What is a Bike Fit?
Depending on how much you’ve delved into everything bike-related since you began mountain biking, you may or may not have heard about a service provided by some bike shops called a bike fit. Simply put, a bike fit is different from sizing.
If you bought a bike at a local bike shop, the sales folks should have helped you find a bike that was a good general fit for your height, inseam, and reach. A bike fit takes this several steps further and looks at everything from rider comfort and injury prevention to diagnosing reasons for discomfort and eliminating pain and numbness.
Let’s dispel the misunderstanding that bike fits are only for serious road cyclists. This just isn’t true. Anyone who is dedicated to riding their bike—on any surface—might benefit from a bike fit. A dedicated cyclist is putting a lot of time in the saddle, and more time in the saddle means more potential for problems to develop due to an improper bike fit. However, just because mountain bikers can benefit from a bike fit, it doesn’t mean that every MTBer should pay for one.
Do you need a bike fit?
So, the question becomes whether or not you need a bike fit. The answer is, it depends. Here’s our two-tier approach to determining if paying for a bike fit is worth the expense.
Tier One Questions
1. Are you borrowing a bike? Many new mountain bikers borrow a bike from a friend for a while to see if the sport is something they really want to keep doing and spend money on. Our advice is, if you’re borrowing a bike, don’t spend the money on a bike fit. Save that money and invest in a bike of your own.
2. Are you riding a new (to you) bike? If you own your bike, it means you’ve at least made a basic commitment to mountain biking, so spending money on a bike fit might be a worthwhile investment. Having said that, if the bike you’re riding is one you haven’t put too many miles on yet, you’ll probably be better off getting more time in the saddle before you lay down money on a fit. Why? Because you may not have had the bike long enough yet to really know what needs to be adjusted. If you’re having a few problems such as saddle sores or hand numbness, it could be you just need to get your body used to longer rides or learn how to position your body properly. If you’re riding longer and having increased difficulty, then it’s possibly time to pay for a fit.
3. Have you had your bike for a while? Now that you’ve had a bike for some time, it’s more likely that you’ve tinkered with seat post height and saddle position. It may be that you’ve found solutions to some, but not all, of your fit issues. It may be that you never found a solution on your own despite your tinkering, or possibly made things worse. If any of this describes you, then you’re probably in the right market for a bike fit.
4. Are you in the market for a new bike? If you’re actively looking for a new bike, or at least seriously considering starting to search for a new bike, then a bike fit would be a waste of money. Wait until you have the new bike in hand and have put adequate saddle time on it before considering a bike fit.
Tier Two Questions
1. Have you tinkered with your bike fit yourself? If you’re having pain or numbness of some sort, it’s worth your time to see if you can find a solution on your own. Don’t be afraid to mess around with things like saddle position, and if you’re clipless then play around with cleat position if possible. There’s not much you can change that’s going to damage your bike or cause you harm. Make your adjustments small and incremental. Keep good notes about what you changed, when you changed it, and how you changed it—be sure to make note of where things were to start with as well.
2. Do you have a friend who can help you? Before going and spending the money on a fit, see if there’s someone you know who can help you make adjustments. A seasoned rider who’s knowledgable about bike mechanics can often offer some advice based on past experiences. They can also watch you ride around and look for problems you can’t see for yourself.
3. Are you actually having some sort of serious issue? If you’re actually having some sort of trouble—particularly numbness or pain specifically due to riding—then you probably need a bike fit. If you’re only having discomfort, it’s possible you need a bike fit, but not necessarily. If, after tinkering and doing all you can to fix the problem yourself the discomfort while riding persists, then you probably need a bike fit.
4. Are you a competitive cyclist? If you’re regularly competing on your bike, you probably want to consider a bike fit not only to prevent pain and injury, but to also improve your performance. Some riders may find that a simple change in crankarm length allows them to generate more power, or that a shift in saddle position helps them maintain better balance or corner more efficiently. If this sounds like you, then a bike fit may very well be worth the investment.
The bottom line is this: Don’t pay for a bike fit just because you think it sounds cool. There are so many things your money would be better spent on in the short-term. If, after asking yourself the questions above, you believe you’d really benefit from a proper fitting session, then talk to your local bike shop and see what they offer. You many find that some shops offer different levels of bike fits at different price points. Tell them what you’re looking for and let them suggest what would work best for you.
Have fun, ride smart, and keep shredding!