The Bike List

Should I have a professional bike fit?

It's not just pro riders who benefit from a professional bike fit. For anyone who enjoys riding their bike regularly a well-fitting bike will make you faster, more efficient, increase your comfort and reduce your chance of knee, back or arm injury.

The Bike List paid a visit to Andy Brooke from Bike Science in Derby to find out if their level 2 fit is worth the £175 price tag. Bike Science recommend this level of fit for people who "already have a bike and are looking to optimise their position for best comfort and power output."

So there we were with our bikes, first answering an extensive set of questions about our level of activity, type of riding, injuries and goals etc, then on the turbo trainer on a swivelling platform (the swivelling bit becomes important later), pedalling away under Andy's watchful eye. This was just the warm up, and after 5-10 minutes of spinning, it was over to the physio couch for a flexibility and lower limb anatomy assessment. "Here we assesses how flexible you are," said Andy, "whether any muscles are weaker or stronger in certain areas and locate any pain or discomfort you might currently have."

After being declared bendy enough for biking, I was back on the turbo trainer and fetchingly stickered with spots of black velcro on key areas like the foot, knee, hip, shoulder and wrist. "These allow us to stick on the infra red LEDs that feedback the rider's exact movements to the Retul 3D motion tracking system," said Andy, sticking them on from foot to shoulder. "Look, there's a stick-man representation of you on the computer screen. Don't worry about your missing stick-man head, it doesn't need that to analyse your riding position."

To get accurate readings you have to pedal at a constant power output to accurately replicate effort across each capture, so the CompuTrainer turbo trainer Bike Science use contains a powermetre. "You need to keep your cadence between 90-95rpm for 15 seconds now," said Andy. "You can see the cadence measurement on the screen. We repeat this 15 second data capture as many times as is needed as we tweak one thing on your bike at a time in our quest for the perfect fit according to your body type, riding style, injury history and race goals."

After each 15 second ride, Andy scanned his practiced eye over the columns of numbers that the Retul system generated. "I'm looking for key areas of your body to be angled within certain recommended ranges," said Andy. "So here I can see that your knee angle is too high, so your saddle needs raising quite a bit. On some fits this could be the opposite case, or the rider could be leaning too far forward and require a longer, higher stem, or say the saddle shifting forwards, or backwards. Or their cleat position could need altering, or there might be a lot of lateral movement in their knee. The list goes on, and the scope for small tweaks that could massively improve your performance and comfort is huge."

This is where the swivelling platform comes in. Once you've made all the painstaking, necessary changes on one side of your body, Andy swivels you round to assess the other side. Sometimes the too-ing and fro-ing as he checks each side can become like being on a merry go round. "Without the swivelling platform it would take up valuable fitting time to keep getting you off the bike, turning it, you and the turbo trainer around without catching the wires," said Andy as he tweaked another part of my bike.

Being up on the swivelling platform gave me the air of an important city statue, you know the one - famous bronzed man riding a bronzed horse oblivious to the years of pigeon poo accumulating on his head. Only this was way more fun - you get wheeled round for a different view, and there was no pigeon poo.

So I was spun round to check that my left hand side agreed with my right hand side. Thankfully I was pretty much symmetrical, so I could stop pedalling and admire my shiny new bike set up. I couldn't wait to get it out on the road, but once I'd taken the saddle off to fit it in the car, how would I remember my optimum saddle height? Here's the clever part - the bit you take home with you.

Andy picked up what can only be described as a scary-looking metal probe, from his desk, and started prodding my bike with it. "This is the Retul Zin tool," he said, placing the tip on the end of the saddle. Phew. Not a probe. "It uses 3D point tracking to measure and record the new set up of your bike with millimetre accuracy. We email you a pdf of all your measurements so that you can replicate this set-up once you've gone. We only advise a fresh bike fit if you get a different shoe, saddle or a new bike altogether."

It turns out that the Retul system is the most powerful and accurate measurement tool available to bike fitters right now. "It is used by top pro teams like Radio Shack, Team Sky and K-Swiss Trek for fitting and bike set up," said Andy. And now I know why. It really does make it startlingly straightforward for a trained bike fitter to pin point any areas where your position is hindering your performance and correct them.

After the fit I was keen to get to work on my newly-fitted road bike and straight away I could feel the difference. My legs felt somehow longer, my arms less strained, and my whole body more relaxed. I relished this new found power and my enthusiasm for riding went up 100% - I have ridden to work every day since the fit and feel more confident knowing that my bike is set up in the best possible way for my far from pro body. £175 might seem to some like a high price, but consider it an investment for the level of expertise and precise measurements involved. Anyone who rides regularly will benefit from the increased performance, comfort and injury relief that you get from a well-fitting bike. So whether you ride for fun, grin and bear the commute, bike with your kids or hit the road or trails on two wheels, if you don't try a bike fit you'll never know how good it can feel.

To read The Bike List's general frame size guides click here.

Suffering from back ache whilst riding? Read our guide on how to beat it.