ACME X PDF
Words by Anna Maria Diaz-Balart, Photography by Bryan Banducci
Bike fits are expensive. You walk away from them with a schematic diagram, lists of numbers, but little other tangible proof of the money you’ve spent. We hear people talk about their bikes fits all the time, but short of a hand built frame, it's hard to see exactly what they actually got. They are an indispensable part of the full carbon, shiny new bike and lycra lifestyle. But for those of us on a budget, or not racing on a team, it can be hard to justify the expense, or imagine the benefit. I spent an afternoon with Colin Tanner, of Acme Bicycle Co to talk fitting, and specifically how bike fits can help women who are passionate about cycling.
A good bike fit starts with you. Not an existing bike (although you’re likely to bring your own). But with questions about you, how you ride, where you ride, what your goals are, and what problems you might be experiencing. Having worked in physical therapy, and as a cycling coach, Colin’s questions get to the heart of your cycling program. So whether you want to take up gravel riding, or train for a half ironman, or an across the US tour, it’s about you and your personal goals and interests.
Regardless of what type of riding you do (or want to do) fitting benefits folks at the farthest ends of body size spectrums. The simplest way of thinking about this is, if it's incredibly easy for you to go in a store and buy clothes off the shelf, it's likely you’ll have a similar experience buying bikes. If you constantly struggle to find clothing remotely close to your size, you're likely to benefit from a fit. Just like a tailor customizes clothes to fit the body, a bike fitter works to make a bicycle fit you. In addition to size and proportion limitations you may have, flexibility, past injuries, and personal comfort also factor in.
Central to any bike fit is its system of measurement. ACME uses a combination of the Retul and Guru systems. Fitters in general use one of these systems, but you can also expect to see goniometers, tape measures, plum lines and levels. These tools provide a robust and detailed image of the rider, in a particular setting. Imagine a triathlete in an aero position, or a randonneur cycling for days on end. Systems like Retul and Guru calculate your measurements, and work them into existing algorithms that work with the data of thousands of other cyclists doing similar activities. This is where the art of a great fit comes in, because it's isn't just plugging your numbers in and getting a result. Rather, it is looking at how your body can best be served by this data because, ultimately, what is ‘normal’ for most, might not be right for you.
Elizabeth Crawford was kind enough to let our photographers follow along at her fit at ACME. At five feet tall with an inseam of 27inches, she has definitely struggled to find quality bicycles that fit her well. “Never having a proper bike fit before and not being familiar with how a bike should fit and feel, I felt that it was the most logical first step before purchasing a new bike. As I’ve become more committed to cycling I feel it’s crucial to have a bike that would enable me to sit more comfortably, ride more efficiently and most importantly ride in a proper position.”
Her burgeoning interest in cyclocross has been limited by the unique geometry of cyclocross bikes. With a very high clearance to the ground, petite riders can struggle to find a bike that they can comfortably stand over. It's a struggle to find, or even build, a bike that can accommodate a petite rider on standard, 700c wheels. At her height, riders are often forced on to bikes designed purely to accommodate wheel size, but not the actual rider in the position that is best for them. From her fit, Elizabeth walked away with schematics for a local builder, that might possibly build her a bike around 26 inch wheels. As unusual as that might sound, that’s exactly what bike fits are for, adapting bikes to fit people in challenging situation
In addition to customizing a bike for optimal performance, many people seek out bike fittings to alleviate particular problems: lower back pain, knee pain, numbness and pain in elbows, wrists and shoulders. While there is a certain amount of ‘suffering’ built into the sport, acute, localized pain is not something that should be tolerated, and can be the sign of an improper fit.
While there is no substitute for test riding a bike, a good fit will make it easier to purchase bikes that you can't see first in person. While over time you may discover that a certain brand and geometry might fit you well. It's nice to shop on Ebay with confidence. Perhap, you do need that breakaway touring bike after all! Knowing your absolute limits can hopefully keep you from making major purchasing mistakes. Impulse buys aside, keeping a copy of your fit schematic on your phone means you can reasonably dial in loaner bikes when traveling.
No bike fit is complete without a proper saddle fit. This is probably where ACME stands out the most among other fitters. Anyone who’s ever gotten on a bike knows that it takes time to find a good saddle that supports without causing pain or numbness. But saddle fit also causes small changes in posture, that can totally affect body position and performance. A tiny tilt in the hips, can cause pain or discomfort in different parts of the body. According to Jonathan Blyer, the head fitter at ACME, “The wrong bike seat can cause low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, problems digesting food, limited oxygen absorption and even nerve damage. As such, we spend a considerable amount of time during each fitting trying out different saddles until we find your perfect match.” Again, while there are systems out there to measure bodies for saddles, there is no substitute for the how an actual saddle feels while riding, and an expert assessment of the posture you have on the saddle itself.
For those of you in New York, we hope you can join us at ACME Bicycle Co for an evening of saddle demo’s and information about bike fitting. Its totally free and you can get your questions answered, meet the fit professionals behind ACME Bicycle Co, learn more about the Guru and Retul systems, and try dozens of saddles.