Through his years as a bike fit professional and a product tester, Rick Shultz has seen a lot of bad bike fits disguised as “professional”. In beginning to understand how important the cyclist’s synchronization with the bicycle is, we asked Rick about some of the basics regarding bike fits.

Illustration by Lisa Eriksson

Why do I need a bike fit?

Bottom line: A bike fit makes the cycling experience as enjoyable and safe as possible. A bike shops’ job is to sell you a bicycle that is sized for you, and the bike fitter’s job is to make the bike fit you. Given that a bicycle is a symmetric machine and a human is an asymmetric machine, forcing an asymmetric machine to conform to a symmetric machine will lead to problems. A bike fitter will ensure that the bike fits you, not the other way around. A good bike fitter will take an in-depth look at your body in its natural and relaxed state and adjust your cleats, seat post, saddle and cockpit so that you stay in that relaxed and injury free state while cycling.

What is the most common fit problem you see in cycling?

There are actually several. The first problem by far is bad cleat alignment. You can clearly see this by the cyclist that has their knees going way out to the side at the top of the pedal stroke. Not only is this inefficient, but it is damaging to the knees. When the knees splay out to the sides, you are not only over-stretching the lateral collateral ligament, but also putting extra pressure on the lateral condyle and lateral meniscus, which will only cause knee pain later in life. A good bike fitter can have your knees going straight up and down during the first visit. The second problem is saddle height; most cyclists are either too high or too low in the saddle. Lastly, the third problems I see are that the handlebars are too low. This causes over-stretching of the hamstrings, which not only robs a lot of power, but also causes a sore low back. Correctly fit, you should not have lower back pain. A good bike fitter can fix all of these items.

How do you know getting a bike fit helps the cyclist?

Communicating with the client is the best way to really know how the bike fit has changed their riding experience. Typical feedback from clients after a bike fit includes testimonials that they’d never able to ride so well until after a bike fit, and that this was the first time they have been able to ride pain-free. I’ve also heard from competitive triathletes who say that after the bike fit, they set a personal best at an Ironman event. During the bike fit I will measure the cyclist’s power before and after without them knowing – I end up seeing 10-30 watts increase post bike fit. – RS

Ed Note: Coach Rick Schultz is an avid cyclist who trains, races and coaches in Southern California. Rick is an engineer by trade, and in addition to being a USA Cycling (USAC) Level 2 coach, he’s a bike fitter and prolific product reviewer. As a USAC Certified Power Based Trainer, Rick specializes in helping the athlete achieve their goals via training with power. As a USAC Certified Skills Instructor, Rick helps athletes ride safer and race better via his bicycle handling skills clinics. Rick also teaches the local Beginner Racer Program (BRP) for USA Cycling. He’s the author of Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit as well as Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist and Triathlete. Check his product reviews website, www.biketestreviews.com, and his coaching site, www.bikefitnesscoaching.com. Rick is also the bike fitter for Cycles Veloce (Team Simple Green) and Monster Media Racing. Rick can be reached at [email protected] or at 949-606-2767