Bike Fitting, It’s Always Worth the Time & Expense if…..

Triathlete Richard Wade at KGS Bikes dialing-in his time trial position with Kevin Saunders (Photo by Kevin Saunders)

… you can find a really good bicycle fitting practitioner.

Anyone who’s ever taken the time and paid good money for a professional bicycle fitting by a really good bicycle designer and/or bicycle fitter will typically come out of that experience with a ton of useful information and suggestions and perhaps even corrections to previously un-realized “issues” with their bicycle fit and cycling technique that will yield true improvements in their comfort and/or ability to efficiently generate greater performance on their bicycle.

While it’s not essential, bicycle fitting falls into the same category as many other “personal health analysis & advice” fields like nutritionists, physiologists, trainers and coaching which can be used to identify things that are limiting personal performance, perhaps even causing avoidable injuries or discomfort.  So yes, while many cyclists believe they’ll always be the best judge of their bicycle fit and cycling technique, in many cases they’re just kidding themselves and simply don’t know what they don’t know.   And simply reading up on the subject and trying to apply it to themselves or — worse yet — others without the benefit of having studied, analyzed and worked with professional cyclists (you know, the folks who rely on proper bike fit for their livelihood) to optimize their bicycle fit and cycling techniques is usually not all that effective.

Of course,therein lies the key… finding a really good and qualified bicycle fitting professional.

Without meaning to offend anyone, there’s an old joke that goes, “What do you call someone who attends medical school, meets the minimum passing grades and graduates last in their class?  Doctor”.  Yup, many of them are still able to go on to practice medicine and like all professions, you have practitioners who are excellent and others who aren’t.

Bicycle fitting falls into this same category.  It’s almost the norm these days to find that any “good” bicycle shop will have someone on staff who does bicycle fittings. Many of them even have technicians who have gone off to learn their craft from well-respected places like Serotta, noting that Ben Serotta was a pioneer in US bicycle fitting, and quite a few other places.   However, as noted, simply passing the training course and collecting a “certificate” does not guarantee you that the fitter will truly be a master of his craft.

Michel Lamar

This is where “word of mouth” and “reputation” in the cycling community becomes invaluable.  We’re fortunate in that we have an excellent bicycle fitter near us — Michel Lamar — who has been with Free Flite Cycles for what must be nearly 20 years.  He’s fitted Debbie and many of our friends over the years, all of whom came out of the experience with new insights into how they can get the most out of their riding position based on how they actually ride, not just their physical dimensions.  After all, attaining the proper seat height to have an efficient and powerful stroke needs to factor-in whether a rider pedals with their toes down, foot level or perhaps even with the heel down.  It’s also important to know if they slide forward or back in their saddle when they push a bigger or smaller gear, as that could be an indication that something with their bike fit needs to be adjusted.

Kevin Saunders

Our friend Kevin Saunders down in Texas at KGS Bikes who we mentioned in a blog entry back in April of 2010 is perhaps one of the most meticulous bicycle designers and fitters we know, as well as an amazing photographer and genuine renaissance man.  He has published many excellent articles that deal with bicycle frame design & fitting, noting that at a certain point and for certain riders with specific needs or expectations getting a proper fit on a bicycle actually starts with having a bicycle frame designed for the rider vs. figuring out how to make a rider “fit” an existing bike.  The photo at the top of this blog entry came from an article on his KGS Bike’s Blog from May 2011 where he described working with professional triathlete Robbie Wade to solve a bike fitting issue.

Now, the reason I bring all of this up is that a friend recently shared his observations on bicycle fitting that came right on the heels of a posting by a “regular” on one of the tandem forums I frequent who was mentioned in Richard’s writings on bicycle fit.

This is an extract of the Email Richard D. shared with me that was the catalyst for this blog entry, noting a more detailed essay by Richard on fitting was included in the May/June edition of the Tandem Club of America’s newsletter “Doubletalk”:

Over the past couple of years I’ve become evangelical about fitting. A year ago last May we visited the Ball State Human Performance Laboratory and got a tandem fitting from Jeff Frame (good name for a fitter). After nearly 30 years of riding, it changed our life! Jeff is university trained in kinesthesiology also an avid cyclist and tandem rider….very knowledgeable and unique among fitters.

Over the years we’ve encountered MANY stokers who ride in pain and insensitive captains who think they know all about fitting. The two solutions they offer: “You need to ride more” or “Maybe you need a new seat”. The latter often begins a futile shopping odyssey for just the right seat.

Several local couples and one from Illinois we met at the Indiana Tandem Rally earlier this month have visited Jeff with excellent results, improved comfort and efficiency.

More at Jeff’s Website: http://www.biovelofit.com/.

This is the posting by our friend Wayne T. (aka, “DubT”) from BikeForums.net back on July 12th that referenced their discussion with Richard at the Indiana Tandem Rally and that describes the fitting session he and Chris had with Jeff.

After talking to two couples at the Indiana Tandem Rally who had been fit by Jeff Frame at http://www.biovelofit.com/ we made an appointment to get a professional fit. Our session started at noon and we finished up right at 5:00 PM.

Jeff conducted and indepth interview with us asking all kinds of questions and then he put us on the bike, he uses a Computrainer as well as video cameras connected to his computer.

After an initial analysis he determined that our positions needed some major adjustments. We both needed to raise our saddles and move them back. He checked our flexibility and then started with our feet. I have an issue with my right foot and my left leg is shorter than the other. Jeff installed pads in my shoes and put a spacer under my left cleat and adjusted its fore aft position.

He raised both of our saddles and moved them both back, we changed my stem to a shorter one with a different angle. Stokers stem was raised as my seat went up.

After all of the adjustments were made we were back on the Computrainer, we were able to push a gear higher and both felt more comfortable. Stoker had some numb hand issues that are hopefully resolved.

We then took the bike outside for a ride on a local bike path, the bike felt great. We will know more after our ride tomorrow morning. We were both impressed with Jeff’s knowledge and professionalism.

The follow-ups after the subsequent rides:

We rode a course that we have ridden several times and we both felt really good on the bike. We decided that we felt more integrated with the bike.

My butt pain is gone and her hand numbness is greatly reduced, it cropped up early and then went away.

We felt better climbing and our legs felt much better, we seemed to be much smoother, on the video before the fit, stoker was actually bouncing a little bit on the seat. The seat was too low. The bouncing is gone. She was ready to ride some more when I was ready to head home.

All in all worth the time energy and money for us.

Of course, what’s interesting here is that Richard & Wayne are both long-time cyclists with 10’s of thousands, perhaps over 100,000 miles of saddle time behind them.  Like a lot of cyclists, Wayne has been aware that he had “fit issues” but simply learned to live with it.  As noted, it was because of the fitting session that Wayne learned he had a leg length disparity that Jeff was able to address.

Just something to think about next time you or your stoker start thinking that you need a new saddle, a taller stem, or a change in saddle height and give it your best guess on dialing in those changes.

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About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
This entry was posted in Advice & Commentary, Health & Fitness, Tandem Folks, Technology & Equip.. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Bike Fitting, It’s Always Worth the Time & Expense if…..

  1. I sure appreciate the kind words.

    • TG says:

      Hey Kevin:

      When the subject is bicycle fitting — or genuinely nice and interesting folks — you’re always at the top of the list….

  2. Pete Templin says:

    I’ve worked a bit with Kevin Saunders, and the biggest magic for us was to pick the right crank length for my wife. She’s short, with short legs, and putting her on 150mm cranks was a game-changer. Now that we may end up ‘totaling’ her single bike, we hope to be able to put her on a perfectly-positioned bike soon.

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