Things I've Learned as a Bike Fitter #3 - Practice a Little Humility

I had an encounter with a prospective client some time back.  He had come in the shop inquiring about fit, and I did my best to explain what my process was, what motion capture was, the assessments that are a part of the process and how what I do could  be a benefit to him.  

He seemed decidedly less interested in methodology or process, and wanted something more definitive.  He went on to talk about how his orthopedist told him to stay off the bike as a result of his injury, and mentioned the name of the fitter who had worked with him previously.  

He seemed unimpressed with my response.  I explained that So and So bike fitter probably did an acceptable job, but we can certainly take another look more broadly, and more specifically with Retul motion capture and see if there’s something that we can identify that can be changed.  

He left and I never saw him again.  I wasn’t too heartbroken. That relationship, I knew, was not going to be a good fit, so to speak.  His expectations simply didn’t align with how I conduct myself, how I go about practicing my craft, and how I treat others.

His expectations were that I would talk loudly and authoritatively about my own prowess, and that I would belittle both the fitter (who I knew of) and the orthopedic doctor, and that I would guarantee that I would eliminate his source of pain (and probably increase his power, too).  

To him, that was an acceptable and perhaps even preferred way to establish credibility - by bad mouthing others and through boasting and overconfidence. This works sometimes, for some people.

I don’t do things that way.  I have two rules as a fitter, both of which this prospective client asked me to violate:  I don’t guarantee outcomes, and I don’t speak ill of others in my line of work.  

This particular rider was in enough pain to visit a specialist, who correctly diagnosed an injury.  This doctor, in turn, made the sensible prescription to stop the activity that he believed was causing the injury.  I’m sure he had good reasons for recommending inactivity.  

For a cyclist, however, being on the bike is important, and simply to stop riding is not a realistic option.  It could very well be that a closer look at his position could have led to a change that could have had a dramatic effect and alleviated the source of his pain.  Sometimes it is that simple.  

Mostly it’s not.

As I explain to clients, the type of pain that suggests an injury is an indicator of a problem that is unfortunately often multifactorial, and due in some measure to factors outside a change in your bike position.  

Is there is weakness in one place that causes overcompensation in another?  Is there patellar maltracking?  Perhaps a lack of flexibility is causing dysfunction somewhere up or down the kinetic chain.

A slight change in tilt in the saddle typically doesn’t cure this if the problem is fundamental, and fitting around dysfunction is not a good long term solution.

Establishing relationships with good physical therapists, strength and conditioning coaches or a massage therapist who specializes in making changes in an athlete's flexibility is a better long term approach to matching a rider to his or her bike.

So I don’t boast.

I know there are limits to what I can do, and that I can’t cure everything by simply raising or lowering a seatpost a couple of millimeters.  Some fits just aren’t successful.  It’s inevitable that somebody, at some time and for some reason still doesn’t feel comfortable after a comprehensive bike fitting session.

I all I can do is establish and trust the process; to ensure it is based on a thorough approach to implementing best practices that have the highest probability of making a client more comfortable, efficient and happy on their bike.


And I don’t bad mouth other fitters.