Can you do your own DIY bike fit?

Setting up a bike is not rocket science or brain surgery.  It simply involves adjusting the position of the saddle, the handlebars and the cleats.  There’s a degree of precision but it’s a few millimetres so nothing that a bog-standard tape measure can’t cope with.

In some cases simply experimenting with your bike will eventually get you a good enough setup, but it might take a while.  There are a lot of permutations to work through but the range is finite.

In many cases, however, it won’t.  You can experiment for as long as you like but that finite range of adjustment that your bike allows won’t permit it.  It’s like searching for gold in your garden. However deep you dig you won’t find any if there isn’t any there.

On this basis there are two obvious reasons to go to a specialist bike fitter:

  • to save time.  If finding ‘the right’ fit is simply a case of adjusting the settings a good bike fitter can save you a lot of time.  (That’s time that you’re potentially uncomfortable and suffering unnecessarily, or time that you are ploughing through the information and advice available on line!)
  • to save you wasting your time.  If the fit that you need is outside the range of adjustment of your bike you won’t find it yourself – at least not without changing components which can be expensive as well as time consuming (and, unfortunately, possibly still futile …but you won’t know that until you’ve tried it)

There are some less obvious reasons too.

Is a DIY fitting good enough?

It might be.  There is no reason why the adjustments that you come up with yourself cannot be identical to, or as good as, those of an expert.  But it might be that ‘good enough’, while not causing you any obvious problems, is not giving you all of the benefits that it could.  

I’ve come across many cyclists and clients who really enjoy their riding – but find some things outside their comfort zone surprisingly difficult or, literally, uncomfortable.  There are, for example, riders who love the hills but for whom a long flat ride is purgatory, riders who are happy on the flat but hate the hills, riders who love going up but hate going down, riders who are happy on their own but don’t feel safe in a group, riders who love group riding but find going solo a miserable slog, riders who find going easy easy but going hard really uncomfortable, and, as odd as it might sound, riders who like riding hard but really don’t feel comfortable riding ‘easily’.  And these comfort zones are often not related to the obvious things like fitness, bodyweight, bike weight, psychology or where in the world they come from.   

Bike setup impacts every aspect of your riding (read some of my other posts to find more). Why take a lifetime of riding to discover what a really good bike fitting session can help you unearth in a few hours?  

What if DIY is my only option?

Unfortunately lockdown means that DIY might be your only option right now and it’s certainly worth experimenting. There are lots of bike fitting ‘rules’, some are sound and some are anything but. The ones that I definitely recommend are:

  • Mark
  • Measure
  • Record

If you make a change and it obviously makes things worse you can go back to what what you had before and try something different. But sometimes a change seems better to begin with and turns out to be worse after a while. Then you can use your records to go back.

There is more than one good way to measure your set up. The key to all of them is that they are repeatable. For example to compare different saddle positions on the same bike find a consistent point to measure from on the saddle and take measurements to two different fixed points on the frame.

Comparing measurements between bikes is a bit more tricky as the only fixed point to measure to is the bottom bracket. I suggest doing it like this:

  • Put a mark on the top of the saddle half way between the front and the back (I stick a piece of tape on to it)
  • Lean your bike against a vertical corner or edge like this to create a datum line through the bottom bracket.
Align the vertical edge with the bottom bracket axle
  • Measure and record the following dimensions with a tape measure:
    • Marker on saddle to bottom bracket
    • Nose of saddle (or the marker) to vertical datum
    • Centre of handlebars to bottom bracket
    • Centre of handlebars to vertical datum
    • The date

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