IT’S A FIT UP!
We explain why you really should consider a regular bike fit
A professional bike fit session can transform the way you ride. We try out Trek, Guru and Selle Italia’s ID Match.
Youthful messing about on bikes became serious competitive cycling for me in 1988. My first race-worthy bikes weren’t what I later realised was my ideal size, and my riding position was determined by a combination of trial and error, sage clubmate advice and studying magazine pictures of the pros. Luck, training, plus all the information I could glean saw me through years of racing on and off-road with few problems, save for two over-use knee injuries, but age brings assorted niggles to the fore, and six years ago I had my first bike fit.
Applying biomechanical and anatomical knowledge to try and maximise cycling efficiency and comfort, and prevent injury, is underrated, and many riders don’t think they need one until a problem arises. My original fit created some positional information that I’ve tried to apply ever since, but lifestyle changes, injuries and new issues made me keen to see what might have changed.
What we’d term as a conventional bike fit, with you riding on a turbo trainer while being observed and manually measured by a fitter, has always engendered impressions of black magic and more complication than some riders think necessary. “I don’t need that, I’m not a professional...”, is a common point of view. But the rise in modern semiautomated systems should go a long way to addressing this, and make having a bike fit as accessible to any rider as buying a new pair of shoes. Cycling’s much more fun when you’re comfortable.
With editor-in-chief, Rob, being put through the Retül fit process in issue 339 with Specialized, my quest to test three more of the best took me to Yeovil, Luton and Milton Keynes. Who says this job is all glamour?
Neatly set out in one section of the cavernous Tri UK store in Yeovil, the Guru system’s DFU (Dynamic Fitting Unit) has automated saddle and handlebar movements, and can replicate the position of any stock bike model contained within Guru’s database. Bar and saddle can be swapped in moments, crank length is adjustable, and you’ll ride your own pedals. In front is a Kinect scanner, which generates rider dimension data, and is used to help assess riding efficiency and position.
To begin, Tri UK’s John Harfield asked about any pre-exisiting problems I had, such as injuries, aches, pains and any bike-related discomfort. Then he entered my current saddle height, and we chose an example bike’s standard setup (Cannondale Super Six Evo) as a starting point. After warming up at 90-100rpm, John watched my pedalling action from the front and side to assess if I had any unwanted quirks. He then asked how the position felt, and as I pedalled, he incrementally altered the handlebar position as I fed back any changes in tension through the arms, shoulders and hands.
From the control console, John made the saddle too low, before raising it several millimetres at a time while I pedalled, until it passed the point of being comfortable. Lowering it again brought us to a position that seemed the right balance between leg extension and efficient pedalling. Feeling dynamic changes in this way, while pedalling makes them more easily noticeable and can save time. The fitter also sees the differences in real time, and the DFU can save
John watched my pedalling action from the front and side to assess if I had any unwanted quirks
unlimited positions that can be toggled between for comparison.
Looking for more improvements, the saddle was swapped from a Fabric Scoop to a Fizik Antares then Prologo’s short Dimension, which when pushed back 20mm and tilted down by 2.5 degrees was far more comfortable to ride in a racing tuck. John moved my cleats back by 4mm, and although the road positions felt comfortable, there was too much stress in my triceps when getting low. Switching my standard 42cm wide bar for a 40cm one solved that, and I could maintain a tuck with my elbows locked in for much longer, without the right one flapping outwards unnecessarily. The fit was complete in 90 minutes, and all data was saved and e-mailed to me for reference. Guru excels as a decision making tool, allowing customers to feel how different bike sizes and models will fit, and displaying which models are suitable and what setup changes should be made to achieve your perfect fit. It’s not specific to road racers either, as it’ll work equally well for mountain bikers, cyclo-cross, triathlon and recreational riders.
The DFU can save unlimited positions that can be toggled between for comparison
Selle Italia backed Ergoview to develop the idmatch Bike Lab system, which is mainly designed around science-based biometrics rather than subjective fittercentred opinion. It’s capable of creating a fully automated rider fit, which can be as useful for the novice rider as an experienced one.
Standing in front of a concave background on three marked positions and bending as required, a 3D scanner and its clever software assess your body shape and position without the need to stick any markers on to you. Zyro’s Neil Davidson explains that this saves time, and thanks to the software’s sophistication, increases the accuracy of joint locations.
A huge set of measurements is created from the scans, which are the basis for the machine’s initial riding setup, also suggesting a handlebar and saddle choice, which can be quickly fitted from the wide selection available.
Your shoe cleat position can be set up before jumping on the bike. A Brannock Device is used to measure foot length, width and distance from heel to the first metatarsal bone. A jig holds the shoe so the cleat can be aligned within a specific frame, and centred with a laser line to ensure it’s accurately positioned. Another jig can assess foot tilt/pronation/rotation when rocking forward on to the ball of the foot.
The machine has double-sided pedals fitted, which accept Shimano road and SPD, plus Look road cleats, or your own pedals can be used, but the cranks have a wider than average Q-Factor [distance between the pedal attachment points on the crank arms], which can make saddle position assessment trickier.
I put a Lycra overshoe with a target on, and a reflective wristband, on my left side for the scanner to sense, then was told to pedal at around 75rpm. The resistance can be adjusted to help you maintain this, and once you’re
A jig holds the shoe so the cleat can be aligned within a specific frame
pedalling smoothly, the machine starts to make adjustments to your position. All assessment is done while on the drops, as the test bars don’t have levers fitted. The theory is that if you can ride comfortably in the most extreme position you’re likely to use, then riding on the hoods won’t be difficult.
The idmatch fit was the least hands on (by the operator) of the three I tried, but created a gran fondo-style position for me that is quite similar to my existing position in a very short time. The cleat positioning was especially impressive, as shifting them backwards proved to be a recurring theme, and the saddle and bar selections worked well, although I’d switch the recommended round drops for an ergo bend that my wide palms can grip better. The final pdf that’s sent out displays the most relevant fit information clearly, and makes a good reference point to compare future fits. It can be applied in store to geometry data stored about bikes and components from over 300 brands, to help select your most suitable options, and replicate as necessary.
The idmatch fit was the least hands on (by the operator) of the three I tried
Trek’s Precision Fit system has been developed by a host of highly experienced bike fitters and biomechanics experts, and the system requires a highly trained fitter to operate it. Fitters need a strong understanding of rider biomechanics and anatomy and how altering riding position can affect the body’s performance.
It’s very much hands-on, starting with an interview covering your statistics, types of riding, goals for a fit, and on or off-bike physical problems, and continuing with manual measurements and assessments of foot size, knees, hips and pelvis, posture, and some body dimensions. Trek’s Jez Loftus then asked me to hold a plank position for 90 seconds, something I’d never done, but it went okay. After that the range of motion in my hamstrings and hips were measured.
It’s almost the polar opposite of id match, relying wholly on the fitter’s skill and knowledge, and adding stick-on markers to major joints. Several vertical laser lines and motion capture video cameras were used to assess foot and body position while stationary and pedalling, and my knee and hip angles were regularly measured by hand. Jez recognised that my right heel wasn’t dropping during the pedal stroke, and no cleat or fore-aft position adjustments would change it.
The step-by-step process saw my cleats shifted back by around 14mm, and my saddle setback reduced by 34mm (from 80) to try and alleviate regular calf tightness. Although slightly less on my left side, my flexibility is good, helping achieve the aggressive performance fit we aimed for, I need to utilise my core strength better to get low without
Vertical laser lines and motion capture cameras were used to assess position
bending from the spine only. Most interestingly, after much adjustment, Jez ended up with my original saddle position, but also recommended a 40cm bar for increased stability.
Saddle mapping and orthotic footbeds can be a part of the fit, but there wasn’t the need for the latter on this occasion, as my Shimano shoes worked well. Trek says its system considers both performance and preference, and that was certainly the impression I left with.
Tiny adjustments can be made as you pedal
Guru excels as a decision making tool, allowing customers to feel how sizes and models will fit
Robin’s pedalling action is assessed
The bike rig makes adjustments as you ride
idmatch measures foot pronation, stability and more
I need to utilise core strength better to get low without bending from the spine only