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Buying a bike that fits. Part 2. (Or going for a bike fit!)

Written by Fiona May 06 2013

So many friends swear by a bike fit. Because we’re all created in different sizes and most of us can’t afford a customised bike, bike fit offers a good route to adjusting with the bike so that it fits a rider’s size, flexibility and aspirations the best that it possibly can. In an ideal world, we’d all have a bike fit before even buying a bike (Criterium Cycles, near Edinburgh, do this for customers buying a Trek bike from them). Sadly, in my world, I had bought the bike first and discovered the aches and pains later.

bike fit measuring

Bike fit measuring

So, of course, when Criterium offered me a courtesy bike fit I went for it. Note, bike fit will take at least two and a half  hours so make sure you leave enough time to enjoy the experience. It costs £120 but it’s money well spent if you want to avoid wasting many hundreds – and even thousands – of pounds buying the wrong bike in the first place.

The ins and outs of a bike fit

To be honest, I’d never imagined there could be so much to a bike fit. The Bike Fit session at Criterium starts with a questionnaire about riding experience and goals and includes the taking of a long list of body measurements and flexibility assessments.

Paul, the qualified Trek Approved Bike Fit expert at Criterium, was amazingly meticulous in his measuring and wonderfully critical in his bike assessments. He spent ages taking lengths and angles – and also asking me what kind of comfort I was looking for when riding my bike.

His enthusiasm was infectious. “I really love this part of my work,” Paul told me. “The measuring and the getting it just right. The aims of perfection through assessment and trying to find the perfect bike fit to suit every rider. I could do this all day every day just to hear how happy the cyclist is with their bike position at the end of their ride.”

Me and my bike

Angles and lengths

Bike fit: Angles and lengths

What Paul discovered was that my bike was an okay fit – I’d bought a small rather than a medium – but not excellent. He also discovered that while I have great hip flexibility on my right, non-injured side, I have about 50% of that flexibility on my left, hamstring-knackered side. For maximum comfort on my hip and lower back area he assessed that I would be better in a more upright and open-hip position.

He also found that my bike shoes were too big and the cleats were positioned about 1cm too far forward. In addition my bike seat, although a girl-fit bike, was not wide enough to support my butt bones correctly (ok, so I must have a big bum?!). My handlebars are also too wide for my female shoulders and the position of the handlebars was found to be too low.

To give me a more upright and open-hipped position, which would offer greater comfort while riding longer distances, Paul moved my seat a few mms forward. He lowered the seat by a couple of mms, too, and raised the handlebars. For extra power through the legs and to the balls of my feet, my bike cleats were moved back.

All these adjustments were tiny and to my eye didn’t appear to be much at all. But I could see, while sat on my bike on a turbo trainer in front of large mirrors in the corner of the smart Criterium shop, that I was now riding with a more open and upright position. It felt more comfortable. Note, this is not the position you would be looking for in short, fast-paced rides when you want to be low over your bike frame but rather the long-distance comfort position.

Riding a bike in comfort

Bike fit and comfort

Bike fit and comfort

In truth, I should now buy narrower handlebars and if I want more comfort, I would need to raise the handlebars still further but within the limitations of my current Canyon bike I now have the ideal position for longer more comfy riding. Of course, I did spend some money on a couple of bike bling items, new carbon bike shoes and a, aherm, wider female bike seat.

If Criterium had been open when I was looking for a new bike it would have made sense to have all the measuring done before buying a bike and then have Paul recommend the right bike and bike geometry for me. Every bike brand has bikes in different geometries according to your flexibility and ambitions so it’s usually possible to find a bike that is almost the right fit and then do some small adjustments with stems and seat/handlebar heights. Trek also offer the ultimate Project One made-to-measure bike but I’m not sure I’ll ever have enough money to pay for this service.

Out on the road and I feel more comfortable in the hip area while riding my Canyon. My lower back is in a far better position. I am still getting used to the handlebar position and I think it would be beneficial to have new, narrower bars but I’ll wait to see if the adjustment becomes more familiar to my body.  The shoe cleat position offers greater power though the pedals. I feel that I could ride for far longer and in much greater comfort after the bike fit.

Find out more about Trek Approved Bike Fit at Criterium Cycles. It’s a huge eye opener and a comfort bringer. The atmosphere in the shop is also welcoming and totally non-intimidating, which is very refreshing.

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