I’m the editor for Chainstay, the newsletter of the Peninsula Bicycling Association. While looking for a feature tech article for the May edition, I read THIS ARTICLE about the value of bicycle fittings. A riding buddy, named Jen, got a professional fitting. She couldn’t praise it enough due to the fact that all of her saddle issues were resolved after local bike shop (LBS) salespeople said she needed to “get used to her new position.” Knowing my time in the saddle during my first attempt at a Super Randonneuring series would far exceed anything I had ever done before, I decided to see if a session with her fitter would help me as well.
Many cyclists balk at the idea of spending good money for a fitting. But Jen found it well worth it. Each fitting takes approximately three hours. The fitter, named Andrew, first measures the bike. He then takes 18 various measurements of the rider from head to toe. He discovered Jen has a leg length discrepancy, commonly referred to as “LLD.” This 0.9-cm discrepancy turned out to be the cause of her saddle issues. Andrew compensated by adding a shim to her left cleat as well as other adjustments to her saddle, stem and cleats. In her words, “The LBS did a great job getting me close. But it took extra attention to get honed in. You cannot put a price tag on riding as pain free a possible.”
I began a Super Randonneur series and an R-12 series this year. The two ultra-distance series includes monthly 200-km rides as well as 300, 400 and 600-km rides (600-km is 373 miles). My first 300-km ride is this weekend and will include night riding and likely some periods of rain. Darkness and rain are irrelevant to a fitting. But being comfortable in these conditions maximizes my chance finishing the ride. Since my knees and neck usually ache after 100 miles, I thought attention beyond a “standard” bike fitting might pay off on a longer ride. Jen’s report of significant improvement after her session with Andrew compelled me to make an appointment.
Andrew did all of the same measurements that he did with Jen. In short, my cleats were already where they needed to be and I had no LLD. I made him aware of a previous shoulder injury as well as limited hip movement (which affects everything, BTW). He set up lasers to view my knee movement and made other observations. In the end, he recommended and installed shoe inserts to correct a slight cant in my feet as well as a shim on each pedal axle to widen my stroke. Both were to improve my knee track. Coincidentally, he had said my “sitz bones” were slightly wider than average, making my Brooks B17 saddle a perfect choice. The most shocking adjustment was the raising of my saddle by 3-cm! “You have long legs that can make a lot of power with the saddle at optimum height,” he said. It took a while to get used to the new saddle height. He did not make changes to my stem because he felt my needs were beyond the range of my 58-cm frame (too large, he said). This was where we disagreed.
I visited a trusted and seasoned salesperson, named Rodney, at a favorite LBS for a second opinion. “Three centimeters? That’s an ocean,” he exclaimed. He validated the saddle height once I was on the trainer and was shocked that I had been set so low (not by his shop). I was comfortable. So I had never questioned it. He angled my saddle down just a hair to compensate for the increased height. He shared some theories which suggest that our ankles compensate for knee alignment issues, making shims unnecessary. We’re exploring options for the front of the bike. Rodney likes my fit at the front of the bike. I’m inclined to get the handlebars higher since raising the saddle 3-cm means my bars feel 3-cm lower than I’m accustomed. I may have to acclimate to a “new normal.” Regardless, my test was to see if I felt any knee pain during the Tour de Cure.
My TdC didn’t end with absolutely no knee pain. However, it was substantially less than usual; more dull and general than sharp and specific. I think that’s probably normal after 103 miles. But it’s fantastic when I consider that I rode a few rolling hills at a somewhat-brisk pace. Minimizing knee pain alone made the time and money spent with Andrew worthwhile. The 300-km ride this weekend will be another, longer test.
I don’t recommend running straight to a pro if you haven’t let the LBS try to set you up first. My experience with two fitters (a certified fit pro vs. a seasoned salesperson) taught me that the process is subjective… VERY subjective! Andrew seemed to prefer me sitting with a short reach and a 56-cm frame while Rodney preferred to see me with a longer reach and a 58-cm frame. I feel I belong somewhere in the middle and on a 58-cm frame for more handlebar height. Each fitter brought fixes the table and gave me concepts to consider. In the end, it’s my body that feels the pain. No fitter has to answer to it. Having input from two fitters arms me with information I can use to resolve specific issues.
I definitely recommend seeing your LBS for a fitting. An extra set of eyes looking at you from 10-feet away and from every angle can provide great perspective. However, if you find yourself trying to fix that last detail or one thing the LBS couldn’t quite resolve, then perhaps it’s time to see someone who specializes in fittings, especially one who does it every day. Is it really “too much money” if a professional fitting makes riding a bike even better, especially if it makes the 600-km or 1200-km rides that much more achievable?