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Making Your Bicycle Fit You

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Most people can relate to a “golf club fitting” and appreciate its positive effects on the enjoyment of a round of golf, but a “bicycle fitting” is a spanking new concept to most. The cycling world is experiencing a revolution in helping consumers enjoy their bikes and many observers report that cycling is outpacing golf as the activity of choice. The revolution centers on custom fitting a bicycle to its intended rider….bicycle fitting.
Bicycle fitting had very humble beginnings at the turn of the century – an era where bicycles had common design and sizing features. These features and the fact that bicycles were largely similar in size and were made of the same materials, allowed many “anecdotal fitting” techniques to suffice. As bicycle design and performance have evolved steel has been replaced with carbon, titanium, and exotic aluminum and magnesium alloys. The once-standard bicycle sizes of the ’60s, 70s, and 80s have been replaced with a proliferation of choices that make each brand somewhat unique. There are women’s specific bicycles (more upright with shorter reach), there are “Tour De France” replica bikes (featuring long and low reach) and there are the rotund cyclist versions that have all the high tech features, but are slightly gentler on the body of a weekend warrior.
So how does one choose a bike given the myriad choices in the sizing, materials, and features? Perhaps the better question answers how can you avoid buying the wrong bike. There is one company that has a three-decade obsession with the science and art of bicycle fitting. When Ben Serotta built his first bicycle sizing machine in 1979 he knew that was going to be pioneering a new approach. His company, “Serotta Competition Bicycles” has relentlessly developed new ways to enhance the cycling experience.
Ben Serotta realized very early in his career that the fit of the bicycle is as important as the bicycle itself. This philosophy was borne out on the world stage when the first American victory at the “Tour De France” was aboard a Serotta. “Our company mission has always been to build the best bicycle in the world,” said Serotta. “Like everyone else, our focus always was centered first on the bicycle itself- frame materials, construction technology, and general design. But the more we conversed with our clients, be they Tour de France contenders or weekend warriors, the more we realized that ‘fit’ was absolutely key to the feel and performance potential of the bicycle we’d built. So we realize better than anyone else that truly building the best bicycle in the world really means building the best bicycle in the world for you….. specifically.”
In 1998, Serotta founded a professional bicycle fitting school that is now widely regarded as the finest bicycle fitting course in the world. Retailers, coaches, and medical professionals from all over the world attend courses every year. As the curriculum evolved and became more sophisticated it was obvious that a broader forum was necessary to support research and the integration of the medical community. In 2006 the Serotta International Cycling Institute (SICI) was founded. The SICI mission is to unite the scientific, medical, and retail communities and leverage a greater understanding of the science of bicycle fitting. Ben’s thirty-five-year journey has recently culminated with the opening of the Serotta Fit Lab which will showcase the best in bicycle fitting technology. Located at the company’s headquarters in picturesque Saratoga Springs, NY, the Serotta Fit Lab boasts 2D and 3D cycling analysis tools that enable the fitter to dynamically track every movement of the cyclist while they are riding.
This is certainly a quantum leap from the 1980s when holding a plumb line from the nose of the cyclist to set the handlebars in the right position was common. The days of standing over a bicycle to check stand-over clearance are also rapidly disappearing. If there is a bicycle even vaguely manifesting itself in your future, get a bike fitting first. It is easy to fall in love with a sleek Italian carbon fiber wonder bike…..fine…. but do yourself a favor and find out what fits you first. It is a very civilized way to buy a bicycle. You make an appointment, the fitter will figure out the perfect position for you and then you work together to figure out your dream ride. That old football injury or your bad back influence what bike you will be most comfortable on! So, find a great fitter and bike shop that prioritizes bike fitting as a primary part of their business. The Serotta website is a great place to start. It’s like Ben says: “a better fit results in a better bike.” But other experts also have their ideas.
According to Happy Freedman (one of Columbia University’s cycling team coaches)” “There are some very important things to remember about bike fitting, A Bike fit session is a snapshot in time. Your position on a bicycle will change with age, fitness, flexibility, and injuries. Sometimes you have to make seasonal adjustments Adding layers of clothing for cold and wet weather can change your flexibility and functional limb length affecting your relationship to the pedals, saddle, and bars..” Mr. Freedman also advises that some issues such as burning or numbness in the feet and hands may indicate a medical problem that should be seen by a doctor.” He adds that “sometimes .the aches and pains are more than just a fit issue….. these may be an early warning of something more significant.”
Ironically, getting into shape and staying in shape starts with a bike fitting when you sally forth in the sport of bicycling.

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