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bike fitting for newbies

bike fitting for newbies

Hi, I'm new and my husband and I are very interested in getting into road biking. We are ready to retire our 20+ year-old hybrids for new road bikes and are feeling overwhelmed by the myriad of choices out there. I have picked up a few books to get educated and visited some local bike shops, and have learned that a properly fitted bike is key. Is there a best way or better way to get fitted than just trusting whoever is selling you the bike knows what he/she is doing?

Any advise is greatly appreciated!

Edited by: Laura Snyder - Apr-16-11 12:46 pm

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Re: bike fitting for newbies

You want a bike shop that works with builders of custom bikes; they will have fit kits and trained staff. For example, look for Calfee, Seven, Merlin, Independent Fabrication, or Serotta dealers. If you are not ordering a custom frame, expect to pay for a fitting -- could be a couple hundred bucks but is well worth it.

Janet L. Goldstein, BBC Forums Moderator

Janet Goldstein
Janet L. Goldstein
430 Posts
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Re: bike fitting for newbies

Welcome Laura.
I think there are two separate concerns here:
1. Buying a bike that can properly accommodate you. If a bike shop employee cannot explain to you in plain terms why a given bike fits you then you should move on. I believe all good bike stores must understand how to sell appropriately sized bikes regardless of their sale price.
2. Making the myriad adjustments to a bicycle to make it comfortably do whatever it is you want it to do. I believe this is a process that begins with large adjustments, continues with smaller and smaller adjustments and never stops. Even after 10,000 miles last year, I still consider and reconsider bike fit on almost every ride.

Here's a great overview that will help you buy and build up a great ride:
4130 on 28's @ 15

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Re: bike fitting for newbies

My two-cents (and for those who know me, they know it could turn into fifty-seven dollars) would be the following.  Most people don't know if they have long legs/short torso (like me) or the reverse or are average. Next, don't do it like me and buy fifty bikes over five years and have to resell them to figure out what you like, I should have found help as the others have said.  Third, I always suggest that you get a user ID for a certain online high end bike seller that has an excellent online fit system/calculator and use it.  Finally, and has also been said, there are several high-end LBS (local bike shops) that offer certified fitters and fit systems and it would be well worth the $200 each to make sure you buy the right size.

That online fit system (IM me for the site) requires each of you to take about eight measurements of each other.  You should follow the directions, they tell you exactly what you are measuring, do each three times and average the result.  Plug it into their calculator and voila, you will be darn sure of the right frame size to start with, about the right stem length and post height and bar width etc.  That will give you a great baseline for bike shopping and checking against what the store says.  In addition, once you buy your new bikes, it will me that your professional fitting can zero in on the smaller differences rather than the big gross adjustments for starters.

If you buy the wrong size bike, or get the wrong height/length set up, or your cleats aren’t in the right place, you will be uncomfortable, tire quickly, perhaps cramp, and quit cycling which would be a shame. Do it right and we will enjoy your company doing your first big event, long ride or century by late this year!  Enjoy the ride.


~too much of anything is just enough for me. Pete Townshend

Stuart Lamb
Stuart the Descender
196 Posts
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Re: bike fitting for newbies


I wouldn’t get too involved in “bike fitting” right away. I would just go out and ride as many different models/sizes as possible.
It is quite likely that you can find  bikes that you are comfortable with.  Everyone is a little different and will prefer a different
riding style and geometry and bike manufacturers make different lines of bikes to fill different needs.  You need to put in the time. Even with a professional fitting there are no guarantees. It is as much art as science! As mentioned by another poster, Sheldon Brown’s website has some good basic advice. Probably the most important point is that you are balanced on the bike. You should be able to go from having your hands on the hoods to sitting up with very little push from arms. If you can’t then you are probably stretched out too far and putting too much weight on your arms. After spending some time on demos you will notice the differences.
If you simply can’t find anything comfortable then maybe a bike fitting is in order but try the simple route first if only to find out
what exactly you find uncomfortable!


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Re: bike fitting for newbies

I think there are articles about bike fit that will get you 98 to 99 percent where you want to be.  Brian Towns mentioned the late Sheldon Brown’s article, one of the historic authorities on all things bicycle.  I like a bike fit article by Peter John White, a frame builder, who’s article sizes road bikes by the type of riding you wish to do. aggressive riding, touring etc.

Rivendell’s philosophy pushes more of a handlebar top level with or higher than the saddle for comfort on longer rides. … frame_size and for bike fit: … g_position 

Having the handlebar a bit lower than the seat helps down hilling confidence, but tends toward the more aggressive riding style.  Having a flat back seems important to some very fast riders, but sets the bars lower still.  Some people have neck or back issues if they’re bent too low.  You need to find out what works for you and your riding style rather than having a professional give his opinion first on how you should ride. 

A nice lightweight racing or sport racing style bike will help you keep up with your paced ride, and maybe stay near the lead if that’s what you wish, though there will always be faster and slower riders than you.  Another online bike shop I like states, "Most cyclists don't race, yet they ride uncomfortable racing bikes and try to go too fast and so miss much of the world around them. Our emphasis is on a more relaxed and comfortable style of riding, and on refined bikes that are comfortable on a century ride, an inn-to-inn tour, or even on a ramble down your favorite dirt road."  There are different bikes that will fit that description, cyclocross is sort of a dirt and road racer, randonneurs are made for long distance comfort, pretty light weight and both usually running slightly larger tires, though almost never as light as a pure road or sport road bike.  Fenders or mudguards will keep you drier in the rain, but make loading the bicycle onto some racks and into cars problematic.

I embrace the Peter White article myself, but do feel that experimentation once you’ve read all the articles are what will get you the best setup.  I also think test riding at least several bicycles once you’ve got your size worked out is key.  Almost all bikes feel slightly different from one another, even if you can’t tell why.  Of all the bikes you test ride, chances are one of them feels more confident to you.  And I agree with Bob Wagner that the more time you take to fine tune what feels comfortable the closer you’ll get to really appreciating the bicycle.  Sometimes the perfect time to make an adjustment is at the end of a long ride that brings out the niggling little annoyances, seat angle or height, handlebar reach or angle.  I personally like a comfortable shake hands angle of bar when in the drops.  Almost all modern bikes have a handlebar stem that can be unbolted easily to switch with different lengths or angles to allow a better fit.

If after all that, you feel that you’re just not getting a comfortable fit, you may wish to go to a professional.

Dan Artley in Parkton

"Biomechanics and all that knee-over-the-pedal plum line stuff is fine and dandy, but when it comes to saddle position, how you feel on the bike is what counts."
-David R. Farmer

"To me, the fit of a bicycle is crucial to the enjoyment of riding, which I think should be a mystical experience.  The bicycle should be invisible to what you are doing physically.  Even if you are riding around a familiar circuit, one you've ridden for years and know intimately, the ride should be a mystical experience."
- Georgena Terry

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Re: bike fitting for newbies

Thank you all for the great advice. It's certainly a lot more complicated then back when I could just steal my older brother's bike because the training wheels were permanently rusted in place on my bike!

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