Have You Ever Fitted Yourself?

We’re looking forward to spring here in Central Texas. For this morning’s club ride, temperatures were in the upper 40s, the bright sun warmed our backs, and a brisk wind played havoc with our riding — especially on fast downhill stretches.

Most everybody at the end of the ride seemed to be in good shape, with no complaints about sore lower backs, or numb hands, or etc.

But during the ride, I noticed that I was often scootching back on the saddle, to the point that my butt hung off the back. Not the most comfortable of positions, but it offered some relief from the discomfort I was feeling.

Whenever we stopped for a breather (not often today) and I unclipped from the pedals for a few minutes, I was able to get back on in a normal position on the saddle — perhaps a tidge forward of center. This is a comfortable position, but as I said, in a while I’m scootching back again.

I think I need to make an adjustment to my saddle position.

But I don’t intend to get an expensive bike fitting. Seems to me this is an adjustment I can make myself. I’ve been poking around online, looking at sites about bike fitting. Most say the same thing. For fore and aft positioning, they recommend the “knee over pedal spindle” (KOPS) method. To do this, you need a plumb bob (which can be fashioned out of a piece of string with a weight at the end — a washer or two will work well.

Wearing bike clothes and biking shoes, get on the bike and grab onto something. If you have a trainer, so much the better. Put your crank arms at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock. Have a helper hold the unweighted end of the string against the bony protrusion under the kneecap. The weighted end should be directly over the pedal spindle. If it isn’t you’ll have to adjust saddle forward or back. That is, if the plumb bob hits behind the pedal spindle, you need to move the saddle forward, and vice-versa. A cautionary note: Plenty of bike fitters think KOPS is bunk, because it considers only the relationship of one body part to the bike rather than the whole body to the bike.

I have putzed around with positioning without much luck. On my mountain bike, I found that the saddle height was too high, and that’s now a more comfortable ride. But I’m only on that thing for neighborhood errands, so it’s not a big deal.

For the road bike, I’ll have to get more precise, and actually recruit a friend to help with the measurements. Once, I attempted to do the KOPS measurement myself, and the results were very inaccurate.

I’m interested in learning what your experiences are with do-it-yourself bike fitting. Have you tried it? Are you happy with the results? Did you screw it up so bad that you had to swallow your pride and pay  a visit to the local bike fitter? Or do you not trust yourself with these important measurements and only do the pro bike fitting routine?


  1. says

    When I bought my current bike off of E-bay, I did my own fit based upon a few fundamentals I knew from years past. I was comfortable and rode all season with that configuration. I then went to my LBS and got a professional – and I mean professional – fitting. The only thing I had right was my seat height (at least within 1 mm). He changed everything else. Cleat position, saddle moved forward, and drastically changed my handlebar height down about 3 inches.

    At first, it felt unnatural and I thought I had lost climbing power when seated. But after about 150-200 miles, I could tell I was riding much more efficiently and made much more progress in season two versus the first year.

    It was pricey, but when considering how much cyclists spend on gear these days, I feel it was well worth it. I think the key is to find a real expert and not just the person that happens to be in the shop that day. A good fit can keep the doctor away also.

    We all contact the saddle differently, but I find the most comfortable position for me is back on the saddle so that I can feel my tailbones contacting the saddle. This can give you the sensation of hanging your rear off the back.

  2. Mel Hughes says

    I think you should go for it, Ray! I have had a professional fitting. And while it was interesting, after riding that setup for many miles, I still had a sore lower back… I have found since then that a few different adjustments have really improved my overall comfort. (Someday you are going to have to buy a decent saddle…) There is also a lot of discussion about whether or not KOPS is really a valid measurement.

    As far as doing it yourself goes, if you have a few supports and a mirror, you can do the plumb line by yourself. I think the main thing to do is to make small, incremental changes in one area at a time. Working from what you have now, try to address the saddle position issue by either height, tilt, or distance from your handlebars. Make the change, record it and the previous setting, then ride for a bit. If it helps but not enough, do more. If there is no change, use a different axis of adjustment. It really isn’t rocket science.

    In the end, you are the one who has to decide if the adjustments are working, truly working. If you are comfortable on the bike, I would say you have 99% of the fit dialed in. Just my $0.02 – or I could send you a bill for the several hundred you might spend to get to the same place-or not! :^


  3. Bill says

    Also keep in mind that cleat position on the bottom of your shoe and saddle height also affect KOPS (in addition to saddle fore-aft position). It isn’t a measurement of only saddle fore-aft position.

  4. says

    I got my Cannondale remarkably close to perfect through trial and error – and never used KOPS. It took a lot of pain, over about 800 miles. Then I got fitted for my Trek – and my fitting came with the purchase – and my LBS guy put everything in position for me… It tooke me 20 miles to learn that I had to move the seat up 5 mm towards the front of the bike and it’s perfect. I also found out that my Cannondale was way too small and there was a reason it hurt so much to ride it.

    My lbs is in a very small town so the prices are very reasonable…I think it was woth it the first time, just to know that my hubches were not all wrong. I’m getting my cleat angle checked this spring ($30) and my bike repositioned for triathlon training ($?) Also – and it will be worth every penny for that second one… I can’t imagine trying to figure all of that out in time to train to the position.

    I can say this, to be sitting back as far as you do, something is very not right there.

  5. says

    I couldn’t agree more with T.Foster – you want a professional…not just a kid behind the desk. Also be wary of the internet measuring tools – they were off on my saddle height by 1/4″ and my crank arm length by 2.5 mm – both of which properly showed up in my fitting.

  6. says

    I’ve never met a cyclist who didn’t think a professional fit was $$ well spent…after 25+ years of riding I’m getting one this Spring from one of the best fitters in my area.

  7. says

    I’ve asked a few of my lbs and they said they could see how I ride and give me some suggestions on what I can do to be a little more comfortable. I haven’t found someone that does an actual fit. Probably would have to go to the big city.

    • says

      That’s surprising. I’d assumed that all LBS’s have at least one guy capable of measuring someone up. In any event, a proper fitting is definitely not someone looking at how you ride to give suggestions (I realize you probably already know this). A fitting has nothing to do with “how you ride”, it’s all about fitting your bike to your body properly. In my case, the bike I bought was utterly perfect except for the stem, which was too long and had me too stretched out. The shop swapped out the current stem with a shorter one from a different bike and I’m in a sweet spot where aerodynamics meet comfort. There are maybe ten measurements that affect 20 different things on the bike’s set up. It’s a big process – but it made my awesome bike feel great.

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