Which bike fit is right for you? For many consumers, the quick and dirty answer is whatever fit system their local bike shop has on hand. And for the vast majority of riders, that may be just fine.
But Shimano wanted to give riders the most precise fit experience possible, so it acquired Bikefitting.com in order to combine the Dutch company’s expertise in static fitting with the Shimano Dynamics Lab’s pedaling analyzer and 3D motion capture. Those technological tools help ensure a precise fit based on a rider’s needs: speed, comfort, injury recovery, or a combination of all three.
In true Shimano fashion, there’s a ton of technology packed into a fit session. Leave the plumb bob at home; Shimano’s got real-time touch point adjustments, pedaling analysis that tells you when and where your pedal stroke is most (or least) productive, and live motion tracking that helps you visualize how your body is moving when you pedal. But it all starts with simple body limb measurements to set a baseline.
To find out what sets the Bikefitting.com process apart, VeloNews tech editor Dan Cavallari headed off to Shimano’s headquarters in Irvine, California to go through the process himself.
My fit session
The fit process starts with static measurements. With a plethora of tools at its core, the Bikefitting.com session can hone in on potential problem areas in a rider’s pedal stroke and body position with some impressive precision. Moreover, the tools — particularly the 3D analysis and heads-up visualization — help that rider see and understand what’s happening in real time. That pain in your right knee? It could be the result of your pronation or supination that you can see, right there in front of you, as you pedal away on the bike.
Even more importantly, it’s possible to change dimensions of the bike on the fly so you can feel incremental differences as you pedal. Raise or lower the saddle and handlebars; even change the length of your crank arms. The numbers will change right in front of you: the angle of your back, angle of your leg during various parts of the pedal stroke, even your foot angle and stability during the pedal stroke.
In my case, I’ve been fighting some lower back pain for the better part of a year. My hunch was that it had something to do with tightness in my hips, as well as an old injury that didn’t heal correctly. (I crashed squarely on my hip during a 2006 crit.) Like so many cyclists, all of those old injuries live in my back, hips, and legs. As a result, I’ve got some arthritis in my lower back.
Discomfort in my right ankle has also been dogging me. That often caused me to shift my foot during the pedal stroke. I find it annoying, but it hadn’t occurred to me that it might be part of the pain puzzle — or that it might be costing me a fair bit of power. All of this became clear during the fit session. The foot movement appeared to cause power loss during my pedal stroke. The pedal analysis graphics showed this in several ways, from a series of arrows showing where my force was going to a number that indicated force consistency. My pedal stroke is a dumpster fire.
By shortening my reach (handlebars closer to the saddle) and maintaining the low stack height I prefer, my shoulders relaxed and there was less discomfort in my lower back. I’ve had other fit sessions come to similar conclusions, but I saw it in real time on the screen in front of me, with data to show improvements.
That said, the overall position adjustments were fairly minor. We’re talking millimeters. Over the course of my next several rides, I’ll be paying attention to see if those millimeters add up to comfort, more power, or simply a more enjoyable riding experience. Like any fit session, the Bikefitting.com session is a living thing: After the fit, it’s important to go for a few rides, see if the new position works, consult with other professionals (Jacobson recommended I visit a podiatrist or other medical professional to address some of my ankle problems), and then revisit your fit professional to analyze what you’ve learned.
Once your fitter has found a good position for you, the data can be translated directly to your bike using a specially-designed jig that holds your bike parallel to the fit bike. The fitter then uses lasers to line up the handlebar, stem, and saddle.
A fit session remains a game of millimeters, but those tiny increments can mean the difference between a comfortable ride and an agonizing one. But as is the case with all fit systems, temper your expectations. It won’t transform you from After-Work-Allan into Peter Sagan. Sometimes, you’re simply limited by what your body can and cannot do. Will I win more Strava KOMs as a result of this fit? Probably not. But I hope I’ll be a bit more comfortable as I try.
Pricing on the session varies from $250 to $500, depending on which services a customer chooses. For more information on the different types of fit sessions, visit Bikefitting.com.