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Bike fit is not a one-and-done event: Why, when & how an updated bike fit makes sense

Getting a bike fit on a semi-regular basis will be beneficial for both comfort and performance.

by Sandie Orlando, CL Performance Training

Al Caballero measuring the hip angle. Photo: Sandie Orlando (CL Performance Training).

We all know that getting a proper bike fit is important when we get a new bike, especially if we’re changing from a road to a tri bike. But is it a one-and-done set up? Not according to Alan Caballero of CL Performance Training, a certified F.I.S.T. dynamic bike fitter.

“If you’re adjusting yourself a lot when on your bike, can’t stay in aero position for very long, or can’t rehabilitate a persistent injury despite treatment, these are indications that you might need to update your bike fit,” he says.

Caballero stresses that comfort comes first because performance will not follow if you can’t sustain your position throughout a ride or race. A bike set up for an aggressive sprint race won’t necessarily work for spending hours in the saddle training for a longer distance. Not only that, a really low torso angle, or excessively curved back, could adversely affect your body’s ability to get fuel to the stomach and/or keep it there – critical for long-distance training.

Notwithstanding comfort issues, there are other considerations at play.

Over the course of your career as an athlete, your fitness and skills change along with your race type, distance and performance goals. Your training program and optimal position on the bike should reflect and support those changes. A bike fit, or revision, may make the difference in managing a persistent injury or enabling you to pursue more assertive performance goals. Even something as subtle as a change of saddle or bike shoes or a new aero helmet may require some adjustments to ensure your position on the bike is optimized for comfort and performance. 

When is the best time to take a look at a bike fit or revision?  

Ultimately, it should start with an in-depth discussion between you and your fitter, with your overall season and long-term goals taken into consideration. 

In an ideal world, having a dynamic bike fit before you make a new bike purchase ensures you select a frame type and size that will accommodate your unique fit requirements. (Retrofitting a poor selection is one of the most challenging scenarios for both rider and fitter!) 

If a new bike isn’t in the plan, the best time to consider revising or tuning your fit is when you are about six weeks into the beginning of your season, or after a couple of weeks of riding outside. Both these allow you to have some fitness and settling in of the body to the training you are doing. You’ll be bringing a higher degree of fitness to the session while leaving adequate time for adaptation.  

Equipment changes, starting off a new training season, dealing with an injury, or when it’s time for a big bike tune-up are also good times to have another look at your bike fit. 

Here’s why it matters. When you change to different shoes or pedal system, a pedal fit and adjustment to saddle height should be considered.  Cleat holes differ from shoe to shoe and the cleats should be adjusted to sit correctly under your foot.  The stack of the cleats and pedal may require adjustment to saddle height.  

Saddles are all so different and need to be fit to ensure you maintain your fit parameters, but also to ensure you’re sitting on the right part of the saddle and are properly supported by it. Saddle sores and numbness are some of the most common issues faced by cyclists and can be difficult to alleviate. 

Finally, Caballero suggests that another time for a revision would be four to six weeks prior to your ‘A’ race.

“Less than four weeks before a race is suboptimal because your final race build may present too much stress and affect the adaptation to the position,” he says. “If revisions are needed due to discomfort, there’s less time to adapt and settle into the revised position.”

What does a dynamic bike fit entail?

A dynamic bike fit is done on a special bike that allows the fitter to make adjustments on the fly. In the case of a revision or tune-up, the coordinate limits of your bike and equipment will be utilized to ensure that the end results can then be transcribed to your own bike.

It takes about two hours, and allows the athlete to compare minor adjustments to the positions while sitting on the bike and riding fairly continuously. This is the real value of a dynamic bike fit.  Changes made in increments (millimetres) can make a big difference in comfort and affect power. These changes can quickly be made without having to get on and off the bike to provide an instantaneous comparison. (Think of your last eye exam, which is better…A or B? You have to go back and forth a few times to make that judgement.) 

Caballero recommends that athletes wear their race kit to the fitting, and bring their shoes, aero helmet (if you wear one) and saddle to ensure consistency and identify how the gear works with the fit. Once the fit is complete, he recommends that the athlete and fitter reconnect and review in two weeks after spending sufficient time in the new position to identify any areas that may need a tweak, since adaptation is part of the equation.

If you can’t remember when you had your last bike fit, it’s probably time for an update. Treating it as a one-and-done event will leave you with a lot of opportunities to leave performance gains on the table at best, and in the worst case, aggravate a potential injury that can take the enjoyment out of your rides.

Sandie Orlando is a CL Performance Training age group athlete, blogger & contributor

Al Caballero is a certified F.I.S.T. bike fitter and coach with CL Performance Training in Burlington, ON. www.clperformancetraining.com