Updated: May 31, 2021
If you're looking to become a serious cyclist (long weekend rides + "quick" weekday rides), get a bike fit. You're probably asking, what the heck is that? After one year of riding with aches in my knees, lower back, and wrists after my rides (which I thought was normal), my new cycling friend suggested I should "get a bike fit." Huh? If i'm not in pain, then there's no gain, right? Nope, far from it. 1) Pain sucks 2) If not addressed promptly, it's only going to get worse and lead to injury. So where's the “gain” in that? I did more research and found that a bike fit is standard procedure for new (and existing!) cyclists.
Getting "fitted" will be one of the best investments you can make, especially if you’re riding over 2 hours. Your comfort on the bike, from clothing, safety, to nutrition, people you ride with, etc. dictates whether you'll be eager to get back on and explore the world day in and day out. Let's start with what is a bike fit and why it is a vital part in your cycling journey.
What is a bike fit?
A "bike fit" is an assessment where a specialist analyzes your position on the bike. I equate getting a bike fit to seeing a tailor where they adjust the parts of the bike to fit your specific body geometry. Most mass produced items come in standard sizes. Humans do not. When you roll out of the shop with a new bike, it may initially feel fine for those few minutes of test riding. However, stay in that position for a couple hours and usually, discomfort will arise.
Bike fitters find the most optimal position for you so that you're comfortable and strong. Typically, seat height is the first and easiest thing to adjust by eye and by feel. Did you know that you can adjust the angle of your handle bars, how far forward or back your saddle can move, cleat positioning, and how far your hands reach for the handle bars? Handle bars can be too wide too, depending on your riding style. Bike fitters take all that into account as well as your flexibility, posture, and any length discrepancies so you can truly feel one with the machine.
Why is it important?
A bike fit puts you in the ideal position so that you can perform at your best. Combined, those variables above harmonize together in order for your body to recruit the appropriate muscles and maximize your power. Think about how many times your legs are spinning. It's hundreds if not thousands of pedal strokes. If you're starting from zero, it's easy to overuse your legs, especially quads when you're starting with flat pedals (using sneakers vs cycling specific shoes). A proper bike fit can address:
Pain around the knees, wrists, back, and neck
Numbness in toes, hands, fingers, and saddle area
Reduce muscle fatigue
Your performance improves greatly because you're able to recruit multiple muscles versus overusing some.
When should you get your bike fit?
Yesterday. Really though, as soon as you can. The earlier you visit a fitter, the more enjoyable your rides will be to improve and prevent any of the above issues. Your body can then adapt to those changes over time as rides become longer and challenging. Another option is to get fitted even BEFORE buying a bike so they can suggest bikes that best fits you. If you're not experiencing any sort of pain on your rides after long periods of time, then you're probably okay without one. Of course, you can tinker and adjust yourself if you'd like!
What does it involve?
A fit usually includes:
Cleat adjustments - making sure your cleats are in correct orientation so your knees track comfortably (this can be one of the main sources of knee pain)
Seat height adjustment from the tilt angle to how far forward or back the saddle should be
Reach - adjust how far your arms extend
Flexibility and strength assessment
They generally ask you to bring what you ride with such as your bib, shoes, jersey, maybe a water bottle since your bike will be attached to a stationary unit. They watch you pedal for an hour or so.
Where to find one?
Search for "bike fit" or "bike fitter" in your local area or on review websites. Prices can range from $100-$400 (or more) for an hour to a few hours. This all depends on your package and your needs.
A bike fit is ideal for anyone who wants to ride longer, reduce discomfort anywhere in their body, and is looking to feel their best on the bike. How can you tell if riding is "comfortable"? It should feel as easy as if you were walking down the street. If you are experiencing further pain after the fit, do also get checked by your doctor. A bike fit is not a way to supplement seeing a doctor. While it can help address most common pains when riding long distances, do keep in mind other aspects of your overall training including regular stretching, strength training, nutrition etc. As you progressively add volume to your rides, cycling longer will become easier and a 20 mile ride then becomes a quick workout for you. Get a bike fit early and witness (and feel!) your cycling skills accelerate to another level.