Over the last decade, there has been a huge surge in popularity of bike fitting and the assessment of riding position. Most cycle teams and even some bike shops employ the services of a bike fitter. Those looking to improve their riding position can pay, sometime sums into the hundreds of pounds, to have their position assessed and corrected. But is it worth it? And just what is the science behind bike fitting?
Getting the right ride position on road bikes is really important, in terms of both speed and comfort. Those new to cycling or who have never received proper instruction can sometimes adopt bad riding positions and get into bad habits. This can lead to an inhibited or hampered riding style that will slow you down or, in the worst-case scenario, cause long-term injury. Putting strain on the wrong place can be the underlying cause of chronic problems, surprisingly common amongst cyclists.
Shaving Seconds Other cyclists at more advanced levels are often looking to shave valuable seconds off their times and often identify correct riding positions as areas where these gains can be easily made. Changing your riding style slightly certainly seems to be a more convenient way of getting faster than spending hours in the gym or on the track.
All of this explains why bike fitting has become so popular but it has also come in for some pretty forthright criticism too. There’s a feeling among many cyclists that unless you’re riding at a really advanced level, bike fitting is fairly ineffectual. In track cycling, a few hundredths of a second may be the difference between silver and gold but for the average enthusiast it’s probably not going to make that much of a difference. It’s certainly not a difference worth £200 - a price that’s fairly standard for a professional bike fitting session.
A Full Fitting Session
A professional fitting session will take a few hours and assess all aspects of your riding style. Testing strain limits, times and power capabilities, the fitter will be able to make adjustments to your position. These adjustments take the form of seat adjustments, bar angle adjustments and the like, in an effort to produce a more effective and efficient riding style.
Bike fitting is especially popular with those who suffer from chronic injuries related to the sport. For them, a few hundred quid is nothing compared to the ability to cycle pain free. In these cases it is hard to argue that bike fitting does make a difference.
The fact remains, however, that most of us probably won’t benefit a great deal. A good riding position is one that makes you feel most comfortable on the bike. The ‘expert opinion’ is not always necessarily the right one either. Look at Graham Obree. Nicknamed the ‘Flying Scotsman’, Obree twice broke the world one hour record and was two-time world individual pursuit champion, all using a riding position that many initially laughed at. Yet, it worked for him no matter what the experts said.
For those in the anti-bike fitting camp, anyone willing to pay hundreds to have the saddle adjusted needs to see a doctor, not a bike fitter. They believe the whole thing is nothing more than a scam dreamt up by bike shops looking to upsell. The Emperors New Clothes and nothing more. But there are others who swear by it.
Essentially, as with most things, it comes down to personal preference. We’re all different and all have individual needs. If you do want to get faster or finally want to get over a niggling injury, then it might be for you. If you’re comfortable in your riding position and would rather spend the money on new kit, go for it. It is true that coaching can often remove natural talent by insisting too rigidly on doing it the way the coaching manual says.
Ultimately, though, it’s up to you.