“Fixing Other Fitter’s Fits”

The bike fitting industry is exploding, and is undergoing some growing pains at the moment. Like many budding industries, it is filled with people who are excited to start a new field of study and help people be better athletes. It is also filled with people trying to make a buck in what they think will be an easy way to start a new business with little qualification.

One problem with bike fitting now is the lack of a common certification or reference for consumers. A rider who wants a fit has two choices: consult the almighty Google or visit their trusted local bike shop.

There is no national or international governing body for “bike fitters” so it is cowboys and indians out there on who claims what: I can say whatever TF I want on my site about how many years I have been doing this, or who trained me, and who is going to call BS on it? It is up to the consumer to use their intuition and sleuthing skills to determine who might give them good and honest service.

Alternately, a rider will walk into the shop he or she has been buying tubes and tires from for the last several years and ask for bike fit help. This amounts to the application of the rule that if you know someone, they can be trusted (which for the record, is patently false).

One service that is attempting to solve this problem is the International Bike Fitting Institution:

They are attempting to give fitters a relative ranking via a points system, so a consumer can reference their site when making a decision. Information about fitters also includes the number of years they have been in the field and their training. This is a good idea, and a step in the right direction, but one drawback is that businesses don’t have to pay to be in Yelp, but they do to be on IBFI (annual fees are 250 pounds). This will be a deterrent for certain fitters to sign up. One of the ways the internet has actually fulfilled its destiny has been that of free access to community ratings of products and services…hopefully this will apply to fitters someday.

The market is flooded with fitters who just came off a weekend seminar and are ready to make you fast. All it takes is a few hundred bucks and you get a “certification”, regardless of if you have demonstrated any actual ability as a fitter. The problem is, to be truly good at fitting, you need an experienced eye and extensive knowledge of human anatomy. It is a bit of a chicken/ egg problem.

Another hiccup: as the major players (read: bike manufacturers) enter the fit market in a quest to deliver the never ending perfect consumer experience from cleat to helmet, they can leverage their armies of fitters to give free or discounted fits in combination with the purchase of major brand bicycles. This amounts to the classic “Fox Books vs. The Shop Around the Corner” paradigm. It is what it is, and will always be. It can be highly problematic for highly skilled, career fitters who are passionate, devoted and earn their living off bike fitting.

A larger issue is this: on the whole, bike fitting is largely without guarantee. If you took your car to a mechanic because the engine would not start, and the garage charged you $400, and you drove it home to find that the next day it would not start again, you would not take it to another garage and pay a different mechanic to have a crack at solving the problem. You would take it back to where it was serviced and demand your money back, or that the problem be solved. People don’t do this in the world of bike fitting with great frequency, from my observations.

But this is exactly what happens in bike fitting all the time: I hear a story about how a rider went to a particular fitter, paid a few hundred dollars and spent a half a day working on his or her fit, and two weeks later either changed everything back to “the way it was” or went to another fitter to “fix the problem”. Thus the term (shared to me by another fit professional) “Fixing other fitter’s fits”. In my opinion it is one of the biggest downfalls of our industry. Bike fitting is held to a substandard bar, and sadly both fitter and customer accept this paradigm.

As a fitter, this is my worst nightmare. I don’t want a rider I have worked with telling other fitters how I did this and that, it is like a bad game of telephone played with plastic cups and string. But more concerning than my reputation among other fitters (other fitters are not my customers, after all) is the fact that this rider may have gone unserved or unsatisfied; one reason I became a bike fitter is to help others and serve riders in their quest to become better or enjoy their time on the bike more: “in search of the chainless day” or “flow state”. When a rider contracts another fitter to solve a problem I could not figure out, or un-turn a stone I have overlooked, this is a failure on my part to complete the equation. I don’t claim to be able to solve every problem, but I am hired to give it my best attempt.

If I fail in this respect, the client gets their money back.

Also, to clarify: if knowledge was the rate limiting factor in life, we would all be “millionaires and have rock star abs”. I am not afraid to share my knowledge with another fitter.

Taking on this philosophy as a fitter is the right thing to do, and it is also setting myself up for failure. One of the reasons bike fitting is so complex and is not always a box to be ticked is simple: the sphere of human knowledge has not even come close to the necessary diameter that will encompass the true depth and breadth of what we must know in order to solve the biomechanical and functional challenges of a human riding a bike. We are scratching the surface. Anyone who tells you they know 100%, or even 50% of what is going on when you are pedaling, from balls to bones, with certainty, is simply full of shit.

Thus, at a certain point, a client will walk through my door whom I am unable to help. Result: hours of work and effort, with the likely result of a refund.

I have been in the sport for 25 years, and I know a crapload of stuff, but one thing I know for sure: I don’t know everything, and have a ton to learn.

In spite of the recent influx of high tech garbage that has infiltrated the world of bike fitting, the industry is still fundamentally an ancient craft that has been handed from one enlightened individual to another, originating in some decrepit, historic cave/shrine where CONI manual lives. Fitting is a dichotomous canvas upon which practitioners alternately deliberate over millimeters and simultaneously use a rule of thumb. The gap in between is what we must strive to fill as a collective group.

If you are a fitter: strive to hold yourself, and your business to a higher standard.

If you are a rider: research, think critically, and challenge your fitters. Hold them accountable for their results. This is the standard we should all be held to.