Tim Williams makes fitting bikes to their riders his business. Having worked with cyclists for over 30 years, his service is designed to optimise the riding experience. We asked him why cyclists of all levels might consider bike fitting an important part of staying healthy on their bikes.
Why is bike fitting important?
Cycling is a broad church (to say the least), but if there is a common theme it’s that a good bike fit gets rid of as much unnecessary tension as possible. I think that tension is the enemy whatever type of cycling you do. It makes you stiff and sore on long rides, limits your ability to clear lactic acid during intense rides, and prevents you feeling comfortable and in control on any ride.
Tension can come from trying to hold yourself still on the saddle or trying to keep the pressure off parts of your body that don’t like it – normally your hands, your perineum, your knees or your back. A good bike fit eliminates this unnecessary tension and leaves you to get on with the riding. You’re also likely to be tense if you don’t quite feel in control of your bike, for instance if you’re uncomfortable taking one hand off the handlebars or looking behind. They’re essential skills for riding safely and are much easier with a good set-up.
If you want to cover long distances or go fast, it’s important that you are able to use the big muscles in your legs and backside effectively, and to save energy by staying low and being aerodynamic. A good bike fit enables all of this.
What’s the process?
There are three contact points between the bike and rider (five if you count your hands and feet separately). In a nutshell the fitting process involves adjusting the position of the feet on the pedals, and the positions of the saddle and handlebars. However, it’s not quite that simple: everyone is unique, every bike is different, and everyone’s starting position is different. The first part of the process is for me to watch my client ride and understand their issues. I normally know in which direction the adjustments need to go and sometimes they’re quite straightforward. However, most bike frames are made for an averagely shaped person and sold with components that offer a fairly narrow range of adjustment. DIY bike fitting is often limited by this range of adjustment. I have a collection of components that extend the range in every direction. The process is iterative, with the client riding, feeling and understanding the effect of each change.
Because everyone is different the adjustments and effects are unique to each fitting, but typically people feel the points at which different muscles switch off (relax) and others engage, and the points where the pressure comes off their hands and where they feel the saddle under their sit bones.
Who is it for?
I would say everyone who rides a bike but that’s not really true, as plenty of people find a set-up that’s adequate for their needs by themselves, either by accident or design. However, I see racers, tourists, leisure riders, commuters, veterans and novices. I see expensive bikes, cheap bikes, town bikes, mountain bikes, carbon bikes, metal bikes, light bikes, heavy bikes. I see fit people, fat people, tall people and short people. I see people of all ages and all abilities.
Because bikes are normally sold to people on the basis of their height, and the length of their legs, I see a lot of people whose bodies and arms are slightly longer or shorter than normal (i.e. what bike manufacturers think is normal).
Are there common signs which might indicate the need for bike fitting?
If you don’t feel confident or comfortable, or if you feel that even the shortest ride is hard work, it could well be that your bike set-up is a big factor.
If you’re a regular cyclist and you enjoy the first hour, but then find that your bike’s getting uncomfortable and that you’ve had enough, it could well be that your set-up is the cause.
If your cycling is spoiled by pains in your hands, wrists, arms, neck, back, undercarriage, hips, knees, ankles or feet, then you would almost definitely benefit from a fitting.
If your quads burn when you’re riding uphill or if you’re nervous descending fast or riding close to others in a group, your set-up could be preventing you from finding a solution.