how a pro fit achieves bike comfort and speed

Fitting Wall - Signature Cycling NYC
photo: velojoy

Signature Cycles will host a free seminar on range-of-motion bike fit from 6 – 10 p.m. on Thursday, February 10 at its Greenwich, Conn. studio, located one block from the Metro North stop. Here’s what I learned about the finer points of fitting at Signature’s recent Manhattan seminar.


Like many people who use their bikes for transportation, my love of cycling is rooted in road biking (the gateway drug, as a friend calls it). As I anticipate the summer cycling season, I see a new bike on the horizon. This time around, I want to plan my selection from the ground up, with a professional fitting.

For a time, I thought that was something for racers, but in recent years many friends who are cycling enthusiasts have turned to professional fitting to improve their current ride or when buying a new bike.

The name that often comes up in conversation is Signature Cycles on Manhattan’s Upper West side.
So, when the world’s largest custom bicycle studio recently offered a free seminar, I took a seat along with 30 men and women in the cleanest, most spacious “bike shop” I’d ever visited.

“You can’t be fast without being comfortable,” said Paul Levine, Signature’s founder and owner (photo below), zeroing right in on the obsession with lightness and speed that brings many clients to Signature.

Although I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that people who elected to attend a bike fit seminar would have concerns about physical discomfort during or after riding, I was still amazed to see how many hands shot up as Levine polled the audience about pain in knees, lower back and neck; numbness in hands and feet; and saddle soreness. Apparently, there’s a lot of (needless) suffering out there.

Good Pain and Bad

Levine observed that riders sometimes lose the ability to distinguish between “good” pain — the quad burn from hitting the gas to pass on a hill — and bad — chronically aching knees or a stiff neck, for example. Hitches in the relationship between the body (notably the positions of the feet, seat and hands) and the bicycle can interfere with power, efficiency, comfort and control, and may cause injuries to muscles, joints or soft tissues. Understanding an individual’s body, assessing its potential and limitations, and matching these factors with the right frame geometry, components and set-up, are keys to a good fit.

From the Ground Up

Paul Levine - Signature Cycles NYCThe goal is to achieve comfort and speed by gaining efficiency among four different muscle groups that work in relay-like succession to turn the crank arm in a single pedal rotation. Sometimes mere centimeters can throw off the kinetic chain.

For optimal fitting, Levine noted that Signature’s methodology favors a focus on range of motion over body length measurements, which medical experts agree may be difficult to obtain accurately without x-rays.

The fitting process literally progresses from the ground up, beginning with cleat placement and advancing through the alignments of foot to knee to pelvis to lumbar spine to thoracic spine to scapula to cervical spin to elbow to wrist, and ending with the hands and fingers on the bars.

Levine used a volunteer, Doug, and his bicycle to demonstrate some of these connections. For example, in measuring knee flexion, Levine determined that Doug’s seat was too high, causing him to “toe” his pedals and use his hips rather than glutes, the largest muscles in the body, to generate power.

What’s Included in a Fitting

With Doug’s assistance, Levine walked his audience through a mini-version of Signature’s 2 1/2-hour fitting session, which includes an extensive interview to determine a client’s athletic profile and needs, physical assessment of range of motion, and use of various measuring and biofeedback technologies. The information gleaned from this extensive analysis becomes the basis either for improving the fit of the client’s current bike, or for recommending a new stock or custom frame and components.

The morning after the seminar, when I set out on my bike, I felt immediately aware of both the position of my feet on my pedals and of my knee flexion as I moved through the stroke. I noticed my posture and the level of tension in my spine.

“We really got into your head, didn’t we?” kidded Levine, when I called to make an appointment for a fit. It’s true: body awareness may be the starting point on the road to selecting the bicycle that’s just right for me.

This topic will be continued in the future as I advance through the fitting process.

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