Here’s a deeper look at Fit, with the help of the pro’s at Bicycle Ranch in Scottsdale Arizona.
The best bike fitters will have a full range of saddles, stems, bars and posts ready for you to try.
In the next few weeks, you’ll see a super-PEZ-Clusive review of a custom fit bicycle (yeah we have it rough…), and you will no doubt be taken by this “secret” bike and its great looks (including a custom Pez paint job!). But even more impressive than the Bicycle itself, is the extremely detailed process that needs to happen long before you open up the catalogues and magazines (and your wallet!) to try and pick what you want.
Over the past few years (and with the help of a ton of manufacturers), I have been able to figure out what to look for in equipment in order to get the most out of it, be it comfort or speed (or a combination). Being a test guy has given me an opportunity to ride just about everything in the way of high-end gear; Shoes, Pedals, Frames, Wheels, Bar-Stem and post combo’s, the list is big for sure. But far more important than the latest cool-factor is that I’ve been able to figure out what works best for me and, more importantly, what doesn’t. As a reviewer, I can tell you what a product is like, but what nobody can say in an article adressed to everyone is whether or not a product is perfect for you, because no product is “best” for everyone.
If there is one “best” benefit of seeing an extremely well qualified Fitter, it’s the ability to have someone save you the hassle (and the enormous cost) of finding out what works.
Look no further than EBay to find thousands of other people’s bad choices for sale at a fraction of the cost. There are great deals to be found on Ebay, but it’s not a deal if it’s not what you need!
So what makes a qualified Fitter?
It sure as hell isn’t an obscure certificate. If I had a nickel for every shop I have seen with a fitting “expert” that had very few of the tools (mental, physical or both) required to do the job, I would have a lot of nickels. 50 bucks to “Billy-Bobs” fitting school can get you piece of paper implying that you know what you’re doing. In lots of cases, the certificate might mean that someone sent Billy-Bob a check and maybe sat through Billy’s video. That’s not what I look for in the way of “expert” advice when I’m getting ready to spend 10 times more money on a bike than I did my first car. And it sure as hell doesn’t go a long way to gaining my trust in fixing medical problems that are the reward for thousands of miles of effort on a poorly-fit bike.
Our case study is with the guys at Bicycle Ranch who, on top of being Serotta Advanced Fitters (something you don’t get by watching a video…), also happen to have a lot of high caliber experience working with cream-of-the-crop level athletes. And, more importantly, they are also great helping off the peg riders like me. It’s no surprise to see someone in the shop that earns a paycheck on a bike, but us regular folks are just as important, and there are different ways to fit people that are riding for different purposes.
My main contact at the Ranch is Paraic McGlynn (three guesses where he’s from…). Paraic is the lead leg measurer, COO and co-owner at Bicycle Ranch and brings a little Euro-flair to the shop with both international coaching and racing experience. While I’ve met lots of folks whose sole qualification for offering advice seems to be that they raced overseas and they speak with a funny accent, Paraic has a lot going on below the surface.
Paraic has been coaching and fitting elite athletes in Europe and the USA since the early nineties. He began studying full time in an Irish Government sponsored coaching program in 1991. His results and performance on the course secured him a position as an instructor after he graduated from the program (kinda like Top Gun then?). Paraic spent two years working in the program, and then furthered his training by studying abroad with the French Cycling Federation.
Through out the ‘90s Paraic became involved coaching at a national level. He began working with the Junior and Ladies National Teams at National training camps and events. Paraic also became involved in developing the coach education network in Ireland and worked closely with the Irish National Coaching and Training Center. Paraic completed his Coach Education tutor course in 1996 (that’s coaching coaches…). He has also worked with male and female members of Irish World Championship teams, and has coached many national champions. He has an extensive knowledge of sports physiology, and since coming to America has continued his education by becoming a USCF coach, and by being certified as an Advanced Fitting Specialist by Serotta (who have the best highly available national standard for fitting certification that I have found).
So yeah, Paraic didn’t just watch a video and get a certificate…
Tools of the Trade?
Something to look for in a proper fitter is a very large selection of tools designed to get you situated properly on the equipment you already own (if that’s possible). Bicycle Ranch will sell you a new bike without much argument, but are just as happy to get you back out the door on what you already ride. To do that, Fitters need a set up, with loads of stems, posts and bars to see what will get you where you need to be.
One of the most common questions we get is “what saddle is most comfortable?” But that is such a personal preference thing that we simply can’t tell you. But a well equipped (see below) qualified fitter should have no problem getting your booty matched up!
The Bicycle Ranch also use a bunch of tech tools (like Lasers, Motion Capture Video, Digital angle meters, etc.) that look more like they are getting ready to build a machine than work on a body. Then again, building a machine is pretty much exactly what they are doing.
And they can find flaws in both you and / or your bike (having you lined up doesn’t work to well if your rig is screwed up…).
If they can’t make your current bike work, they can get you on Serotta’s Fit Cycle. and accurately record all your measurements (once you’re set up properly). Reviewing that information allows them to suggest frames that make sense and also lets them look at components from all manufacturers (in a range of prices) to make the whole new package work out just right.
Not every rider needs the same thing!
Good fitters know that different people are trying to accomplish different things. I used to concentrate on the maximum performance level available, where I am now more concerned with performance with a solid dose of real world comfort. I mean, nobody is tossing a 6-7 figure salary at me to ride as fast as possible, so why in the hell should I put myself in a position that I find less than very comfortable (while maintaining the ability to hammer if I feel like it…)? If someone (stupid) wants to send me mid 6 figures to go fast, but ride with my ass 4 inches over my head, no problem. Till then, I would rather not hammer everywhere with a bad back and Italian Leather Enema, just to look like some of the Euro pro’s (who are, on average, starting to ride with less drop anyhoo!)
What’s it gonna cost you?
The fit Process takes on a few levels at Bicycle Ranch, ranging from $90 for a standard Professional Fitting and $150 for the Advanced Professional Fitting to $300 for the Advanced Medical fitting. Fortunately I pleaded and begged my way into the full medical fit and, when I was done, I would have happily paid the bill.
For less than the cost of a one piece Carbon Bar and stem combo, that wouldn’t have fit me anyway (hello Ebay…), I found that I was, well,… F*#~ked up.
Not only did I have a leg length discrepancy, but I had developed a few other problems over the past few years since my last proper and had been tweaking my position little by little, to the point where I was in trouble. My saddle was too far up and too far back and, with the help of the video analysis I noticed (after Paraic pointed to it) a huge dead spot in my stroke.
As huge as it was, finding the dead spot wasn’t the biggest benefit to using the Video. The best part came with using it bit by bit in correcting the problem without over correcting it. They sit folks down (like the guy below) and run it back for you bit by bit, and can actually run two video’s side by side (of your old and new position) as you’re on the bike, to help you see what you’re trying to accomplish.
Over the past 2 years, I had done the logical thing, and moved my saddle up and back to help prevent front-of-knee pain. But it turns out that it was not being caused by saddle position being to far forward or low, but by a pretty large leg length difference that caused a different stroke on either side.
PowerCranks (God, Allah, or Buddha or whomever, bless those things!) had given me enough strength to simply power through the top of my pedal stroke, and the force actually hid the dead spot in a portion of the down stroke from showing up on the spin scan on the CompuTrainer. And even a small loss on the down stroke costs you plenty…
The Presciption or a part of it…
Shims in the short leg’s shoe (Thanks to Lemond Fitness’s Le Wedges, which also gave me the slight foot tilt I needed…) and poof, no more figure 8’s made by my left knee. But those elegant figure 8’s were also a result of the aforementioned leg length difference and also due to poor foot mechanics, pelvic rotation and a tight piriformis (a part of your ass that you don’t want to be too tight…). The vertical laser helped me see this symphony of undesirable movement (that I had created with the bad saddle position) in the huge mirror in front of me. So the second thing we did was change the saddle position quite a bit.
A few weeks later, no more knee pain even with the saddle down and forward. I was also producing power through the entire stroke now. A consistent 4% more power at the same heart rate. That’s basically EPO folks, and I’m not gonna die of a heart attack from a new position…
The other thing that the new position and wedges did was keep my pelvis from rotating (dipping to the left because that leg was shorter), and that solved a problem with a blood vessel at my Ischial Tuberosity that had been diagnosed as ready for the same surgical repair that Stuey O’Grady (and a few others) had. That was going to cost about 30 times more than this fitting and consult! I am an O’Grady fan, but I will stick to owning a replica jersey and drinking Fosters if I want something in common, thank you very much…
All these problems surprised the heck out of me because I had been seen by (and ridden with) some pretty qualified people, and the thing I heard the most was “you have a wonderfully smooth pedal stroke”. (One of these guys coaches a list of Euro Pro’s a mile long!) I basically had enough strength to hide my problems over the last couple of years, but the problems were getting slowly and progressively worse, my ability had been in a slow decline that I had falsely attributed it to ageing…
The net result of these problems not only require shims and a refit, but that I get some help with correcting musculoskeletal imbalances that have been drilled into my body over the past 4 years through literally millions of repetitions of movement. I have seen a sports specific therapist and some very simple work has me feeling better than I have probably ever felt. (You’ll get another article on “Nate the Magician” later…)
My new position also required some heavy massaging of my frame size requirements and components that I will be set up on (top tube changed 2+ cm and stem size changed 2) … And Bicycle ranch had the gear I needed to get me back out the door on the bike I already had…
I’ll take a 4% power spike (and that is growing now instead of declining…), an eliminated surgical procedure and far better overall health for a couple hundred bucks any day! (note that not everyone will benefit the same as I did, and some will gain more…)
Stay tuned for part two of the extremely detailed process of “qualifying” for a new Serotta.
Till then, see the guys at BICYCLE RANCH. You can also find them at Bicyclefitting.com. Ask For Paraic (say “pah-rick”). And see if he can get you in for a fit.
Note: if you have other experiences with gear, or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews, or a slap in the head if you feel the need!
Send your comments to: email@example.com