Are bike fits worthless for mountain biking?

So I’m going to piss some people off with this statement but I feel it needs to be said –

A bike fit is extremely overrated for mountain biking.

I know that they have a place in some cases but for your average trail rider I think that they are close to worthless. 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.

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 benefitting 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.

On a side note, this is why singlespeed riding has gained the reputation it has as a way to “train” for riding your regular bike – it simply makes you stand up more and push a harder gear instead of clicking down and keeping your 90+ rpm spin going. It shouldn’t take a singlespeed to make you stand up and be a man on the trail.

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 and I know that this will mostly fall on deaf and defensive ears, which is fine. However, if I can get a few riders to scratch their head and think about the points I’ve made then I’d 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…

-James Wilson

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  1. Jamie Maillet says:

    Hi James
    You mentioned a 60mm stem or less in your article but nothing else on bike fit as far as what you believe is important. What about frame size? What are your thoughts on determining that in respect to being able to put down your best standing efforts?


    PS: Got a 45lbs KB for Christmas and planning to put it to some use!

    Reply • December 26 at 8:16 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I prefer a bit smaller bike for manueverability. I am a hair under 6 foot and prefer a medium/17 inch frame, although I am told a large frame would be better from a fit standpoint. I say go an the small size, it is easier to stand up and pedal a smaller bike.

      45 pounder, huh? Have fun!

      Reply • December 26 at 8:42 am
      • Afshin Bazargan says:

        Hi James,
        Thanks for you insights on bike fitting.
        I’m between sizes on most bikes. the med Nomad 3 I have has a tendency to push in corners wanting to straight and not staying in the arch. On My buddy’s smaller Norco trail bike the problem goes a way. So at 5-7 I’m thinking going against manufacturer charts and going with a small (only shorter FC). I think I can get use to the more upright position. However I was wondering about differences on technical downhill where rider is standing. How would a M and S feel different?

        Reply • October 6 at 2:18 pm
  2. Kevin says:

    the trails i ride are a bit of both cross country and technical riding, seated pedaling is a requirement, that is unless i want to stand for 15 miles or you know have the bike stop on flatter sections of the trail. With that in mind i must say i disagree with the some of the bike fit you have described here. I prefer my bike to fit correctly in all aspects while focusing myself on proper pedal stroke, full leg extension, etc. The way i see it if you aren’t proficient at both pedaling while standing and sitting you are limiting yourself as both have their place.

    Reply • December 26 at 3:17 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Thanks for the input but I guess I’d be curious to know why a bike fit makes you a more proficient seated pedaler? Does it actually make you better – as in fix bad movement – or does it just let you lean harder on the bad movement until something breaks? I think that it is the latter. Notice I never said to dismiss seated pealing, only that the usual mindset of “sit down most of the time and only stand when you need to” is backwards.

      Reply • December 27 at 7:41 am
  3. Jason says:

    I see no point in fitting a mountain bike but fitting my road bike is the best thing I ever did. Mountain biking requires way to much movement to get any benifit from a fitting.

    Reply • December 26 at 3:50 pm
  4. Peter says:

    I tend to agree – they are way too costly got limited benefit – often done by unqualified bike mechanics but…….

    I’ve just had knee surgery for cartilage injury to my right knee ( not caused by riding) and think if you regularly use cleats (which I agree you shouldn’t as flats rule) a fit for knee/cleat alignment may be useful. Prior to my surgery I was smahing the standing up riding and it had a big impact on my leg strength and fitness. Unfortunately since the knee operation (I’m 4 months post op) I have a great deal of difficulty achieving a powerful turn at the top of the pedal stroke but no trouble when sitting. When standing you are putting more pressure through the knee with the knee/leg at a greater angle than sitting. It took me a month of riding to be able to do one stroke standing up – was incredibly tough. I’m working on my leg strength using the MTB Strength Program but smashing it standing up seems a long way off for me.

    Reply • December 26 at 4:04 pm
  5. Rob Lawrence says:

    It is interesting that the riding position best for our bodies ( i.e. not sitting down) is the way that kids and “groms” ride thier bikes. As soon as they need to accelerate, or travel uphill, they stand up pretty straight and push down on the pedals.
    I suspect the Bike Fit paradigm is one of the causes of pooe technique: butt glued to the saddle, stem length for “fit” and not control. Adults are meant to apparently assume one position and just grind away. What a nasty way to have fun, let alone control a bike over undulating terrain.

    Reply • December 27 at 1:09 am
  6. Christopher Kelly says:

    Your point may soon be moot: like many new trail bikes in 2012, my Ibis Mojo SL-R came with a 142×12 through-axle at the rear so it’s not possible to mount it a stationary trainer for a bike fit.

    Reply • December 27 at 7:45 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      That won’t stop them – they will create a new bike fit stand to accommodate the new bikes. Where there is $$$ there is a will and a way to get it…

      Reply • December 27 at 7:47 am
  7. jen sliney says:

    Hi James- well, you’re right about at least one thing here- you’ve pissed me off (to use your word choice). I’ve read your blog and e-mail posts for a long time and generally have tried to glean the helpful morsels and ignore the arrogant anti-roadie, anti-endurance rider rants, but I’m done. I think you will ultimately find that there is really no call for taking such a tone-you clearly have a lot of knowledge to share and people are clearly learning from you. Who you choose to alienate is your own business I suppose and you seem to take some pride in it- but I personally know a large number of ass-kicking, hard riding, podium winning riders who split their time between the road bike and the mountain bike and find their success through an open mind and a respectful attitude. Oh- and my recent bike fit took 15 minutes, a few millimeters adjustment to my saddle angle and stopped the pelvic busitis I was plagued with in Endurance events all last season (oh, that’s right, I’m not a “mountain biker” because my competitive events last 7-8hours at a stretch and often take me for dozens of miles at a time on Forest Service roads). Anywho- I’m done with James Wilson and the attitude.

    Reply • December 27 at 9:16 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      For every road rider on dirt I piss off I find a mountain biker who has been looking for this message. I have nothing against roadies or endurance riders (I have a lot who actually use my program with great success) but I don’t like trail riders getting told the wrong advice. Drawing a distinction between different types of riding isn’t wrong despite what the Politically Correct Police tell you.

      Again, if you can find something specific I said that you have a problem with then I will be happy to address it but making blanket statements tells me that you may have your mind made up already and read my post looking for justification rather than info. I made my case for why bike fits are not good for a trail rider who has mobility and strength deficits, what is your case for the other point of view?

      Reply • December 27 at 10:34 am
    • Will says:

      If you can’t go fast, go long.

      Reply • March 27 at 8:02 pm
  8. Genci says:

    Though I agree with some of your statements here I’m in the same situation as Kevin. My riding is a mix of xc and technical trails, so sometimes I have to climb for more than an hour to get the singletrack down. It’s easy to lower the saddle but I can´t pedal too long with a short stem without pain in my back, specially in that ‘epic’ days, but I miss a shorter stem when I’m going down. So, it’s got to be a compromise..


    Reply • December 27 at 9:24 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      How is your hip mobility and movement? That is kind of my point – don’t compromise because the engine needs to get fixed. Fix the engine (you) and then see what you need to do. Odds are you will find the shorter stem isn’t a problem for your back anymore.

      Reply • December 27 at 10:27 am
  9. Josh130 says:

    Hey James,

    I agree that traditional bike fit does more harm than good for mountain biking. However, I think that is only because it comes from road riding which is a different sport entirely. Instead of eliminating bike fits, why not simply develop mountain bike fits? Certainly, a certain stem length is ideal for every rider it is simply much shorter than most riders think.

    Reply • December 27 at 9:49 am
  10. George says:

    It does baffle me how easy it is to sell people services and gear that will magically improve their riding when the money could be spent much better on a bit of professional training. as for fit my trail bike is a 16″ frame with 50mm stem and 775mm bars because what I value most is manuverability on rapid decent. if you were worried about sitting down and peddling then wouldst it be better to focus on cyclocross rather then trails?
    The problem I suffer on the bike and afterwards is shoulder ache so I suppose that could be linked to my set up but I think that its more likely down to poor upper body strength and knowing almost no stretches for my shoulders.
    Keep up the good work James very good points as always and happy birthday

    Reply • December 27 at 10:47 am
  11. JoeH says:

    James, what type of pedaling strategy do you suggest for someone racing a 50 or 100 mile race? Stand as much as possible?

    This post is another classic.

    6ft on a medium frame with a 50mm stem? Yeah, tell me your thoughts about “fit”.

    Reply • December 27 at 11:09 am
    • vapor says:

      Man that is harsh! You would be seriously surprised, if you could stand up as much as you wanted, how much faster/funner/more comfortable those 50 and 100 miles could be. You have to really think about your argument and explain exactly why more sitting down is so much better!

      Reply • March 28 at 3:32 pm
  12. Marc Perez says:

    Have to up seat at some height – what methodology do you use to setup seat height (of cousres proper sag has been set)?

    Reply • December 27 at 11:32 am
  13. neil says:

    Hi James,

    You’ve really put the cat among the pigeons here my man.

    I have to totally agree with you that if someone getting a “bike fit” is getting something based on road fit then that’s crazy.
    It is fair to say that some riders obviously have to sit and pedal for very long periods on fairly smooth terrain, that’s the way with some races, but that’s certainly not what most of us do – you’re right.
    Those guys on like Steve Jones (from Dirt Magazine) the Trans Provence race would have the ideal set-up, in my mind, for sure they will need decent seat height as they do have to sit and grid up those long long Alpine climbs, but they sure do get their fun on the downs. That’s what the Reverb seatpost is about, I’m sure you agree.

    So, it’s right that most mountainbikers shouldn’t base our riding position and technique on what long distance endurance guys do. We should probably be more like the Trans-provence riders. You’re right. For them the proper “riding” is all standing. Sitting is just to get to the action without getting toooooo tired.

    I’ve read a lot of your posts and you’ve definitely encouraged me to stand to [flat] pedal and I can climb so much better standing than I ever could. Like many XC guys, I used to be very wary of standing as I thought I’d blow up. But, yes, once you get strong, standing on steep climbs is good. Very good IMO.
    Personally, I do think bike size (so that the bike “fits” the rider is important. I think you’re right again about the 60mm max. stem length as it makes the bike steer right – you guys out there who say you can’t get low and/or forward enough on seated grinder climbs, hey, bend those elbows.
    I do, though, think the front end of the bike needs to be right length, you can’t do much to change the distance between the crank centre and a line falling straight from the bars. I am 6’2″ on a Large Specialized Enduro and if I try a Medium my arms seem to be too far under me on steep descents, the front wheel wants to get behind my head. It makes for a lovely twitchy tight woods bike but it’s too unstable on steep downs. For me it’s all about downtube length, I used to be on an XL and it was arguments like yours that got me to try the Large.
    One of the best tips I ever got [this was from Chris Ball at Dirt School] was that you should be able to look down and see most of the head tube in your “attack” position.

    So, I think it’s fair to say that the bike has to fit, but – no – you definitely don’t need a roadie style “bike fit” to play in the woods.

    Thanks for all the hard work you put into this James,
    have a great 2012, I hope it brings you all you might wish for.

    Same to all you Bike James fans out there.

    Reply • December 27 at 11:47 am
  14. JoeH says:

    The title of this post should be “Are ROAD bike fits worthless for mountain biking?” The answer would largely be yes.

    As a retailer, we consider mountain bike fits to be more holistic, realizing that mountain biking is much more dynamic. Once we get past frame size, we have suspension setup, cleat position, seat height/fore/aft/tilt, bar orientation, control placement, etc. These are elements of a mountain bike “fit” we need to be thinking of.

    Your posts are frustratingly myopic, but they sure do get some click-thru and pages views…dunno what they about your credibility for things not ‘strength training’ related though.

    Reply • December 27 at 12:46 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      If that is what you are doing for riders at your shop then you are doing them a great service but I think we can both agree that when someone says the words “bike fit” the idea that comes to mind is optimizing your seated pedaling position, often times through using a longer stem and/ or larger frame. Even then, often times the real thing that needs to be “fit” is the person through better movement.

      Even when discussing a road bike fit for a road biker I would still point to my arguments about the need for a clean movement screen before administering a fit or else you may just be allowing them to lean even harder on the bad movement. How you can tell someone who can’t touch their toes that they need a higher rise or longer stem truly baffles me. The elephant in the room is that they can’t move right – fix that and then worry about fitting them to the bike.

      I’m not sure how myopic it is to bring a new perspective to old habits in the cycling world but I appreciate your opinion. I hope that more retailers take the time and effort you do to get their customers set up for trail riding and hopefully making them move better instead of using stems and handlebars to make up for bad movement.

      Reply • December 27 at 3:43 pm
  15. Susan Marchitti says:

    Hi James,

    I’m not sure my comments are of any value here, but I recently got a 29er because someone suggested it to me. I’m 5’10” and I actually really love it! It seems the right fit for me although when I’m on the trails I sometimes want to put my foot down going around some tight turns and find that I almost can’t reach the ground, however, I like the size of this bike because I feel like I’m on a “monster truck (bike)” and can just plow over everything. I don’t really have a lot of experience with bikes and my last bike was a Cannondale F9 which I really loved, but I wanted dual suspension and decided to upgrade. While I’m not really very knowledgeable about bikes, I’m pretty adaptable. I do also have a road bike (my first one) a 1968 Peugeot with Campignolo upgrades that someone gave me. I don’t have a lot of exeperience with road bikes but this is a great starter for me and I’m hoping that by the time I get a newer model I will know what I’m doing!

    Reply • December 27 at 3:38 pm
  16. Ed Kihm says:

    I think riding is what you make it and for me I like to do trails and sometimes back country roads. I’m 5′ 8″ and was told that I should have a 17″ frame but when I tried the smaller frames it felt like I was compressed between the handlebars and the seat. I went with the 19″ frame, 2006 Kona Dawg, and I love it, the larger frame size is much more comfortable for me. I set my bike up so that I can have a more upright position so it’s never a strain on the neck. I also like clipless pedals, I have “Time Attack Z” pedals which have a larger platform so it’s very easy to clip and unclip. I find the clipless pedals much better for climbing while sitting back on the seat and applying even, steady, circular pressure. I’ve learned how to look ahead and see what’s coming at me so I can clip or un-clip as necessary. Sometimes I incorporate my rides into my cross-fit workouts but the bottom line is I don’t make riding so complicated, I just like to get out there and ride for the fun of it.

    Reply • December 27 at 5:07 pm
  17. kdmclain says:

    I’ve been reading this blog for a year now & have been constantly impressed with the info you provide & also like the “tone” you carry…. And I happen to be a roadie, triathlete, mountain biker, water skier… All at competitive levels. My point is that I have never been offended as was suggested in an earlier post by any of your comments. Thank you for the info you provide. It has helped me across the board in all my sports. Now, if I could only get that Turkish get up move down…..

    Reply • December 27 at 9:56 pm
  18. Grizzly Adam says:

    “I say go an the small size, it is easier to stand up and pedal a smaller bike.”

    Maybe, maybe not. The geometry of the frame can make a big difference. Last season I moved from a 17 inch G2 Gary Fisher, to a 19 inch Specialized Stumpjumper, (both hardtails) and I found the SJ to be much, much better out of the saddle.

    Reply • December 27 at 10:40 pm
  19. Anne says:

    While I agree with you about 29ers (big wheel makes things easier so you have less need to develop skills, so my goal is to pick up a BMX cruiser, 24″ wheels, next year to build some better handling skills), I agree with you to some extent but not everything on this blog entry.

    So much of mountain biking originated from road biking, but it’s now going towards more of a moto and BMX style. I prefer the moto/BMX style myself, because I find it’s more fun downhill–which is why I ride.

    1. Bike fit == road bike fit. I have had several bike fits due to a bad back, which was caused by hip inflexibility. Now that I can do full squats plus a weighted bar for the first time in my life, and I was refitted. Guess what? It was specifically a mountain bike fit, not a road fit. I ride with flat pedals, a wide bar, and balloony tires, but I need to have an idea of how I can pedal without further destroying my knee (mensicus cleanout and ACL recon this past year).

    2. I ride with a 70mm stem (which doesn’t fall into either category you listed in this blog) and 28.5″ (724mm) and I’m happy with it. I’m not going to go out and panic and get a shorter stem because you say it means I can’t corner with it. I can corner just fine. I could get a 60mm stem, but that feel like nitpicking at this point. I would say 80mm or higher are out of favor anyway. Most people today looking for 80mm/70mm or shorter. The problem with the 50mm didn’t have anything to do with my hips or low back, but my upper back. So I’m happy with my mountain bike fit with my 70mm stem.

    3. Personally, I ride uphill to go downhill. That’s the fun part for me. However, where I live, I have to get uphill somehow and there is a lot of climbing. See #1, the reference to my knee surgery, on why I’m not going to pedal uphill standing the entire time. It’s also exhausting. I prefer to save more of my standing for DHs, and just spin up. As much as I’d like to stand up and pedal uphill for 2-4 miles at a time, it’s not happening. It would drain all my energy for the downhills.

    4. Getting off clipless pedals was one of the best things I could ever do. I was going back and forth between platforms and clipless for the past 5 years, but I’m very happy being completely platforms since this summer. Clipless are great for the spin bike though.

    Clipless has come down from road biking, just like the 29″ (700cc) wheels. Personally, people can have them–along with their carbon too.

    I get your point, but it may have come across much harsher than you were intending.

    Reply • December 27 at 10:55 pm
  20. ED BIRCH says:


    Reply • December 28 at 12:56 am
  21. Charles Estock says:

    I had major leg surgery 2 years ago, reconstructed leg, sheared off my Tibea Platoe, I started riding a mountain bike around 6 months later to get back in shape, started off slow on Rails to trails, and progressed to very technical single track, problem was my knee wouldn’t let me stand and peddle, it just wouldn’t make it past the top stroke, but sitting and peddling up hills really held me back.
    Around a month ago I decided to try and see if I could stand and peddle, and to my amazement I could!
    I only use flats, and now I can get up the hills at least twice as fast, I have been trying to stand whenever possible and for longer bursts, instead of downshifting going uphill I’m now upshifting while standing, and putting great distance on riders sitting and spinning behind me.

    Reply • December 29 at 4:54 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      Awesome story, thanks for sharing!

      Reply • December 30 at 7:42 am
  22. Matt says:

    Hi James,

    I agree with a lot of what you are saying around bike fitting, singlespeeds and basic strength training.

    I see many riders with saddle too low but often these are ‘have a go’ types who just bought a mountain bike off ebay. They self fitted and are reaping the benefits (negative).

    Many more experienced riders are lazy, they like to cruise about sat down, as soon as the trail goes up they sit and spin the smallest gear they have. I think this is a time/life issue and unwillingness to train harder to get faster, ‘its too hard’ is often an excuse i hear. Most use MTB as a ‘bit of exercise’ but dont take it that seriously. So for them that’s fine. Personally that does not fit my profile or many of your readers i suspect.

    Bike fit – i have had one done for road bike and it helped me resolve injury issues for road bike and find a powerful setup for 12hr MTB solo bike races, which are a lot of sitting and spinning (more like road riding really), to minimise fatigue, but for my trail bike i had already found the setup by trial and error and just some basic advice. So is far less critical in my experience too.

    Singlespeeds – When i ride my rigid singlespeed 29er I have found some other useful things, riding with a group, people expect me to be slower, but the singlespeed has made me adapt and become stronger. So in fact i am not slower but faster in many situations, especially climbs, even without suspension. Standing is a common occurance, to avoid trail punishment and to overcome the gear, its great fun, it also helps me go faster on suspension bikes – i learn to live with the battering i get on rigid bike, so i brake less when i have more suspension, i also select my lines better, instead of letting the bike get me out of trouble. Is 29er better?, not sure, but its different.

    Never thought i would say it but this singlespeed bike is my ‘go to’ bike most days now. The Orange 5 (a perfect bike for around here) is left in the garage quite often. Bottom line – its a great training tool for developing bike specific strength – if you don’t mind working hard.

    On training – I am using bodyweight exercises from UMTBWO and specific core strength, backing that up with singlespeed riding and some longer rides for endurance. I bought a couple of kettlebells and i am exploring using those to great effect on all bikes i ride. My overall strength is much better and i ride with a confidence i have never had before. Many thanks for guiding me along the path!.

    Reply • December 30 at 5:24 am
  23. ED BIRCH says:


    Reply • December 30 at 10:18 pm
  24. Rodney says:

    To George, you mention you run a 16″ frame with 775mm bars and your shoulders bother you after a ride. Since you’re running a smaller frame, your arms are probably also not very long, yet you’re running a overly wide bar (which seems to be the in thing today). Why not shorten your bar to something like 720mm, it just might solve your shoulder problems…

    Reply • December 31 at 6:34 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      The wider bars offer better leverage for standing climbing and steering. I fought the wide bars too but found that they do help. Odds are the shoulders hurt from disengaging the lats and letting shoulder blades slide up, placing stress on the shoulders. I have the same issue…

      Reply • December 31 at 8:43 am
  25. Daniel says:

    I agree with your stem suggestion but I would extend the range to include 80mm but this is just splitting hairs.

    You are right that mountain bike fits are pointless when you spend a lot of time out of the saddle. But, the right frame size is important. I am 6′ 1.5″ and have been riding a large for 15 years. I just switched over to an XL just to see if it was any better for me. At first the bike felt slow and hard to handle, especially in the parking lot. But out on the trail I found I had much more traction in nearly every situation and could ride faster while feeling as if I was riding slower. The only thing I gave up was a little bit of weight and the bike is a little less flickable, but all of the other gains were well worth it.

    Reply • December 31 at 9:06 pm
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      I would agree that 20 mm seems to be splitting hairs but I tried a 70 mm stem after years on a 50-60 mm stem and was shocked at how sluggish the steering was and how disconnected I felt.

      Reply • January 1 at 8:54 am
  26. Michael says:

    I know it’s late in the day but thought I’d add my bit.

    I’ve been riding mtb since early ’94 when I was 12, over the next 9yrs I did a LOT of riding & only riding, no stretching or strength training etc alongside it. I raced xc regularly between ’98-’01, achieving respectable results by most peoples standards, but stupidly not dedicated enough to try to get myself to the next level.

    From 2003 to about ’09 I did no riding whatsoever apart from maybe a burn about off road once or twice each summer, I lost a lot of my fitness & in ’09 I decided to do something about it.

    I bought a road bike to help build my fitness & endurance to get back to racing & here started my problems.
    I know what speeds I USED to ride at & went out & hit it hard using this knowledge, which I appreciate, with hindsight, was stupid.

    Within 5wks I was suffering severe bursitis which was harbouring a serious hip injury that is believed to date back about 8yrs.

    After months of physio, & getting back to strength, I was in a not too serious car accident that damaged my lower back to such an extent that I ended up suffering from a hernia because of how much strain was going through my abs to compensate my back injury. So on my way back to strength I made the choice to spend my money on a Retul bike fit to try & prevent any further silly injuries.

    The fitter tested my strength & flexibility, which I failed miserably, then put these fancy CGI style leds on my joints(ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, wrist, you get the idea), put me on a turbo for a few minutes to get my starting position(what I had just set my bike at), then we spent the next 3hrs testing & tweaking my position.

    It was recommended I work on my flexibility and strength then return for a free follow up to make any adjustment to suit any improvement in me.

    I would like to add at this point that, although I had this fit done on my road bike, I would never have or never will pay the money to have a fit on my mtb as I never spend that much time in a fixed position like I do on a road bike.

    The fitter was really professional, a nice guy with a sound background in road cycling, and the very fact that they make recommendations for what you should be doing to make your body better as well as trying to give you an improved position should be lauded to an extent.

    However, my thoroughbred road bike came out of there resembling a ladies shopping bike, forget any form of aerodynamic position. This was totally missing the point of why a road bike has the geometry and componentry set out for pure speed. This was embarrassing just to look at!

    Add to this that after three weeks I had aggravated my abdominal wall near where my hernia was, which riding had never effected before & I had been riding very conservatively to make sure I wasn’t doing too much too soon.

    The change of position to compensate for my poor flexibility & core strength added up to another injury. It also completely detracted from the whole point of what the bike was meant for in the first place.

    My poor flexibility is to blame for all the injuries & I have been spending the last few months working hard to become more flexible & I am slowly getting there.

    However the bike fit was effectively a waste of money for EXACTLY the reasons that James points out in this article.

    1-0 to James…

    Btw, the road bike has gone for good & I’m back on the trails enjoying myself and preparing for the 2013 season.

    Reply • March 1 at 2:33 pm
  27. I agree that handling takes precedence over power production on a Trail bike, but seated power production should not be overlooked either. I ride XC, without a dropper post, but with the saddle a the the low end of my efficient range. You have to be able to let the bike float! I am not anti flats, they intrigue me, but I have evolved along with trail bikes and was in clipless early on, money for a new paradigm, takes a back seat to new tires etc. 29 inch wheels might be a crutch, but I ride without suspension. So it might be a wash. I am in the less moving parts is better camp, though.

    Reply • June 28 at 8:40 pm
  28. Wesley Rademaker says:

    Hi James Wilson,

    I have trouble deciding Witch size bike to take for my new YT Capra Comp1 AL Large top tube 608,2mm
    Seattube 480 mm
    Reach 443 mm
    Standover height 766,6 mm
    or X-Large top tube 626,3mm
    Seattube 510 mm
    Reach 458 mm
    Standover height 768,5 mm
    On my Normal XC-bike I have a reach from Handlebar Center-point to center seatpost from 730mm in sitting(comfy)position
    My DH rig was A Large BeOne Woodbumble 2008 Model
    I’am 6″3 ft and and Inseam 33,8inch Torso length is 24,40inch messured from pelvis to collarbone-center
    What do you suggest.

    Reply • January 17 at 12:13 pm
  29. Nick says:

    I am 5’10” and I ride on a medium 17″ frame. I like the fact that it is a little smaller simply because I control the bike and the bike doesn’t control me. I mainly ride trail and I haven’t had to make any adjustments to my bike, the bike simply has adjusted me to be more capable to ride it. So I can see where James is coming from here. I don’t understand why any body who rides road is getting ticked of he clearly stated that this was intended for trail. Now, when I ride, I don’t know about you but when I experiencing a gnarly trail the LAST thing I wanna get caught doing is sitting down. Whether you like it or not, your knees are a huge part of you bike suspension. YOU have to do the riding when it comes to trail.

    Reply • February 26 at 12:54 pm

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