How Does Your Bike Fit?

Wiler

The Wilier, in winter bike mode, complete with Crud mudguards and Gatorskn Ultra tyres

After much trial and error, testing and advice from all and sundry, I bought my first road bike, a Wilier Mortirolo about eight months ago.  I was like a proud parent when I first brought it home and lavished it with love and attention.  I had spent a lot of time at the bike shop with a long fitting process and on the day I rode it home, about two hours of adjustments to get it right.  It being my first road bike, I was willing to accept the new and unfamiliar position, the more aggressive ride and the different way my body felt after a long ride on it compared to the upright bikes I’ve ridden all my life.  But it never really felt right.  On long club rides, my back and kidneys were always aching, on short rides it just felt too unstable to enjoy.  I though I’d get used to it and struggled on.

Then I spent £50 on the vintage Raleigh Wisp, on spec from eBay, and suddenly I was riding a bike that just fitted me perfectly, with no modifications.  It was such a fluke.  I bought it because I wanted a mixte and the size (21inch frame) seemed OK.  I put new tyres and a saddle on and that was it.  But suddenly, I began to feel what it was like to ride a comfortable road bike.  A really comfortable bike that was fun to ride, not a pain.  So I took my Wilier back to the shop.  They shortened the stem, flipped it up, changed the handlebars from a 42cm Ritchey bar to a 38cm shorter-reach bar from Bontranger, with a more compact drop for smaller hands.  They adjusted the saddle position and the cleat placement and I began to wonder what they had been doing on the hours that I’d spent on fitting in the first place.  It’s kind of OK now but some of the joy has been taken out of the bike.  I love the feeling of going fast on skinny tyres, feeling like a cyclist.  But I don’t love the fact that it still isn’t right, that my £50 eBay purchase is more fun to ride than the Wilier which cost, all in all, a few pence short of £1,500.

Freespeed.co.uk have very kindly offered me a free bike fitting service, to test and review, which I would like to do.  But is it worth it on a bike which may not be the right one in the end?

What’s your advice?  Shall I sell it and start again?  Shall I do the bike fit and see what happens?  Shall I persevere?  Or am I expecting too much and is the difference between a vintage bike and a modern carbon version something I should just get used to?

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34 Responses to How Does Your Bike Fit?

  1. Robert Adlington 04/05/2011 at 1:42 pm #

    I know how you feel. I bought a new bike last year and I just don’t feel right on it. I have adjusted it, purchansed new parts (handlebar grips and raised the bars up with an insert). I keep thinking, it’s me…I must persevere, perhaps it is the bike after all.

  2. pingus 04/05/2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Fascinating stuff. Makes you wonder how people can even consider buying a bike off the web without trying it. But as Nicole says, what was the fitting all about???

  3. Ryan 04/05/2011 at 2:33 pm #

    I always feel slightly uncomfortable when out of the saddle on my drops. I feel as
    my torso is too far forward. After reading too many hit and miss stories over bike fittings, your story doesn’t convince to get one done

  4. Teresa 04/05/2011 at 2:35 pm #

    I have had a Specialized BG Fit on both my road bikes – they are worth every penny spent. I generally tell everyone new to road cycling to allow money in the budget for a bike fitting.

    I know exactly how high my saddle needs to be – how far away it needs to be from the handlebars etc, so when my 2nd road bike came along recently i was able to set it up so that it was ‘more or less’ perfect for me – i have however had a bg fit on it which has made the minor adjustments to make the fitting perfect.

    If you started running seriously, you would use ‘any old trainers’ as in the long run you just end up injured – the same goes for bikes and bike fitting. Making sure the bike fits you (not the other way round) is just so important. I can not recommend it highly enough.

  5. Ross 04/05/2011 at 2:36 pm #

    I have one of these, bought from CS spitalfields, but ended up getting a proper bike fit from a Retul based place in town (Bespoke Cycling). It’s a chunk of money but totally worth it as I’ve had no pain riding it since. I can’t recommend a professional fit enough.
    R.

  6. adam 04/05/2011 at 2:42 pm #

    There is 1 major rule when buying a road bike

    1. don’t buy from a chain store as most people who work there are clueless

  7. Eve 04/05/2011 at 3:31 pm #

    Have you ever considered trying any of the Moulton bikes if comfort and speed are what you after?

  8. nicolep 04/05/2011 at 4:09 pm #

    I might not have made this clear in the post, but when I bought the Wilier, I was ‘fiited’ by a specialist at a very large, independent, Central London bike shop, to whom I have now been back two or three times. They don’t seem that bothered that my bike isn’t right, despite what they say in their advertising.

    Apart from paying for a fit on a bike that I didn’t yet have, on a style of bike I had no idea how it was supposed to feel, I don’t see what I could have done more. I tried about 10 bikes, compared geometry on at least half a dozen so it just goes to show……sometimes you get lucky on eBay, somtimes unfortunately you spend a load of dosh on something that will never be right.

    I bought the Wisp just to try, because I liked the look of it. I never expected it to fit as it does. I didn’t really know that the Wilier wasn’t right until I got on the Wisp.

    I guess I now need to measure the angles and distance between parts on the Wisp and take it from there, if I ever have enough dough to get a new one….anybody want to buy a hardly-ridden top class steed?

    • John 06/05/2011 at 10:16 am #

      Nicole,

      A couple of points.

      1 It’s very difficult to get a good fit
      2 If you are racing, you’ll be in pain at the end anyway. That’s why professionals have masseurs
      3 If you do longer events [Randonneurs] you’ll need a longer wheel base to cushion you on the bumps
      4 The best way is to rid with a club and buy someone else’s second hand racer, try it out, sell it on and try again
      5 As your body becomes stronger and more flexible, you’ll ride in a different position
      6 Drop handlebars hurt your neck. I used to do a lot of long rides on ‘touring’ bikes with drops and at the end of a hard day my neck was aching. Now I use staright handlebars on most of my bikes.
      7 ‘Specialist’ cycle shops are often no better than Halfords.
      8 Decathlon have some bikes
      9 It’s difficult for women to get fitted because you need a small frame
      10 You just keep trying till you get it right — you’ll know when it’s right

      Good luck
      John

    • Mark 06/05/2011 at 10:20 am #

      so youn used a large independant shop who claim to care about bikie fitting but have not cared about you?!
      NAME and shame them so we can avoid them please!

      PS I am planning on buying a £1000 racing bike soon and taking all the parts off to swap them over onto a cannondale carbon fibre frame i already have…. does this seem crazy to you guys?
      Im not a bike expert but the guy in the shop said it was the cheapest way to get a complete bike built on th frame i already have – rather than buy all the pieces bit by bit

      • Steve Leicester 06/05/2011 at 4:57 pm #

        Hi Mark I’ts not a bad way of doing it I was about to do the very same thing but have fallen on something already done………
        I now have for sale a very very nice ultimate Hi bred if you want a quality doner bike or forget your Dale and have it as it is……

        Call me if you want a list of what it comprises of it’s all quality and looking for around £400

        07849592647

        Steve

  9. Mike 04/05/2011 at 4:12 pm #

    I might have been lucky, but I’ve used the free bike fit from here http://www.competitivecyclist.com/za/CCY?PAGE=FIT_CALCULATOR_INTRO

    I then used the output of that as a comparison point of the geometries of bikes online, via the manufacturer sites.

    Would agree that the major High Street bike stores do a poor job of fitting road bikes. What I found was they gave a very cursory view of you on a bike, didn’t talk at all about stem length, saddle position etc.

    I found that over time I’ve moved more towards the fit recommended by the calculator than my bike had “out of the box” It’s really comfy now, I can stick in 80 miles hard riding with no knee or back pain, which is where it often shows up.

    • Craig 05/05/2011 at 11:00 am #

      Fantastic an online calculator – I used the formulas in Zinn’s art of MTB maintaince and an Excel spreadsheet. Suddenly, even with a small frame I was riding a bike comfortably because I had been able to fit the correct stem length and saddle position to compensate.

  10. Jon M 04/05/2011 at 5:52 pm #

    Just out of interest, Nicole, how tall are you? I recently found a Raleigh Wisp frame like yours on the street, and have been thinking about building it back up for my wife’s birthday (shh, don’t tell her…) Your enthusiasm for it has probably just persuaded me to get on with it!

    • Nicole 04/05/2011 at 10:21 pm #

      I’m 5′ 8”. But I think that the 21” frame would be ok for someone an inch or two shorter or taller.

      Out of interest, I’ve just sent it to Racer Roas for a revamp which I’m so excited about, I can’t tell you. A frame re-spray, and a few new bits and bobs which I’ll blog about endlessly when it’s done. I love that bike. I hope your wife enjoys hers.

      • Nicole 04/05/2011 at 10:22 pm #

        Racer Rosa……must learn how to spell check!!!

  11. Paul 04/05/2011 at 6:02 pm #

    Where else does fitting in London?
    Freespeed looked a tad pricey on a fee per bike basis (i have 3 bikes)

  12. Paul 04/05/2011 at 6:02 pm #

    Where else does fitting in London?
    Freespeed looked a tad pricey on a fee per bike basis (i have 3 bikes)

  13. steve 04/05/2011 at 8:31 pm #

    You have every right to expect a fit for that sort of price. My experience has been that final tweakings are very important. But there is only so much you can do with the tweaks – fundamental angles and lengths in the frame make a lot of difference.

    A friend happens to be too tall for production frames and adjustments never worked. Trek had her measured by a fitter and made a special frame for her based on one of their existing designs. With enough cash anyone can have a custom frame made, but this was honoring some of her environmental work – there is no way she could have afforded a custom frame. It is her commuter and fits her perfectly – the first bike she’s had that fits.

    http://www.6footsix.com/my_weblog/2010/02/trek-is-here.html

  14. Adam 04/05/2011 at 9:13 pm #

    I’ve found that it can take me ages to get a bike perfectly adjusted sometimes. Often returning from rides and raising the saddle by 5mm and moving it back a few mm etc.

    You can compensate for reach by changing stem length but then that affects the way the steering handles, so if you like a certain length stem and handling then getting the right size frame top tube is important to start with. Personally I like stems around 100mm long. Anything longer and it gets sloppy on the steering and any shorter and it gets twitchy. So I generally need a frame with about a 56cm top tube for the right comfortable reach forwards.

    Often bikes I own will be constantly evolving looking for the right parts to make them perfectly comfortable. Saddles are a constant quest and vary depending on the uprightness of the bike.

    Although as you say, sometimes you can just get lucky with a bike. I recently managed to get hold of a second hand Rocky Mountain Sherpa 30 touring bike. Second hand so no choice of size or customising any of it and it happens to be one of the most comfortable bikes I’ve ever ridden.

    The other really comfortable one is an old Dawes Realm Rider frame I saved from being scrapped that I fitted upright bars to for riding around town.

  15. Tommy 05/05/2011 at 7:52 am #

    I think that finding the perfect position can be one of those things that some people find easy and others do not. It may not always be the measurements, for instance the saddle you use can change a bike completely.

    Going from an upright cruiser bike to a road bike as I did, it was never going to be as comfortable, its like jumping from a Range Rover into a Lotus Elise, the two bikes are different creatures.

    That said, if you are paying big money, which £1,500 is, you don’t want to be giving yourself lower back problems in the long term if your body never adjusts to the new position.

    Just my 2 pence.

    • nicolep 05/05/2011 at 1:27 pm #

      Thanks Tommy.

      I’m not sure that it’s the new position because the Mixte is also a road bike with a similar style of ride. I think it’s the angles and the distance between the saddle and stem and perhaps the angle of the headtube that makes the difference.

      Which is all the more frustrating because the Wilier is one of the more compact bikes in it’s class, with a more relaxed geometry than some of it’s more racier counterparts.

      Maybe I now know that I need an even more relaxed, touring or randoneurring style geometry, should I ever be able to afford another bike!

      • Craig 08/05/2011 at 12:20 pm #

        Hi Nicole,

        I would react to that by saying that Willier aren’t as relaxed as that are said by some (eg the shop where I bought a Trek and also sell Willier) to be a more racy make – I too tried Mortirolo but didn’t like it. It took out some bumps but managed to be hard at the same time. I also say this after looking at a bigger / zoomed in copy of the picture of your bike (or have you moved it on and it’s in someone else’s hands now?) and it’s possible that the gap between saddle and handlbar height may be too high for you. It’s not excessive but for anyone not used to a road bike of this type I think it’s one of the ways that discomfort can very often be reached. The pros have a much greater height difference here for aero benefit but most of us weekend riders can’t tolerate it and this is said to be more where Willier are coming from.

        It’s a shame that they appear to have messed up that first (so-called) fitting as I think that is what is the cause of removing much of your pleasure. I was riding an aluminium bike that is 6yrs old until I got the carbon Trek a month ago and one thing I wanted was increased comfort, to feel less battered after 3+ hours of riding and it’s done that, big time. It’s injected me with new zeal for cycling and that with a faster, lighter bike has taken my average speed up I reckon by at least 2mph.

        It’s a shame you’ve not had a similar experience but the bike being relatively new you may get most of your money back if you sell it and with the advice on this page eg some of the shops and fitting they’re recommending may be you will be willing to give it a go again in the future, when the soreness of this experience has passed.

        That shop clearly d**ked you about and wasted your time with the first fitting and naming and shaming them here may help them up their game, prevent it happening to other people by them improving and 1 or 2 people not going who read this.

  16. Filippo Negroni 05/05/2011 at 2:15 pm #

    A picture taken from the side/front and rear of you on the bike would let the on-line bike fitters amongst us to make some comments.

    Post them and comments will absolutely flood in…

  17. thereverent 05/05/2011 at 9:26 pm #

    You might need a bit more time to adjust to it.
    I rode a mountain bike for years then last year I bought my first road bike for triathlons and training for them. At first my back got sore if I spent any time on the drops. But gradually with a few little adjustments it now feels natural.
    I took it to a quite road a few times with a multi tool in my pocket, so I could ride a bit then adjust and keep doing that until it felt better.
    I still haven’t got my right cleat on my spd set up quite right so my knee gets a little sore after an hour, but some more adjusting should get rid of it.

  18. Claire 06/05/2011 at 10:13 am #

    Hi Nicole,

    I’ve just got my second Wilier from On Your Bike in Tooley Street near London Briddge.

    There’s a great guy called Denver who specialises in fitting bikes to their owners and it made such a difference to my first bike – no more back wrenching and rib cage compressing.

    I’m getting my new bike fitted asap – definitely worth it, and how could you let a Wilier sit idle?!

    • cafewanda 06/05/2011 at 3:40 pm #

      I’d second OYB and Denver.

  19. Matt Taber 06/05/2011 at 10:45 am #

    Nicole

    When it comes to bike fitting, everyone feels they have the ‘answer’, but the truth is that it comes down to some very basic principles that everyone can learn about.

    1. People should break the bike down into its component parts; frame, stem, cranks, handlebars, seatpost and saddle. Each should be adjusted for ‘best’ (ie most comfortable) fit.
    2. Frame size: rule of thumb would be the frame size should be 2/3 the length of your inseam. To measure that, stand on the floor in your cycling shorts and bare feet and measure up to your crotch. You may need a book or similar placed between your legs to help you get that measurement right ‘up there’. So, if you have a 29 inch inseam that equates to 73.66cm and therefore a 49-50 cm frame should fit. (NB on frame sizing, it’s ‘mostly’ the distance from the centre of the BB to the centre of the top tube measured on the seattube but check the manufacturer’s geometry. Wilier do have slightly odd sizing mind you. The Mortirolo doesn’t appear to me to be a ‘sportive’ style, but more of an old style racing style so it might simply be too sporty)
    3. Unless you want something racy, go for a relaxed ‘sportive’ style geometry. I know a lot about the Cervelo range, so you would look at an RS rather than an R3. Longer headtube and more relaxed head angle means a more upright position.
    4. Stem below saddle: you look at the pros and they ride a very very aggressive position, but as one said to me once, “This is my office, I spend 6 hrs a day in my office so I am more flexible and can handle the position”. Most mere mortals can’t. Rule of thumb here is no more than a fist’s distance between the top of the saddle and the top of the stem/handlebars (important if you have an angled stem).
    5. Stem length – when you sit on the bike, you should be comfortable with your hands on the hoods. When you switch to the top of the bars, this should be for climbing or just ‘cruising’ so it doesn’t matter if you sit up more there. As a sportive rider, you’ll hardly ever be in the drops apart from long/fast descents. If you are reaching too far in the hoods, shorten the stem. Don’t go shorter than an 80mm stem. If you need to do that to get comfy, the top tube is probably too long. Check the geometry again on that.
    6. Handlebar width – comfortable and no wider or narrower than your shoulders.
    7. Play around with things like the lever position and make sure it is comfortable.

    Ultimately, the sort of service you’ve had from the shop is the sort of thing that is very disappointing. You need someone to be able to advise you properly and if the Mortirolo isn’t the right bike for you, they should tell you rather than keep replacing parts in the hope that it does fit!!

    Good luck!!

  20. Rebecca Olds-Bartlett 06/05/2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Hi Nicole

    Your experience mirrors mine in so many ways. I have a Puch mixte and a Surly Cross Check. The mixte fits. The Surly was just “not quite right” and I was just confused trying to figure it out. I tried and tried to ride it and love it – but I only had pain, to the point where my physiotherapist told me to stop riding altogether until I’d been for a bike fit. My physio works with Cyclefit in Covent Garden so I went there. They’re professional fitters – not a bike shop – though their service extends to designing custom bikes (made by Serotta and Guru) for clients that have had a full bike fit (they don’t do this for anyone just in off the street!).

    Julian at Cyclefit drew up a list of changes to be made to the Surly, but we always knew there was a possibility that the bike frame would prove to be just fundamentally wrong in ways that couldn’t be overcome. But we had a go at making it work: swapped out the 42cm bars for 38cm Bontrager Race Lite bars (shorter reach & shorter drops, like what you said), shorter stem flipped up, plus 160mm cranks. Result? Can you believe it, total success! My Surly now feels an extension of my own body.

    My first true test of the new fit was last weekend on the Isle of Wight. Rode all day 4 days running. Amazed and delighted to have no pains or aches of any kind anywhere, either during or after riding. And this is my first road bike, so I’m still getting used to the new position etc.

    So I highly recommend Cyclefit. That said, one of the most helpful and reassuring articles on bike fit that I found (and I’ve read tons on the subject) is Peter White’s: http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/fitting.htm. And that can be summed in by saying, don’t get too hung on numbers and angles and rules. (Even Cyclefit is a bit guilty of this! but at least they start correctly with the ankles then the knees and then upwards and forwards. Because once you’ve got the cranks right and then the fore/aft position of the saddle, those shouldn’t be messed with much, no matter what style of riding you do).

    Anyway – hoping you get this solved. The Wilier is a gorgeous bike. Then again…. nothing quite like a vintage mixte! Really looking forward to seeing photos of the refurb.

  21. Charlie J. 06/05/2011 at 2:46 pm #

    Nicole-
    I am a pretty active road bike rider with a middle of the road Trek 2.1. I am live in the ultra flat part of Florida. I now average about 4,500 miles per year and have almost 8,000 miles on the Trek. I had been professionally fit by the shop where I bought my Trek twice with a third tweak. The fittings were all of the plumb bob and protractor type.

    I always felt too stretched out, and too far forward in the cockpit. My longest ride was 60 miles in about 3.6 hours.

    That all being said, I adopted to my bike, as can be seen by the mileage totals.

    I am increasing my mileage and trying to reach the next level speed wise so I did some pretty extensive research on the web and by talking to other cyclists. I was drawn to Retul (“retool”) http://www.retul.com/ and went out to the local bike shop to talk to Park, their fitter. He convinced me that he could fit the bike to me.

    I had the fitting on May 4, 2011. It took two hours and was truly impressive. I cannot report any immediate speed results, but I can tell you that:
    1. I am now much more comfortable on the bike and feel that I am where I need to be in the cockpit.
    2. I have sore quads after two 21 mile rides at 17-18 mph. Why? I was in such an inefficient position on the bike previously that my hamstrings were doing all of the work.
    3. When I go on the drops, I am much more aero.

    So, I am a convert. My bike now fits me. I think that within a few short weeks, I will be significantly faster and able to ride longer with comfort. It cost 250 USD and was worth every penny.

    Retul has several sites in GB.

    Look for me between York and Huddersfield in late July. I will be the Yank struggling up your hills.

    Hope this helps.

    Charlie

  22. cafewanda 06/05/2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Not read everything so apols if they’ve already been mentioned.

    http://www.thebikewhisperer.co.uk

    I’ve been to them a few times and I feel they are seriously worth every penny. It’s more like meeting new friends than a business meet.

    Appointments are made weeks in advance cos they are very busy.

  23. Wolfram 06/05/2011 at 11:47 pm #

    I had a professional fit some years ago, and still copy the measurements on to other bikes:

    - distance saddle nose to stem centre (using the same saddle typ)
    - distance crank set centre to top of saddle

    For retro races I bought a Look KG 56 with a short seat post and I could clearly feel the difference in height, so I had a use a Brooks to get up to 78 something centimeters as lower models gave 76/77 which simple did not work as I’m used to 79-80.

    In respect to lenght I have 120/130 mm stems to fine tune length as sometimes depending on the handle bar style the distance hood to stem centre changes between 120-140 mm.

    Regards,

    Wolfram

  24. chris 10/05/2011 at 1:15 pm #

    well I notice the Wilier has its handle bars quite low cpmpared to the seat in comparison to the cheap Raleigh Wisp? Try equalising them?

    I am glad this topic has been voiced – not only is there a matter of fit but also what you are used to. I moved from along wheel based 27 inch tourer to a 26 inch shorter wheel based multi terrain bike. I found it took quite a time to adjust. I kept on comparing my riding to the old bike, and unfavourably. Thinking all the time all the money I had wasted ……. ( well not thinking as all that money was too much). I think now if I rode the old bike I would find it cumbersome and heavy. It did take quite a time to get things more or less right. I am 6ft 4 inches so getting these small framed bikes right is not easy!

  25. Sue 21/08/2012 at 5:41 am #

    I have had my Raleigh Wisp for near on 30 years. She looks pretty much standard. upgraded the chrome wheels to aluminium many years ago. I also removed the mudguards to give her a more up to date appearance. Wore the seat & bar tapes out – many times. She now has a Celle italia racing seat & new stem, & white Roubaix tapes. She gets a good polish and oiling once a year & is kept indoors. I get many comments including CORR LOOK AT THAT BIKE! makes me feel very proud. Most of all, she is light as a feather & goes like the wind. So when someone says “will you sell me that bike” Well you have guessed it! I would never part with it for what I see as the heavy, bulky, ugly bikes that are about today. Enjoy.

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