“You may remember your first childhood bike. Once those training wheels were gone, you were a new kid; you were INDEPENDENT. You could hop on your bike and go where you wanted.
Your first bike was a gift from your folks, a hand-me-down, or purchased at the then equivalent to Toys-R-Us. If you were lucky, you got to go pick out your own bike at a local sporting goods store. To you, color was most important. The selection process was most likely simple: you fell in love with one, an adult checked to see if you could reach the pedals and the handlebars and, if you were really lucky, you got to put a bell on your bike and maybe even a basket or some cool decals.
What’s wrong with this picture? Very little. Perhaps the most important thing about kids and their bikes is that they get outside and they play. Early riding is more about play and games and tricks than it is about logging miles.
Now that you are an adult, the scenario may be quite different. If you own a bike, you respect it, you take care of it and you might even baby it. You may ride for fitness, recreation, competition or simply to get to and from work. In any event, you are logging miles. When you consider the number of times your legs go around in circles on a given ride, you begin to suspect that how they go around could be very important. It is. For cycling safety, comfort, efficiency and effectiveness, bike fit is the yardstick as well as the foundation of your experience.
What is bike fit? I asked Ian Buchanan, Founder of Fit Werx in Waitsfield. “It is a way of making sure a body will work on the bike,” Buchanan said. It’s all about you, the rider, your biomechanics, your technique. When what is uniquely individual about you: your strength, flexibility and attitude, are married to the mechanics of the bike, you free your potential to soar.” (to read the complete story, see the Rutland Herald and Times Argus, Active Vermont, Sunday, May 4, 2014)
Recently I had the privilege of spending a morning with Ian Buchanan at Fit Werx in Waitsfield. (pictured above – photo by Jeb Wallace-Brodeur) Yes, Ian, an experienced and very well respected professional bike fitter, fit my current road bike to me. But, my hours spent with Ian were packed with unintended benefits.
For one thing, I had to deeply consider myself. I needed to think hard about who I am, where I come from and where I hope to go as a cyclist. (Perhaps first I had to consider myself a cyclist. Always a bit self-deprecating, I needed to take a big gulp to even say the words.) I needed to recognize my strengths (yes, there are a few) and my weaknesses (sigh). Above all I had to say “I’m worth this,” and believe it. (I’m still working on that one.)
I’m worth WHAT, you may say? Ok, there is a fee involved and, if one pursues a better bike fit and ultimately a bike more suited to one’s body, fitness and goals, there is an even larger investment. But the cost is not all in dollars and cents. Part of the cost is in definition. One must recognize that he or she IS already a cyclist, spends hours in the saddle, rides for many miles, and can identify cycling as his or her go-to passion. After that, the rest becomes a matter of organization.
Establishing goals, a bucket list, begins the process. Structuring a means of reaching those goals and then paying the cost of energy and dedication comprises the continuing journey. The payoff is in finding sheer joy in riding, companionship and a sense of accomplishment. Byproducts include a more fit and healthy body, strength, endurance, self-discipline and a sense of what can only be experienced as happiness.
A bike is a partner, an extension of the rider. It must fit perfectly. We’re talking mm here. The many pieces of a bike can be tweaked and maneuvered into the form that best matches the skills, flexibility and size of the rider. If I learned only one thing during my bike fit session, I learned that IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RIDERS. It’s personal, individual and as complicated as each rider. Complexities, however, can be resolved and reworked into an efficient whole.
My bike fit was surprising and motivating. I was surprised to learn that some of the discomforts that I had assumed were simply a part of riding (“just get over it”) were, in fact, indicators of inappropriate fit. As the bike fit procedure progressed I learned more and more about my own specific pedal stroke and cycling technique and left motivated to reach new levels of ability.
Is a bike fit for everyone? Yes. If you ride, you should ride a bike that is suitable for you. Whether you are mountain bike, cyclocross, hybrid, or roadbike-specific, your bike should fit YOU.
Bike fit is not a candidate for the DIY generation. For my road bike, I chose to visit Fit Werx and was not disappointed. Some bike shops in the area offer bike fit. My recommendation would be to seek a certified professional bike fitter. (Aaron Bilsing at Onion River Sports in Montpelier has recently certified as a bike fit specialist.) Of course, there is variation within the profession but it’s a good place to start. In any event, do it. Now at the beginning of the season is a great time. It may take a few weeks to adjust to a newly fitted bike, but it’s worth the effort. You will eventually see changes in performance and comfort, i.e. overall cycling experience.