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16-03-2023 | Frank Jansen

The (non)sense of a (dynamic) bike fitting

When it comes to bike fitting, there are believers and non-believers. I'll be honest: I've always been a non-believer. I have long viewed bike fittings as pseudoscience. If you do three different sessions and you'll most likely get three completely different results. Which one is right? My conclusion was: it's a waste of time.

Do it yourself

In the eighteen years I have been riding my bike, I have always been my own bike fitter. By experimenting with stack, reach and saddle height, I ended up at my current position. And yet there was always that little voice in the back of my head: couldn't it be even better?

I was always taught that you should only have an opinion about something after you have tried it yourself. So when professional bike fitter Peter Kraaijvanger from Specialized Nederland asked me if I wouldn't like to come by with my own bike, I didn't have to think twice.


Bikefitting in 2023

I would have expected Peter to immediately pull out his tape measure, string and weights. But things are a little different in 2023. Specialized is working with the Retül system, a company that has now owned by the American bike manufacturer. This advanced system was developed in Boulder, Colorado. You can get such a bike fitting done at many Specialized dealers, even if you ride a bike of another brand. With the help of Retül, the pros of, for example, Bora Hansgrohe and Quickstep-Soudal are also put on their bikes. A measurement takes about two hours.

We start with quite a few specific questions about me. How many hours do I do the bike? Do I ever experience complaints? What kind of rider am I? Do I practice core stability? Based on the answers, Peter begins to create a digital profile of me.

Where other measurements often start with determining body height, inseam and that sort of things, Retül believes instead that you should start by perfecting the contact points between rider and bike. A saddle measurement is executed and my feet are also measured. Peter asks me to demonstrate some ground exercises that show how limber I am. With a special device he takes a number of measurements of my body. Using a kind of digital magic wand, my bike is measured precisely. Slowly the digital profile of rider and bike becomes more complete.

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Zero measurement

The Retül system is a so-called dynamic bike fitting. This means that's not just a measurement. It also means testing by riding, testing and adjusting. The next step is obviously cycling based on my current setup. In other words, a zero measurement. My recently purchased bike mounted into a trainer and a wire with sensors are attached to my legs and shoes. On the screen, I see myself moving.

Retül works with ranges for optimal values such as saddle height, stack and reach. This deviated from other systems, where often a certain value is presented as 'the truth'.  Fortunately, most of my values turn out to be fairly normal. I breathe a sigh of relief, so the new bike doesn't have to go. The saddle height is good. Stack and reach of the are also within the range. My cleats are right. Patiently Peter takes the time to explain how to interpret certain values. This is where the expertise of the experienced bike fitter comes in. It is clear to me that not only the system used is important. The bike fitter is equally important.

Peter, however, is not satisfied with my position on the saddle. Instead of me sitting on it, my saddle has become a kind of valley that I hang between, so to speak. He mounts a different saddle and sure enough, it does indeed ride totally different and much better. Immediately a number of values are now green.

Peter also takes a critical look at my feet. He notes that I have a pretty high lower foot so he makes a set of custom soles. Again, that's quite a difference. Peter is realistic about that:

"You shouldn't think you will actually pedal 20 watts more. It's mainly about a good position on the bike, without complaints. Experienced riders like you are going to notice a lot from this, especially on longer rides."

What makes the Retül system unique is that it relies heavily on the supporting products such as saddles, handlebars and shoes. Those, of course, are all Specialized branded. You can argue with that, but the point is that this bike fitting goes far beyond just tuning the bike itself.

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And how does it ride?

When we're done, the results are sent to me via email. Time to test my new position! The day after the bike fitting I set off with my new setup. And it soon fits me like a glove. I make a number of longer and shorter rides to get my body used to the new setup. I notice that my pedaling motion is much more relaxed because I wobble less on my saddle. As a result, I also have noticeably less pain in my lower back. The soles give a lot of extra comfort, especially when climbing out of the pedals. The differences become most apparent when I ride my spare bike. It's like putting on a pair of shoes that are half a size too small.


Photo: Peter measures my bike with some kind of magic wand.

Conclusion

A bike fitting can definitely add value for both a novice and advanced rider. In order to avoid not seeing the wood for for the trees and not spending money for nothing, there are a number of things to take into account.

  • Please ask yourself beforehand what exactly your goal is with the bike fitting. What will you do with the results? What will you do if your current bike turns out to be one size too small?
  • Learn more about the system used by the bike fitter. In my opinion, a static measurement (which does not involve cycling) has no added value at all.
  • A bike fitting is an interplay between a measurement system and a bike fitter. So in addition to a decent system, you also need to find an experienced and knowledgeable bike fitter. This is not so simple, because there is a lot on offer. Many measuring systems are now quite outdated.
  • Check carefully whether the bike fitting only looks at the adjustment of your bike or whether attention is also paid to things like cleats, saddles, handlebars and so on. The more that is included, the better of course.
  • Be realistic about the outcome. After a bike fitting you won't win the Tour, but it can help you get rid of certain complaints and have more fun on the bike.

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