 years ago
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It seems that really what the reviewer got were some exercises for his core and stretching. These are the simplest things to introduce and yield great benefits but they largely over looked.

Proper ranges of motion and good core strength are the foundations of any exercise. If you don't have a good foundation expect your model to collapse.

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sergius [491 posts] 2 years ago
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Echoing what a number of the folks above me have said...

I had some knee problems last year and ended up forking out £500 on a bike fit (fitting, plus new shoes, bars and stem).

It was partially successful, my sore back after long rides was sorted by the narrower bars and shorter stem. The knee problems were completely unaffected by the fit though, anything over 40 miles and I'd be in real pain.

A colleague at work pointed me at this website (http://www.stevehoggbikefitting.com/), plus I ended up doing a bunch of reading myself. I spent a Saturday doing multiple 7 mile loops of a quick circuit around the house - doing lots of micro adjustments until the pain was mitigated.

When I thought I had it right, I just started building up the distances again and the pain was sorted.

So yeah, I think fittings are a bit of a racket, nothing you can't do yourself with a bit of time and research.

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J90 [421 posts] 2 years ago
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All the measurement based systems aren't even close to a fitter who understands about Physiology and Bio-Mechanics, the fitters that have this knowledge usually have a lot of qualifications and experience that really shows when you get a fit from them. It's a bespoke experience and you end up with a set of measurements that are unique to you and the way your body interacts with the bike, it's not about fitting you into predefined parameters (Retul, BG, etc.). Everybody is different.

The guy above knows. If you don't know Steve Hogg and haven't read/watched his articles/interviews, then you don't know jack about bike fitting.

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nowasps [519 posts] 2 years ago
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Sending one person and their bike to a number of these places to compare results would be a great idea. Why have none of the magazines done that?

Then they could go and get readings at a number of spiritualists...

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notfastenough [3728 posts] 2 years ago
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I had a fitting, and it was stated very clearly that the idea was to give me the skills to make my own adjustments as time went on (and I did learn a LOT), the measurements were not exactly an afterthought, but they weren't the holy grail either. The guy had a boatload of experience touching on physiotherapy, podiatry, aerodynamics etc. He sorted my sore neck/back, but not in the way I would expect - rather than raising the stack he lowered it, and stated my joints in that area were locked together and I should see a qualified Physio. Sure enough, he was right. Fixed up nicely, with a stronger and more aero position.

Sorry, but some of the critiques above seem to be about what people *think* they would get from a fitter.

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kwi [293 posts] 2 years ago
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My last fitting cost £45.  39

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wycombewheeler [1257 posts] 2 years ago
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£250 seems a bit steep for bike fit, my local shop charges £100, with an extra £75 to do a second bike

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Martin Thomas [384 posts] 2 years ago
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Actually, my bad on the cost front. The fit cost £200, not £250, and they covered two bikes so it's in the same ballpark as wycombewheeler's.

On a more general note, I think the 'give a man a fish' argument is fair enough but I also think it's completely reasonable to offer a service that takes a lot of the self-diagnosis out of the process and offers the buyer a set of measurements, exercises and principles that should serve them well for a long time. We could all save lots of money learning how to do all sorts of things, from bike - or car - mechanics to DIY to accounting etc etc, but on the whole we choose to 'get a (wo)man in' to do them for us. And what the heck is wrong with that? Play to your strengths I say! (This is of course assuming that the bike fitter will do as good a job as you could do yourself - and I know some of you would take issue with that).

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rjfrussell [437 posts] 2 years ago
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crikey wrote:

An article I would dearly love to see is a comparison of bike fitting done by a number of fitters;

Could not agree more- this would be seriously good investigative journalism- go to several services and see how similar the output positions are.

I am happy to volunteer my services and write the article, roadcc, if you are interested.

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hampstead_bandit [614 posts] 2 years ago
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I am not a bike fitter, but an experienced bike mechanic that has worked in several "brand stores" for Specialized and Giant, as well as running the workshop at Sigma Sport.

I am familiar with Body Geometry FIT, Giant Powerfit and Retul, and the german CRM scanning system.

I've also looked at a number of different systems on the market, and seen riders fitted "old school" using a turbo trainer, goniometer and plumbline plus some common sense.

Retul, from my understanding is a great "tool" but its generally considered a measuring device rather than a holistic system like BG FIT, which is why perhaps Specialized made a majority investment in Retul and have started incorporating it into BG FIT?

I've had a good professional relationship with bike fitters in each of these jobs, as they were an integral part of the bike selling process, whether for customers buying stock bikes or custom builds.

I've also personally had 3 different bike fits for different bikes, to deal with ongoing issues related to historical injuries with my shoulders, as well as knee tracking issues related to leg length, and found these fits very beneficial. I will admit I did not pay for these fits as they were done during "down time" in the shops.

I don't race, but enjoy long rides, as well as short high intensity fitness sessions involving steep hills. I have definitely benefited from bike fitting, and would expect any quality retailer to offer a bike fit as part of the sale of a performance road bike. The store I currently work for does not discount the retail price of bikes, but offers a bike fit and service package as a complimentary part of the bike sale, and customers seem to enjoy these aspects.

With many new customers coming into road cycling, getting a bike fitted properly by a competent fitter can be the difference between enjoying the experience, or giving up?

I regularly see customers coming into the shop with horrendous setups especially relating to saddle fore/aft position, saddle height and rotation of bars (to manipulate the position of the shifter/brake lever), generally because they have been sold the wrong size bike, or have attempted to make an adjustment themselves using their common sense to try and reduce the pain they are experiencing, which is understandable.

However, because someone has gone through a course does not make them a good bike fitter.

I've met some incompetent fitters who I would not trust with fitting me to a hybrid. Just like an inexperienced mechanic with a Cytech certificate, there is nothing more dangerous than an "enthusiast", especially one armed with certification!

I too, would like to see Road.CC undertake a comprehensive review of the different "marketed" systems on the market, by having the same rider undertake a fit with each system (bike reset to "stock" box setup between fits), and then examined by a very experienced independent fitter to see what the results are.

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bigmel [116 posts] 2 years ago
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Alternatively, I see a lot of riders with wrong-sized bikes, awkward positions, saddles all over the place (and pointing skywards!). You may think that by providing information on a correct fit, people can do it themselves. But they don't and it ruins their enjoyment of cycling. At the other end of the spectrum, I was very pleased to spend some time at Mercian and refine a position that suited me and my cycling.

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cyclesteffer [297 posts] 2 years ago
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Road.cc should do "mystery shopper" bike fit reviews - say review 5-10 different bike fit companies- and see if they measure you the same, or wildly different. If they are almost totally identical then we know bike fit is a science and not a racket.

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Simon E [3206 posts] 2 years ago
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A 'mystery shopper' bike fit tour sounds nice but how would road.cc fund this expedition? And won't the results be unique to the rider so of little use to the rest of us?

Comments from hampstead_bandit and others lead me to think that buying your bike from a good LBS (you know, those 'con artists' charging RRP) could work out better value than ordering your bike online and paying separately for a £200 bike fit.

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J90 [421 posts] 2 years ago
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nowasps wrote:

Sending one person and their bike to a number of these places to compare results would be a great idea. Why have none of the magazines done that?

Then they could go and get readings at a number of spiritualists...

Cycling Weekly did this a few months back.

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rjfrussell [437 posts] 2 years ago
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Couple of thoughts:

Having mostly just pootled about for years, I started trying to get fitter in June last year.

In June to December I rode approx 2,000 miles on a Marin Larkspur commuter hybrid with a very sit up and beg stance and a big fluffy cushion of a saddle.

Felt perfectly comfortable.

After about 1,000 miles moved from flat pedals to SPDs (or rather reversible A530s. First couple of rides clipped in, my knees ached. Looked carefully at my foot position on the flat side. Looked carefully at my foot position when clipped in. Realised I was more "toe in" when clipped in. Adjusted cleats to change foot angle. No more pain.

Then moved to new road bike with dropped bars. Completely different riding position. Still perfectly comfortable.

Questions:

A- on the hybrid, post move to cleats, why spend money on a bike fit when just looking can reveal the problem?

B- more fundamentally, would a bike fit tell me I should be riding a sit up and beg hybrid, or a much more traditional road position?

I am concerned that there is a lot of smoke and mirrors here. if it is comfortable, great. If not, trial and error.

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J90 [421 posts] 2 years ago
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^ It's about finding the optimal position for performance and comfort, not just a 'good enough' approach.

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J90 [421 posts] 2 years ago
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^ It's about finding the optimal position for performance and comfort, not just a 'good enough' approach.

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Phil T [35 posts] 2 years ago
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One of things I would recommend would be to visit a good oesteopath, physio or similar before going anywhere near a bike fit.
Get yourself checked over to make sure you don't have any in-balances or hidden injuries, which may manifest themselves when cycling. Often discomfort experienced on the bike can be the result of an injury not connected with cycling, which you are unaware of in everyday life.
I started to experience knee pain on the bike a while ago, having for years had the same cleat position with no problems. My wife suggested I should go to see a podiatrist she had seen recently. They found that my knees were starting to roll inwards, which is something which happens with age. They prescribed orthotic inserts for my shoes, for both cycling and every day, which have corrected this in-balance. The knee pain has gone.

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Tin Pony [73 posts] 2 years ago
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All valid points and we can't but agree. For some they will find it indispensable for others there will be little benefit. Guess its comes down to money, how comfortable you are already and maybe even if you have an usual body shape or size. Long arms or shorts legs etc.
We just want everyone to Enjoy the Ride !
www.tinpony.co.uk/shop/

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caaad10 [189 posts] 2 years ago
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All very interesting, I have considered a bike fit but haven't had one - yet. I have spent money on all kinds of things that make me feel 'good', a proper fit from someone who knows what they are doing (and reading some of the above gives real concern to the credibility of the industry in general) would certainly give me something to feel good about, but then again, apparently I can get that same feeling just by using a different brand of shampoo, "Because you're worth it"?

I have two main road bikes and they are set up slightly differently because they are different brands and shapes, but a couple of factors remain the same - seat height & cleat position (obviously) - the reach is similar, hood position & stem height are more or less the same, but overall they feel quite different to ride. I enjoy riding them equally, they both feel nicely set up and I still get tired on long journeys regardless which one I'm on. The point I'm getting at is that both appear to work equally well after having been set up by myself even though the riding position is different, I'd be very interested in what a bike fit would reveal but to be honest I'm just not sure that "I'm worth it"

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Beefy [381 posts] 2 years ago
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I had a bike fit in the days when Ribble was a bike shop employing Terry Dolan to build British Olympic team bike with the exclusion of the CB Lotus of course. It was free! Yes FREE! Why I hear you ask? because I was purchasing a new frame. It was very good sat on a jigg and I'm still riding the same size bike. My Point is it was Free when purchasing a bike.

It is an absolute disgrace that if buying a new bike or frame there is a charge. Fare enough if you not buying but surley in an age of cost cutting prices on the Internet this should be a reason to use your LBS as you get a free bike fit.

Now I realise it takes an investment for the equipment and staff knowledge and this needs to be recouped, surley however increased bike sales and Bike Fit charges for none bike buyers could do this.

I'm happy to say there are an increasing number of LBS now offering this service free for bike buyers, as for thoughs who charge I say shame on you. Bike mags are always banging on about use LBS or lose LBS but there must be a reason for this. They can not compete on price but if like my LBS you can compete on service and IMO if buying a new bike of frame this should be a service. It's like Clarks shoes charging to measure your children's feet, one of the reason you go is because they offer a free fitting.

To the LBS already offering this, smart move people will I believe buy more bikes from you.

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The Hoggs [3496 posts] 2 years ago
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After a couple of knee ops and various fiddling myself to no avail i shelled out for a bike fit.

The result was immediate for me so it was money well spent but that was down to easing pain in my knee.
For some who dont have knee, back or neck problems then i concur with others and just fiddle with the positioning until you get your best fit regardless of how long it takes.
Those with injuries and ongoing medical problems i suggest a bike fit so that you dont fiddle about and ultimately cause yourself further problems.