Mirror, Mirror.

Part II on the state of bike fitting

No, I’m not obsessed with bike fitting, but these days I am on a tear about integrity, the honesty of purpose or the absence of either.

Recently, a cyclist assaulted me electronically with a four-punch barrage over an experience he’d had seven years ago. Having paid for ‘professional fits’ at four locations that delivered four very different results he was rather convinced that I, and the fitting school I started represented nothing more than a marketing sham. Two thousand, five hundred fifty-five days later he was still peeved.

While over the years the overwhelming majority of feedback I’ve had from consumers has been extremely positive, I have a feeling that this individual’s experience is probably more common than the industry would like to admit. I never did receive any of the details from this hapless fellow- whether the differences were in millimeters or centimeters, nor were any of a myriad of circumstances that could have revealed valid explanations for the variations provided. But in truth, at a macro level those details don’t really matter. The point stays the same-the industry cannot yet guarantee consistency to a public that finally understands that ‘the fit’ matters.

But there is hope.

The Medicine of Cycling Task Force (MOC) is a non-profit organization that was formed by a group of doctors, PT’s and bicycle fitters with the noble goal of trying to establish standards of ‘best practice’ for the sport’s practitioners.  Everything from bike fitting to how emergency responders should prepare for a bike race, to dealing with face lacerations falls underneath the MOC umbrella.  Praise should go to the Interbike 2013 organizers for giving MOC a 90-minute presentation slot to address bike fit.

There, two of the task force’s founding members, Curtis Cramblett and Wade Hall, demonstrated the essentials of a professional bike fit while highlighting the standard guidelines—principles that are widely supported by almost the entire bike fitting community.  In an honest and transparent effort to prove their non-partisanship, Curtis and Wade did their best to tip their hats to over a dozen companies and ‘schools’ who now participate in fitting the world’s cyclists. The room was filled to standing-room-only and it was gratifying to witness the obvious enthusiasm of both the presenters and attendees. When the Q&A was over, still left on the table to discuss and debate further was everyone’s lingering question: “but what is the best?”

Conveniently for me, the 4th Annual Medicine of Cycling Conference (where I was to join as a panelist) was being held right on the heels of Interbike, so the quest for the best continued unimpeded.  Hosted at the US Cycling Headquarters in Colorado Springs, the opening day featured lectures on topics such as triage management at events and various graphically detailed discussions of dealing with traumas. Day two of the conference covered more jaw dropping medical discussions (yes, literally what happens when your jaw is uh…) as well as two hours of presentation and discussion on bike fitting. Seated along side me were undeniably some of the best minds from the ‘fit’ world and to a person all agreed, that the science of ‘best fit’ is, like delivering ‘the best’ of anything in medicine.  It’s an evolving art complimented by training, tools, talent and testing.

As a great case in point, one attendee asked Dan Guillemette, MSC, BSC from Team Sky, “when are you going to fix Chris Froome’s bike position?”  It was a question that hundreds of fitters would have loved to be able to ask, thinking, “Yea, if only I could have Froome in my Fit Studio for a couple hours imagine what he could do then!” You see, for the fitting obsessed, the Team Sky star’s seemingly awkward bike position is something that fitters have been clucking about since ‘Froomie’ burst onto the scene during the 2012 Tour de France.  Not taken aback, Guillemette explained that they are proceeding with care, testing, trying small changes and learning about this one exceptional athlete a day at a time and finding what may appear to be obvious is not necessarily the case.  They are assuming nothing.  Words to live by.

So for the moment, where does this leave fitters who want to deliver the best service and cyclists everywhere who want to receive the best fit?  My advice is frustratingly simple.

Fitters need to approach each cyclist the way Team Sky works with their athletes.  Assume nothing.  Proceed with discipline, humility, and honesty, taking special care to preserve your integrity.  Confidence will follow. Use your tools, which is all that they are, but most of all use your eyes, ears, ask lots of questions and see each fitting as a process of discovery. Your clients will trust you.

Cyclists, ask your fellow cyclists for recommendations.  Don’t be afraid to ask your fitter for referrals and when possible, the referrals should be with individuals who are somewhat like you- age, sex, ability, and cycling discipline (TT, Tri, Road, etc).  Chances are far more likely than not that you’ll have an enjoyable experience and your cycling time will be the better for it.

In the meantime, have a great ride,

Ben

 

9 thoughts on “Mirror, Mirror.

  1. There are good doctors and bad doctors, good auto mechanics and bad auto mechanics, good bicycle fitters and bad bicycle fitters. As you implied it’s often a question of ethics. It’s also forced by limitations of equipment. With current production frames there are fewer sizes. Crank arm length, stem and bar choices are more limited when it comes to sizing. I laude you ,Ben, for creating awareness of bicycle positioning through classes, but, this knowledge is ultimately gained empirically. I also think it easy for fitters to be insensitive to riders. There needs to be empathy for the consumers goals and time commitment.

  2. Ben,
    I have never been properly fitted to any of my custom road bicycles; however, over 37 years of cycling, I have learned, via trial and error, what works for me and what does not. I’ve also learned that as I age, the numbers change too. I appreciate your on-going mission to provide a scientifically grounded fitting for cyclists; however, in a society where many folks tend to rely overmuch on ‘experts’ as a substitute for gaining experience and wisdom of their own, bike fit can become another ‘holy grail’ of cycling performance rather than but one factor among many. I don’t believe in ‘magic bullets’; bike fit is just too variable to be reduced to a single formula, but, at the same time, I recognize that we could all benefit from learning sound principles. The first principle might be this: virtually none of the fitting principles are absolutes. Thus, your advice that ‘fitters’ cultivate ‘humility’ rings true, indeed.
    Cheers,
    Karl

  3. I work with used, donated, stock bikes. I try hard to do the best fitting I can with what is at hand. I stress that how I set up the bike is my best approximation of fit; that things may have to be moved a bit to dial it in. I wish that I could have been at that presentation and expanded my knowledge. Angelo

  4. Is there a rule to follow here ? Italian frame builders were used to speak about the appreciation it was the common sence that we call ‘art’ today that was making great bikes. Today we want to rely exclusively on an awkward science and we screw up, sometimes.
    Last all this was great when custom bikes were trendy now out of the box bikes are the trend. I have been riding my seven for 2 weeks, in the Bay Area and custom bikes seem to be gone.
    May be it is time for a revolution here at least in the mind

    Last some high end bikeshops tried to make too much of those fitting methods.

  5. Almost thirty-five years ago, I was sized for my steel Colorado by Ben on his size-cycle.
    After all this time, and a subsequent minor position adjustment by Dr. Andrew Pruitt, the bike still fits like a glove — A true testament to how right Ben got it the first time!

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