Ask the Experts: Getting a Pro Bike Fit

Credit: Photo by Pearl Izumi

I've been told that bike fit can be more important than the actual bike I purchase. What are the top things I should look for to make sure my bike fits my frame?

So many things factor in to a proper bike fit that it's tough to break it down into a few short pointers. Above all, however, you want to make sure your knees and hips aren't straining to complete the pedal stroke and that your torso is neither too cramped nor too overstretched across the top tube and handlebars.

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But there's more to it than leg and torso length. In fact, it's not uncommon to find two properly fit people of similar height, size and proportion riding different sized bikes altogether, simply because their bodies naturally move in different ways.

For this reason, if you're planning to ride your bike for more than the occasional recreational ride, you should arrange a session with a certified bike-fitting specialist.

A comprehensive fit session will address factors like range of motion in cycling-specific muscle groups, individual riding habits, previous injuries, and core strength and biomechanical alignment. In addition to these fundamental body assessments, there are two keys to a successful fitting session:

  • Communication. Working with a fitter who asks the right questions, listens and then responds is paramount to helping you find a well-matched bike.
  • Observed riding. Getting fit for a bike without someone watching you ride is like buying a house without ever seeing it. While everything might look great on paper, movement during cycling might tell a different story. A good fitting professional will have an adjustable-fit bicycle that, in combination with a well-trained eye, will help him assess your riding technique and posture on the bike.

Just as you would before choosing a doctor or attorney, interview your prospective fitter to find out what's involved in his or her fitting sessions. A qualified fitter will discuss the elements listed above and provide you with individualized answers based on your needs and goals.

Professional fittings usually take two to four hours and cost $200 to $500. But if you plan to ride with any regularity, the investment in money and time will more than pay for itself in the confidence you'll gain knowing your new bike is set to ride as efficiently as possible.

I've raced a few triathlons and hope to do more. How do I know when it's time to move from a road frame to a triathlon frame, and how much difference will it make to my overall finishing times?

The key to whether a triathlon bike makes sense for you is knowing how much time you want to spend in an aero position. While road bikes are versatile, they aren't designed for use with aero bars without significant compromises in fit and comfort.

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