Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Art of Bike Fit Revisited

About a year ago I posted much of my personal philosophy on bike fitting here on my blog. A recent question posed to fitting expert Steve Hogg on cyclingnews.com reminded me of one more point that I didn't make, which Steve makes so well. Here's the text of the question with Steve's answer - then I'll elaborate.


Specialized Body Geometry 3D Fit vs. Retul
What are your thoughts on the Specialized Body Geometry 3D Fit System versus the Retul Fit System? I am considering getting a fit with one or the other and would like to make an informed decision. What are the pros and cons of each?

Thank you for taking the time to answer.


Steve Hogg replies:

I can't answer your question in the way that you have framed it. What I will say is that the quality and experience of the person performing the fitting are much more important than whatever system they subscribe too. No system caters to everyone meaning that deviation from the 'norm' is often called for. That makes high level fitting a matter of judgement not brand name.

I would ask some questions of the various people you are considering and base your choice on what answers you get.


I recently consulted with one of the guys at my old store in Tennessee about the fit of a new bike of an old client of mine. The client had chosen not to work with our store on the new bike and there were some questions about whether the bike was actually fitted properly to her. Naturally, a discussion of some of the different fitting systems ensued (FitKit, BodyGeometry, Serotta, FitMaster, etc.) and the closing thought to the discussion that we came to was this: you don't ask your doctor what brand of stethoscope they use. You choose a doctor, not a stethoscope.

What does this mean in the bike fitting context? Bike Gallery is examining and considering some new fitting tools. We have some very skilled, knowledgeable, experienced, and intelligent bike fitters on staff who, like a military sharp-shooter, can spot the flaws in a bike fit from 30 meters. These people do not want to work with a set of fitting tools that tie their hands with pre-conceived ideas on how individuals should be positioned on their bikes (like the CONI standards I mentioned in my bike fit post last year). These bike fit "artists" understand that their clients are individuals and must be treated as such. Their clients all have different stories about why they ride their bikes. They all arrived at this point in their lives - the bike fitting session - for a different reason and via a different path. They have different goals, different levels of fitness, and different levels of flexibility. Oh yeah - and different bikes! To take each of these individuals and try to put them into the "box" of a standardized fit is akin to your doctor seeing each of his patients, spending some time collecting heart rate, blood pressure, and other vital stats; asking some lifestyle questions, and then handing them a bill and a prescription for penicillin. Huh?! What happens if his patient didn't have an infection, but instead has a sleeping disorder?

Some of the best, most well respected bike fitters in the world use some of the most simple tools to arrive at their conclusions for their clients. In Tennessee, the majority of my fitting clients' issues were possible to solve with a tape measure, level, wrenches, a calculator, and sharp pencil. The Italian "Greats" at Colnago, Bianchi, Pinarello, Tommasini, etc. work mostly with these tools. Many times there are no lasers, no size-cycle, and no CAD programs. Yet no one questions that these gentlemen know what they're doing. Their experience allows them to balance the art and science of their craft to arrive at a solution for their current client. When you go to Armani to have a suit made (which I do every month whether I need to or not...) do they scan you with lasers, plug your measurements into a computer program and have you try on an adjustable "sizing-suit"? No, because their tailor can work most confidently and efficiently with his tape-measure and soap stone. And no one questions that the tailor knows what they're doing.

This is not to say that these high-zoot tools do not have a place or are not tools that can be used to provide a better, more precise, more comfortable fit. I have used lasers, forefoot measuring devices, angle finders, and CAD programs for a variety of different clients. But, the trick is to not lean on these tools as a solution to every problem - but to know when to apply the right tool. A skilled carpenter does not own just one hammer, one saw, one chisel, and one file - but many varieties of these. However, true mastery in carpentry is not measured by how many tools the carpenter owns - instead by his correct and artful application of the tools he has for the completion of the job at hand.

So, do your homework. Ask questions. Investigate fitting systems and who uses them. But ultimately - before you choose where to be fitted - ask former clients about their level of satisfaction and interview the fitter; just like you would your family doctor. Because, just as with your doctor - the money and time you spend with your bike fitter can be the best thing you do for your cycling health.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Hi Matt, I like your posts. I live in the Los Angeles area. I was wondering if you knew any folks out here in LA or Orange Counties that you'd recommend to get a good bike fit or of anyone out here who would know who to talk to. you can email me at wnakamura at gmail dot com if you have any friends out this way.

  2. Matt,

    I personally own Steve Hogg's DVD called "Sitting Pretty". As an engineer, his philosophy sounds very good to me. Too many folks put emphasis on KOPS and other step by step textbook methods when in reality

    1. Everyone's body is different.
    2. Everyone has varying degrees of flexibility.

    I don't like bike fit kits or any other generalized scheme. I look at biomechanics, form and function. Otherwise, you're not winning bike races.

  3. Exactly right, Ron. I was just explaining to a couple yesterday who were seeing me about some Co-Motion touring bikes that if we don't treat riders as individuals and try to "cram" them into the same "box" of text-book fit, then most of them will be fitted incorrectly.

    Standardized fit kits are good guides - but knowing how to apply and interpret the information is where the real mastery begins.

    Wesley - I'll be in touch.



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