Bike Fitting

Expert Bike Fitter and Fit Kit Systems Owner, John Higgins Demystifies the Art and Science of Bike Fitting

Bike Fitting is a Thing

The reason it is a thing is because cycling requires a contrived body position to propel a contraption, called a bicycle, through time and space. As this is not a normal activity for humans, bike fitting is about improving the interaction between human and machine.  

As with any enterprise, there are plenty of naysayers, but for many cyclists, a bike fit is considered a “must have” and the best “accessory” one can spend money on to enjoy the sport. This page explores the purpose and process of bike fitting, touches on the different types of bike fit services available, and answers frequently asked questions, like how to find a bike fitter, what is the cost of a bike fitter, how long does it take, and how do I know if a fit would be of benefit. By the end of this page, you’ll have a firm grasp of what you need to know about a bike fitting.

FAQs of bike fitting

What is Bike Fitting?

A professional service to improve a cyclist’s interaction and experience with their bicycle, with a focus on: 

  • Preventing and resolving discomforts and injuries 
  • Improving Comfort 
  • Increasing Efficiency 
  • Enhancing Performance 
  • Promoting Safety 
Cyclist with back pain bending over bicycle - did not get a bike fit

Preventative “maintenance” is an increasingly common motivation to get a bike fit, especially amongst people new to the sport.  Aspiring cyclists don’t want to wait to experience knee or back issues – they want to optimize their bike setup and riding technique and habits from the outset. 

Comfort in the context of a bike fit means the absence of discomfort resulting from positioning, posture, ergonomic touch points and equipment choices. Discomfort may still be experienced from exertion and environmental variables (wind, rain, temperature), but ideally are eliminated or minimized for other reasons. 

Efficiency refers to converting biologically produced energy into mechanical energy.  This is where attention to the biomechanics of cycling is important, as it has to do with force generation and power transfer. 

Performance gains will typically be a byproduct of improving comfort and efficiency but there may be attention to specific aspects like aerodynamics that impact overall performance. 

Safety is not often mentioned, but an important aspect of bike fit is ensuring that access to the controls (steering, braking, gear changing) is ideal, and the handling of the bike while being ridden is not compromised. 

In summary, bike fitting is a process used to achieve a desired fit outcome for a cyclist. A fit outcome often involves an interplay of improving aspects of comfort, efficiency, and performance, but may be tightly defined as resolving a specific issue like a sore knee or back or stopping hands or feet from going numb.   

However what cyclists often remember and evaluate a fitter on is the fit experience, which is what happens during the bike fit session.  It should be engaging, interactive, educational, informative, respectful, communicative, and fun! 

The aim of a bike fit is to move the needle from a compromised or suboptimal relationship between cyclist and their bike, towards optimal.  

Compromised to optimal arrow chart in bike fitting

A compromised rider knows something is wrong with their bike setup and function on the bike.  A suboptimal rider is not consciously aware that there are any issues, but they are not in an optimal setup. Moving an issue from compromised to sub optimal is positive progress, and that may be a satisfactory outcome, especially for a noncompetitive recreational rider.  Achieving optimal is not always necessary, or may take more skill than the fitter has, or more time, effort, and expense than the cyclist wants to invest. However committed cyclists with competitive ambitions are likely to seek out marginal gains, and effort made to optimize the relationship to the bike can be much more than a marginal gain.  It can be a significant gain. 

What are the Different Types of Bike Fits?

A bike fit is a vast catch-all term for a range of services.  Not all bike fits are the same and not all bike fitters offer all services.  The same type of fit service may be described in different ways, or be bundled together with related services.  Some fitters offer an a la carte menu and others have a narrow focus on a single service. 

An important differentiation is the purpose of a bike fit.  Is it to advise on a new bike purchase, or to fit an existing bike?  Often a cyclist has both intentions in mind.  Bike fit services can be broadly categorized to the different types below.

Bike Fitting Systems - Measuring handlebar drop

PRE-PURCHASE / PRE-SALE 

  • Pre-Purchase Sizing:  a relatively short and simple service to provide a general recommendation for buying a new bike 
  • Pre-Purchase Fitting: a comprehensive assessment and use of a “fit bike” to more accurately prescribe or identify a new bike for purchase.  This is especially pertinent to buying a TT or Triathlon bike or a road/gravel bike with an integrated cockpit or limited adjustment range. 

NEW BIKE 

  • Initial Set-up: this is for a recently acquired bike which the rider has no or limited experience on. The emphasis will be on a neutral or problem–preventing fit. 

EXISTING BIKE 

  • Comprehensive fit: this is the main offering of many bike fitters, and will include addressing any discomforts or issues experienced on that bike, and moving the needle toward an optimum fit. 

SPECIALITY SERVICES 

A bike fitter may also offer specialty services that may be a subset of a full fit session. 

  • Saddle fit: may include saddle pressure mapping or a process to identify and select a new saddle. 
  • Feet/Shoe: this may include foot measurement/assessment and recommendations for new cycling shoes, cleat set up or setting up cleats on additional shoes.
  • Aero: a focus on optimizing the aerodynamic profile of the cyclist for enhanced performance. 

Bike fitters who are also bike mechanics, cycling coaches, or physical therapists may offer additional services that draw on the relevant skills of these professions to offer a more comprehensive suite of services to their pedaling clients. 

Who gets a Bike Fit?

A bike fit is for any cyclist who wants to enhance their cycling experience, and who rides enough to warrant the time and cost involved. A bike fit is not restricted to professional cyclists or even competitive cyclists.  Often it is novice cyclists who stand to gain the most from a bike fit.  Many cyclists who are already well experienced forgo a professional bike fit as they are confident in their ability to make small fit-related adjustments to their own advantage. Part of the fun of cycling for some is tinkering with their equipment and position. 

From the standpoint of the different cycling disciplines, most triathletes and TT riders see value in a bike fit and will seek one out; many but by no means a majority of road and gravel cyclists will have a fit; and only a small proportion of mountain bikers will seek out a fit. 

Tools and Products for professional fitters - turning wrench

Why is it that most Triathletes and Time Trial Riders get a Bike Fit and Mountain bikers don’t?

The fit position of someone riding an aero bike (with pads to rest the forearms on), is the most contrived of all the cycling positions, with only one primary hand position.  Anyone riding an aero bike is doing so to both complete and compete in an event, even if the competition is to do as well as they can, rather than against other athletes.  Long-course triathlon requires incredible endurance, efficiency, and sustainable comfort. Time trialing, which is over much shorter distances generally, requires an immense focus on maximizing aerodynamic efficiency without compromising power production.  Athletes in these sports stand to gain significantly from bike fitting, with strong motivations to prevent discomfort and maximize performance.  A bike fit will be high on the list of actions recommended by a cycling coach, club, or any “influencer” offering advice to both novice and experienced triathletes and time trialists. So as not to cause offense by ignoring someone, track cyclists competing on a velodrome will fall in this category as well. 

Cyclists on drop bar bikes (road, gravel, commuting, touring…etc.) have multiple hand position choices but are still in a largely static position other than having legs in near-constant motion.  Any position and biomechanical imbalances will manifest the further and/or harder a cyclist rides. Individuals also vary in how well they take to a bike, and how much adaptability and tolerance they have for a miss-fit.  So some cyclists can get away with a bike choice, size, and fit position that would be a major frustration for another cyclist. Hence some cyclists on drop bar bikes are stronger candidates for a fit than others. 

Mountain bikers are a whole other breed culturally, as well as in terms of equipment and riding position. A bike fit is no less important for a mountain biker than anyone riding another type of bike, it’s just less obvious that there are any benefits.  This is due to the combined influences of equipment and riding style.  Large volume low pressure tires coupled with plush long travel suspension at the front and rear soak up a lot of trail chatter and vibration that could wear on the body.  Add in the very dynamic nature of a lot of mountain biking, with more leaning, standing, pushing, and pulling, and the body is regularly in a different position, not stiffening up in one position for a long duration.  Hence when riding a mountain bike you can get away with a poor fit and not realize it. And as mountain bikers tend to be self-reliant problem solvers, the idea of seeking professional assistance if something feels off does not rise to an actionable decision often.  Any aches or pains will usually be attributed to a hard ride, not a poor fit.  However as a key aspect of fitting is dealing with the body’s relationship to gravity while operating the bike, a bike fit for a mountain biker can yield considerable benefits in improved bike handling and traction when climbing, descending, and cornering. How do I know?  I’m a mountain biker. 

I’m not going to say ALL cyclists need a bike fit, but I will say many cyclists would benefit from a bike fit, and some will benefit more than others.  Certainly, there are many who would benefit who have never had a fit before.  The evidence is out there riding on the roads and trails. As a bike fitter, it is an occupational hazard to drive or ride past other cyclists and observe the amount of mis-fit that people are putting up with in their pursuit of enjoyment. 

The English proverb “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” has direct relevance to cyclists and bike fitting. 

Why get a Bike Fit?

Motivations for a bike fit can be many and varied, but what brings people in the door for a fit can be broadly grouped under higher level motivators of Pain or Gain.  People are more motivated to move away from “pain” than they are to move toward “gain. 

Happy Moutain Biking through the dirt

Pain Motivators 

  • Physical: resolving aches, pains, and issues:
    • Sores knee, back, neck or feet
    • Numb hands
    • Saddle contact issues or saddle discomfort
    • A general sense of shifting around searching for a comfortable position, and/or unease on a bike. 
  • Psychological:
    • Wanting to avoid incurring a future physical complaint; doing a pre-purchase fit to avoid the pain of buyer’s remorse from buying a bike that won’t fit and will cause problems. 
    • Fear of a future overuse injury from incorrect positioning

Gain Motivators 

  • Physical: the desire to optimize performance. 
    • The cyclist wants to know, “Could I ride better?”
    • “If I get a bike fit, will I go faster, beat my time, conquer a larger mountain, ride further…etc.?”
  • Psychological: a quest for peace of mind.  The cyclist wants to erase any doubts about their bike fit position and ride knowing they are well set up to enjoy and participate fully in the sport.
     

The reason these motivators exist in the first place: 

  • Cycling is not a “natural” human activity.  Walking is natural but bent over moving your legs in circles repeatedly, is not.
  • Mechanical equipment and function modifies human movement patterns 
  • Cycling is a sport of repetitive motion 
  • Adaptive demands that exceed adaptive ability can create stress and bodily compensation leading to injury 
  • The bike can be adjusted to minimize adaptive demands 
  • The cyclist can be coached to interact appropriately with the bike 

This interplay of factors can create unnecessary stress in the body of the cyclist, or reduce the control and operation of the bike through inefficient force production and transfer, or compensatory movement patterns that take a toll.  The purpose of fitting is to mitigate these factors as much as possible. This is done through attention to both the bike and the body: 

  • The bike can be adjusted to minimize adaptive demands 
    • This may involve equipment changes or positional adjustments to the equipment 
  • The cyclist can be coached to interact appropriately with the bike 
    • This may include strength and mobility exercises; awareness and coaching on-bike posture, muscle recruitment, breathing, and pedaling technique. 

Why Don’t More Cyclists get a Bike Fit?

Shop Bike Fitting Tools and Products for Professional Bike Fitters

If a bike fit is incredibly beneficial, why don’t more cyclists have a fit?  There are many reasons people may dismiss the value of a fit, including: 

  • Have not heard of bike fitting 
  • Don’t ride enough to feel it is justified 
  • The perception that it is only for “serious cyclists” 
  • Nothing hurts enough to create motivation for a fit 
  • Don’t believe it will make a noticeable difference 
  • Assume aspects of discomfort and suffering are intrinsic to the sport of cycling 
  • Like to try and solve their own fit problems 
  • Poor previous experience with a fitter 
  • Lack or availability of fit services nearby 
  • Concerns about sharing their experience with a stranger that may be related to culture, gender, medical, or other privacy matters 
  • Cost in time and money 

One of the most common customer feedback comments I’ve heard following a fit session is “I wish I’d done this years ago!” Better late than never. 

I’ve had a Bike Fit Before, Do I Need Another One?

road bike handlebar drops - reach to levers

A bike fit is not necessarily a one-and-done experience, as it is typically specific to the bike that was involved in the fit.  The following are reasons for either your first bike fit or seeing a bike fitter again:

  • Pain or discomfort that is detracting from your participation in, and enjoyment of the sport 
  • You own multiple bikes.  Many cyclists have a fit session for each bike they own and ride. A fit for a road bike is different from the fit on a tri bike.  Even for someone with two different bikes of the same type, it is not always easy to duplicate the fit from one bike to another. 
  • Buying a new bike, either a production bike (off the shelf) or a custom bike, and wanting or needing key fit metrics to better inform the purchase and equipment specifications. 
  • A significant change in health – for better or worse.  This can include significant changes in fitness, weight, injury history, or surgeries. 
  • Aging: the body changes over time and a fit position that works well for a 40-year-old may not work as well for the same person 10 years later. 
  • Change in cycling goals: a significant increase in riding duration, intensity of volume, or intentions to take on a large cycling goal. 

    What is Involved in a Bike Fit? What should I expect?

    Bike fitters generally follow a similar process, but the emphasis will vary between fitters, along with the choice of tools and technology used in the process. Common steps in the bike fit process include: 

    • Pre-fit intake questionnaire/client interview: to understand the cyclists’ background and experience, injury and medical history, future riding intentions, and bike fit objectives and motivations 
    • Off-bike physical assessment and measurement: to understand functional movement quality 
    • Bike assessment and measurement: to understand the bike and riding equipment 
    • On-bike assessment and measurement: to understand how the rider interacts with the bicycle.  This may involve direct observation or indirect observation using video or motion capture systems 
    • Evaluation and recommendations: discussion of findings and suggestions with the cyclist 
    • Implement Adjustments: this may include changing out fit-adjustable components like a saddle or stem. 
    • Feedback: fitting is an interactive process with the cyclist, whose input and feedback are required. The fitter can see how the cyclist looks on a bike, but only the rider can report how they feel on the bike. There may be a feedback loop as the fitter experiments with different adjustments. 

    Elements of a bike fitting in a pie chart

    More Bike Fitting Frequently Asked Questions

    How long does a bike fit take?

    A bike fit could take one hour or one day, but from a practical standpoint, many full bike fit sessions will usually take 2 to 4 hoursA short-duration bike fit will usually touch on a couple of key aspects of the fit, rather than trying to do everything possibleSome fitters focus on doing everything they can in one session, and a fit may be 4 to 6 hours. 

    Where do I get a bike fit?

    Inside of a bike shop showing bikes on racks

    Traditionally bike shops were the obvious place to go to get a bike fit.  After all, that is where people (used to) buy bikes and get them serviced.  While some bike shops continue to offer fit services, many do not.  Bike shops realized they do best when focusing on transactional retail sales and repair work.  Bike fitting is a touchy-feely personal service with different requirements for space, equipment, employee time, and skills. Consequently, you will find that many bike fitters operate independently of bike shops, or run their own business within a bike shop.  Quite a few cycling coaches are also bike fitters, and an increasing number of physical therapists who are cyclists have added bike fittings to their services. 

    How do I find a reputable bike fitter?

    client consultation / bike fitting interview

    Bike Fitting Interview

    The search for a reputable bike fitter often starts with word-of-mouth recommendations from cycling friends, club members, facebook group comments, Reddit and online searches. 

    Although word of mouth and social media recommendations as well are online reviews are strong indicators of a bike fitter’s popularity and presumed competence, it is worth doing a little extra digging to validate their capability and suitability for your needs. I’m always amazed how many cyclists see a fitter based on a casual recommendation from a trusted source, and don’t do any additional fact checking to verify the recommendation.  This applies to professional cyclists who should know better, as their paycheck can depend on a good fit, as well as recreational cyclists. 

    How much does bike fitting cost?

    The cost will usually be proportionate to the time taken and in line with what you would pay for other professional services like accounting or physical therapy.  Some fitters charge a premium due to reputation and demand, or to factor in the expense of specialized equipment. 

    In the USA, expect to pay between $250 and $500 for a fit session.  Equipment purchases recommended or required are separate and additional.  Some fitters will include mechanical work required for the fit as part of the fit service and others will charge that separately.  This would be for something like a handlebar change or rewrap. 

    Can I fit myself?

    Female cyclist looking disappointed

    You can have a go, and there are a range of products, tools, and apps to assist with thisSome riders enjoy the challenge of problem-solving their bike fit issues and refining their position, while others prefer the input and expertise of a professional fitterIt’s like doing your own bike mechanical workSome cyclists enjoy that, and some have no interest or ability to do it themselves.  

    What value does a bike fitter bring to the table?

    The most important thing a bike fitter brings to a fit session is an external perspective to see things the cyclist cannot see for themselves, and to ask questions of the cyclist that they have not thought to ask of themselvesIn addition, fitters have typically observed and worked with hundreds or thousands of cyclists, and bring that accumulated experience to reference and draw onProgressive fitters also have sought out a diverse range of educational opportunities to better understand the intricacies of how bikes and bodies interact, and are experienced and accomplished cyclists themselves, with the ability to relate to the nuances of the sport and the issues that can occur. 

    What training, education, and licensing do bike fitters need?

    learning bike fitting - education

    Buyer beware. There is no regulatory environment for bike fitters, beyond requiring a local business license. However as bike fitting has never been a get-rich-quick scheme, the vast majority of bike fitters are genuinely motivated to provide a beneficial service.  That said, training and experience vary widelyMost bike fitters start with a 2 – 5 day course, which gives plenty of knowledge to get started as a fitterMany don’t continue their education beyond that point, as there is no professional organization offering licensing that mandates continuing education. Attempts to legitimize and professionalize bike fitting in order to provide a benchmark of standards for consumer confidence have not taken full flight, although the best current attempt is the International Bike Fitting Institute (IBFI).  Beware of any bike fitter who is not transparent in communicating their education as well as their experience, or is only touting a brand of technology or fit system they use. 

    What about fit systems, tools, and technology? Are these indicators of ability and fit outcomes?

    If you are not concerned about what brand of bed your hospital uses, you should not be concerned about what brand of equipment your bike fitter uses.  Professional fitters should be using professional tools, and these are designed and intended to help the fitter help the cyclistFitters whose marketing and credentials are centered on promoting a particular brand of technology are perhaps overdependent on technological aids and less reliant on their own skill setHowever, this gives the cyclist choicesSome riders want to be fitted by a computer and some want to be fitted by a human. 

    More questions?

    Reach out to us and ask! We will post the answers on this page!