A lot of fitters and shops that have been in the fit game for years have a decision to make. They either bite the bullet and invest in fit technology or risk losing customers to a lesser shop down the road...who does. With large bike brands getting into fitting...They see the power of controlling the output, which leads to bike sales...complete bike solutions. The companies have huge marketing powers behind them and are well financed. The fear of many skilled fitters is that these marketing efforts have begun to shift the focus away from the skill, to the technology or tool.
The good news...fit awareness is high and these companies are providing education to those who purchase their tools or subscribe to their fit philosophy. The bad news...inexperienced fitters gain false confidence via their association with well known brands.
I don't have a solution, but know that people much smarter than me are working on it. In the end, bike fitting is like any other skill/trade/job...some are good, some are bad.
Below is an interview I did with Davis Wheelworks last year. As a former Retul employee (2009-2012), most of the interview questions are centered around it's fit technology.
dW²: Retül has an enormous amount of data to offer when it comes to all the different fit metrics. Did you find all of this information relevant and useful or did you tend to focus on just a few key components for the success of your athletes?
MS: There are a lot of things we can measure during a bike fit, but we can't always use it all. I have my "go to" metrics that I like to look at and others that I use on a case by case basis. I don't see harm in measuring more than we can actually use...hopefully, there will be a time where that information is useful. I think we always like to think in right and/or wrong, but the truth is, there is a lot we don't know. Because of this, certain fit metrics don't mean all that much to me because I'd have to try and explain or come up with a range for something that I can't objectively say is right or wrong. I guess in the power of marketing, to say you measure "more" is better?
dW²: Do you, or have you considered implementing Retül or any other fitting system in 51 Speedshop?
MS: I currently preform my fit services out of a bike shop here in Boulder (Colorado Multisport) and have many fit tools available to me, including a Retul system. To be honest, I feel that I can use any fit system available to conduct fittings. Sure, some tools are better than others, but what tools you use as a fitter doesn't define your ability or skill. I could use video capture, motion capture, a goniometer, insert any other fit tool you can think of and you're going to get the same sort of position from me.
Do I prefer certain tools over others? Certainly, but that's because I believe in using new technologies to make my job easier - allowing me to replicate, repeat and document my work. I could come up with a great position by just looking at someone and using new tools. However, it's 2013 and I have tools and data I can use to explain the position. If I can measure a back angle, I'd like to measure it...put a number to something. I think it's great for fit replication and allows you to make better decisions. That's what I use numbers for...to confirm what I see. My only requirement is that if I'm going to use a number, it needs to be accurate - I don't see the point in measuring something if it's wrong.
dW²: I have read before where you have explained that fitting is an art; is there a place for fit systems to coexist with an experienced fitter or does it become redundant and less pertinent information once you establish a working dialogue with a client?
MS: First off, I'm a fan of new technology. I'm NOT a fan of people using new technology to make up for a lack of "ability". I can come up with a number of scenarios where a tool, system, protocol won't instantly turn you into being proficient at a certain skill or task. But, everyone needs to start somewhere and we all go through the learning phase at some point...and some pick it up quicker than others.
However, Good fitters should get with times as new fit technology will makes their process more complete. I understand the resistance from skilled experts to adopt new tools or technology because they believe it somehow diminishes their skill. I get how irritating it can be to have someone move into your town, buy all the latest and greatest fit tools, and instantly gain credibility as they prey on the ignorance of the general public.
With my science background, the medical field comes to mind when discussing this topic. This field is constantly advancing and most Docs take advantage of technology that allows them to see and measure "things" that they couldn't in the past. Measuring "things" or having standards has been a very important part of life. It's a basis for most everything. In sports science, you make a change and try to measure it's response. If you're unable to accurately measure the response your research is usually disregarded or deemed inconclusive. In bike fitting, we make a change and then use tools to measure the response. Our measurements need to be objective, but what we do with them are subjective thus the need for a skilled fitter. The fitter needs to decide what to do with the numbers they obtain from the tool and how to apply them to meet the demands of their client. How do you change the number?
I've said this before when asked a similar question and still believe this... "First off, the fitter is King...or Queen. Fit tools, systems, protocols all help/aid the fitter, but are not substitutes for the eye of a good fitter. Advances in fit technology, when used properly, help to erase the human error involved in the measurement of the body and bike. A good fitter, to put it bluntly, knows what a good position looks like and has the skills to problem solve and guide a client towards that position. Good communication, listening to your client-making them part of the decision making process have been keys to my progression. I do think there is an art to fit and like most things, some are better at it than others.
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I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!