A Holistic Approach to Bike Fit

Last week I went to a two day bike fitting seminar put on by Michael Sylvester from Trek University. I have been to a number of seminars on bike fittings and while each seminar has been a little different they have focused primarily on using body measurements and angles to determine the best size and set up for a person’s bike.  This is a good method to use and we have used it successfully for a long time in our shop to fit numerous people on road, mountain, and triathlon bikes.  However the fundamental fitting techniques we learned in the Trek Bike Fit seminar were different.  For instance, instead of learning about the proper geometry of the body while on the bike we learned to first look at the individual off of the bike.  From this and a lot of the right questions, we learned to determine how the bike should fit the individual’s body instead of making the body fit the bike.   We spent a lot of time doing yoga which focused on good body alignment and range of motion.  We also spent a lot of time learning about the biomechanics of the body and how an individual’s riding style, anatomy, flexibility, and range of motion should be the basis of how they are fit to a bike.  By the end of the two days everyone had the opportunity to use this knowledge to assess and fit each other to their individual bikes.  For many it was surprising to see the modifications made to their bikes.  Seats were raised or lowered, stems were swapped out for various lengths and angles, and fore and aft saddle positions were changed. On my bike, we lowered my saddle about ½ inch and lengthened and lowered my stem.  We also noticed that I hunch my shoulders when I ride and we worked on relaxing and opening up my chest in order to breathe better.  To help I learned yoga exercises that would help me maintain strength and increase my flexibility. 




I have very long legs and hardly a torso to speak of.   I am constantly raising my saddle and shortening my reach to the handle bars by using short stems.  I am so used to making these adjustments that when I get a new bike I automatically swap everything out and raise my saddle without having anyone properly fit me. And I like the way my current bikes fit, or at least I thought I did.  So, I was pretty skeptical of the new adjustments that we made but I figured I would give them a shot.  The day after the seminar I took my newly adjusted bike out for a spirited three hour road ride with some friends.  Throughout the ride I was aware of my positioning on the bike, trying not to hunch over and I properly stretching after the ride (which I don’t do often enough).   I was amazed at the difference.  During the ride I could climb easier, descend better, and I lasted on hour longer than I thought I would.  And the next day my legs felt fresh and recovered!  It was a huge improvement. 


So, why did these changes make such a difference? And why had I not noticed that my bike was not properly fit?   Thinking back it is easy to see how my bike fit got so screwed up. As a shop owner, I have been telling people how important it is to get properly fit for a bike but I forgot to do it for myself.  I figured I had been fit once or twice and knew enough about my body that I didn’t need anyone assessing my fit.  Of course, that was seven years ago and I have had two children since then. Due to yoga and regular stretching I am also more flexible than I was but I have a few more injuries.  And my reasons for riding have changed as well.   Instead of focusing on short fast races I have begun to enjoy long endurance racing.  Which means my training rides and my races are longer.  So, not only has my body changed over the years but my riding style has too.  So, it makes sense that I should be positioned differently on my bike. 


So what I learned was this; when trying to get the proper fit on a bike it is easy to get caught up in measurements and angles but we need to remember to take our entire physiology into account and look at the whole picture.  When working with a bike fitter make sure the fitter has an understanding of your riding style, physiology, flexibility, riding history, etc.   Make sure you tell them about any injuries or health conditions you have also tell them about any concerns you have with your current bike position.  And be open-minded to changes. Your new bike position may feel different at first but you might be surprised at the benefits of a few little changes.