If you’ve already had the pleasure of having your body’s geometry matched to your favorite people-powered two-wheeler, then you know the gains from a good bike fit: increased power, comfort, and stamina. A serious session with an experienced bike fitter can mean more efficient miles with less fatigue, and those aches you refuse to call pain will dissipate and extend your saddle time.
If you have aspirations of using these long summer days to race, then a bike fit might already be part of your plan. Whatever your biking goals, from long, sometimes-strenuous tours, to preventing injuries or mitigating discomfort, to beating your buddy (or nemesis) in the bike stage of your next triathlon, mating musculoskeletal structure to your machine of choice will help you achieve them.
To aid your ambitions, we are fortunate to have a true guru in Pullman, Wash. Brice Erickson of B&L Bicycles is an expert in the field of fitting, finding his place in the late 80s among the first in what remains a small field of people who know that most of us lack the luck to fit in a suit off the rack. There are currently around 150 people worldwide who perform the level of adaptation of bike to body that Erickson does. In the early days of custom fitting, he worked closely with another of the discipline’s pioneers and legendary progenitor of cyclocross, Michael Sylvester, who found bike fit through yoga as a means of coping with multiple serious injuries and continuing to satisfy his passion for active speed.
Walking into Erickson’s brightly lit shop, peering past shiny new rides, I was taken in by his collection of antique bicycles. Many were clearly some of his first, others were family heirlooms, some beautiful collectibles, each a partial testament to the fervor of their owner.
From our preliminary interview, through extensive function and flexibility tests, I found him drawing me in to his somewhat nerdy world of miniscule bike fitting details. “Age, muscle imbalance, injuries, or sitting at a computer, all will affect your fit over time,” Erickson claimed, as he centered a pressure mapping device on my seat. This was new; I’ve had several bike fit sessions, and had never seen this process before going to B&L. Pedals, handlebars, and seat share the load of a rider. The pressure mapping system would tell him where mine was hurting me.
“You must have a high tolerance for pain,” he wagered, looking at the data from the device, which showed too much spiky red for comfort. All bodies are different, none are symmetrical, and we can’t always see those differences readily, which makes the pressure-mapping system a key data source. It was true that my saddle was increasingly painful as the gel inserts broke down. Plus, my fit was changing, and my knee was letting me know.
I had chosen a classic Brooks saddle to replace my aging Terry, which a friend had dubbed “the emasculator.” After testing with a broken-in Brooks, Brice determined that a new one would work for me. Once all the data had been evaluated, and the ideal fit for my riding goals achieved, he added a longer stem and tweaked handlebar and saddle positions until we were both satisfied that I could take a long ride with comfort.
I was dropped off for a test on the way back to Spokane. The final 25 miles into town on the Centennial Trail felt far too short: a good sign, but a longer trial felt necessary. So, a day later, I went on a four-day tour around the eastern shore of Lake Pend Oreille. Initially I fought the new fit, muscle memory taking me back to bad habits painfully ingrained over many miles. Once I relaxed and focused on keeping my head up, the new position provided precisely what the best bike fits will: increased efficiency and the ability to sit for hours on long climbs.
[Feature photo: One of Brice Erickson’s customers on his Fit Cycle watching real time saddle pressure mapping data at his shop in Pullman. This information will be used to select one of the 200 plus seats available there. // Justin Skay]
Not convinced you should get a bike fitting? Check out Katrina Z. Vogel’s article on how a bike fitting can eliminate pain.