Bike fits are a funny subject because while I know that they have a time and place for some riders, for your average trail rider I think that they are extremely overrated. Like other bits of bike technology that gets misused they are often a band-aid for deeper problems and rarely “fix” the real issues behind comfort and performance.
First, bike fits usually just help you maximize your dysfunctions, which may result in a short term performance gain but does not really make you a better rider. Second, I strongly believe that seated pedaling is simply bad for the body in the first place and should be minimized, not fortified. Lastly, bike fits rarely take the technical skill side of trail riding into account.
Maximizing Your Dysfunctions
If you are performing a bike fit on a rider who does not have a clean Functional Movement Screen (2s on everything with no asymmetries) then you are no better than the doctor who prescribes pills before trying to get the patient to make the lifestyle changes needed to fix the real problem. How can you “fit” anything when someone can’t even touch their toes or perform a half-ass bodyweight squat without falling apart?
The only thing you are fitting is their dysfunctions to the bike. Allowing someone to lean even harder on bad movement so they can go further and faster is not really helping the situation. The fact that no one ever gets a fit that lasts forever should tell your something – since the fit did not fix the underlying problem of bad movement habits the body eventually develops pain in new areas.
Fix the movement issue first and then see what needs to be done from a bike fit perspective.
And, in case your wondering, there are some bike fit experts that agree with me on the need to address how you move off the bike before worrying about fitting anything on the bike. Check out his eye-opening interview I did with international bike fit expert Greg Choat on the subject of a Functional Bike Fit.
Seated Pedaling Should be Minimized, Not Fortified
A bike fit only “works” as long as you are sitting down – as soon as you stand up all the precious measurements go out the window and you are no longer benefiting from your investment. The problem is, as a trail rider you should be spending way more time standing up and only using seated pedaling to get ready for your next standing effort.
Standing up naturally takes care of any “fit” issues as it forces full knee extension, fuller hip extension, a straighter spine and less strain on the neck. Sitting down to pedal places your body in a jacked up position and a fit is simply trying to make the best of a bad situation. The less you are laying down hard efforts when sitting down the less you have to worry about your seat being 4 mm too low or some absurd thing like that.
Sure it’s harder but mountain biking is not about seeking the path of least resistance. On the trail, standing up more is the mark of a strong, confident rider and it also naturally takes care of “fit” issues.
The Technical Skill Side of Trail Riding
Trail riding requires a large degree of technical skill, which is something that most bike fits don’t take into account. To maximize your trail riding your want to outfit your bike in a way that will allow for maximum skill and efficiency – which means prioritizing the bike, not the rider.
For example, in order to corner effectively and feel confident on steep pitches you need a stem that is 60 mm or less – period. A longer stem makes steering sluggish and makes it tough to keep your weight back as the trail gets steeper. Switching out to a longer stem because your hip mobility sucks (see Maximizing Your Dysfunctions above) and the bike fit formula said that an 80-100 mm stem would “fit” you better is actually screwing up your trail riding, which is probably not what you wanted to spend money on.
On the trail you need to select your tool based on its ability to do what you want on the trail and then fit your body to that tool. Don’t force an inferior tool on yourself when what you really need is some good ol’ mobility and strength work.
I always have to bring some perspective back to the argument so people don’t think that I hate bike fits and that you should go get an angry mob and some torches and go get the guy who put that longer stem on your bike in the name of a “better bike fit”. Like I said before before, at the highest levels stuff like that does matter. Once you have a clean Functional Movement Screen then a bike fit can be helpful, especially if you spend a lot of time in the saddle.
However, they are a Q4 method for Q4 athletes (check out my article on the 4 Quadrants of Training if you don’t know what Q4 means) and, like clipless pedals, can quickly become a crutch being sold to desperate riders who really need to re-evaluate how they ride and how they prepare for riding.
Most people will always look for a magic bullet in things like bike fits, which is fine. However, if I can get a few riders to scratch their head and think about the points I’ve made in this article then I’ll be happy.
So, I know that you have an opinion on this subject and I’d love to hear what it is. Post a comment below to let me know what you think.
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Until next time…