Responding to a BikeBiz article, Eben “Bike Snob NYC” Weiss joked that “along with coaching, cycle fitting is perhaps the biggest racket going in the cycling world, and practitioners of both generally occupy a rung on the societal ladder between palm readers and pimps.” Weiss’s tongue-in-cheek comments – about an ass-cleaving saddle as it so happens – have not dented the popularity of bike fitting. There are a number of bike fit methodologies on the market (long gone are the days of looking a rider up and down and saying “you’re a 22 inch”) and, for many bike shops, operating an in-house bike-fit studio is now essential.
But bike fitting is not an exact science, as the best bike fitters will tell you. Agreeing that bike-fitting-jigs are only as good as the fitter using them, John Dennis, a physiotherapist and triathlete, told me “You can give a monkey a machine gun …” and his raised eyebrows added “… that doesn’t mean he will work out how to use it to shoot you.” Dennis is Retül’s lead fitter in Europe and an instructor on the “dynamic fit” system. Retül is American and not German (the Colorado company likes the umlaut so much it uses it for its portfolio of fit products, such as Müve, Fütbed and Levül) and Dennis stuck with the German feel by naming his fit- and manipulation-business, Physiohaüs. This is based in his native Newcastle on Tyne although Dennis started with Retül in 2009 at Velomotion of Milton Keynes, where he was a founding partner, and Retül’s first European fitter.
As Retül’s main representative in Europe Dennis can be giving bike fits in his Newcastle studio one day but flying to a warm weather training camp the next day to advise pro cycling teams such as MTN-Qhubeka or Orica-Greenedge. He also works with British Cycling, and has supported Team Sky at the Tour of California.
Retül was founded in 2007, using motion capture technology to analyse rider positions and pedalling styles. The company was acquired by Specialized in 2012 but operates semi-independently of Specialized’s Body Geometry bike fitting system.
In the UK there are 30 certified Retül fitters, including specialist fitting businesses as well as bike shops, such as the Specialized Concept Store of Ruislip, Cycle Heaven of York and Cycle Centre of Congleton. A standard Retül set-up costs about £7,300.
A Retül bike fit costs a shade under £200 (it’s costlier in London, but then so is almost everything) and can last up to three hours. Müve is Retül’s static bike fit; the company also offers a bike-fit for customers using their own bikes. Either way, riders are dotted with Velcro patches on biomechanical reference points and hooked up with sensors strung together in a “harness” that, via bluetooth, pumps data to the 3D motion software. Body measurements and sit angles are averaged out by the software after some minutes of stiff pedalling. Riders are also measured from both sides, which can throw up key differences in leg length and posture. If opting for the own-bike service the bike is measured and digitised by a handheld scanner, the Zin (what, no umlaut?)
“At the end of the day, bike-fitting systems are just tools,” said Dennis. “And there are a lot of different ways of using these tools. Interpretation of data, and the expertise of the bike fitter, are vital.”
Dennis said there are many advantages to getting a bike fit from a trained physiotherapist.
“It’s important to know how humans are screwed together,” he said. “Using that knowledge, and working with the Retül system, we can spot patterns of movement.”
And by recommending positional changes – as well as different equipment, shorter cranks for instance, or wider saddles – a good bike fitter can help bike shop customers to ride longer, faster and with greater comfort.
“Small changes in rider position can bring performance gains,” said Dennis. “It’s not necessarily about increasing power, it’s also about how to maintain power over an extended time.”
And customers who are more comfortable ride more, and customers who ride more buy more.