THE LESSER MENTIONED BENEFITS OF HAVING A BIKE FIT
The benefits of being bike fitted have become somewhat of a mantra; power, comfort, efficiency. These are the words which get mouthed every time bikefitting is discussed, the words on which virtually the entire industry is based.
However, although the benefits above need to be kept in mind, there are other benefits which clients can gain, and I see them reappear time and time again. These extra benefits include; making the right choices when purchasing a bike; being given the means by which to make those choices; aesthetic considerations and very importantly, rider experience.
It's sad, frustrating and all too frequent that I meet a client who arrives with a brand new, but obviously inappropriately sized bike. The truth is that sizing advice, whether that be through staff at a shop or height charts online, is too often flawed, leading buyers to purchase bikes which are either too big or too small, often too long, or entirely the wrong shape. And really, basic sizing is one of the easiest things to get right, providing one has the correct information.
Sizing issues stem from a couple of misconceptions. Firstly, the concept of “frame size”, an ongoing, out-of-date myth still perpetuated by most retail outlets. In reality, with modern geometry, frame sizes are massively inconsistent in dimension and, due to the advent of bikes with higher bar heights, can leave riders very badly sized. And secondly, the perception that riders can be sized on body height alone. Riders with short legs proportionally often find themselves on bikes which are too large. Riders with long legs often find themselves with bars which are too low.
Other issues include; tall riders over 6'4 often get recommended bikes which are too small; female riders find themselves with limited choice after being recommended a “female geometry” - a flawed principle at best, an outright lie at worst; and finally, riders going from a size small to extra small and discovering that the overall reach is no shorter, but that they now have extra toe-overlap.
Bike shop staff and online charts are dangerous as they are not the ones who have to pay for, and live with, the result of an incorrect size choice. By seeing a fitter and being given the information you need to make that choice, you the rider arm yourself to avoid disappointment and the wasting of your hard-earned money.
Choosing the correct size is not just about the frame. Components often come into play here, and a fit will clarify key component sizes and choices. The biggest one to consider here is crank length, particularly for smaller riders or average sized riders with short legs. Combined with the frame size issue mentioned above, riders with short legs can often find themselves riding a bike with cranks that are too long. This often happens when a rider straddles two frame sizes (based on a height measurement) and makes the decision to choose the bigger of the two. The results are predictable; cranks are too long, bar is too wide, stem is too long.
Now although the bar and stem can, in a worst case scenario, be changed at a relatively low cost, changing a crankset is prohibitively expensive for most, and so these riders are stuck with a bike forcing an overly large pedalling circle. This is an issue which can never have a positive outcome, and leads to our next point.
This point is a bit more esoteric and can be difficult to describe. But it can be something which has a marked effect on your enjoyment of any given bike.
The best way to describe it is to say that bikefitting is about balance, not only the balance of your body in relation to all the contact points (pedals, saddle, bar) but also the overall balance of you in relation to the bike, wheels and road. I can easily “fit” someone to an ill-sized bike bike by fitting a very short or very long stem, and say that their “position” is good. However, at these extremes, a rider's weight distribution over the bike will not be optimal, and could result in below par handling. I could flip a stem upwards in order to give more height at the bar, but this also too often results in worse handling.
Rider experience is related to the overall bike and rider combination, not only how you sit on a bike, but how you interact with it. And this is rider experience, a facet which can be dealt with by making the right choice of bike in terms of both components and frame size.
For some people this point is a non-issue. For others it's all important. Having a bike which looks proportionally good once set up is something that should be addressed. Any good fitter, once they've got your bike fit numbers, should be able to provide you with a CAD drawing of your chosen bike, giving you a visual cue as to what it will look like once set up as per your numbers. In this way you can avoid looking like the victim of a bad size choice and re-evaluate accordingly.
All of the above issues can be resolved by having either a full bike fit or basic sizing on a sizing jig. The money is well spent and will provide you with info which lasts years, from this bike purchase to the next. Without the correct info one is “spending in the dark” and is at the mercy of apathetic individuals who have, for the most part, an agenda.