A "bat" bike, a term coined by head mechanic, Daryl Case, at Peak Performance Ski & Bike (formerly Skier's Peak) in Sylvan Lake, is a bicycle that has been hanging from the rafters in your garage unused for months, maybe years. If you own one, you're not alone. Many people who were once enthusiastic about bike riding soon found out that their bicycle was the source of pain and discomfort. Hence, their bike found its rank in the colony of "bat" bikes that roost in garages around the world.
A "one-size-fits-all" mentality is not always the best rule to follow when it comes to selecting a bike. Keep in mind that the standard bike ("stock bike") was designed for somebody, but no one in particular. Its dimensions were chosen to hit the mean in a range of different body sizes to increase its salability.
An improper fit to your bike, even if off by just a few centimeters, can cause big problems for your musculoskeletal system, such as knee pain, achey shoulders, a stiff neck and/or back, and numb, tingling hands, among other things. It can also hinder your performance by decreasing your power output and by making you less efficient. These factors can lead to a frustrating and unenjoyable ride.
The solution? Proper "bike fit." Bike fitting is a process that results in a bike that has been designed to fit your body - a bike that allows you to be in the best position for comfort and performance. Bike fitting should not be confused with bike sizing. Bike sizing entails selecting a standard bike frame size based on certain measurements of your body, such as your height and inseam. Minor adjustments to the seat height and handle bars may be made to improve the fitting during the bike sizing process. However, the results of bike sizing will be less than ideal when compared to bike fitting. Bike sizing tries to fit you to a standard bike where as bike fitting results in a custom bike that has been designed and created to fit your body.
Bike fitting, as opposed to bike sizing, is more of a science. It takes into account various factors that go beyond the mere consideration of your body's proportions relative to that of the bike. Bike fitting considers your anatomical alignment, weight distribution, range of motion, and biomechanics (how your body moves through your range of motion). Another factor that comes into play with proper bike fit is the type of bike riding that you will be doing (mountain vs. road; short vs. long distance; sprint vs. endurance, etc.).
The best way to ensure a proper bike fit is to have it professionally done. A fit-centered bike dealer will have a professional, who has been trained and certified in bike fitting, conduct the fitting session. To see what these sessions involved first-hand, my husband and I made an appointment with Chad Johnston, a professional bike fitter, at Peak Performance Ski & Bike in Sylvan Lake.
The bike fitting studio was equipped with a size cycle and various bike parts, a video camera, and a computer. Johnston uses the V1 Video Analysis Software for Sports developed by Interactive Frontiers, Inc. in Plymouth, Michigan. This allows him to get dynamic measurements from the video without having to interrupt the client's pedaling. A break in the pedaling to obtain a static measurement could lead to inaccurate measures if the client ends up shifting his/her weight as a result of having to stop.
At the beginning of each session, Johnston conducts an initial assessment that includes questions about prior injuries and goals for biking. He also measures range of motion and flexibility. Johnston states that this information gives him "a picture of what the client is like off of the bike" which helps him find the best position for the individual on the bike. During the testing session, Johnston asks the client how he/she is feeling and makes adjustments to the size cycle, such as changing the handle bars or hoods, to optimize the clients position on the bike.
Johnston's goal during the session is to determine the best position for the rider in terms of performance and comfort. Once the best position is determined, then a "bike can be designed to them." The measurements and information obtained from a ride on the size cycle creates a blueprint that Johnston can then take to a bike manufacturer for them to make "a bike that fits under the client." Johnston states that a pitfall many people fall into is to purchase a stock bike that their favorite elite cyclist rides. The problem with this is that the bike was designed for that particular athlete's biomechanics on the bike. The client's riding style maybe completely different from the athletes. The end result - increased risk of discomfort and injury and decreased efficiency and power for the client.
If you want the best bicycle, and hence ride, for you, I recommend a professional bike fitting. Johnston states that the average session lasts about 2 hours but can take longer if needed and the cost per session is $250.00 (at Peak Performance Ski & Bike). Sessions are scheduled by appointment. For further information on bike fitting, call Peak Performance Ski & Bike at (248) 454-1188 or visit the store on 2129 Orchard Lake Rd., Sylvan Lake, MI 48320.
Note: Before beginning an exercise program or increasing the intensity level of a current routine, a physician's approval should be obtained, especially for older adults and those at risk for or who currently have chronic health conditions.