Recently, I decided to take my biking experience just a notch further and try a professional bike fitting process. Until then, I was doing all of the adjustments on my bike myself, based on the knowledge I gained on Internet, from books and articles and by the trail and error. As a result, I have a bike now that I feel quite comfortable on and it seems relatively well fitted to my body proportions.
Still, this approach may work for some, but realistically it will never substitute a professional bike fit. This is because a bike fit is much more than putting a new stem or handlebars on your bike. It is a complex process that will help you find the right size bike, the best (e.g. most aerodynamic or most comfortable) position or eliminate that pain bothering you whenever you ride. A typical bike fit session takes about 1.5-2 hrs and starts with investigating your body capabilities - how flexible you are, what is your range of motion, etc., followed by taking your body measurements: inseam, arm length, shoulder width, etc. You may be surprised, just as I was when I heard that I had relatively long legs but short arms. I guess this may explain why I always looked for a way to move the handlebars closer to the saddle - I just felt like being too stretched on my bike.
The session will continue with putting you on a bike with a frame that fits your body proportions best. And since we have a huge number of different frame designs to choose from, the best way to compare them and measure them is not the seat and top tube length anymore, but stack and reach.
Stack and reach dimensions of a bicycle frame (Source: Google Images)
Because of sloping top tubes of today's bike frames, stack and reach should be measured when finding your optimum bike size. Once you sit on your bike, it is time to make some initial adjustments - saddle height, handlebars position, etc. Next, the pro fitter will look for the way you sit on the bike, your back position, your arms and the way you pedal. At this point of my session I learned that I had a tendency to move my knees outward on the pedal upstroke and inward on downstroke. We started to investigate this problem and it turned out that moving my center of gravity by lowering the handlebars helped, but also that I have high foot arches and my feet were collapsing inward when pedaling. Placing new insoles in my shoes solved the problem.
Eventually, you should feel being fully integrated with your bike. Your back should be straight, your arms relaxed, you should be supporting your body using your legs and your core muscles, your legs should move smoothly in a forward-backward motion (This is how my pro fitter referred to it: "Think about it as moving your feet forward-backward, not up-down").
I have to say that this was a new experience and definitely helped me looking a bit differently at my bike and the way I ride. I learned many new facts about the way a bike should fit me and the way I should position myself on a bike. If you think about riding many miles, if you are looking for a new bike, think about a pro bike fit session as well.