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I'm an absolute beginner in bike touring, about to buy a bike. Currently I'm using local shared bikes and I always wanted to start my adventures on a bike, camping and so on.

Given this, is it worth it to hire a bike fitting service to help me with this choice or it may be overkill?

I live in Ireland, I don't have serious physical issues, and I just want to make it properly, since I'm tall (193 cm) and I spend 10 hours per day on an office chair. Am I overreacting?

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    Are you planning to buy the bike from a local shop? Usually they’ll do some fitting, though they might not be experts. Of course you’ll also be able to do some test riding.
    – Michael
    Dec 13, 2021 at 20:19
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    I'll just add a comment since most of the points have been covered in the existing answers, but since you're substantially above average size you should make a point of making sure you get the right size saddle. If you search "measure your sit bones for a bike saddle" on YouTube you'll find a bunch of videos that can help you figure it out at home. Your saddle, as much as your pedals and more than your handlebars, is your primary point of contact with your bike and too small can subtly add a constant source of discomfort.
    – DavidW
    Dec 13, 2021 at 23:29
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    @DavidW saddle fits are a good idea, and almost independent of the rest of the bike fit - in fact, it might be a good idea to get a suitable saddle first. Testing a saddle, unless completely unsuitable, needs multi-hour rides anyway. Again, saddle fit can change. I broke the really nice stock one on my tourer, was never quite 100% happy with the replacement over back-to-back long days. So I tracked down one identical to the original - and then got my worst saddle sores ever on day 3 of a big trip
    – Chris H
    Dec 14, 2021 at 11:36
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    I second the suggestion to at least get a proper saddle fit. Based on personal experience, a poorly fitting saddle will never be comfortable no matter how much you tweak the other aspects of the fit of the bike, but a properly fitting saddle will give you some more leeway with the other parameters (though you should still make a point to get the proper frame size if possible, but that’s the easy part of fitting a bike). Dec 14, 2021 at 12:46
  • I wanna push back just a little bit that the notion that bike fits and saddle fits are independent of each other. While it’s true that I could any of my saddles on any of my bikes, the saddle I picked out for my 140 mm trail bike wouldn’t work all that well on my fairly aggressively positioned road bike. In a touring context, I think saddle and ride posture are even more tightly coupled.
    – Paul H
    Dec 14, 2021 at 14:49

4 Answers 4

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Welcome to the cycling world. This is a good question. It may not be possible to answer entirely objectively. My vote is not to get a professional fit now, but I'll outline some considerations that could help you decide.

Basic bike fits at your local bike shop

When you get a new bike, your local bike shop (LBS) will do a basic bike fit to get you on the right size frame and to get you a starting handlebar and saddle position. Cyclists who stick with the sport for some time often adjust their own positions a bit, and they develop a sense of what works for them and what doesn't. Note that LBS sales people aren't trained to the same extent that professional bike fitters are, and they'll use basic rules of thumb (e.g. set saddle height such that your knee has about a 30 degree bend at max extension) plus maybe some algorithmic assistance from the bike manufacturer (e.g. measure height and inseam, then enter into a calculator). I'll use the phrase "professional bike fit" to indicate bike fitting by an experienced professional. This may not meet a Platonic ideal, but it's also not a criticism of LBS employees. Their fit process gets most people to approximately the correct position, it is likely to suffice for most, and it is what is practical for young adults without extensive training and/or experience to learn.

Again, a competent bike store should be able to help you select a bike - but, as a side note, you may not get the same experience at all stores. In particular, if you can ask around at the local cycling community, it help if you can find a store that caters to adventure-oriented riders. Stores, like cyclists, may sometimes cater to a specific clientele, and if you went to a road and triathlon racing-oriented shop, you might not get good feedback or a good selection of appropriate bikes. If not a specific store, it might help to find a salesperson at a store who understands your interests.

Professional bike fits

As general background, bike fitting is not actually a once and done deal. It is an iterative process. Even if your cycling interests stay exactly the same, e.g. you come in as a road racer and you race road bikes until you die, your body will change, and thus your bike fit will change. Even if your body somehow doesn't change per se, you may start to notice issues with time. For example, about two years ago, I switched to a particular saddle model. As I got to progressively longer indoor rides, I noticed that I have some undesirable soft tissue pressure. In retrospect, this issue was present outdoors as well, just less obvious. Thus, all serious cyclists should benefit from periodic bike fits and should consider them.

In any case, a bike fitter can, given a current bike, help you tweak your saddle and handlebar position. They can also help you adapt your current position to any physical issues you may have, or (depending on training) address some physical limitations with strength exercises or stretching, address saddle and cleat position, etc. Additionally, having a bike fit is often a separate process from selecting a frame size, and many bike fitters aren't affiliated with a particular bike shop (although some are). So, a professional bike fit may or may not get you a fit on a particular bike at a particular store, and it isn't inherently part of the bike selection process. A bike fitter not affiliated with a store may not be familiar with the possible selection of frames appropriate for your measurements and your use case.

Knowing your body and the sensations you experience when cycling will enhance the effectiveness of a bike fit session. Most beginning cyclists are less aware of these things than a more experienced rider. You may also not encounter problems under a certain load, e.g. you may not get noticeable foot pain or shoulder aches on rides under 3 (or however many) hours. Thus, a professional fit session is likely to benefit you after you have some time on the bike. A previous version of the post was more absolute about things, stating something like you would only benefit from a bike fit if you have the knowledge discussed above. I edited because it was too absolutist.

What should drive you to get a bike fit

When should you get your first bike fit? Criggie suggested at least 6 months in. I agree. I would further add that later than this is potentially OK if you don't have any persistent issues. I didn't seek a professional bike fit until I decided to get a custom road bike about 5 years after starting cycling. That said, I maintain that many cyclists, including my old self, would have benefitted from a professional fit earlier.

What are indicators that you should go in sooner? Persistent joint pain is a clear one, e.g. knees, lower back, shoulders. Do note that in some cases, a physical therapist alone might also be appropriate, if the joint pain arises from a muscular imbalance. If you look at someone from the rear when they're cycling, their hips should be stable (this video from Steve Hogg shows what that looks like) and their knees shouldn't deviate outwards or inwards too much at any point in the pedal stroke (this video is not perfect but it's the best example I can find now). If you know that this is happening to you, I'd seek assistance - although it's obviously hard to figure this out if you are operating on your own. If you know that you have asymmetric leg length, you will benefit from seeking assistance earlier, but keep in mind this is relatively rare and we can usually tolerate some asymmetry. Knowing you have limitations to physical function or relevant congenital conditions, e.g. previous knee injury, you know that you have a structural leg length discrepancy, should probably motivate you to seek a professional fit earlier.

As an example, I had an episode of joint pain recently. It turned out that this arose from both me setting my saddle too high and from some muscular imbalances. While Sheldon Brown observed that most riders start with their saddles too low, it's also true that Steve Hogg, who services serious amateur and professional cyclists, observed that many of his clients have their saddles too high (thus: exercise some caution in adjusting your own fit, as the body is complex). In any case, I decided to see a bike fitter and a physiotherapist separately. The particular bike fit shop I saw did have the capacity to both assess my bike position and to address muscular function, so I could have just gone to them. However, I don't know that this capability is common to all fitters. Going to a physical therapist alone would not have resolved my issue, although I didn't know this beforehand.

Miscellaneous issues - you are tall

I should note that at 193cm (about 6' 4"), you are tall enough that you may be at the edge of the height ranges that most off the shelf bikes are designed for. I believe you should be able to find a bike that fits you, but it's possible the selection might be more limited. In addition, bike stores are often pressed for time. Especially on entry level bikes, they may not be able to invest the time to fit you thoroughly if your physical dimensions are unusual. This may be exacerbated if the salesperson is unfamiliar with taller persons. If you get a sense that you aren't being served well at a number of stores, you might consider asking around at bike fitters. They should be able to supply you with fit coordinates that work for you, e.g. a range of frame stack and reach sizes and/or stem and handlebar positions.

One example of a poorly fitting bike is this Reddit thread shows a bike for someone 6' 7" who was sold a 62m Trek Emonda. I believe the maximum frame size as 64cm, which may or may not have been satisfactory. This bike is a poor fit because the bike has a lot of spacers under its stem plus a steerer extension - in fact, it is possible that's over the maximum allowed number of spacers. The Redditor should be on a bigger bike, and it's possible that he should be on something more upright than the Emonda (a performance road frame). This is less likely to happen to you since you're tall but not gargantuan, but it's an example of what sort of situation to walk away from.

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The discussion above can generalize to riders who are further from the norms in terms of body dimensions. Individuals do differ in their torso length to leg length ratios, and riders with proportionately shorter torsos are harder to fit, all else equal, than other riders. Very short riders, which potentially encompasses a significant number of women, may also benefit from early consultations. In particular, some riders are short enough that 700c wheels may not be the best fit for them, and/or not all bike companies may make frame sizes small enough for them.

I get some of this as a short male rider. I have a proportionately long torso, which alleviates some of the fit issues, and I can generally fit acceptably on a small stock frame. For the company that makes my gravel bike, their smallest frame size is likely to be problematic for shorter female riders, especially those shorter than me at 5' 5".

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  • Pretty much what I would have said only better. I'm the same height as the OP, and reckon that tourers are a bit easier than fast road bikes for our height - naturally more reach than a more compact frame, and a taller stack as built. I'm at the top end for my genesis tour de fer, and the surly disc trucker looked about the same size (but cost more and was less available so I never tested it). For a bike sold as a tourer that's pretty much entry level.
    – Chris H
    Dec 13, 2021 at 21:25
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    ... If you get a full fit now, you'll need another once you're used to the bike.
    – Chris H
    Dec 13, 2021 at 21:27
  • not only the longest answer, but the one which convinced about how intense I should approach this problem. Thanks a million!
    – Victor F
    Dec 26, 2021 at 16:26
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I suspect a fitting will be overkill - perhaps after 6-12 months when you've settled into cycling more.

As you ride a bit, you'll get an idea of what works and what doesn't work for you. Doing that on a new bike can be expensive, so I suggest you get a used bike of the style you think you want.

Being tall, you want an XL sized frame, and they're sadly rare. I'm about your height, and ride a 57 cm road bike with a silly amount of seatpost stickout. You would do well to grab any frame over 60 cm, and then decide what else you need to make it work.

Buying a new 61+ cm bike might be an easier solution, and any good bike shop should help with a basic/simple fitting but it is unlikely to be a full electronic sensor-based fit; rather will be the skilled eye of the sales person.

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Yes, you're overreacting. Not to take anything away from bike fitters, who do provide a useful service, but if you're a novice to cycling, the way you sit on a bike is going to change—possibly a lot—as you get comfortable on your bike.

When you're new to cycling, many aspects of sitting on a bike seem uncomfortable—the hard, narrow saddle; the weight on your wrists; the saddle height. But you acclimate to these things. If you had a fitting before acclimating, you'd be trying to fix problems that would go away on their own.

Also, once you are acclimated, it may turn out that you don't need a fitting, depending on the distance and intensity you ride at. Fittings are useful for reaching that last bit of performance, or dealing with biomechanical problems that flare up over very long rides. If you never ride more than 50 km in a day, those potential problems might never become actual problems. If you're comfortable at the end of that 50 km, a fitting probably isn't going to make you more comfortable.

So you should expect that your position on the bike will change as you acclimate, and you should actively experiment with it for a while. If you get a year down the road and can't find a comfortable position, or worse are getting injuries that might be caused by your position, then by all means see a fitter.

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    I kind of agree. But on the other hand: If one has the money for a bike fit it can be a good idea and can save you a lot of discomfort or even prevent permanent damage (e.g. joint or back damage).
    – Michael
    Dec 13, 2021 at 20:23
  • @Michael might have a point regarding knees but that's something you can make a good start on yourself. Back issues (barring anything underlying) are often more about core strength - I've lost some with an injury then lockdowns, and can feel a day of hard climbs in my back these days. Keep the idea of a fit in mind, but also tweak stuff. I've never got round to it, despite some very long days in the saddle
    – Chris H
    Dec 13, 2021 at 21:34
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    Not all shop fits are equal, and not all people will be comfortable on the standard configuration of their bike. I suffered for a couple of years on my first real road bike because the saddle was too narrow, and it's something the shop never even looked at. (And I'd been brainwashed with "you need to break in your butt.")
    – DavidW
    Dec 13, 2021 at 23:18
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For beginners it is not worth it

I doubt it will help you much at all to go to a bike fitter. Starting out, it's much better to learn how to adjust your bike frame yourself. You may decide you'd like a different frame early on. You also will learn less about how to adjust and maintain your bike.

Once you've been riding for a year, you'll have a much better idea of what a bike fitter does and if you need that service. Your riding still will also change dramatically from the first month to the 12th month.

Things I wish I knew when I started

  • Adjust the saddle height so that your leg is straight, or almost straight during the bottom of the down-stroke of your peddle. Try to avoid standing on the peddles out of the saddle.

  • You will wipe out, the bike will get scuffed. Always wear a helmet.

  • Unless you will be off-roading regularly, start with a road bike.

  • You can buy larger/smaller seats. Don't be afraid to try different seat types.

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    Welcome to the Bicycles SE. one thing to consider is that maintenance is a separate activity from bike fitting and related adjustments. Learning how to adjust your bike would allow you to do the relatively simple task of changing your stem, but it doesn’t translate to knowing how your bike fits you. Also, you do not want your leg to be fully straight at maximum extension, and there is no reason not to stand on the pedals occasionally.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Dec 14, 2021 at 18:47

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