If you were to visit twenty different fitters throughout the country you’re likely to experience different processes, different levels of education, different costs, and different outcomes at every single one.
So this begs the question:
What should a bike fit look like? Is there a uniform bike fit checklist that should be used?
There is no one “right way”, but there is a short-list of things that must be in place and their sequence is open for some interpretation. Here’s how I do mine:
- Pretty basic. This is the time to ask about the type of riding the client does, any goals they have, riding history, past injuries, pains they have on the bike, etc.
- But more than that this should be a time the fitter needs to get to know the rider. What they do for a living – which can play in to how they’re gooing to adapt to their new fit.
- Physical Assessment
- Surprisingly the physical assessment is considered unnecessary by some fit schools and it’s not taught. Their reasoning is that we should be only concerned with how a rider fits and moves on their bike so we don’t need to look at them off the bike.
- Here’s why that’s short-sighted and wrong — a certain bike fit anomaly, like when the rider’s hip drops off to one side of the saddle more, can have multiple causes. In order to properly correct it the bike fitter needs to be able to address the root cause otherwise the fitter is relegated to applying generaic fixes for all riders withthis deviation.
- This is further proof that the better and stronger your assessment “muscle” is the better bike fits you will be able to execute.
- Visual Riding Inspection
- This is just watching the rider pedal. Why is this necessary? In these days of high tech measuring equipment it doesn’t seem like this is necessary anymore since the “eye-balling” is gone (and should be). But the visual inspection period is a great time to learn some of the habits of the rider. If they’re looking at keep a keen eye, the fitter can find out how comfortable they are pedaling their bike. Not necessarily comfort in the sense of pain and discomfort, but generally how confident they are with their pedal stroke and balance on the bike.
- This is the time where the fitter can assess the qualitative nature of the rider’s pedal stroke. The infrared or video will help with the quantitative side of things, but there are still data points to acquire with the qualitative assessment. The smoothness and rhythm of the rider’s pedaling is a good indicator of their experience, confidence and balance. How their upper body addresses the bars and moves while they pedal.
- This is the time when I begin to lay out broad strokes of the fit assessment. I don’t focus on what is exactly going on — it won’t pay to get that granular at this point. But I just try to pick out things that don’t look right.
- When a bike fit is off I can often see a disconnect between the upper and lower body as if something is out of sync. So I note this and might start to focus on the pelvic movement more during the data acquisition phase. Another example is when the upper body isn’t paired well to the handlebars, perhaps one arm looks like it is having an easier reach and is more relaxed — in this case I will correlate what I saw with the movement of the spine and shoulder complex during the physical assessment to begin to lay out a web of potential issues and solutions.
- This ability to see when something isn’t right does get stronger as the bike fitter gets more experience — through doing more bike fits — but it never should be relied on as a cornerstone for the fit process. Unfortunately during the days of the bike fitter as “guru” this was sometimes the only method used. It was bike fitting by feel. This data, being subjective, should be weighted a little lighter and merely incorporated as a part of the decision-making process, and not solely relied on.
- Riding – Data Acquisition
- There are different forms of data acquisition and we can begin to break them up into static and dynamic.
- Static: measuruments are taken with the rider holding a position so that the measuring device can be used
- Dynamic: measurements taken while the rider is pedaling
- Dynamic measurements are vastly superior to static because during pedaling one joint’s position has a dramatic effect on another’s. For instance, during dynamic measuring it’s common to see a knee angle at full extension (how straight the knee gets) of 42° while the ankle is plantarflexing (toeing down) 10°. Often when a static measurement for knee extension is taken with a goniometer, the ankle posture the rider actually has during pedaling is difficult to replicate and if for instance the ankle is put nearer to neutral then the knee extension measurement is likely to be measured staticly as ~34°. This might lead to a very different bike fitting result.
- This stage is simply about accumulating all appropriate data of the rider on their bike – via video, infrared motion capture, pressure analysis, thermal imaging, EMG, and special tests (we’ll discuss these more later).
- Data Evaluation and Decision-making
- This is the most important stage — deciding what to do with all the information.
- All the information is considered — from the history, physical exam, visual bike exam, and data acquisition.
- All the information needs to be weighted and sifted. Weighting the data means we need to asign a value to it that represents how well it points out the actual bike fit issues of the rider. When weighting the data we need to consider whether it’s subjective or objective. Subjective in this case might be something the client told us — “I feel a deep ache in my right hip when I’m in the drops”. Generally we will apply a little more weight to objective information.
- It sounds like I’m saying that you should discount what the client is telling you in the history, but I’m not. What I am saying is that you can’t take as gospel what you are told. I was recently told by a client that they did have a deep ache in their hip while on the drops. I didn’t give this 100% weight and begin to plan for a compensation for their hip because when I investigated further, what they were calling their hip was actually the top of the pelvis (think of ‘hands on hips’ position) and the problem was actually a lumbar muscle and a spinal problem.
- With weighting the information we can sift it as well and determine what we’re going to keep in the forefront of our brain and what goes on the back-burner.
- Here’s where it gets dangerous: when a bike fitter is “under-experienced” (they haven’t done thousands of assessments or bike fits) and/or “under-fundamentalized” (they don’t have an educational background in human movement studies) it is very temtping to cull the data to suit a narrative that they prefer. If you don’t have a lot of tools in the toolbox, you won’t be able to fix a lot of problems. To someone with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
- As you can imagine, the most difficult part of bike fitting is not taking taking good data and figuring out what to fix. It’s figuring out what is good data. Trying to determine what’s the signal and what’s the noise — in fact the book by Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise is a great read that every bike fitter should read. In it he discusses what will be my next point:
- When reading data, Silver relates the idea of the “Prediction Paradox”. Predictions being merely someone saying “I think this is happening or will happen” after reading data a certain way. The Prediction Paradox says that our predictions can improve if we embrace the uncertainty of them. Overconfidence in reading data is often the reason for failure of our predictions. We should be more circumspect when looking at data and not get too “precious” with any of it. I find that the more skilled a bike fitter is (more education and more experience performing fits) the more nuanced the data reading is — these fitters begin to see multiple layers or dimensions of possibilities to their fit solutions rathert han just seeing a two-dimensional result.
- Equipment changes and rider education
- This is where we make changes to the bike. Grossly: cleat, handlebar, and saddle position. This is also the time to begin educating the client. Bringing them along through the decision-making process builds trust, but keeping them in the loop will also get you better feedback once they ride with these changes for a time. If they don’t know what was done and why, or they weren’t educated on what to be on the lookout for, they can’t provide good feedback.
- Some caution does need to be exercised here though. Some clients will take something you say and run with it, so you need to be careful what comes out of your mouth. Mention that the changes will help them sit more neutrally and balanced on their bike and everything’s fine. But tell them that the seam of their shorts in the back is 3 cm to the right of the center of the saddle and they will try to actively correct this by scooting over on every ride until you see them again (of course this type of alignment issue has to be fixed indirectly via other means) and in the process create a saddle sore or a sore back for themselves.
- Follow-up Data Evaluation\
- This is merely rinse and repeat — take a round of data after you’ve made changes and assess that to see how effective your changes are. This might be done a few times until an optimal result is obtained.
- A bike fitter shouldn’t be afraid to admit they’re wrong and back off from a change they’ve made. I know many just starting out won’t want to expose themselves in this way but in my opinion it is a sign of respect to your client. When I have told a client “Hey, you know that cleat adjustment I made? I was really expecting to see a better result at your knee. It just didn’t go the way I expected so I’m going to back off that and focus more on this other area that we were suspecting.” When I have done that, every single client has responded in an extremely positive way and I’ve even had some clients come back and tell me that was the reason they sent all their friends to see me because I was more concerned with getting it right for them than being right.
- Final rider education and instruction
- As with most aspects of a bike fit, this is another time for client education. As bike fitters we should be more like teachers — it’s our job to make sure that this client knows all the things they should and shouldn’t be doing in order to have the best fit experience on their bike.
- This is the time when the fitter should explain what they might be feeling over the next few weeks, whether they should restrict any of their rides for duration or intensity, as well as any exercises they should do to help them continue to fit their bike better.
- I encourage my clients to keep the distance of their next 5 or 6 rides average and limit the intensity for about 2-3 rides in order to give the fit a fair assessment and to give their body some easy riding time to absorb these new changes.
- Almost all of my clients leave with exercises to do as well. After all, there are only so many adjustments that we can make to a bike and improvements, however small, to the balance and alignment of the human riding it, can always be made.
So what has been your fit experience? Whether you’re a bike fitter or an athlete, how has the process looked to you? Different? Let me know in the comments, feel free to send me an email about this topic, or reach out on Twitter or other social media.