DIY bike fit - savvy saving or false economy?

(Image credit: Cycling Weekly Dan Gould)

Bike-fit is big business. For about £150, you can get your position checked by a trained eye at your local bike shop. Parting company with about four times more cash will get you a physio-led fit with biomechanical assessment as standard; and if money’s no object, you can take it one step further with aero-optimisation in a wind tunnel. Alternatively, you could do it yourself — without paying a penny.

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Cyclists have been self-fitting for decades, of course, often with the help of a friend, a mirror, and a trusty plumb line. Is paying someone else to set you up on your bike like buying a dog and barking yourself? Then again, is DIY fitting a risky business inviting injury troubles? Keep it simple and save cash, or pay the experts to see you right — which approach pays off in the long run?

It’s a question on which former Team Sky consultant and British Cycling physiotherapist Phil Burt is surprisingly candid: “I once stood up at a bike-fit conference and said a pretty controversial thing: not everyone needs a bike-fit. Some people — who I call micro-adjusters — are more vulnerable to changes in their environment and contact points. Others, who I call macro-absorbers, tend to be able to absorb small changes — their set-up may not be optimal, but it won’t hurt them.”

There are a number of tools you can use to get your set up dailed in.
(Image credit: Cycling Weekly / Dan Gould)

Few people understand the importance of correct position better than Burt, and yet: “Not everyone can afford a bike-fit, and you might be able to use rules of thumb to sort yourself out.”

At his eponymous studio Phil Burt Innovation, the bike-fitter extraordinaire wrote his book Bike Fit to help other people do his job for him. Naturally, a book-guided fit is substantially simplified, with more rules of thumb and fewer individual considerations.

The self-fitting approach is likely to work better for ‘macro-absorbers’ — people who barely notice if their saddle shifts a centimetre. For micro-adjusters, self-fit might not be advised. Physiotherapist at Velo Physio, Nichola Roberts, told us: “I would say a self set-up is possible but not advisable. If you are going to do it, use guideline measures to put you in the right ballpark, but be prepared to go by feel and tweak as you feel comfortable.”

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And there’s no shame in asking for help. “Ask a friend who has some bike knowledge to observe you or film you on a turbo trainer, from behind and in front. If you are getting any discomfort or pain, seek professional help.”

How do you do it yourself?

Bike brand Canyon is famous for the good value it offers, largely afforded by the direct-only sales method it employs. The German manufacturer knows that its customers are buying online and many of them, rightly or haphazardly, fit themselves to their purchases. Daniel Heyder, one of Canyon’s product engineers, helped run us through the process of a basic self-set-up.

Read the rest of this article in the August 15 issue of Cycling Weekly, on sale now in newsagents and supermarkets priced £3.25. You can also get Cycling Weekly on your Android or Apple device.

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