I had no idea the pain I felt while cycling wasn’t normal until I scheduled a bike fitting appointment. Sure, my butt, hoo hoo, and toes felt numb after an hour in the saddle, my left wrist ached, and my neck and shoulders felt like a training ground for sailors’ knots, but I thought that was merely part of bicycling.
And then I met my first professional bike fitter.
After meeting Tony Wittinger, a bike fitting specialist in Portland, I learned that life in the saddle need not entail nagging pain. Rather, he explained, pain while cycling was an indicator that my bike did not fit me properly. He told me he could take away the pain.
I immediately booked an appointment with him.
I entered his office with an inquisitive mind, unsure what to expect. Tony spent two hours exacting the angle of my leg extension to align with my knee, making precise adjustments on my brake levers to eliminate wrist pain, and fidgeting with my seat to ensure ultimate ergonomic posture. All the while, I focused intently on how my body felt while pedaling on the trainer.
Once Tony finished his corrections, he sent me off with homework: Go ride at least 100 miles, pay close attention to how my body feels when I ride, and come back in a couple weeks for further adjustments.
I’ve seen Tony twice for bike fitting, once for my regular commuter bike back home and for Grete, my touring bike. Like many regular city riders, I use my bike as my primary mode of transportation, but never gave a second thought about the way it fit my body. I knew my bike was the proper size from my highly technical method of straddling the frame and measuring two inches between the crossbar and my crotch.
After seeing Tony, my pain disappeared. I no longer recoiled at the thought of spending six hours daily in my saddle.
Seeking a professional bike fit should be at the top of every cycle tourer’s pre-departure list. Ensuring a proper bike fit will reward riders with fewer injuries, less aches and pains, and an overall more enjoyable journey.
Tony informed me of five common assumptions cyclists tend to make about the sport. A professional bike fitting debunks these myths.
It’s Supposed to Hurt
Pain and numbness while riding are not normal and often deter riders from engaging in the activity.
The two most common complaints Tony hears in his office include: “My _______ (hands, wrist, penis, vagina, butt, toes) is/are numb,” and “my knee hurts when I ride.”
Over time, these minor aches and pains that accompany consistent cycling can intensify and become debilitating injuries, potentially resulting in major joint or muscle failures. Long-term numbness can cause permanent nerve damage and lead to impotence, muscle atrophy, and loss of function.
Bike Sizing is Not Equal to Bike Fitting
Finding that perfectly-sized frame for a smokin’ deal on Craigslist doesn’t mean that bike will magically mold to the ergonomics of your body once you hop on the saddle. Working with your local bike shop to find the right size frame or components is a great place to start when purchasing a bike. Often, the sales staff can help you achieve “comfortable enough” on your new ride, but they don’t always possess the knowledge, tools, experience, and time to find the right fit to create pain-free cycling. Bike shops sell bikes, but they don’t necessarily know how to mold them to your backside.
Only Professional Racers Should Seek a Bike Fit
As a runner, I visit my local running store regularly to determine the best running shoes for my gait. I’ve done this countless times in the 16 years I have been a runner and I recommend it to every new runner who asks for advice.
The same logic applies riding a bike. Like most athletes, cyclists seek to improve performance over time. A good fitter will take the time to discuss your cycling goals. While some cyclists may wish to race faster, others want to cycle tour across the country for three months and ride pain-free. Whatever feat you wish to achieve, your bike fitter should listen and adjust accordingly.
Bikes are Unisex
I hate to break it to you ladies, but most bikes are designed to fit men’s bodies. Why? They’re designed by men who attempt to make bikes work for women. Unfortunately bikes, like many items designated as “women’s,” are just shrunken versions of men’s cycles and are not designed to fit our smaller anatomies, muscle capacity, and tolerances.
As a female going into a professional bike fit with a stock frame, set the expectation that your bike doctor may instruct you to go out and purchase new components. This could mean new STI shifters/brake levers, handlebars, saddles, or even the entire frame. It’s a bummer to learn that your only option for a comfortable ride is to overhaul everything, but trust me, as someone who did, it makes the difference between loving your bike and wanting to toss it into a ditch.
Cycling is an Inexpensive Sport
Bikes are certainly a cheaper way of getting from point A to point B than cars or public transport, however, the perception that cycling is cheap is a bit of a myth. Owning a bike is kinda like owning a car. Without regular maintenance, it won’t run properly. Rusty or broken parts must be replaced with new ones. Brake pads wear down. Wheels warp over many miles of riding and you have to buy new ones, usually once per year. Your body is the fuel that propels the bicycle. Preventing injuries will keep you riding regularly.
Keep in mind that bike fitting is an ongoing process. Even after having your bike professionally fit, it’s important to monitor the way you feel as you ride. Weight loss or gain, screws loosening over many miles, increase or decrease of physical fitness levels all affect the way you ride. Throughout my cycle touring journey, I am constantly adjusting my components as soon as I begin to feel pain.
A bike fitting can cost anywhere from $150 to $350, depending on the services provided. Spend the time and money before those small annoyances keep you off your bike for good.
I was in no way compensated for the content in this article. Tony is a friend who educated both Dave and me about the importance of a proper bike fitting, He provides superb services and I want more people to know about his services!