Bike fitting expert, meet Susan’s femurs

Colin O’Brien looked puzzled.

“Befuddled” was the word he used. Better word.

You get the impression this doesn’t happen very often. He’s an expert at making bikes fit, after all. He might be the expert. You can read about him in Bicycling Magazine and the New York Times.

When he admits to befuddlement, you start to worry.

He had hooked Susan’s road bike up to some wires that led to a computer. She’d changed into her cycling shorts and shoes and was pedaling along at just over 85 rpm against some moderate resistance from the trainer supporting her back wheel.

He was befuddled by the readouts on the computer screen and what they said about her pedal stroke, which meant he was at a loss – at least temporarily – for how to adjust her bicycle to make it fit right once and for all.

cronometro-0191The combination of long femurs, characteristically short female torso, too-big Bontrager crank arms and longish top tube (among myriad other factors) meant this Biodynamic Fitting Session might be, shall we say, a bit more complicated than others.

Condensed background:

Pinched nerve causes chronic pain near right shoulder blade, aggravated by long days on bicycle. Not bicycling not an option. Physical therapy, weight training, yoga and more. Knee arthroscoped a year ago. Bicycling not as fun as it should be. Read New York Times article. Gotta do that. Make appointment. Drive to Madison on Saturday.

cronometro-016In what turned out to be about a two-hour process, O’Brien took lots of measurements. Slid saddle forward, changed angle. (He says people can perceive a change in saddle angle of as little as two-tenths of a degree, which is why I avoid replacing my own saddle as long as I possibly can.)

The existing seat post wouldn’t allow seat to go forward enough. Changed it. Adjusted height. Measured more. Handlebar was six whole centimeters too wide for these petite shoulders. Got rid of it and tried two others before satisfied. Adjusted cleats on both shoes so feet lined up correctly with knees and everything else. (My bad. I put those cleats on myself.)

Pedaled some more. Measured more. Studied computer screen.

Susan picked out snazzy new blue bar tape.

We had time for a beer at the nearby Weary Traveler Freehouse while the new handlebar was attached and taped up and O’Brien wrote up his findings, then we strolled back to the shop to pick up the now fine-tuned machine.

Susan will have a more efficient pedal stroke – better use of power. She has a way more comfortable position on the bike and, we hope, will have much much less trouble with that shoulder. She doesn’t have to reach as far forward now to grip a too-wide handlebar.

Her bicycle fits her way better than it did before.

Other things learned:

  • A bicycle that fit you well a few years ago might not fit well now for many and varied reasons.
  • Susan’s bicycle was too big for her to start with. It will fit better still if we replace the crank arms. (Holding off on that for now. Already this was not inexpensive, but if the pain goes away, worth every penny.)
  • Long femurs are good levers.
  • Don’t ask me to put your cleats on your cycling shoes for you. I’m not qualified.

Links of possible interest:

Colin O’Brien’s shop in Madison, Wisconsin

Some more information on bike fitting

Still more information on bike fitting

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8 Responses to “Bike fitting expert, meet Susan’s femurs”


  1. 2 Brady February 8, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    This is why I run.

  2. 3 Gene February 8, 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Interesting. Sounds like as much an art as a science.
    With all those changes, did Susan finds the ride more comfortable right away or did she have to get used to it?
    I’ve wondered if the body makes its own adjustments to an ill-fitting bike, then has to get used to the properly fit bike..

  3. 4 B.J. Smith February 8, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Brady, my son, I laughed out loud. it’s great that you run. I’ve never been a good runner or much of a runner at all. Just remember that it is most likely running that resulted in the arthroscopic knee surgery I mentioned.

    Art, I’m glad you enjoyed that and appreciate the feedback.

    Gene, I think the biggest difference was noticeable right away – not having to reach out so dang far to the brake hoods or drops. The steering might feel a little squirrelly on the first few rides but that should go away. I think the body does adjust to an ill-fitting bike, but it can only go so far before hurting. I suppose getting used to a good fit depends on how out of whack you are to start with. O’Brien said he had a call recently from one customer who wanted to schedule two consecutive appointments – she’s convinced she is such a mess it will take twice as long as most people to fix her up. Now she might need some time to adapt to the right fit!

  4. 5 D Potter February 10, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Thank you Bernie and Sue for some ver insightful information. I also wonder if my Ruby is a tad too big for me, although I love her dearly. Great information. You are a wealth of great information.

  5. 6 Rita Liddell February 10, 2009 at 7:27 pm

    one word … Terry. Just overcome what others think you look like on the bike, ride the one that fits. It really does make cycling fun! Looking forward to the summer. Rita

  6. 7 B.J. Smith February 10, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Thanks for the feedback, D and Rita. It’s interesting how attached we become to our bicycles and how loyal we can be to the companies that make them. We do spend a lot of time with them, don’t we?


  1. 1 This is what I do! « Collin’s Cycle Shop Weblog Trackback on February 9, 2009 at 12:09 am
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