Bike Fit

Bike Fit

You’ve been thinking about it, maybe obsessing about it for weeks or months. And then, this morning you woke up and decided it’s the day to buy a new bike. It may be your first bike in a long time, or maybe ever. Where do you start? First, find a bike shop. Maybe one comes recommended to you, or you simply find the one closest to your house. You walk-in, and a salesperson approaches and asks, “What brings you in today?” You say something like, “Um, I’m looking for a bike.” And so it begins.

Depending on the bike shop, the employee could be working on commission, or the shop numbers have been down so they need to sell a bike today to make payroll or move old inventory. Or maybe, they truly care about your experience, and want to put you on a bike that will make you fall in love with cycling. If it goes well, they’ve now earned your trust and acquired a return customer.

So who do you get? Depending on the shop and the motives of the sales associate, your experience can vary, and the outcome can either be a bad experience that keeps on giving, or, the start of a long, healthy relationship.

My first experience was the former. I walked into a used bike shop in Seattle. I was 18, and needed a way to get around to the three jobs I had at the time. I told the sales guy what I thought I was looking for, and he pointed me to a cluster of road bikes. I had never ridden a proper road bike, and was immediately scared. He then came over and pointed out a bike, and said, “That one, that one is perfect for you.” He asked me, “isn’t she pretty? It’s a spare bike from a pro team, Masi. Have you heard of it? It was custom painted for them. See the dark green sparkle and all those logos from the team’s sponsors? You won’t find another bike like this one! Throw your leg over it, now grab it by the bars and saddle and lift. Perfect. It fits you perfectly.” 

$400 later, a small fortune for me at the time, I was walking out the door with a new bike. I walked it down the street because I was terrified to ride it., I had no idea how to shift, and the tires were so skinny. Things felt hard to reach and unstable, but I was told I would “get used to it.” And, for the most part, I did. Eventually, I worked up the courage to ride, wobbly and uncomfortably at first, but I was riding. It took some amount of me staring at and hesitantly playing with them, but I figured out the click-click of the up and down Shimano shifting. I should have asked the sales guy at the bike shop, but I didn’t even know what questions to ask. I was so intimidated and nervous, I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible and stop feeling like an idiot. Of course, what I know now is this was completely the wrong bike for me. 

Let’s look at some numbers, the Masi was a 54cm. I ride a 48cm. The stem was a 110. I ride a 110 (the one thing that was correct, but not with that 54cm top tube!). The bars were 42cm. I ride 38cm bars. The cranks were 170cm, and I ride 165cm. And don’t even get me started on the saddle… Over the next 10 years, I would go through saddle after saddle. Some would wear through my jeans in a week, and others would wear through in a month or two. And no matter what I tried, all would cause me great discomfort. Why was riding a bike so miserable? 

When you’re new to something, the questions that should be asked are nearly never asked because you simply don’t know. We often accept being uncomfortable, or even in pain because we don’t have an understanding that it should be any different. We’re often told, “ah, you’ll get used to it,” like riding a bike is something that everyone has to suffer through to perhaps enjoy somewhere down the road. Think about it. We don’t suffer with new shoes that fit well. Even a good pair of leather boots or shoes should be comfortable from the start, and not something to be broken in or get used to. A bike should be no different.

Many years, and many bikes later I would discover something called a bike fit. I honestly can’t recall my first experience because it was unremarkable. Again, it was someone else telling me I was comfortable and that I would get used to it. I didn’t. It was not until I experienced my first Retül fit that I learned what it meant to truly be comfortable on a bike. This experience was so life-changing on the bike that I decided to become a Retül fitter myself, and went to Retül University in Boulder, Colorado. Soon after, I began working with Studio Velo in Mill Valley, CA focusing on women’s specific fits. I wanted to create an environment for women to be comfortable talking about their soft bits, and help them ask the questions they did not know needed to be asked. 

Retül takes you, the rider, into account with the goal of collecting and analyzing your data to increase ride comfort, prevent injury and improve performance. Retül considers the rider’s limitations, past injuries current, and future goals, with an understanding that proper fit is a process – it’s never one and done. As you change, get stronger, or deal with challenges, so does your fit. 

So what is Retül? It’s the most advanced bicycle fitting system available today. 

A Retül bike fit is a dynamic process that uses 3D motion capture technology. It’s more than just a bike fit, it’s a way to learn about your body, figure out the root cause of your injuries, aches, pains and to help determine how a proper fit can help you achieve your cycling goals no matter your level of riding.

Using 3D motion capture technology, the Retül system accurately measures every degree of movement and millimeter of distance, providing you and your fitter with data to support the choices made during the fit. So in real time, you and your fitter work together to make decisions about your fit and your cycling experience, and with the real time 3D capture you see what the fitter is looking at. Nothing is a secret, no guessing, and no fitter telling you what you need to look like on the bike. Your fit is a conversation where everything is on the table.

How does it work? 

Step 1

Step one includes a pre-fit physical assessment, taking into account your body’s limitations, previous injuries, any current pain, and goals on the bike.  Expect to be asked to do a plank, touch your toes, and walk. How you move tells so much about your body, range of motion, and level of functionality. This is not a test that you pass or fail. Your body is simply telling a story, and your fitter is listening.

Step 2

Now it’s time to get on your existing bike, or on a fit bike. The fitter will then place LED markers on 8 different points of your body (think hinge points) which will be tracked by the Retül Vantage Motion Capture system. The system collects real-time, three-dimensional data from each pedal stroke creating a dynamic fit experience. In real terms, that mean you get to watch a moving stick figure avatar that is a real-time 3D motion capture of you pedaling and moving on the bike. You’ll see corresponding numbers that show your angles moving in real-time. How cool is that?!

Step 3

The real-time data is compiled into the Retul fit software so that the fitter can look at the numbers, discuss what they mean with you, and then start to dial you into your perfect riding position taking into account the information gathered during your pre-fit assessment. Things that may change during your fit, starting with your three contact points: your pedals, shoes, cleat placement, and insoles. Your next contact point is your saddle. This is what often takes the most time to dial in. We then look forward to your bars, bar width, shape and hood placement. 

Step 4

Once you and your fitter have dialed in your final bike position, the fitter will create a digital map of your final bike set up using the Retül Zin tool. The bike data and Zin tool measurements are generated into a complete fit report that you can reference anytime after the fit. Buy a new bike down the line? Your numbers are available and the new bike is ready to be dialed in.

Depending on the changes made during your fit, there can be an adaptation period where your body settles into the new setup. Often riders are comfortable for the first time so want to go out and ride all day, but we recommend easing into things to let your muscles adapt to the changes no matter how big or small, because on top of wanting to improve performance we also want to prevent injury. 

Not all bike shops have your best interest in mind, but many absolutely do care. Do your research: does the bike shop offer bike fits, and most importantly do they offer Retül 3D motion capture fits? Maybe the bike you are lusting after is not sold by the shop that offers Retül bike fits. That’s ok – you can still get a fit on a fit bike, and you will walk away with your report knowing what your fit numbers are, and what the fit should feel like. With this knowledge you can then go to any bike shop and get the bike you are after, and even negotiate to walk away with a new bike that has the right stem saddle and bars that you need. The best thing you can do for yourself to make that next new bike day great is to get a Retül bike fit.

Happy pedaling.