Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Some tortured thoughts on fittting and fit systems

this post has been sitting in my drafts folder for a couple months. i'm not sure why i never hit "publish". this is deep stuff! fit for Hank's blog, by gum .


A few days ago, I hung out with a guy who is thinking of opening a bike shop in Spokane. He made a comment that was something like, "I plan on offering a proper fit system, since none of the shops in town do it right."

Out of context, this quote sounds crass and thoughtless, and it's really not. The guy was a nice dude and had very specific ideas of what he needed in a fit system. His opinion was informed by his experience as a fairly accomplished amateur racer, years of performance-oriented riding, and his background in a technical vocation.  

In my experience, if you talk to shop owners about fit, then you'll often hear a version of the same basic sentiment: we do it right, other shops don't get it. Not all shop owners dismiss other fit systems explicitly, but they all insist that their person and/or system and/or philosophy is the best.

That's the funny thing to me about the whole fit system thing. From the outside looking it, the Fit Discussion strikes me more as a religious argument -- as many bikey subjects tend to fall -- more than one guided by a skeptical inquiry towards problem solving and acknowledgement (if not mutual respect) of the goals shared by various Fit System sects. 

Perhaps such a goal is too lofty for any bike-related discussion. Spend any time in an online bike forum or discussing technical matters with a group of cyclists and you'll encounter a domain where arguments are often framed in earnest, technical-sounding jargon, but fundamentally supported by mythology and anecdotal experience. And almost always driven home by referring to some hero-worship pro endorsement.

Because, on the surface, our culture seems to value evidence that is based on science: the authoritative arbiter of Truth. But in reality, I believe we're all animals that act almost entirely on emotions first, then rationalize those primal emotional attachments with our big fat brains, conjuring up all sorts of empirically-armored logic to defend our actions.

I feel like an outsider to the Fit Discussion since I've never taken much stock in it. In my opinion, (which of course is also informed by my emotional attachments to prejudice, ignorance, cynicism, and anecdotal experience), the pro fit thing to me is akin to selling and buying the high zoot, ultra light-weight, expensive gear: it probably can't hurt, but for me, if I want to improve performance, it starts by loosing a shit ton of weight and doing a lot fast riding up steep hills. 

I maintain that taking such an approach to potential fit issues would fix the glitch. My take is that if you ride a bunch and you ride a bunch of different bikes, then you can listen to what your body tells you about fit and performance. Sometimes your body gives directives in the language of pain. Achilles hurt? Maybe the saddle is too high. Wrists/shoulders hurting? You're likely too stretched out. Knees tightening and stiff? Check that the saddle isn't too low. Lower back? Maybe you need to slide the saddle back a bit.

Over the years I've sort of figured out the basics of what I like fit-wise. It's taken me forever. Go find a picture of my bikes from 5+ years ago on this blog and you'll notice the saddle was always pointed up. That had to do with reach and saddle height.

This illustrates how my fit system would work better for a more methodical person. My implementation of the system is pretty stupid. I've had bikes that don't fit right for months because I go by a general "good-enough" approach when it comes to setting them up initially. Glen says I should measure the relative distances on the bikes that do fit so that I have a better starting place when I build up another bike. That would be the methodical approach.


Stine said...

Oh, fit. Religious indeed. I had some experience with this selling bikes for five years. And to base it on racer spec's? Yeah, that's what takes the joy out of riding for probably 80% of the population. There are no absolutes, save for maybe saddle height (barring any hip malformation) for efficiency/knee health. But the rest of it, for me, is all about the rider: past injuries (or lack thereof), intentions (or lack thereof), image (or lack thereof), and comfort (or lack thereof).

I think of us fortunate/geeky enough to have more than one bike, and to have fiddled extensively with fit configurations are well acquainted with the multiple facets of fit-truth.

Owner 2 said...

We have also found a lot of Voodoo in bike fitting and a lot of lore in the bike world in general. I once had a bicycle purveyor in town tell me that I had to be on such and such size based on various ratios from his days as a pro - did not by the frame and went elsewhere.

Best advice on fits and other bike stuff is go somewhere where they truly listen to you, patiently ask intelligent questions seeking to educate rather than sell. We have spent the time to attend schools of different methods and approaches and combined them with experience to offer a sensible and effective approach to making the bike fit the person rather than force them into some preconceived position.

We have also unfortunately been in the position of undoing some professional fits because of an unhealthy position. Clearly, not everyone benefits from a fitting which needs to be considered when offering any service.

I agree with Stine regarding the 80% of the population loosing joy from an aggressive fit just for the "look" and have found that people can ride longer and faster if they are positioned in a manner appropriate for their body.

Thanks for the post.

Alistair said...

John, great post. I've got similar views to you on fit. I really believe that the rider needs to be an active participant in the fit process. Passive "show me how I fit to this bicycle" type fits are less successful imo.

I AM a great believer in being able to accurately quantify measurements, and more importantly changes in measurements, and have built some basic tools to facilitate this. The ones I really want to make are still on the drawing board though.