There is a lot to cover, and a lot to talk about, when it comes to the business and science of properly fitted bicycles. But there are plenty of places to read about all of that, and how we have arrived at a point where there are multiple schools, certifications, and tools costing tens of thousands of dollars (let’s not dwell on the fact that these methodologies are often at odds with one another) where there once was a measuring tape, a plumb bob, and (hopefully) a ton of experience and empathy.
I think it’s great that there are more and more folks, both in and out of the industry, that care about properly fitted bicycles. Of course, it’s odd to me that despite the segment’s rapid growth, even a casual observer can see that the vast majority of even “serious” cyclists aren’t very comfortable on their bikes. But maybe this has less to do with the fitting industry and more to do with what has happened to the bicycle industry itself. Maybe it has to do with the fact that high end road bikes have gone from a choice between custom geometry or one of 22 stock sizes to: XS, S, M, L, XL. Maybe we can blame Giant. But I suppose if we blame Giant, we must also blame Bontrager, and Ibis, and Brodie.
Sometimes I feel as if this entire trajectory has been intentional. Switch from metal to carbon. Switch from traditional to compact geometry. Produce a few molds, reducing SKUs throughout the supply chain. Lay off higher skilled workers, hire younger, lower skilled workers at the factory. Lower costs, increase profits. Simplify the purchasing process. Lay off higher skilled workers, hire younger, lower skilled workers at the bike shop. Is it any surprise that stock bikes often don’t fit well out of the box? Well, we conveniently have a [redacted] certified fitter on staff, and we’ll give you a discount on our basic package!
Or there’s the power-analysis approach. Or the aero approach. Or any number of other marketing techniques. Which is to say, there’s a legitimate market demand for this stuff, just like there’s a demand for carbon clinchers, or aerobars on bikes with tall head tubes, or Powermeters on hybrids, or road helmets with no ventilation holes. And so it goes.
Ben Serotta started SICI back in 1998, but well before that he was a guy who knew a ton about bicycle fit and physiology. He was always very gracious about sharing his experiences and ideas, and going back to the 80s, would give free clinics on fitting at Serotta dealers and various industry events. Of course, before Ben, there were any number of framebuilders, coaches, racers, and shop guys who had strong ideas about how a person should be properly fitted to a bicycle. My first coach was a proponent of the “two fist” method, KOPS, and obscuring one’s front hub with the handlebars. It’s gotten a lot more complicated since then.
This was in an era when most experienced folks, and by experienced I mean legs with 300,000km in them, would scoff at the idea of a bike fit. And to a large extent, they were right to scoff. Because what used to happen, and in some ways, what I wish still happened, is you just got a bike. Maybe it was the right size, or maybe it wasn’t, but you got a bike, and you’d show up on the club run. And either you had it, or you didn’t. And if you didn’t have it, if you looked like a spider balancing precariously on a pile of metal or child riding his father’s bike, someone would point it out, and show you the way. And over time, you’d begin to see it: souplesse. Maybe it was the old Polish guy who’d mostly ride at the back, and couldn’t climb, but from the hips down looked like a rider half his age. Or maybe it was a newspaper clipping featuring Laurent Fignon off the front in a stage at the Giro: elbows relaxed, back arched, eyes forward, and rad hair flowing in the breeze. But sooner or later, you knew it when you saw it, and you also knew it when you didn’t see it, and you’d tinker and tweak, until you figured it out on your own. Your position on the bike, your flexibility, the roundness of your spin, where and how you gripped the handlebars, your balance, your ability to remove a gilet at 45km/hr, your eyes, your comfort level after a six hour ride: these were all things that mattered, and everyone figured it out eventually. And nobody paid anything for it.
But here we are today, in an age when the average first year roadie has a mortgage and a couple of kids, someone worried at home about concussions and road rash, a sick carbon whip with sick carbon wheels, and a slammed stem. A slammed stem, and more often than not, the spine of a younger-middle-aged individual who might have been athletic in high school, maybe. But a slammed stem nonetheless. And a slammed 130mm stem if he reads the right blogs.
Remember when folks rode outside in the winter? Remember when folks rode outside in the winter on bikes with stems you could raise in the off season, because it’s a little more comfortable?
But I get it, I think I understand what’s going on now. Folks don’t want to be told what to do, or how to do it by peers. Experience means nothing. You get what you pay for! So the new paradigm is: (1) Buy sick bike. (2) Buy sick powermeter. (3) Hire sick cycling coach. (4) Buy sick bike fit. (5) Buy sick race wheels. (6) Successsssssssssssssssss.
All that said, I have a deep and abiding respect for those folks who not only have been doing this thing for a long time, but can offer something unique. Something of real value. Something that requires years of experience, and training, and practice. There are fitters today with a strong background in physiology and sports injuries. This can be incredibly important for some folks. There are fitters who are up to date with the latest and greatest aerodynamic trends and theories. And it’s a great time for triathletes and time trialists looking to eke out the smallest benefits. As far as traditional fitters go, in the Chicagoland region, the story begins and ends with Tony Bustamante of Velosmith. Without going into Tony’s background or methods, know that if you’re looking for a minimalist, confident, and complete bike fit: there’s nobody better.
All that said, there is such a thing as a bike fit service here in Tativille. And there has been from day one. Here’s how it goes:
We meet over coffee at your favorite cafe. We talk about your riding history, your athletic background, your taste in music, your injuries, and what kind of person you’d like to be on a bicycle.
We put you on your bike inside, or the Serotta fit bike, or both. We take some measurements, look at your flexibility, we talk. We tweak.
Whether you’re a road racer, a commuter, a bike camper, a weirdo, or a grass crit champion, I can help you. And if I can’t, I can refer you to any number of local domain experts.
Most importantly, we plan to ride together, so I can see all of this in action. And we probably meet again indoors, to measure, and tweak, and swap parts, and look at your spin again.
Maybe in a week, or a month, or a season, things get better. Because they will get better.
You pay me $1. And if you think it’s worth $400, or $300, or $50, that’s great. Donate that money to an up and coming junior. Or a kids program like Blackstone Bicycles. Or have me build you some sick tubulars. But don’t pay me $400 for it.
There’s no catch. You don’t have to order a bike. You don’t have to own a sick bike. You don’t have to be in a secret club. You don’t have to be fast, or cute, or even nice. (OK, you have to be nice.) Just ride your bike a ton, and when you feel like you have something to share, go ahead and share it. Maybe one day you’ll be the Polish guy with mad souplesse at the back of the club run.