A Bike Fitting – The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Biking

For some now, I’ve realized that I needed a real professional bike fitting. I’ve been getting sore on my bike after about an hour in the saddle. So finally, I made an appointment to have one done — at Nelo’s Cycles in Austin, Texas.

Nelo Breda is the owner of the shop. He’s a former pro bike racer himself, and then coached the Brazilian national cycling team. His shop sells high-end bikes: Wilier, Kuota, Guru, etc. — but he caters to all walks of cyclist.

I got there a little before the scheduled appointment time. Nelo was wrapping up in his shop, and an assistant put my bike next to a trainer and offered water, a soft drink, or beer — and cookies. I took the cookies. It turns out they read Bike Noob in the shop. The assistant remarked that the kinds of things we talk about here are the same kinds of things they hear from people bitten by the biking bug, who are looking to upgrade after some time on their entry-level bikes.

Then Nelo walked in. He’s a slightly built man, who talks fast in a thick Brazilian Portugese accent. I listened closely as he explained the process.

Nelo looks over the bike before the fitting.

The bike fitting is 65 percent below the waist, and 35 percent above, he said. First, he adjusts seat height, then seat fore and aft. Once that’s done, he looks at the reach to the cockpit. If you’re not fitted correctly for seat position, the rest won’t matter. “We gotta get you in a comf’ posish,” he said.

He had me pedal a bit, then I stopped and he looked at the angle of my knee bend. He had me clip out of the pedals and relax my legs so they fell straight down. He put the pedal directly under my heel. There was a gap about the thickness of a finger between the heel and the pedal.

Well, I’ll be. The seat was too high. Nelo had me step off the seat, and he adjusted the height.

Nelo adjusting the height of the seat.

Then, he did the plumb bob test, to determine if the knee is directly over the pedal axle. Not mine. I was about a half-inch behind it. “Most people who come in here think their seat needs to be farther back,” he said. “But they really need to go more forward.” Count me in that bunch.

I sat on the bike again, and got into the drops. He had me lean farther and farther forward, until my chin almost touched the headset. I put my hands on top of the bar, then on the brake hoods.

“Looks pretty good,” he said. “We don’t gotta make any changes here.”

I sat still while he drew a tape measure across my upper back. “Whadya do to work out?” he asked. “You got real broad shoulders. They’re 48 centimeters wide.”

He measured the handlebars from the center of one brake hood to the other. They were 42 cm wide.

“You don’t have to change these right away,” he said. “Maybe next time you change your bar tape, you get a new bar. Should be 46 cm, at least 44.”

Then he surprised me again. “Your crank arms are 175 millimeters” he said. “You need 172.5. Again, don’t worry about it now. But you should try them.”

He said the combination of the lower seat and shorter crank arms would help me climb hills. I liked the sound of that.

With that, we were done. The whole process took about a half hour. Nelo usually charges $75 for a fitting, but because he made so few changes, he cut the price to $50.

I couldn’t wait to get out for a ride. I put in 22 miles in the neighborhood, including some fast laps on the Veloway and some repeats on a moderately challenging hill. Despite the small changes Nelo made, I could feel the difference. I sat a little more forward on my saddle. I was a lot more comfortable going up the hill.

Saturday was the acid test. Pat and I did a training ride with Hill Country Ride for AIDS, 29 miles for her and 45 for me. The southeast wind was blowing hard, and it was right at us for the second half of the ride. The improvements I noted Friday were still there. Plus, I noticed that in my new riding position, my elbows were naturally bent, compared to the previous setting where I had to consciously relax my shoulders and bend my elbows. It was a better riding position.

I’ve been having some trouble with saddle sores lately. No longer. The lowered seat position ended the rubbing that caused them.

Sunday morning, I had planned a long ride preparatory to next weekend’s MS 150. The morning broke overcast and misty. Normally, I would go back to bed, but I decided to ride anyway.

I cut my mileage in half from my planned ride, but again noticed how much more comfortable I felt on the bike.

One problem, though. My butt still hurt after an hour or so. Nelo had suggested I consider a new saddle, but I figured a proper fitting would take care of that issue. I do sit a little more forward on the saddle now, which I understand is where you want to sit on a narrow racing style saddle like mine. I’ll ride this saddle through the MS 150, and if the soreness persists, I’ll start trying out new ones.

If you haven’t had a full-blown pro bike fitting yet, you really need to treat yourself to one. It’ll be the best bike money you’ve ever spent, after your bike, of course. And if you buy your bike from Nelo, he’ll insist on fitting you first. Then he’ll show you some bikes.


  1. says

    Have a look at this post at EcoVelo http://www.ecovelo.info/2010/04/11/bike-sizing-is-an-art-not-a-science/ and also the comments . I think you demonstrate his point well, which was there are no formulas. I was trying to find the right technical term for this, and a friend suggested “overdetermined”, meaning there are very many individual factors affecting correct bike fit. The overall effect of these (the sum of the parts) alters as any one of these change. Theres also a good article on seat height in the archive.

  2. Tim says

    Can’t say enough about getting a professional fit, except to say what the pros will tell you: do it periodically. Fit is dynamic.

    Another awesome post by the Noob! 8)

  3. says

    Crank arm length is often overlooked, people just stay with whatever length comes on the bike. My race bike has 172.5 and my Time Trial bike has 170, according to Sheldon Brown my ideal length would be 170. I too started out with 175 as that’s what came on my old bike. I definitely like the feel of the 172.5 vs 175 and my cadence has increased. When I have to replace the drive train on my race bike I’ll go with the 170 as I really like the 170 length, plus for crits I’ll be able to lean that much more into the corners without catching a pedal.

  4. says

    Great price for your bike fitting. A full professional fitting costs a lot more at my LBS. But they do give you a basic setup when you get a new bike, which is good enough most of the time.

    Fit really is critical.

  5. Danilo Defilippo says

    Nelo, bom dia , meu nome é Danilo e vi reportagem no fantástico sobre o Amstrong e citaram você e sua loja nos EUA.Tenho altura de 1,67 ando de bike a 12 anos tenho uma Kona full MB 2004 e quero comprar uma nova , pode ser Scott Spark 10 ou 20 , ou Specializead Epic (Full) , acho que tamanho pequeno Como fica preço e processo de importação ou envio para Brasil free.?
    Aguardo noticias.

    Meu email é [email protected]
    te 55 32 3429 6216

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *