By Nathan Collier
I’ve been riding mountain bikes since 2006, racing since 2008, and am on my fourth year of endurance racing. Through the years I have always done my own bike fitting. I’m kind of a bike fit nerd and have done my research. My friend who owns the bike shop Pedal Pushers Cyclery Eric Francis, really wanted me to come in for a bike fit since he knows how important it is to be properly fitted. This is especially true for an endurance racer like myself. Not only is a bike fit important for comfort, it’s also extremely important to maximize your efficiency on the bike. I jumped at the opportunity and quite frankly wanted to see just how accurate I was. With a six pack of beer as a peace offering and an open mind I went to get fitted. The first step in any fitting is seat height. Seat height is the most important aspect of the fitting. Too high or low and you risk loss of efficiency, or even worse you put yourself at risk of injury. I have used several different methods for measuring my seat height including the 25 degree rule. The angle of your knee should be at 25 degrees at the bottom of your pedal stroke. I measured this at home using a mirror and a protractor with several rulers glued to it. It’s not exactly state of the art. Eric used a tool similar, but specifically made for measuring the angle of the knee. I’ve always known that I was a pointer when I pedal, or in other words I point my toes down at the bottom of my pedal stroke. It wasn’t too much of a surprise when we discovered my seat was too high. So why was I so off? I didn’t follow the first step of fitting. NEVER FIT YOURSELF! Why? Because when you fit yourself, you can too easily lie to yourself. Because I didn’t feel comfortable with a lower saddle height initially, I lied to myself about the angle of my knee when measuring myself. To be properly fit, you need the non-subjective eye of a trained professional to tell you that science says 25 degrees, and after several measurements science says you’re wrong. So as weird as it felt, I lowered my saddle by nearly 20mm… that’s huge! Next was measuring the aft/fore. You measure this by using a string with a weight at the end and hang it just below your knee. With your crank arms horizontal at 9 and 3, the string hanging from your forward knee should hang over the pedal spindle. I was a little off. My saddle needed to be moved a little forward. Once again, hard to tell when you fit yourself. After making sure the saddle was level, we went onto my shoes. I was perfect on my left shoe, but a little off on my right. I had used a different method than Eric’s method for positioning of the cleats. I had to move the cleat a little more forward. I opted to go with his method since the more forward the cleat, the more leverage you get. We then looked at the height of my handlebars. They were a little high after lowering the seatpost, so I lowered them by 10mm. I prefer to have my handlebars a little higher then my saddle for more comfort, but XC races tend to have them level or even a little below. The lower the handlebars the more leverage on the climbs, but they make make you lose some of your confidence on the descents.
All those changes felt weird to me at first, but after a week in I can feel the enhanced power gains! I am using my hamstrings a lot more rather than my calves which aren’t nearly as strong. My only regret is not doing this sooner. I just keep thinking how much faster I could have been at all the races I’ve done. A bad bike fit can degrade efficiency and put you at risk for injury. Even with the right information, it’s hard to be a non-subjective candidate for your own bike fit. It’s best to leave it to the experts. I strongly suggest you go in and let Eric at Pedal Pushes Cyclery get the most out your pedal stroke!