Many factors contribute to feeling more comfortable on your bike. The fit of the bike is one of the most important. When I went to Max Hamalainen of Philadelphia Bikesmith for a professional bike fit, I found out that it was more about me, my type of riding, and how I carry myself on and off the bike than it was about measurements and angles.
Still, those measurements and angles are key, and most riders could improve their ride with small — or in many cases large — changes to their bike setup. Max walked me through the whys and hows of making a bike fit better. Photo Editor Thom Carroll was there to document the process.
Why get a bike fit?
Max: Comfort, absolutely. That goes for anybody, a road racer, a mountain biker, even a commuter. The next thing would have to be efficiency, but comfort always takes priority.
Is there a purpose other than making physical adjustments?
Max: It’s really interviewing the person, asking questions and getting an idea of who they are as a rider. That aspect is probably more important than the fit after just one session. A rider can think about what’s going on and how they can improve their riding habits.
[I realized that after the fit I now think more about my posture both on and off the bike. Max noted that whenever I was standing I tended to put most of my weight on my left foot, a habit that can eventually lead to greater problems. Though I still catch myself leaning to the left sometimes, I now feel more aware of my posture on and off the bike.]
Are there other misconceptions you’d like to clear up?
Max: I think people are way too obsessed with aerodynamics! They can think about are the aerodynamics of the bicycle itself, but not the posture of the person on that bicycle [A lot of what we talked about was posture and how important it is]. I think there is this obsession with wind tunnels and creating super aero bikes, but they’re not focusing on the least aerodynamic thing of that whole system, the person. This involves things like clothing, but also whether you’re relaxing your arms, whether you’re tucking on the downhill — where you are putting your body.
Even though there is a very general biomechanical explanation for how humans ride bikes, you still get pros like Jan Ulrich and Lance Armstrong who have very different riding styles. They are number one and two and Armstrong is spinning at 120 cadence and Ulrich is spinning at 85. So there are certain places where the logic and biomechanics sort of fails, and you have to take a more organic style route.
What are the most important changes anyone can do to make their bike more comfortable?
Max: Ideal upgrades to a bike — and this goes from a commuter to a road racer — are going to be your contact points: your feet, your butt, and your hands. That can start with getting a big flat pedal for a commuter, getting rid of those weird little cheap, sharp, small metal pedals that come with every bike. Spend $25 bucks and get a nice BMX-style pedal that has a big platform and is super comfortable. You can also make a huge leap in comfort by getting new saddles, grips, bar tape, or handlebars.
[Have you had your bike fit? Let us know what changes made the most difference for you in the comments.]