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When I decided to train for a dirty century, I wanted to make sure my bike fit was completely dialed for long hours in the saddle. I’ve done live social media coverage of a few races for Eddie O’Dea, the most sought-after bike fitter in the state of Georgia, so I decided to give him a call and get both my road bike and the Superfly 100 (my race bike) properly fit and ready to go. Eddie, along with his wife Namrita, own 55Nine Performance, a professional bike fitting, coaching, and training company.

While I expected it to be an interesting experience, what I didn’t expect was how informative our time would be and how much I would learn about bike fitting and riding in the process. One of the main impressions I came away with is how important getting your bike fit by a professional bike fitter truly is. In the past, I thought bike fits were only for serious racers.

Shawn Gillis of Absolute Bikes in Salida, Colorado performs a fit for the author during the summer of 2015. Photo: Sydney Schalit.

Shawn Gillis of Absolute Bikes in Salida, Colorado performs a fit for the author during the summer of 2015. Photo: Sydney Schalit.

During our time, Eddie informed me that a pro bike fit is useful for anyone who rides a bike. As you’ll find out if you read on below, riding a bike with an improper fit can put a lot of wear and tear on your body. Even if you don’t ride very much, “[you’re] still pedaling for an hour, two hours, three hours, producing thousands of pedal strokes per hour,” said O’Dea. Even if you’re brand-new to the sport, “learning good technique on a well-fitting bike early on means that you don’t develop bad habits,” according to O’Dea.

Since I know a $200 bike fit might be a hard sell for many, I present to you the top 5 reasons that you should get a professional bike fit:

1. Reduce the risk of injuries

“The most common injuries are from overuse, repetitive use,” according to O’Dea. These injuries occur when “forces that should be passed through the skeletal system get passed through the soft tissue” instead. Possible conditions that result include tendonitis, inflammation of the tendons, and tendeopathy, which is the death of cells in your soft tissue, resulting in scar tissue forming in your muscles.

Such overuse injuries are “the result of putting undue forces (tension, sheering, compression) into the soft tissue repeatedly.” When properly fitted on a bike, these undue forces are eliminated.

2. Increased comfort

Many riders coming in for their first bike fit, myself included, think that comfort and performance are mutually exclusive. I was surprised and pleased to learn that they don’t have to be. Basically, a professional bike fitter seeks to find the center of your range of motion for your body (appendages, joints, back, etc.) and they put you in the most neutral position. This position is both the most powerful and the most comfortable.

If you are experiencing pain on the bike, “discomfort would typically come from tension, sheering, and compression. By reducing those at the contact points as well as throughout the rest of the body, you get the performance benefit but the comfort comes with it,” said O’Dea. Of course, mountain biking is an inherently painful sport, but “discomfort should come from increased effort and not just pain. It should not come from numbness or pain in your joints.” You should not be experiencing any hotness, seering, or high heat. If you are, you should definitely see a professional bike fitter.

3. Increased physical performance

As I mentioned above, comfort and performance go hand-in-hand. “Working from your individual range of motion will allow [you] to get more power and less wear and tear on your body,” said O’Dea.

In order to get to the center of your individual range of motion, 55Nine Performance and other Wobble Naught-affiliated bike fitters take detailed measurements of your skeleton and your bike and input all the data into a software program. The software then spits out the ideal bike setup and using a combination of laser sights, measuring tapes, and levels, the bike fitter, in this case Eddie, will then set up your bike. After that, you hop on the bike and pedal, and if any changes need to be made, the bike fitter will make them.

Once the fit is complete, Eddie watches your pedal stroke and gives specific coaching on ideal body position. “This is one of the areas that sets us and WN Precision fitters apart is the ability to teach people techniques that will give them improvement,” said O’Dea. “Most bike fits don’t teach you how to move and pedal.” Indeed, many bike shop bike fits will drop a plumbline from your knee, take a few measurements and adjustments, and send you on your way. WN fitters such as 55Nine spend most of the “fit” time actually coaching, and they go as far as scheduling a follow up coaching session (included in the fit fee).

4. Faster recovery

This ties into number one above, but it seems obvious that “if you do less damage to the soft tissue, you’re going to recover better.” According to O’Dea, this is basic physiology. “If there are less tears to the connective tissues and less damage to the muscles there is less to recover from.”

5. It is difficult, if not impossible, to fit yourself on a bike

According to O’Dea, “our bodies are not wired to feel the subtleties and the changes of fit. We’re actually not wired to feel when we’re in the middle of the range of motion because there’s no feedback.” If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. We only feel something, i.e. pain, when something is going wrong. When something isn’t wrong, we don’t feel pain. However, the absence of pain isn’t enough to tell you that you are actually in the middle of your range of motion. And since pain often doesn’t show up until you’ve been riding for a while, perfecting your bike fit by yourself is just a very difficult thing to do.

This circles back to my overall takeaway from my fit sessions at 55Nine. The reasoning and science behind what Eddie does with the fit are things I had never thought of before relating to anatomy and physiology. He tries to explain the reasoning using plaster anatomical models and three-dimensional computer models, but I only understood a portion of it. That’s okay, though, because I rely on Eddie to be the expert.

Additionally, the way Eddie goes about actually creating the ideal bike fit is so incredibly precise and scientific that I knew I was in the presence of a true professional. Normally when I set up my cockpit and seat, I just make my best guess based on experience. If something feels wrong, I adjust it a little bit. But I never get out a software program, laser sight, measuring tape, and level. I just don’t.

This is why there are people who specialize in bike fitting: it is a very demanding, scientific process that few of us have any reason to understand, let alone perfect. Especially for the average rider, once you get your one or two (or three) bikes set up properly, you won’t have to think about it until you buy your next bike! And if you’re buying a multi-thousand dollar dream bike, don’t you think you should invest a couple hundred more dollars to get it set up specifically for you?

Your Turn: Have you ever had a professional bike fit? What did you learn?

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# Comments

  • jeff

    It should also be mentioned that Eddie is a super badass endurance mountain biker. In March he set a course record at the Huracan 300 down in Florida at just over 23 hours. That’s 300 miles in less than a day–unbelievable!

    • dgaddis

      And he also just last month won and set a new record for the Stagecoach 400 in CA. BEAST MODE!!

    • mtbgreg1

      Yeah, his new record for the Stagecoach 400 is just under 40 hours… that’s better than a 10 mile per hour average, INCLUDING stops, eating, bike maintenance, the whole nine yards!!

      Pretty much a certifiable badass.

  • bjdraw

    Interesting. But other than adjusting the seat, what is there to a fitment on a mountain bike?

    • dgaddis

      I used to have some knee pain after long hours in the saddle. I’ve had a Specialized BG Fit done at my local dealer (shoutout to Andy Jordan’s Bicycle Warehouse, talk to Drew), and like Greg, I was surprised at how involved it was. They look at a lot of things I never though of. How symetrical are you? Do you have different leg lengths? How’s the alignment of your ankles? Are your knees tracking up and down, or also swinging side to side? Do you naturaly stand/walk with your toes pointed in, or out, or straight ahead? How’s your flexibility?

      For my fitting I got a new pair of Specialized shoes (which I was planning on anyhow since my old shoes were toast), Drew recommended a different insole with a little more arch support. He also changed my cleat position, moving it back towards my heal. He moved my saddle down a little, and back a LOT – so much so I needed a setback post because the straight post I was using didn’t have enough adjustment. He also looked at handlebar and controls position, making sure my brake levers were easily reached and whatnot. We didn’t make any adjustments to my bars, but he said they were at the limit of my flexibility and I may need to raise them a touch, but to ride it some and see how it feels.

      So the new position was a more aggresive position – I was further back from the bars, and more leaned forward with a flater back. IT ROCKED!! I noticed immediately I could put more power into the pedals, the new cleat position helped a lot there, my ankles and calfs were doing less work to stabilize my foot, so the larger muscles could really lay down the power. My knees track straight up and down now, they used to swing in towards the bike on the downstroke. I was also more comfortable on the bike, and have no more knee issues.

      All in all my fitting process took somewhere between 3 and 4 hours. I HIGHLY recommend getting a good fit, those few millimeters of adjustment here and there really make a big difference.

    • jeff

      Right. There’s cleat position, stem angle/height, seat height, crank arm length, bar length/angle, etc. Plus you have other things like shoes, grips, saddle that make a difference (though I don’t know if 55Nine addresses these specifically in their process).

      The worst thing is finding out your frame is the wrong size and/or geometry for your body. I did a fitting with 55Nine before my hut-to-hut trip a few years ago and found out that my frame was probably a little too small. We got around it by installing a super long seat post but that’s not ideal.

    • Eddie_O

      There is saddle height, tilt, and foreafter; reach to the bars, drop from the saddle to the bars & bar width; grip rotation, brake & shifter placement; & cleat placement. In addition and what is not really discussed in this article is the techniques I WN Precision (aka Wobble Naught) dealers teach for climbing (seated & standing), the flats, accelerations, sprinting, etc. This is an area not many “fitters” go into. The set up of the bike is a foundation for better movement, the movements still have to be learned.

  • swerverider

    Great article – and timely – a bike fitting is something I’ve become interested in recently. However, other than word of mouth, how can you really know who is actually medically/professionally qualified to be involved with fitting your bike for you? Probably a stupid question, but is there some sort of qualification? Or do you just have to trust they have enough experience? And what if you’re not happy with the results? And that’s assuming there are results, maybe you can’t tell any difference?

    • dgaddis

      There’s a few different fit “systems”, and every one you’ll find people who claim it’s the greatest thing since the pneumatic tire, and others who claim it’s complete garbage. Specialized has their Body Geometry Fit system, there’s the Wobble Naught, one or two others, and then there’s also old guys who’ve been riding forever and just have a good eye for it.

      Sooooo, I’d recommend looking for someone who has a good reputation and lots of happy satisfied customers, don’t worry so much about the system they use.

  • mtbgreg1

    Great discussion! There’s not much I can add to what Dustin and Jeff have contributed.

    As for fit systems, Eddie uses the Wobble Naught Precision system and recommends other WN fitters. They have fitters spread all across the country; you can learn more about WN on their website: http://www.wobblenaught.com/

    But Dustin is right, there are definitely different fit theories and many different bike setup theories floating around out there!

  • Jarrett.morgan

    This seems like something I need to look into. Generally how long does a fitting stay true?

    • mtbgreg1

      I mean, assuming you’re an adult and done growing, i would imagine its good until you change an affected component or you buy a new bike… If you don’t move anything I don’t know why it wouldn’t “stay true”

    • dgaddis

      It could potentially change if your flexibility changes, but as long as you’re riding regularly I don’t think that would happen, unless you had an injury of some sort.

    • Jarrett.morgan

      I have stopped growing vertically(hopefully horizontally as well). I have just noticed over time my seatpost will move some so I did not know if other things shifted and adjusted as well over time.

    • mtbgreg1

      Do you have a QR lever on your seatpost? That could be the cause of it moving down on you. You can try cranking down the bolt with a wrench, or switching to a standard seatpost collar that just accepts a wrench.

    • MTI

      Jarrett if the seatpost is moving and you have a QR switch it out with a standard. That was happening to e a few years ago and it was killer on my knees. Since I made that simple change I have had no more problems.

    • PSUtuna

      I use a QR and don’t have a problem. Use a fine grit abrasive paper on your seatpost below your MIN insert line and it should hold. Torque down on the QR as much as you can also.

    • Eddie_O

      To your original question Jarrett: as long as your skeletal structure stays the same. Our bodies are not static and there is more to it than just flexibility or range of motion. Our skeletal system is changing. Under 21 and you probably still growing with your bones getting longer and more dense. That changes the flex patterns of those bones and the WN Precision methodology takes this into account. As we get older our bones can lose density, we shrink from gravity, the arches of our feet collapse over time, etc….again this is taking into account with the WN Precision methodology. When providing multiple fits to the same person I will use the same skeletal & range of motion measurements for 2 years unless there is a known change: i.e you’ve grown taller or broken a bone or had a surgery.

  • gar29

    Nice writeup Greg, thanks. I’ve been wanting to do that for a while, but I’m afraid that I would wind up replacing to many components that I couldn’t afford!

    • Stl_Greaser

      This is also what I am up against… Save up for the fit and not be able to get it to where it needs to be since I wouldnt be able to afford the parts to get it there!

    • mtbgreg1

      Well, you don’t necessarily need to buy all-new components, and if you do need to buy new ones you don’t need to buy the most expensive ones out there. The only component I needed to buy for the fit of the Superfly was an $18 stem.

    • Eddie_O

      gar29, unfortunately there is no way to know before a fitting session to know what components if any will need to be changed. I always suggest that clients bring whatever spare stems, bars, posts, etc they have at home with them if they wish to save some $. I will say new components are usually cheaper than treating most repetitive use injuries.

  • MTI

    Gregg I guess this is a good forum to ask. All the bikes that you ride and test out are of different geomtetry and style. Isn’t that murder on your body. If I take a different bike out for a day I can really feel the pain the next day. A few minor changes on the bike I ride everyday and I feel soreness in different places. With that said great write up I’ll be making an appointment with Eddie hopefully in a few months!

    • mtbgreg1

      One thing Eddie suggested was doing a bike fit of every bike that I review so that I have the same fit every time. Unfortunately, we kind of live too far apart for that to be practical, and I’ll be leaving in a few months…

      In the past, I personally haven’t noticed much of a difference in soreness and pain between different bikes, except for different saddles. A change in saddle can sometimes really be painful until I get used to it! However, I think small differences are magnified the longer you ride for, so in ultra-endurance events small changes can make a big difference!

    • Eddie_O

      The reason I suggested that Greg get each new demo bike fit was to be able to evaluate each bike on it’s individual characteristics vs differences in fit and component positioning. Subtle changes in fit and center of gravity can drastically change the way a bike handles and pedals. The challenge for fitting mountain bikes is that the rider needs to be on the bike in order to fit it. This is because of the geometry changes due to suspension sag.

  • dgaddis

    I don’t see any reason to fit each bike. Once you know where the saddle and bars need to be in relation to the BB you can set up each bike the same. All you need is a tape measure level and plumb bob.

    • Eddie_O

      How does this account for geometry changes with suspension sag? I cannot fit myself on a mountain bike despite providing over 1000 fits for others because I need my weight on the bike and cannot then apply the appropriate measurements to the set up while I’m there.

  • PSUtuna

    I’ve been wanting to get a professional bike fit. All the bikes I own are pieced together to make them fit the best I can. I’m 5’11 with a 29 inch inseam, a long torso, and crazy long monkey arms. I’ve always thought it was impossible to get a good fit, maybe a pro can prove me wrong.

    • Eddie_O

      I love a good challenge.

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