Women’s guide to cycling: Do I need a bike fit?
A question that arises often amongst road cyclists is – Do I need a bike fit? And like many questions, there isn’t one simple answer. In short, a bike fit is to make you sit more comfortably on your bike and to help you ride more efficiently.
From my experience bike fits are most beneficial to cyclists who are stepping to a serious competitive level, those who have a problem with discomfort caused by a myriad of things, and those who are returning from an injury.
Like most riders, I didn’t have a bike fit when I started riding a road bike. The shop where I bought my first bike just adjusted the seat height in a two-minute setup. Thankfully, despite the slightly haphazard approach I was relatively comfortable from the start.
My bike fit
It wasn’t until I had been riding for about five years that I had a professional fit. At the time I worked in a bike shop and as a Specialized dealer, they offered Body Geometry Fit so as a staff member I was offered a bike fit. It was also helpful for me to understand the mechanics of a bike fit so I could sell it to other customers.
By the time I had this fit I was already on to my second road bike – a Specialized Amira and like my first bike I found it relatively comfortable before the fit. The bike fit took about two and a half hours where trained bike fitter James asked me some questions, checked my flexibility, and then put my bike on an indoor trainer for me to ride, and for James to make adjustments.
New saddle & stem
By the time the fit was complete, I had a new saddle, shorter stem, and my levers had moved forward. The new saddle was the same width as my previous one but instead of being flat (Specialized Ruby), it kicked up at the back (Specialized Oura) and felt way more supportive. I thought the Ruby was pretty good until I changed to the Oura which was heaps better.
The one issue I had identified before the fit was hand numbness and James moved the levels down so my wrists would be flatter while I was riding. It certainly did the trick. Overall, the bike felt a little more comfortable once I got back out on the ride.
Do I need a bike fit?
Coming back to my original question – do I need a bike fit? As a first step, I would ensure that you buy the right size bike, even if you buy second-hand. If you buy from a bike shop ask them to do the basic adjustments like seat height and stem adjustment if needed before you leave the store, even if you have to pay for it. If you buy second-hand you can also speak to your local bike shop about undertaking a basic fit for a small fee.
You can also do your own research online. I found this helpful video that you might find helpful for basics like saddle height and position.
Pain, numbness, or tingling—especially in the hands, feet, or backside—are signs that something about your bike doesn’t fit you properly. The fix could be simple, but if you’ve tried the self-setup method, and it’s not fixing the problem, it’s time to consider a professional bike fit.
Loads of options
There are lots of different options with bike fitting from local physios to large bike manufacturers, all claiming to achieve the same outcome. I recommend you ask your friends about their experiences and go with a recommendation, and then do your research.
I recommend the Specialized Body Geometry fit because the fitters are well trained and it’s a sound methodology. And don’t be swayed by lots of fancy equipment like adjustable bikes and video capture. Technology can be a great bike fitting tool but cannot replace the skills of an experienced human bike fitter is capable of finding the best position with minimal equipment.
At an absolute minimum, if you’re not comfortable on your saddle after picking up a new bike and riding it for a month or so, then go and get fitted for a saddle. Specialized dealers (and others) can measure your sit bones with a discrete measuring device and recommend the right size and style of saddle for you. And, if it’s not the perfect match then you can take it back and exchange it within 30 days.