Over the years in countless bike shops, I’ve heard the following disturbing phrases uttered to cyclists:
“Get these cleats. You don’t have anything to worry about.”
“These cleats have float you won’t need a bike fit.”
“Get these cleats with float and they’ll take care of everything.”
Unfortunately, phrases and versions of these sometimes false reassuring comments are shared in not only bike shops but in forums, local rides and social media groups. Consequently, it’s time to set the record straight and dive deep into the cleat adjustment handbook.
Today we’re going to tackle the following:
Define cleat rotation and float
Review popular cleat float types and limits
Overview why both are needed and some suggestions
SPOILER ALERT: Below is the 5-minute version of the entire article! If you’re more the visual type, this is your jam.
What is Cleat Rotation?
Cleat rotation is the physical movement of the cleat either clockwise or counter-clockwise to allow the foot to rotate in alignment with its natural orientation. Basically, allow the foot to point in the direction it would like to point. Generally speaking, the rotation of the cleat is similar on and off the bike. For many professional bike fitters, an off-the-bike assessment can provide an indication of the rotation required. For example, if you naturally walk with your toes out, you’ll likely require a similar setup on the bike.
For 3-hole cleat users of Look or Shimano road, if you have a “toe-out” natural gait, your setup will look similar to this photo below (bottom-right).
Photo left: cleat setup without rotation. Photo Right: cleats rotated for toe-out setup.
On the other hand, you may walk with your toes out but your cleats are set up what we refer to as “pigeon-toed” with your toes facing inward toward the bike. This can potentially cause significant discomfort or even pain, especially after thousands of pedal strokes.
Toe-in or “pigeon-toed”
To the original point in the article and to keep you on your toes, the logical question is, “Doesn’t cleat float solve this issue of toe-in or toe-out without requiring cleat adjustment?” The short answer is not always. Like any other bike adjustment, some people contain the innate and amazing trait of adjustability whereby the individual adapts to position changes. In most cases, the float is impacted by the rotation. If a cleat is not rotated properly, the foot may not be able to achieve the required, rider-dependent, foot position resulting in pain, discomfort, or injury.
What is Cleat Float?
Cleat float or pedal float is when the cleat rotates freely inward or outward while clipped into the pedal. The movement is categorized in different cleats by a number of degrees. For some companies like Shimano and Look, you can purchase cleats with varying levels of float or “fixed” cleats which meaning they are devoid of float. Float allows a person who toes in or out move the foot to a more natural position during the pedal stroke. Yet, float doesn’t necessarily solve all issues or allow enough range to meet the specific needs of an individual. More on that to come!
Shimano Cleat Float: 6 Degree, 2 Degree, and 0 Degree
Sam expresses some significant warnings about less float requiring a bike fitting. While more float is safer because it allows increased space for the foot to function in a natural position and also may forgive cleat placement of a slightly less accurate rotation adjustment, float does replace a full bike fit (using the 5 main adjustments of the foot/pedal interface). An interesting note is the amount of float may be somewhat deceiving. Below is a diagram noting the specifics of Shimano float.
Contrary to some cycling lore, 6 degrees of float does not mean 6 on either side but 6 degrees total (3 in and 3 out). In addition, as you can see from Chad’s drawings the amount of movement affects the forefoot more on the 6-degree than the 2-degree. This is due to the change in the pivot point between both and also due to the amount of float provided. Shimano discusses this at length on their site as well. This prooves how increased float can provide a larger margin for error in natural foot movement.
Look Cleat Float
Look cleats provide an increased range with their 9 and 4.5-degree model but still sells a 0-degree. This again means for example in the 9-degree model that the foot can move up to 4.5 degrees on each side–not 9.
Speedplay provides the most amount of float (7.5 degrees in each direction for a total of 15 degrees) and it’s also adjustable. This higher level of float is imperative for Speedplay pedals since they do not allow for cleat rotation. Therefore when adjusting Speedplay cleats, it’s important to be aware of both the “heel-in” and “heel-out” settings as you can adjust both via the limit screws. Depending on the orientation of your feet, you may not be to utilize the full 15 degrees in each direction. Much like the drawings shown earlier in rotation, if the float is left open (maximum in both directions), the foot will travel where it wants to go but there’s a limit depending on the individual.
MTB, SPD and 2-hole Cleat Float
2-hole cleats like SPD (Shimano Precision Dynamics), Crank Brothers or Time Atac contain an area of float prior to disengagement. Each type provides different levels of float but again be cognizant of the total amount of float advertised is split between heel-in and heel-out. For example, the Crank Brothers cleats below show the range of their 6-degree float cleats.
Why is Cleat Rotation Important if Cleat Float exists?
Yes, I’ve been alluding to this throughout the article so here’s the point. As I pointed out in the video, just because there’s lateral float, does not mean a person won’t still experience pain or issues. If a cleat is not properly rotated, then it’s possible that the float will not allow enough foot rotation to achieve optimal foot position. For example, if you are a natural toe-out walker and your cleats are rotated inward, float alone is unlikely to solve the issue (especially with 3-hole and 2-hole cleats).
If this is the case, you’ll likely experience knee pain while riding most likely on the inside of the knee but more toward the back (see image). In order to avoid this pain, BikeFit Professionals are trained in the process of examining the cleat from a rear position and testing rotation to find the best rotational position. While this process is outlined more specifically in our BikeFit manual and courses, it’s imperative to recognize that float and rotation both need to be taken into account during proper cleat setup and alignment.
If you’re curious about the process that trained foot/pedal professionals use to assess proper cleat rotation, here are a few pictures of fitters performing the task.
I’ve love to give you the easy answer to purchase a cleat with float and be done with it, but unfortunately, I’ve seen too many uncomfortable cyclists over the years with float who require proper rotation as well.
Enjoy your ride!
-Paul and Damon
Adjust and customize your saddle specifically for your unique body, goals, and needs as a cyclist. The BiSaddle ShapeShafter BikeFit Edition is the only saddle that offers both front and rear width and shape changes. Now in our new colorway, black with white logos.
The Evolution of Bike Fitting and Frame Design Pt. 1
I’m honored this week to present the first segment of a 2-part conversation with legendary frame builder Ben Serotta. He willingly devoted hours to our interview and went beyond my list of quirky questions. Although we certainly discuss frame geometry and design, Ben is also one of the early godfathers of bike fitting with the invention of the Serotta Size Cycle in the mid-80s and in the early 90s, the formalization of one of the first bike fitting schools, the Serotta International Cycling Institute in 1998. His relentless pursuit to provide the best fitting bicycle, lead to his passion for fitting as he found them to be undeniably intertwined. He has designed bikes riders on major professional teams like 7-Eleven and Coors Light and for riders participating in national championships, world championships, Olympics and grand tours.
Part 1 of the conversation with Ben focuses on the following great topics
1.) Ben’s history in frame design
2.) Finding the fit–Serotta Size Cycle and SICI
3.) The challenge of bike fitting and bike fitters
The contact points on the bicycle and the impetus behind the Serotta Size Cycle
“If you are going to do something, just do it really well. If there’s anything you can do to raise the bar on what’s come before, then there’s an obligation to try to do that.”
“I want to know that every bike I deliver is exactly the right bike for every cyclist.”
You have to know how to use a tool or it’s just a tool.
“I started making size cycles to sell to the stores we were selling bicycles through. Then I realized that was different than just handing somebody a chainsaw for the first time and pointing them in the direction of the wood. You have to know how to use a tool. You can have the best tool in the world but if you don’t know how to use it, the results will vary.”
One customer went to two different dealers with the size cycle and received 2 different size recommendations.
The more people who understand bike fitting, the more they’ll appreciate it
Not all bike fitters are created equal
The challenge of bike fitting is a lack of regulation
“If you want to hang your shingle as a true, top-notch bike fitter, you have to have both the natural ability to read someone as well as this inquisitiveness as well as experience. Good bike fitters are open to learn with every fitting and learn a little bit with almost every fitting.”
People becoming fitters are not screened before entering the profession.
“There are lot of good, competent bike fitters, but there’s only a handful of bike fitters than can universal do an excellent bike fitting on anyone that comes in.”
The average fitter has a difficult time defining the line of their own competence.
Photo Credit: Bicycling Magazine, Ben Cieri
Photo Credit: Bicycling Magazine, Ben Cieri
I started making size cycles to sell to the stores we were selling bicycles through. Then I realized that was different than just handing somebody a chainsaw for the first time and pointing them in the direction of the wood. You have to know how to use a tool. You can have the best tool in the world but if you don’t know how to use it, the results will vary.
Biography from https://benserotta.com/ by Ben Serotta
After opening up a small retail and repair shop as an off-school activity in the late 1960’s I traveled to London, England where I apprenticed in building steel bicycle frames. First represented in the 1976 Olympics, Serotta bicycles bore witness to America’s rise as a modern cycling power. Contracted by US powerhouse teams 7- Eleven (1984-1988) and Coors Light (1991-1994), along with numerous smaller national and international programs, Serotta became the dominant US builder of high performance racing bicycles. By 1990 our bicycles had been raced to National, European and World Championship titles in road, time-trial, track, mountain and triathlon events.
Ever driven to raise performance standards, I worked directly with hundreds of elite athletes while developing a unique approach to the human/machine interface, resulting in the company’s two-pronged approach to elevating cycling performance: personalized engineering and a paradigm change in bicycle fitting methodology.
These revolutionary paths inspired the development of a proprietary range of shaped, “size-specific” bicycle frame tubing, dubbed the “Colorado Concept” and the first SizeCycle (an infinitely adjustable stationary bicycle). Like dual cornerstones, these advances became the foundation for the next 25 years of my company’s work. In 1998, Serotta launched a hands-on teaching program for bicycle fitting, which later became knows as SICI (Serotta International Cycling Institute). In turn, SICI graduates have gone on to become integral to the development of more than a dozen other bicycle-fitting organizations. To date, more than 1,500 fitting technicians, coaches and medical practitioners have come from around the world to attend SICI programs and seminars.
In August 2013, in a hostile restructuring by new investors, I was forced to part ways with Serotta Competition Bicycles, and in an instant I’d become separated from many of my friends, business associates and fans. In the time since discovering silver linings from my unexpected disconnect, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with a broad range of organizations from across a wide spectrum of the bicycle industry- from highly customized hand-crafted bicycles made in North America, to the one-size-fits-all world of public bike share bikes produced in Asia. Better still, I’ve had the gift of the opportunity to meet, ideate and create with some incredible people with whom I might never had the chance to work.
In January 2018, I formally and publicly re-entered the bicycle business with the opening of the Serotta Design Studio. It’s not a 3-click to purchase company, nor will you find my new bicycles mixed in with a line-up in general retailers. With this new endeavor, I wanted to establish a direct relationship with each cyclist who places her/his trust in us to deliver an exceptionally wonderful product. It’s not that I have anything against retailers as a whole, not at all. It’s just that I’d rather not dilute the information flow, so that I really know we are delivering the best product for each client. Besides, it’s more fun and more informative getting the direct feedback.
In a way, ‘The Studio” is both a continuum and a new beginning, building on a great legacy that’s fed by a fresh and almost limitless stream of new ideas and opportunities.”
I remain as dedicated as ever to improving life experiences through cycling.
Want to learn more about Ben’s current projects? You can find his work below:https://benserotta.com/https://www.serottadesignstudio.com/
These 5 categories of hand position and handlebar adjustments used by the best professional bike fitters on the planet.
Many people experience discomfort in cycling specifically focuses on one of the three contact points: the hands. While the most popular change is likely stem length or height, today we’ll talk about the changes every bike fitter should examine.
Hand positioning on a bicycle is a mix of the bar’s height, depth and width, bar rotation, length and rise/decline of the stem, and brake type/hood and position (including the lever’s reach). The position can be augmented by changing any of these variables. Finding the right one for you is a level of trial and error and most likely a visit to a professional who examines all of these factors and how they contribute to your overall position. Each contact point change on the bicycle may impact another contact point but for this specific article, we’ll examine hand position in isolation.
General Hand Position
Generally, your hands should be placed in whatever position you most frequently ride. The most comfortable position for the majority of road and gravel bike cyclists is where the angle between the torso and the upper arm is around 90 degrees (see illustration right). You should have a slight bend in the elbows to maximize comfort and control. This bend can increase if you want to become more aerodynamic such as when time-trialing, racing, or riding into a significant headwind.
Once you’ve found your sweet spot you can begin adjusting the position. Don’t forget to move your hands around on the bars to try different positions. We also recommend testing standing on the pedals to accommodate climbing or sprinting out of the saddle.
If you ride more upright, the angle at the shoulder may be less than 90 degrees. This less than 90-degree angle applies to road bikes, touring bikes, and indoor bikes.
Comfort should be your guide when adjusting the height of the handlebars. The road bike racer typically has the top of the handlebars below the seat height. For non-racers of many disciplines, the top of the bars may be even with the saddle or even higher.
Stem Height / Handlebar Height
The height is impacted by 2 factors:
# of spacers under the stem
When you purchase a new bike, the fork is uncut which means you’ll have the option to choose to cut the fork height lower, which would accommodate fewer headset spacers. From a bike fitting standpoint, it’s unhelpful to do this from purely aesthetic motivation until you’ve discovered proper position. The only exception to this would be a custom bike where your measurements from a previously fit bike were used to create a custom geometry for you minus the spacers. A small side note here is that fit changes with fitness, age, injury, and other factors. As a result, having the ability to make adjustments with your bike is extremely helpful unless you want to continue buying bikes regularly. If financially feasible, this is not the worst problem on the planet. For reference, most bikes will offer about 40-60mm in spacer height.
An adjustable stem or sizing stem is the best way to find your ideal stem height. A BikeFit Pro with this tool can help you test from -30 degrees to +30 degrees while also easily examining your stem length as well.
Without the use of this tool through a professional fitter or bike shop, some companies offer adjustable stems. We define an adjustable stem as having more than one axis of adjustment. There are many one-axis adjustable stems that don’t allow for adjusting the stem’s length. From our standpoint, if you are going to invest the money into an adjustable stem (not many left on the market), you’re likely better off visiting a fitter where they’ll aid you in finding the right stem and then you’re afforded with the opportunity to purchase one (with the proper specifications) that matches your bike and style. Comfort first; style second.
Speaking of style, many cyclists see professional bikes and want to emulate their stem length and drop. While many of those parts may be available including some sexy looking one-piece bar and stem combos, how do you know before purchasing if the reach, drop, and length are right for your riding style, goals, distance…etc? We are not saying that these products are not great or don’t offer advantages but style without fit is worthless. For example, if someone purchases a -17 degree stem and “slams” their bike (removes all the spacers) but can barely survive a ride for more than an hour without dismounting to stretch negates the potential “aero” benefits of that position. They also will potentially be forced to book an appointment with a reputable spine surgeon in a few years. That’s not to say that no one should ride in an aggressive position. There are some flexible, solid-core individuals who can sustain that position while remaining comfortable for hours. Most of them are professional or aspiring racers but just because they do it, doesn’t mean you must to experience true cycling enjoyment. In the end, we like the advice from “Big Jonny” posted on the Drunk Cyclist Blog, “Forget slamming. Ride what your body requires.”
Although this may seem like a shameless self-promotion, it’s the truth. A sizing stem is again the best possible way to efficiently test different stem lengths. If you visit a bike shop or fitter and they are forced to remove and install a stem each time you want to try a new angle or length, how long would this take? Removing a stem isn’t difficult per se but it is tedious. There are multiple points to examine on a bicycle and spending half an hour trying 6 different stems may not be the best use of time. If we can stress anything in your bike fitting journey, it’s to test positions until you find the one that’s the most comfortable for you (hopefully in the most efficient manner).
To verify this point, we asked several bike fitters to give their expert opinion on the proper stem a couple of years ago. We began by showing them a number of different cyclists. Of the 8 fitters, we questioned, 6 of 8 failed to recommend the proper stem length the rider ultimately chose after utilizing a sizing stem. Not once did more than 2 fitters guess the desired stem for the rider. This test was only for length—we didn’t ask about the stem’s height or angle. Finding the right stem is challenging (and sometimes expensive) to do by yourself and is definitely an area where a BikeFit Pro can help you. If a bicycle fitting expert recommends a stem without testing or trying a few lengths, we strongly advise you gently recommend they use a sizing stem or find another fitter.
Handlebar Reach and Drop
Handlebar reach is the distance from the center of the stem connection to the bar and the furthest point in the “drops.” The “drop” is the distance from the highest point of the bar to the lowest point.
The implications on fit are how the bar affects your position and comfort on the bike. If you see a handlebar at your local bike shop with some appeal to you, it’s important to find out where it stacks up in both of these variables before you purchase. For some, the bar upgrade is focused on the material (aluminum vs. carbon), weight or personal choice in a different shape. The reach, drop, and shape should be comfortable and appropriate for your riding style.
Historically the most frequently used method of determining the handlebar’s rotation was putting the bottom of the drop parallel to the ground or level like the photo on the left. If you walk into most bike shops today, this is what you’ll most likely observe. This position, while aesthetically pleasing, is usually not comfortable for most riders. The rotation of your bars is determined solely by what is comfortable, not the bar’s alignment with the earth’s surface. Rotate your bars upward until you achieve a more neutral wrist position (this can also be achieved through hood placement). Let comfort be your guide to fine tune as your body will guide you to the best position. This simple adjustment helps improve hand comfort and reduces numbness.
Lever or Brake Placement
Much like the rotation, the goal is a neutral wrist position. The brake levers on both road, gravel and mountain bikes are mobile and can be adjusted to impact not only wrist position but also reach. Mountain bikes, like any other type of bike, brake lever position is imperative when establishing a neutral wrist position.
This seemingly minuscule change significantly impacts riding comfort. Like the myth that all handlebar drops should be parallel with the ground, levers do not need to follow the contour of the drop; they can be shifted inward or outward based on comfort. As much as manufacturers have worked on the ergonomic designs of hoods for comfort, placement on the bar and tilt provides the most natural hand position for the individual preferences and bodies. Over the years of fitting thousands of riders, here’s what we’ve found that seems to help most riders.
When hoods are set up in line with the handlebar, the hands are in an unnatural position. Tilting the brake levers inward provides pain relief and increased control.
Below the unnatural position, we are forced into when conforming to untilted hoods shown without the handlebars.
Here the hands hang and move naturally. The brake lever placement should mimic the natural inclinations of the body.
For most people, that natural position is achieved by rotating the levers/hoods inward on a road or gravel bike.
Final Hand Position Info
Hopefully, this article provides you with some ideas on the different adjustments and hand position changes on the bike. We should mention that these are not the only factors and implications in handlebar fitting. Handlebar shape and width are two variables in hand position and overall comfort that should be part of your fitting process as well. Consequently, the best possible advice from BikeFit is to not be afraid to try some out-of-the-box changes suggested in this article. Secondly, and most importantly, setting up an appointment with a qualified BikeFit professional provides crucial advice, the ability to test many of these methods (including products), and an outside set of eyes to observe your riding with the ability to offer vital insight into the best changes for you. In the end, fitting is a personal experience and although humans have trends, everyone is asymmetrical and unique. If you are concerned about the expectations of a bike fit or want to learn more about bike fitting, we provide more information on our blog.
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The Independent Bike Fitter
In Ep. 8 I spoke with Sean Madsen who is the owner of the Denver Fit Loft in Denver Colorado. After running the Specialized BG Fit program for 5 years and fitting some of the greatest cyclists in the world (Peter Sagan, Vincenzo Nibali, and Tom Boonen), Sean decided to embark upon his own project to provide custom bike fitting for Denver area cyclists. After 5 years of running the BG Fit program, he noticed that on average only 10% of the thousands of people he trained implemented fit effectively in their business. Sean attributes this to the fact that the majority of bike shops’ primary task is to sell bikes and bike-related inventory and provide bike service. While bike fitting is a service, many of the trained fitters were also managers, owners, mechanics, salespersons…etc. He expressed that fitting gets “pushed down on the priority list” when a shop needs to pay bills, move inventory and employees have multiple responsibilities. As a result, he created his own independent bike fitting business to implement the strategies he formerly taught but without the capital investment of bicycles and bicycle equipment.
Sean also spends significant time on the pod defining different types of bike fitting and why it’s important that these exist: foundation fitting, custom fitting, and pre bike purchase sizing. He also offers advice to bike shops and fitters on finding success with fitting and sizing in the current marketplace.
Of course, we also traverse plenty of other great topics in cycling and fitting. Take a look at the rundown below:
THE DIVE: Ep. 8 Topics
Sean’s background with BG Fit and studying with Dr. Andy Pruitt
Why custom fitting is not functioning well in many bike shops
The benefits of an independent bike fit studio
The appropriate level of fitting at a bike shop
Sizing vs. Fitting
Pre Bike Purchase Sizing
The adjustable bicycle and the adapable human body
PTs and bike fitting
How often a cyclist should get a bike fit
Advice to bike shops to be successful with fitting in the current sales landscape
Foundation bike fit vs. custom bike fit
The length of a bike fit session
How to discern whether someone needs a custom bike fit vs. a foundation bike fit
Mountain bike fitting
Marketing in bike fitting
Fitting is rider education
How bike fitting is currently devalued by some who offer it
Fitting is a full customization of the bike to the rider and to get to that true customization you really have to understand the rider. You’ve got to understand their goals, history, experience, anatomy, range of motion, stability and you have to know how all of those things relate to that rider. It’s only through understanding the rider in total that you’re going to be able to address their issues effectively and precisely. To get to that level and to really understand the rider takes education, a lot of experience and a lot of practice.
Sean Madsen is a world-renown cycling biomechanics expert who has worked with over 12,000 athletes of all abilities during a career spanning 20 years. Early in his career, Sean honed his skills at the prestigious Boulder Center for Sports Medicine where he studied under the founder of modern bike fitting, Dr. Andy Pruitt PA EdD. Sean then moved to California to create and grow Specialized’s Body Geometry Fit program where he taught thousands of fitters worldwide. He is one of the foremost experts in aerodynamic testing, working with over 200 athletes in the wind tunnel and over 100 more in velodrome validation testing. Sean has worked with some of the best cyclists and triathletes in the world, including Peter Sagan, Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Boonen, Javier Gomez, and Jan Frodeno. Making the best of the best a little faster is fun, but creating ways to help the everyday rider become a life-long cyclist and enthusiast is the most rewarding. Most of all, Sean is a passionate cyclist who has dedicated his life to showing others how riding a bike can change your life.
You can contact Sean or find out more about his practice by visiting the Denver Fit Loft website.
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BikeFit Podcast listeners receive custom geometry, a $340 value, for free! Just contact Festka via their website and be sure to mention the BikeFit Podcast!
BikeFit Training provides the tools to become a competent bike fitter or take fitting to the next level. See our upcoming training dates.
Ep. 6 What is Bike Fitting? A fitting conference within a conference at the Philadephia Bike Expo.
In Ep. 6, I was invited by renowned bike fitter Happy Freedman from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City to join a talk with a group of fitters from around the country where he attempted to answer the question, “What is bike fitting?” In our conversation, some of the visiting fitters from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Tennesee, Kansas received the opportunity to share their thoughts and ask Happy questions about fit. He describes the current state of bike fitting, where he feels the focus should be, and the future of fitting.
The episode occurred in a large atrium of the Pennsylvania Convention Center at the Philadelphia Bike Expo. It’s wonderful to see that the expo is supporting bike fitting through a few symposiums and also Happy requesting fitters around the country to help cyclists enjoy their ride more and meet their goals through bike fitting.
Happy provides some incredible insights into bike fitting from the wealth of knowledge he’s gained through over 40 years of experience.
The dive in Ep.6 by topic:
The definition of fitting
Bike Fitting as a real estate grab
Creating a history and definition of fitting prior to the point where a national certification exists
How to serve all communities with different types of fits
Teaching the skills of recognizing one’s own body in space and it’s application to bike fitting
The rider as a the dynamic source in the fitting
Fitting for a cockpit or range vs. a single spot on the bike
The goal of bike fitting: efficiency vs. watts
How cyclist history influences fitting
The role of airflow (elasticity of intercostals)
Aero vs. breathing
The future of bike fitting
The big picture: rider’s needs vs. bike needs
Fitting for an injury
Fitters can’t fix everything–referrals
Size Cycles in fitting
Coaching requirements vs. fitting requirements
A millimeter does not make that much of a difference
Fitter’s who asked questions or commented in the episode:
Happy Freedman is passionate about bicycling and creating a synergy between the cycling and medical communities, advancing the science and art of bike fit, to help riders of all abilities to achieve their performance goals. He has been instrumental in developing the first multi-disciplinary, hospital-based, state-of-the-art bike fitting program of its kind here at Hospital for Special Surgery, where he has worked in a range of capacities for over ten years. He works in close cooperation with physical therapists and investigators in the motion lab, and the new bike fit program will advance performance, clinical bike fit evaluations, and research.
Happy has presented on bike fitting at the International Cycle Fit Symposium in London and numerous events throughout the US. He is a founding faculty member of the Medicine of Cycling Conference held annually at USA Cycling in Colorado Springs, where he presents both on bike fitting and on medical emergencies in cycling. He is on the advisory committee of IBFI, the International Bike Fit Institute, and was formerly faculty at the Bike Fit school, established by Ben Serotta. He is an experienced cycling coach, including over ten years for the Columbia University D1 Cycling Team, as well as having been a certified coach and official for the United States Cycling Federation.
Happy focuses on fitting the cyclist, not the bike, to address the individual needs of the rider, and collaborates with staff in Performance Services to develop an evidence-based protocol for bike fitting.
The short answer to the title in this article: It depends. It’s impossible to place an “all-encompassing” practice such as bike fitting and apply it to the plethora of cycling disciplines and types of activities on a bike. That would be equivalent of seeing 1 doctor for every possible ailment. Beyond the general practitioner, there’s a specialist for almost every condition. Bike fitters also range in their experience, tools used, education and process. Therefore, what you should expect will vary but our mission is to help you find the individualized fit you need and to identify the most important elements. Although anyone can offer bike fitting, it may not necessarily meet your goals.
What is a Bike Fit?
1.) Adjusting the bicycle to fit the individual needs of the cyclist.
2.) Educating and aiding the cyclist to function best on their bicycle.
For this article, we are going to focus on part 1. The second part delves into the world of bike fitters, physical therapists, and coaches who provide riders with ways to improve strength, pedaling technique, flexibility, breathing, and other rider-specific exercises. This is certainly not saying that you didn’t receive a full fit if these missing from your fit session, but there are different types of fitters and finding one that meets your needs is imperative.
Let’s begin with the basic understanding of the definition of a bike fit: adjusting the bicycle to fit you. Other times we’ve defined this as customizing a symmetrical bicycle to an asymmetrical body. I hope no one is shocked by this nugget of truth but even the ridiculously beautiful people of the world whose eyes are perfectly spaced could have high arches, two different sized feet, or a leg length discrepancy. To take this a step further, we contacted renowned bike fit professional Jessica Bratus of Bike FitMi in Ann Arbor, MI to glean her definition of a bike fit, “It is a process in which every contact point of the bicycle, as well as the macro relationships between contact points, are optimized for that particular body.” Since we are seriously nailing this point home, the fit is about you, the individual, and your unique body (height, weight, flexibility, physical activity, injury, asymeetry…etc.).
Since we’ve established the individual and subjective nature of fit, it is imperative that before you seek out a fitter, you ask yourself 2 questions:
1.) What results do I want from a bike fit?
This will likely be synonymous with your goals. Most of these results fall into 2 categories: eliminate/reduce pain or increase performance. Here are a few examples:
Solve my issue with recurring pain on the back of my knees after each ride.
Reduce hand numbness that occurs after a few miles.
Find a position that will help increase aerodynamics for my next triathlon.
Optimize position for best power expenditure while racing.
There are a plethora of results you may desire but the important part of this puzzle is to recognize that a fitter is not a miracle worker. As a rider, we have to manage our expectations of the fit outcome. Many fitters provide an excellent experience but they are not going to change you from a beginning rider to a world-class athlete.
2.) What type of riding or rides will I do in the future?
This is where the “need” or goal of the individual plays an important role in the fit process. To understand what we mean by “need”, think of the results or goals you want to attain combine it with your type of riding. Here are a few examples:
Within these examples, there may be some variability of your needs based on the distance, the amount you’ll ride, and competitively, your expectations. For example, it’s one goal to finish a Gran Fondo and another to be competitive in the top times in your age group. It’s also noteworthy to mention that the more time you spend on the bike will dictate how much more important a quality, comprehensive fit will help you. Pain is intensified by duration. If your aspirations are much simpler like riding at the beach once in a while, you may benefit from proper setup but the full fit experience will be focused on your intensity, duration, and type of riding.
Bike Fitting vs. Bike Sizing
Now that you’ve established what you want from a fit, let’s explore some common misnomers in fitting. Bike fitting is an odd and confusing concept in cycling, but it’s even more profound compared to other products and industries using the term “fit.” What does it mean to find the right fitting shoes, pants, dress, hat…etc.? If I take the following measurements of my body, this particular article of clothing will supposedly fit (unless you’re a body builder, speed skater, sprinter or track cyclist). To apply this same sizing logic to cycling: we assume that if you are a certain height and have a specific inseam, this amazing new bike is going to “fit.” There are even some systems in bike shops where the body is scanned or medieval torture instruments are used to take measurements which in turn place you on the “perfect fitting bike.” It may be the correct size, but it’s unlikely that it will “fit” based on the definition we described previously without adjustments or corrections. Consequently, it’s important to understand the definition because the terms bike fitting and bike sizing are often confused even by professionals and bike shops.
Without going into excessive detail on the differences between them (we delve into this in another article), bike sizing happens prior to purchasing a bike. The process involves taking measurements of an individual and applying those specific measurements to match a person to the correctly sized bike frame. Most competent fitters will perform both bike sizing and bike fitting and will understand the relationship between the two.
The Main Components of a Bike Fit
Although there may be a few other processes that some fitters use, most professional bike fits will have the following: An interview, an assessment, adjustments of the 3 main contact points, testing, and a report.
Before you sign up for your first fit, we strongly recommend contacting a fitter to discuss your goals and type of riding. It’s possible that you’re a mountain biker and the fitter you contacted has only worked with road and triathlon bikes. If that’s the case, it may not be a good fit. This is also significant if you have an injury (recent or past) that may need the attention of a physical therapy-based fitter. A quality fitter will tell you about their experience level, whether they’ve helped cyclists attain similar goals, or will inform you if this is outside of their general practice. If that’s the case, they should refer you to another local professional with the experience to best serve you.
Assuming you’ve found the right match, a knowledgeable fitter will interview you either prior or during the fit to glean as much relevant information as possible. Here are some examples of what they may ask:
Goals or objectives for the fit
Current type of riding (how much and how often)
Injury history including current issues
Areas of discomfort
Previous fitting information (have you had a fit prior to address the concerns)
There are fitters who may ask more detailed or follow up questions based on their training and comfort. These are some of the basic ones that every fitter should ask.
This varies significantly across the spectrum from fitter to fitter. If you receive a fit from a medical professional fitter, they will likely perform an off-bike structural assessment or flexibility assessment as part of the fit. This is not a requirement of a bike fit. Unfortunately, there are many fitters who are not qualified to assess your flexibility by grabbing your leg and checking its range of motion. If a fitter does incorporate off-bike assessments, they should explain to you the purpose and how it affects the fit. The qualified ones will be forthcoming and assure you are completely comfortable during the process. If you’re not, inform them immediately.
For those who do not perform an off-bike physical assessment, they will likely start their assessment process by observing your pedaling motion and body movement during the warm-up phase of the fit.
Adjustment: Fitting Should Focus on the 3 Contact Points
The founder of BikeFit, Paul Swift, popularized the term, “making the bike disappear.” The idea that you are literally in space fully functioning in whatever activity or event that’s occurring and the only resistance you encounter is the wind, the mountain, the rocks, your muscles screaming or on a rare occasion, an ostrich chase. Unfortunately for many riders, you are keenly aware of the presence of your bike including discomfort or pain in the three contact points: feet, hands, and rear end.
Regardless of your goal, style of riding, or reason for getting a fit, you can expect a competent fitter will aptly examine and potentially adjust all 3 main contact points. We’ll argue that even a fit for a flat pedal (as opposed to clipless pedals), while it may require less attention, should still properly examine and correct at the feet. As Jessica mentioned earlier, every fit should focus on these contact points and the relationship between them. Unfortunately, there are countless stories of riders who invested significantly into professional fits that ignored one of these three areas or only barely scraped the surface. Although we won’t to delve into the extent of how each area should be examined in this article, you should expect a fitter to be equipped with the knowledge and tools to adjust all points thoroughly. When this doesn’t happen, you get a case like one of our customers:
Mark set a goal to complete in a 170 mile, 3-day ride across Florida. Unfortunately, after every ride, he experienced significant knee pain–the longer the ride, the worse the pain. Mark went to 5 different bike fitters in 7 years and although they examined him using some state of the art equipment and 3d motion capturing, they failed to fully examine the foot/pedal interface and offer solutions that could have reduced his pain. In the end, he ended up solving the issue by visiting a BikeFit Pro who extensively focused on his feet and fitting him for Cleat Wedges.
Although this may be an extreme example, if a fitter does not spend ample time on each contact point, you did not receive a full fit. In our experience, it seems that the feet are the contact point that is ignored most often, although arguably it’s the most important. For most riders, you can ride without your hands on the handlebar or you can ride out of the saddle but the contact point that’s always connected is the feet, except if you attempting to superman on the bike. BikeFit’s legal team advises that no one should attempt to superman on their bike.
As we mentioned before, a fitter is not a miracle worker and small changes can make great differences but not necessarily immediate. It’s important that after the accommodations and changes are complete, you test out this new position outside of the environment of the fit studio. Usually, you aren’t fit while climbing hills, descending treacherous trails, or pushing for your best 1 hour time. Consequently, the changes made by the fitter may feel odd at first . That doesn’t mean the fit was a failure but the body, in some cases, takes time to adapt. For some individual, the benefits are immediately apparent, especially for those who previously experienced pain. Some fits allow a cyclist to ride more efficiently over the same distance at a lower heart rate, since they are not using their joints an muscles to stabilize the bike but rather they’ve become 1 hybrid of bicycle and human: a buman or a hike (buman is much better). Most fitters will offer you the opportunity to return within a realistic period of time to reassess if you are experiencing anything negative, lingering effects from the fit. If a fitter doesn’t offer this service, they are putting their business in jeopardy.
Reporting or Measurement Sharing
Throughout the fit, professional fitters have different methods of note-taking to document the bike and body changes. This is a crucial part of the fit and information that, in our opinion, must be provided to the cyclist at the conclusion of the session. Some fitters will use a program that creates a report like the BikeFit Pro App.
Other fitters may use a word document, a full readout of numbers and measurements from a fit bike, or pen and paper. There isn’t a “right or wrong” way to provide you with measurements but is it wrong if they are not supplied at the conclusion of the fit.
While the goal of the fit is to provide the cyclist with their desired results, sometimes this is not the case. If for some reason your fit does not help you meet your original goals, we always recommend going back to the fitter to inform them that there is an issue. Just like any other product or service, you would return if the results were not what you expected. If you visit the doctor initially and your symptoms persist, you’re going to call the doctor back. Professional bike fitter Tom Wiseman of Cycling Solutions mentioned in an interview recently, “I want customers to come back to me if they are not satisfied. The only way to learn how to solve the problem is to know there is one.” Jerry Gerlich, a professional fitter from Castle Hill Fitness, guarantees his work, “Everyone is a different ball of wax and if you guarantee your work, that really gets you to focus on what’s going on to solve the problem.” Although it’s difficult lesson, it goes to show that if you are in some way unsatisfied or especially still in pain, you should return to your fitter.
Final Fitting Thoughts
Although it’s part of the expectations, we did not go into detail on the techniques, tools, technology or specific biomechanics of a fit. The reason is that this varies widely from fitter to fitter and the main aspects of every fit should be the same. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Happy Freedman, Professional Fitter from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York says, “Not all fitters are created equal but a great fitter will adjust to your needs.” This is true of any profession in the world where, for example, there are great teachers and there are not-so-great teachers but experience does not always correlate with excellence. The second part of Happy’s statement is the one that’s the most important. Is the fitter attempting to meet your goals and needs or trying to force you into a position dictated by a machine? This isn’t technology slander, since we use it daily as part of our fitting and fit training, but we don’t rely on it solely.
Paul Swift described it like this, “The less you know about bike fitting, the more you look at a number to dictate the fit. The more you know and look at bike fitting, the more you look at the overall picture.”
Our advice: contact the fitter and ask them about the expectations delineated in this blog, explain your goals to them, learn about their experience and process, find out if they’ve solved problems or attained goals for cyclists with similar ambitions, and how they address the main contact points. If you want to know what to expect in a bike fit, ask a competent fitter.
You may already know that BikeFit sells the most amazing saddle fitting and sales tool on the planet. Yet, many potential customers ask us the same thing, do you mount the Saddle Changer directly to the customer’s bike?
The answer is yes and no.
You can mount the Saddle Changer to a customer’s bike and we do have many successful clients who’ve used this methodology with fabulous results. The problem: stack height is a considerable factor since the Saddle Changer adds 9cm, and you have to adjust the seat post to the original position after fitting. This works (although it adds time) if you are doing a bike fitting, but the Saddle Changer provides a perfect opportunity for customers to demo multiple saddles in seconds. Why utilize it only for fits when you can display and use it daily?
Therefore it works great for fitting, but we’ve found that customers find much more lucrative and less tedious applications.
Super Ingenious Saddle Changer Mounting Methods
Method 1: The Indoor Cycle
Indoor cycles are ubiquitous in the industry and if you are looking to save some money, there are used ones floating through cycling message boards. If you want to go Cadallic, high-level indoor bikes measure power while the customer searches for that elusive perfect saddle. Bonus points for the pro touch–matching your indoor bike knobs to your tool chest (see pic above) satisfies the detail-oriented personality of the fitter.
Method 2: The Fit Bike
You already made an investment in a fancy fit bike, why not capitalize on it as a sales tool? Although a fit is a perfect time to discover saddle bliss, a fit bike with the Saddle Changer attached and strategically placed in front of a plethora of seats provides customers with a custom saddle-testing experience!
Long of the short, there are many applications for mounting the Saddle Changer and there’s technically not a “wrong answer.” This article is meant to help you obtain the most out of your investment.
Feel free to send us your Saddle Changer photos (e-mail [email protected]) and we’ll post them on social media!
Team Africa Rising is Team Rwanda. An initiative formed in 2006, the founders, management, and coaches have elevated some members of the program of 25 riders to the international level of competition. Their objective, from the Team Africa Rising website: “Our mission has been to not only recruit, train, and compete in cycling, but also to teach and train the next generation of coaches, mechanics, nutritionists, etc. for the program by modeling the necessary infrastructure of running a first-world cycling program.”
Team Rwanda recently competed in the Cascade Cycling Classic and we were honored to connect with their dynamic and influential Coach, Sterling Magnell, while the team visited the U.S to discuss the rise of Team Rwanda and how BikeFit powers them.
BikeFit: Tell a little bit about yourself and Team Rwanda.
Sterling Magnell: I coach the National Cycling Team of Rwanda. We strive to cultivate our young riders into the best ambassadors and sports men and women they can be. Ultimately, turning professional and riding in the international peloton.
BF: What is your main goal with the team and where are you in your process of reaching it?
SM: My ultimate goal is to replicate myself in terms of knowledgeable coaches and directors that can grow the sport on every level, understand, train and look after the athletes from juniors to young riders navigating their first years on pro teams. I’m making good progress. I have coaches that are able to do many of the things I normally do, so I’m at the point where I can delegate. We still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding international nuances and the finer sciences of cycling and training. Bike fit is a big component.
BF: How is the team doing this year? What are your goals for the rest of 2017 and 2018?
SM: The team has had a ground breaking year. We medaled in the TTT at the African Continental Championships. That was a first for us! Rwanda will host in 2018; our goal there is to take gold. We also finished 2nd overall in GC at the tour of Eritrea. No small feat and our best showing ever. That result reflected our riders beginning to understand how to use their strengths tactically and a willingness to follow instruction.
BF: You mentioned bike fit before as a big component in the science of cycling and training. How does BikeFit help the team?
SM: BikeFit is at the core of every single bike fit I do. So every single rider on the national team, juniors, women, and men has been in my shop. We ride Sidi shoes with LOOK pedals, so everybody gets a proper fit and I keep their numbers and notes on file. Some riders just benefit from a proper fitting bike. But more than a few riders have overcome strange or serious biomechanics to go from good to serious contenders.
BF: In your opinion, how does bike fitting affect performance?
SM: My belief is that in terms of physicality, mechanics, and power, it’s absolutely foundational. Going from bad mechanics to properly compensated balanced mechanics can add up to 5% to an already elite rider’s top end. For a new athlete working from the ground up, the difference is more or less immeasurable.
SM: So far I’ve found everything I need in the products that BikeFit currently ships. The wedges allow for every augmentation I’ve needed to make. I especially like the ability to custom build small changes to insoles to relieve pressure points. Many riders are coming from a village life where they grow up typically wearing sandals and their feet have a few nuances or maybe injuries that when accounted for, really increases the comfort of that kid as a professional athlete.
The wedges also allow for the body to line up with the machine. Riding a bike isn’t a natural action to perform physically, at least not strictly speaking. The body is a series of levers, all of our muscles pull not push. So when the body is locked into a fixed machine, allowing the body to be fixed to that machine in a way that the natural movement of those levers following smooth, straight, efficient pathways is essential. On top of that, when you take into consideration that a week of training for a professional bike racer includes upwards of 100,000 pedals strokes. Even a small imbalance, repeated that many times makes a huge difference.
BF: Can you tell me a story about how some of the bike fitting changes impacted an individual rider?
SM: My favorite story to date is Joseph Areruya. His heels were hitting the cranks and his left knee would shoot over the top tube when we first started working together. He’s a super powerful rider that is time trialing and climbing often well in excess of 400 watts. He has an unusual physiology for cycling with wide frame and stance, so he needed a few more wedges than your average rider. But once he got his foundation built up and he wasn’t losing power, he’s been able to forge ahead. He just recently won stage 4 of the Baby Giro d’Italia. The first UCI Europe win for a Rwandese rider.
As a cyclist, it’s imperative to familiarize yourself with the differences between bike fitting and bike sizing. These terms are used by bike shops and professional fitters for the following reasons:
New bike purchase
Pain or discomfort
Desire to increase power and efficiency
Often bike fitting and bike sizing become intertwined, but they are completely different. With that said, fitting a road bicycle works best when you start with the right size bike or at a minimum, a bicycle that is close enough to your right size. As a result, both contribute to a comfortable, powerful and efficient ride.
Sizing a bicycle is not as complicated as you may have been led to believe, in part due to the reality that a good bike fit actually has little to do with the bicycle per se. Yet, we will touch on that part more in the fitting section.
Bike sizing is the process of taking the measurements of an individual and applying those specific measurements to match a person to the correctly sized bike frame. Depending on where you go to get measured (or if you are doing this at home), you may find that shops, fitters, or a multitude of websites provide you with numerous ways to discover the correct bike size. One of the earliest methods was a formula applied by French Coach and former pro cyclist, Cyrille Guimard based on the inseam. Greg Lemond later used and popularized this method of multiplying the inseam measurement by .883 to determine saddle height and frame size.
A similar methodology remains in use today by some bike shops who will measure your inseam and have you stand over a bicycle top tube to obtain the proper frame size. If you use the ubiquitous Google search method, you’ll likely find a chart that suggests the best size for you based on a few measurements like you were purchasing a t-shirt or a hat (you are less likely to experience an injury from hat or t-shirt which is why bike fitting is vital).
Other sizing resources or formulas will use multiple measurements (see the image to the right) to match you with the perfect frame. Considering the plethora of options with seat posts, stem lengths, riding positions and cycling disciplines, it’s vital that the shop or fitter ask you about what type of riding you’ll be doing to pick out the correct frame. This goes without saying that this process should be completed in order to ascertain your frame size before fitting.
Bike sizing has also become much more elaborate than the early methods of formulas and measurements. Some companies use specially designed tools to establish body measurements via a sizing cycle or a laser system. Yet, even these advanced systems don’t always account for intricacies of the human body. Renowned expert fitter, Happy Freedman, reminds us in his talks that the human spine compresses throughout the day. Consequently, you may be a different height in the morning vs. the evening.
Finally, there are numerous body types in the world. Bikes are beautiful and incredibly symmetrical; the human body is not. Someone may have a short inseam and a long torso or vice versa. Therefore a person who is 5’10” could ride a frame size ranging from 52 to 58 (S-XL depending on the brand), in theory. These human differences need to be taken into account in a good sizing and fitting process.
Once you’ve completed the sizing process, fitting a bicycle comes down to the contact or connection points between the cyclist and their bicycle and adjusting those moving parts on the chosen bicycle. These five connection points (9 on a time trial or triathlon bike) are the right and left foot, the pelvis, and right and left hands. Even if your bike is not the correct “size,”(barring a significant difference) as long as you get the connection points in the ideal place, you can still achieve a good and comfortable bike fit. Considering the vast different bike geometries and the fact that a significant discrepancy in size will make fitting extremely difficult, we do recommend starting with the proper size first before fitting.
A proper bike fit has more to do with the saddle, handlebars, brake levers and hoods, stem and, most importantly, shoes, cleats, and pedals. It should also be mentioned that a proper fitting will incorporate the unique needs, goals, and type of riding of the individual cyclist as well as solving problems presented. We talk more about this in our bike fitting expectations article.
Although we mentioned earlier that these two processes are completely different, bike sizing and bike fitting are both crucial aspects of cycling comfort. First, start with sizing and then move to fitting. Below is a quick reference chart describing both.
Determining the most appropriate size frame for the cyclist:
sizing machine/size cycle
stand-over and height
compare to their old bicycle
The art and science of adjusting the moveable parts of a bicycle to fit the individual needs of the cyclist:
BikeFit, the worldwide leader in bicycle fitting products, now offers BikeFit Pro education exclusively through CyclePoint.
Although closely tied with Cycle Point, BikeFit no longer provides educational training to become a bike fitter. We now focus exclusively on providing products and knowledge to increase riding comfort, efficiency, and power. In addition to our amazing line of bike fitting products, we recently developed a Walkable Screw Kit, updates and changes to our iPad/iPhone Fitter App, and the free Foot Fit Calculator Android app. The new app will help cyclists identify foot tilt, decipher the number of wedges they may need, and allow the to directly purchases the wedges they need or connect them to local BikeFit Pros and dealers.
What is Cycle Point?
Paul Swift, founder and CEO of CyclePoint, created the company prior to BikeFit, but it primarily functioned as a product design company. Many of those designs include BikeFit products. CyclePoint now organizes, conducts, and operates all BikeFit Pro training. Recent and upcoming training includes California, Georgia, Washington, Oregon, Texas, and Canada! If you would like to find out more, visit the CyclePoint website.
We are excited for what these changes mean for the future of BikeFit and CyclePoint! With our companies combined, we can do more for numerous cyclists! Our goals are similar: aid cyclists in reducing pain, increasing power and efficiency, and in turn, make cycling more enjoyable. We hope you look forward to the future of bike fitting!