Bike industry fixture Keith Bontrager recently declared at Bike Magazine’s ‘Ask A Founder’ event hosted at Mission Workshop that “the bike industry is a fashion industry.”
Before you take umbrage to that statement, let’s get one thing straight—he’s right, of course.
No longer is the standard of ill-fitting black shorts paired with a wool trade jersey the norm, replaced by the like of coordinated colorways and yearly model changes often predicated by color changes alone.
This is without even considering how recently cycling has become a fixture in the fashion industry, with bikes making their way off of the runways of Paris and into the ad pages of Glamour.
And while we’ve certainly taken a page out of the fashion industry’s playbook in terms of constantly changing trends, we’ve been slower to adopt one of the constants of proper fashion—a good fit.
Proper sock length may change, white bar tape may fall out of style, but a proper fit is always in vogue.
And thanks to a proper fit, courtesy of the royal treatment by bike-fit Guru Kevin Bailey of 3-D BikeFit, my position on the bike will be stylish far longer than the actual bike.
It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. Dollar for dollar, a good fit (I would say ‘professional fit’ but there’s some pretty sorry fits out there being done by ‘professionals’) is the best money you can spend as far as your cycling is concerned.
Forget wattage savings claims made by company X about product Y, a proper fit will give you more in performance gains, via increased power—and increased comfort, because, let's face it, you're producing quite a bit more power spinning comfortably on your bike than on the side of the road stretching out your lower back.
My experience at 3-D fit was a pleasant one. Just before the Christmas holiday, I made way up to their San Francisco studio. A stand-alone operation, you won’t find any bikes for sale or begrudging service from renegade trust-funders, just a nice airy space with a comfortable sitting area and three of Kevin Bailey’s trade-secret fitting platforms of his own design.
I'd been fit by a professional fitter before, and a well-trained one at that, but after a nearly seven-hour session with Bailey, I was surprised with the results—and so were my legs.
Utilizing a combination approach, Bailey pairs his decade-plus fitting experience with both the Specialized Body Geometry Fit system as well as the Retül system, not to mention a fair bit of good ol’ DIY ingenuity as seen in his well-designed fitting platform.
What it all boils down to then, is a host of lasers, video-cameras, and a 50-inch plasma screen relaying back to Bailey and the rider both real-time and recorded video of front, rear and side views of the rider. Pop Quiz: Any guesses as to how 3-D Bike Fit came across its name?
In my case, through a series of thorough observations, both on and off the bike, Bailey noticed a distinct favoring of one leg over the other, as well as excessive hip movement in the saddle.
Accordingly Bailey changed my position considerably, lowering my saddle (as well as changing it to the most comfortable saddle yet to perch my posterior upon, Selle SMP's Dynamic), slightly shortening my reach, and substantially changing the position of my lever hoods. He also widened my pedaling stance, creating a much more stable pedaling stroke by extending my pedal’s spindle length.
After an exceedingly thorough physiological examination on the 'exam table' it was determined my left leg was 3-milimeters shorter than my right. I was also favoring the support muscles on one side of my body in order to compensate.
To account for this, Bailey provided a thorough stretching regimen and shimmed my left shoe both under the cleat and under the footbed in addition to adding a larger varus wedge.
All this made for a position that was, quite frankly, not very confidence inspiring.
"It'll take some time to grow into the fit" Bailey said, but I have to admit I was skeptical. Due to the changed position, I was now engaging markedly different muscle groups—drawing my power primarily from my upper quads and hamstrings, as opposed to my calves and lower quads.
I felt slow. Really slow. Climbs I had no problem climbing seated were suddenly out-of-the-saddle affairs.
But then, slowly but surely, as I developed my upper quads and hamstrings, I began to feel much stronger, not to mention being able to put down much more power while seated without resorting to flailing my upper body around. And, since these bigger muscle groups fatigue more slowly I was able to produce this power much more sustainably.
I put off writing up my impressions on the fit as I kept feeling better and better on the bike. Undoubtedly this was partly a factor of simply bettering my form, but I continued to feel more and more comfortable and relaxed on the bike. I found myself pedaling downhills instead of using them to stand and stretch aching muscles.
It changed my riding completely. A self-professed miles-junkie, the improved fit only served to fuel my addiction—and make it far less painful.
Is 3-D Fit for everyone?
The simple answer? No. At $495 for the top-level Pro fit package, not including any component changes, it’s simply too cost-prohibitive for most. (Although it’s funny how we can rationalize nearly that price for some of the higher-end apparel on the market)
The complicated answer? Everyone can certainly benefit from 3-D fit’s unique approach to fitting, pairing years of fitting experience with the latest in fitting technology, but justifying the cost is a different matter.
It’s worth noting then, that fit packages start at $195, and while still expensive, offers many of the benefits of the top-end Pro fit.
In my experience however, I’d gladly pay the high-sticker price for the top-level fit as it’s completely changed my riding experience. I’m stronger on the bike, fatigue less quickly and have far less discomfort on long rides—something no fastidiously color-coordinated kit can do—no matter how stylish.