About 13 years ago, I bought the bike I’m riding today, a Specialized Rockhopper. A friend of mine picked out two or three choices, and I had the final say.
The salesman and my friend discussed whether it fit me, but they didn’t do anything but look at the bike, look at me and asked me how it felt — like I would know.
And so I rode it. And I thought it was just fine. Sure, my neck and shoulders were kind of sore and my knees kind of hurt, but I figured that was normal, until my friends told me that I needed a bike fitting.
I went to my favorite bike shop, had the fitting, and it changed everything. Some simple, small adjustments later I was riding nearly painfree.
Fast forward to today: bike fitting has come a long way.
“Sometimes people don’t even realize some of the issues that they have until they come in and we talk to them about it,” said Ward Griffiths, a bike fitter at River City Bicycles.
This week, I dived into the depths of my garage and pulled out a road bike that I bought from a friend years ago. I’ve never ridden it. It needed a few things — like pedals and a seat — and I knew I should have it fitted but just never got around to it. Now, it was time.
Several bike shops around Portland offer fittings, usually a basic fit and more advanced ones.
“It’s a pretty common offering,” said James Tiefenthaler in the bike shop at REI in the Pearl District. The fittings, basic and advanced are no charge, even if you didn’t buy your bike there.
A friend had recommended Griffiths, so there I was on Monday, forking over $175 and a few hours to get this bike ready to comfortably ride.
Griffiths has been a fitter since 2002 and at River City since 2000, she said. Before that she worked at Elliott Bay Bicycles in Seattle. She and River City’s other two fitters, all women, work in the Alta Bike Spa Laboratory a few steps from the main shop on Southeast Martin Luther King Boulevard. Each appointment takes about 2 1/2 hours.
So, what did I get for my time and money? And how has fitting changed? A lot, on both counts.
For one thing, my mountain bike fitting was free and took about an hour, as I recall. But it was much, much less involved.
While I asked Griffiths a ton of questions, she asked me nearly as many. She uses a form and asks about injuries, surgeries, crashes, concerns, aches and pains.
Griffiths follows the same procedure with everyone, she said, and in a day or so she emails you a fit report.
After the questions, Griffiths had me stand, first with arms straight at my sides, then hands on hips, then she had me bend over, arms hanging down, then back up straight again. All the while she checked my range of motion and for any part of my body that had a different alignment.
Then she had me lie on a massage-type table, relax my legs (not easy) while she lifted up (flattering pose preserved on video) and then bent each one, again checking for range of motion in my hips, knees and muscles and alignment. Throughout the process she took measurements of the bike and of me.
“What we’re trying to do is get someone comfortable on the bike for what they want to do,” she said. She doesn’t so much correct something as try “to control painful motion.”
Then it was time to get on the bike.
Griffiths had put the bike on a trainer and added the new seat and pedals I’d bought. We could tell from the beginning that the seat was too high, so she swapped out the seat post of one that could be lowered almost all the way down to the top tube. Clearly, this bike was too big for me, but workable, she said. She also changed the location of the cleats on my shoes, pushing them back slightly from the balls of my feet. (The cleats are what clip into the pedals.)
Once she was happy with height of the seat and the angle of my knees at different points as I pedaled, we moved on to my upper body.
To keep me from locking my elbows and to help me relax my shoulders, Griffiths wanted to raise my handlebars and try some that were straighter across. The ones on the bike dipped down a bit before they curved under in class road bike style.
After Griffiths made a couple of trips across the parking lot to the shop for parts including three stems, it was much more comfortable. Griffiths was looking for my arms to be relaxed and look as if I were reaching out to shake hands with the handlebars rather than locking my elbows to support myself.
The bike needed a few hours in the shop to wrap the new handlebars and to check a few things, but after that what’s next, Griffiths said, “a couple of shakedown rides.”
And a beer and a burrito.
– Sue Jepsen