Getting a high quality bike fit is the best money you’ll spend next to buying yourself an excellent bike. I mean who doesn’t want to have the best bike around AND be incredibly comfortable on it, right? The problem, though, is that the bike fitting world can be a bit like the Wild West. There are a whole lot of people talking a big game, but very few who do it exceptionally well. It is worth the effort to find the fitter who will serve you best so you can make the most for your money.
Now I know I may rustle a few feathers with aspects of this post, so let me address two things. 1) I am all for supporting local businesses (and bike shops). I am also in favor of working with the best to get the results you want. If those two worlds collide, great! 2) I have experience in all of the domains I am about to speak about. I worked in a bike shop for 4 years, and became a certified fitter (Wobblenaught) in that time. Eventually I moved on and began my year career as a USA Triathlon and Cycling coach, and I continued to offer fittings as a service for awhile. I have been in and around the fitting world a long time. I know bikes, physiology, and corrective exercise on an incredibly deep level, but I realized early on in my coaching career that is far better to let specialists be specialists.
That being said, there is a notable difference between offering fitting as a convenient upsell (whether you are a coach or a bike shop) and someone who truly specializes in the domain. It’s for this reason that I urge you to take the time to do your research and ask really good questions when choosing your bike fitter. Speaking of research, let’s talk about how to find some certifiably awesome bike fitters.
Where to Look
Thankfully over the past few years, an organization has come forth to bring some common standards to the bike fitting world so the consumer can make better choices. This organization is the International Bike Fitting Institute, and amongst all the good that it does, one of the best things is providing a standard of quality for bike fitters with their four levels of certification. This system is no joke! Level one begins with the following requirements:
IBFI Certification Level 1 serves as the base to demonstrate extensive knowledge and understanding of bike fitting.
• Candidates have access to the support of a level 3 certified mentor to help with their journey to certification.
• Requires a minimum of 300 fits experience
• Proof that bike fitters have the appropriate knowledge and experience to conduct a bike fit independently
• Evidence that an organisation is more qualified than competitors
Level 1 Certification is achieved by accruing a minimum of 120 credits and the experience of 300 fits, which reflect a minimum standard level of education and experience.
That is just entry level! And keep in mind that they aren’t referring to “sizing” a bike like many bike shops sell you on (sizing usually takes 15-20 minutes and doesn’t include a thorough interview and screening process). They are referring to 300 bonafide, in-depth fits that include a thorough intake process and take 2+ hours to complete.
Moving up from level 1, each additional level doubles the requirements of minimum fits (600 for level 2, 1200 for level 3, 2400 for level 4), and has peer-review as a requirement for level 3 and above. Peer review may be the most amazing requirement for the consumer as it eliminates a lot of the bravado, and adds a lot more credibility much like peer-reviewed research does in the scientific world.
So, short version of the story: don’t start your research on Google. Go to the IBFI and search for fitters in their database. Then, start making some phone calls and asking good questions.
Questions to Ask
Outside of using the IFBI to do your initial research, the next best piece of advice I can give you is to interview your candidates. If they’re not open to answering questions up front? Move on and good riddance. Here are some questions (and reasons why you should ask them) to get you started.
- Is this your main job? Are you entirely focused on bike fitting? Getting a feel for how divided a fitters energies are is incredibly important, as it will give you insight into how deeply they can devote themselves to the nuances of the human body as it relates to a bicycle. I find this to be especially important when your fitter resides within a bike shop. Most of the times in this context, selling bikes is priority one and in the best interest of the shop – a fit is usually just a convenient upsell and something that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves to truly do it well. Yes, sometimes you will find a dedicated fitter in a shop setting, but more often than not it is an employee or owner who’s energies are focused elsewhere (sales, tune-ups, customer service, etc.). In this case, whatever energy that is leftover (not a ton, if any) goes towards learning the art and skill of bike fitting, which is no small task. Compare this to a dedicated fitter who puts the majority of his energy into fitting and continually improving his trade. You aren’t getting leftovers. You are getting dedicated, highly specialized attention. I urge you to search for this as it is what you deserve from a bike fit.
- How long have you been doing this? How many fits have you done? If you started with the IBFI, then this question may not be needed. Generally speaking, though, this question is a quick way to spot check the math on someone’s claims. Let’s say you one fit every single work day, which is a pretty strong assumption. That would put you at roughly 250 fits a year (assuming two weeks of vacation). Multiply that out as a maximum (3 years x 250 = 750 fits). Does that number jive with the persons claim for years of experience and total fits performed?
- What does a fit look like? Are follow-ups included? This is your chance to get a peek into the methods employed by your fitter. There are two big things to look for here. One is a thorough initial interview and screening process that involves looking at your movement quality off the bike (as this will greatly dictate your position and movement patterns in the saddle). Another is including follow-ups to ensure your fit is just right. This is usually evidence of a fitter who won’t stop until you are happy, which is the kind of quality you want!
- Do you provide off-the-bike suggestions? This would include addressing poor motor patterns, lack of mobility, and lack of strength. A good fitter knows that a fit goes far beyond just putting you in the right position, and has a deep enough understanding of exercise physiology and corrective exercise to give you the right recommendations.
- What is your bike fitting philosophy? In the bike fitting world there is a lot of undue focus on fitting systems (like Retul, FIST, or Wobblenaught). Systems are an okay way to start to learn fitting, but the magic really happens when you have a fitter who isn’t afraid to step outside of the box to get you results, especially when it comes to difficult cases. Look for an answer that reflects far more than an allegiance to a system, and demonstrates a depth of wisdom and knowledge that transcends loyalty to one methodology.
- Do you partner with other professionals like physical therapists and doctors? A yes here is a great sign that your fitter is wise enough to know his limitations and smart enough to work with others who can complete his understanding. It can also indicate a fitter who has done the work to better understand fitting for special cases like knee replacements or fused ankles. There are a lot of fitters that can handle easy cases and put you into the same mold they do everyone else. Look for someone with the ability to help you out, even if you are a more challenging case.
- Can I talk to someone you have fitted? Hearing someone else’s perspective on a prospective fitter can do a world of good, and removes the bias you get from hearing it directly from the fitter. A quality fitter won’t be afraid to put you in touch with one of their customers if they know their work speaks for itself.
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but hopefully this article narrows the scope a bit for you and helps you find just the right fitter for you. Good luck out there!