We are frequently asked about bicycle fits when people contact us at the office. To help answer this common question, we thought we would provide information based on the teams experiences and knowledge. We hope to answer this question and provide some tips for what to look for in a fit service.
Before we start, its important to distinguish between getting the right size bicycle, versus being fitted. Generally speaking, a bicycle fit is a much more involved process that can take anywhere from two hours and is (ideally) conducted by a trained professional or highly experienced cyclist, or both.
A few weeks ago we stopped off at Albury NSW, before a route-planning session for our upcoming Rutherglen event. We took timeout with Tom Barry, expert Cycling Analyst, Osteopath and owner of OsteoHealth. Tom was kind enough to let us observe two bicycle fits scheduled for the day, with National Road Series star Emma Viotto (Bicycle Superstore) and young gun Tomarsh Loki.
So who would need a bicycle fit? According to Tom, most people that seek his fitting services have been injured or experiencing discomfort. That's not ideal. Others, like Emma and Tomarsh might be seeking performance gains, efficiency and reduce injury risk or be more comfortable. If you are riding infrequently and only over shorter distances of less than 20km, you probably don't need to spend money on a fit. If you are doing regular weekend rides, commuting daily or looking to race - a fit is well worth considering.
I once heard someone say that spending $300 dollars for a fit on a $1000 bicycle is better than spending $5000 on a bicycle and not being fitted correctly. We generally agree with this thinking. A $5000 bicycle isn't worth much if it causes unnecessary discomfort.
A good fit will ensure your body is in tune with the bicycle. After a solid 100km ride, you will feel nothing but the joyful pain of exercise. Conversely, a bad fit will mean you are not positioned in a manner that will use your moving parts and working muscles efficiently. Over time, this may result in a nasty injury.
A good fitter will take the time to ensure they understand your history and future cycling goals before even touching your bicycle. Here's some more pointers about what to look for when seeking a good fit, a list we compiled on the delightful drive along the Hume Highway from Albury to Melbourne.
Is the service guaranteed?
The best fitters in the business guarantee their fit these days. At a minimum you should be provided a longer fit session that can be followed-up with any necessary tweaks. Ideally, the second session will also be a part of the service as there will be things the fitter needs to check and seek feedback on. There should be a reasonable amount of time to allow you and your body to settle into any new positions.
Again, the better fitters will state upfront that the service is guaranteed. If it’s not obvious, take the opportunity to ask. The response may also give you an insight into the type of service provided. If there is a high degree of confidence stating that you will be 100% after one session, take this as a warning sign.
The approach and philosophy (do you get more than a fit?)
Tom's approach and philosophies were obvious. Being an athlete and also coming from years as an Osteopath, he is one that takes an all inclusive approach. If you've ever had the fortune of discussing the training of Osteopaths, they will tell you they consider the whole body in their assessments and treatment.
This wholistic approach was obvious in how Tom approached each athlete. He took time to learn each athletes history, discuss any niggling injuries and determine future goals. The fit and overall assessment was just as thorough in that the cyclists were mechanically fitted, but were also given specific exercises to undertake to strengthen and stretch each muscle group.
Combine your fit with some strength work
A bike fit can be very beneficial to your cycling performance, however should be combined with a good strength and conditioning program.
I recently had the pleasure of having my backside kicked by a proud 63 year old gentlemen who is known for producing his seniors card prior to Melbourne cycling races. He swims and does pilates at least five days a week in order to complete 500-600km of riding in this same time frame.
While this training schedule may not be feasible for most, as a rough guideline Tom suggested 'if you've got ten hours a week to train, at least one hour should be off the bike for strength and conditioning.' By spending that one hour off the bike 'You'll get better value than spending that one hour in the saddle as it will reduce injury risk, increase efficiency and comfort.'
Skills, experience and training
This is usually a contentious one when discussing bike fitting. Do you go with someone who has a 'certificate' or years of experience.
To become a bike fitter, theoretically you could stick a sign on a window and start trading. These days, there are a number of tools and training courses, and even applications that are available to budding fitters. The larger brands such as Specialized and Trek recognised years ago, the value of having fit tools as part of their sales weaponry, and now have valid fit programs as a result.
Some of the tools and programs available have greatly improved how fits take place. As Tom mentioned during one fit 'the numbers don't lie,’ and when you’re measuring angles of the body or position on the bike, you can't argue with that. However, they are still just tools and its how they are used that is important.
A fitter without some anatomical training needs to have a good network of therapists around them to assist with some of the client's injury management needs.
This goes without saying, but ask around. If you are new to an area, ask the local club, bunch riders or get on a forum. If the answers are consistently pointing in one direction, you may have a winner.
Two ears and one mouth
A mentor once told me that I have two ears and one mouth, so I should listen more than I talk. She was spot on. That advice can be applied to fitters. They need to ask more questions to determine your situation and circumstance in order to provide a great fit. To use Tom as an example, a lot of the session was about asking questions and learning about the riders needs and goals.
Again, whether a fitter demonstrates these qualities can be hard to determine pre-fit. Some of the hints you may look for is in the processes they have or don't have. Do they have a pre-fit questionnaire to learn of your situation and cycling goals? How long is the fit? The better fitters tend to allow at least two hours for the first consult.
In summary, a good fit is a great investment should you wish to improve or ensure comfort on the bike. Take the time to research who is doing good fits and ensure they at least guarantee their service.
Thanks to Tom and the team at OsteoHealth for letting us spend the day in the thriving practice. All the best to Emma and Tomarsh with your cycling goals.