Why Bike Fit Matters

Santa Cruz exercise physiologist Dave Liotta of BeFit Consulting explains why proper bike fit counts.

by Hilltromper staff

April 15, 2014—When it comes to bike-riding discomfort, there are known knowns ("My keester hurts!" "Hey, my hands go numb when I ride. This sucks."). There are known unknowns ("My neck hurts even after I tried raising and lowering the seat. What now?"). And there are unknown unknowns (subconscious association of riding with pain, resulting in statements like, "Can't ride today. Washing my hair.").

Bike fit is a big deal, explains exercise physiologist Dave Liotta of BeFit Consultants. For the triathletes Liotta coaches it can mean the difference between a so-so performance and a great race. For mountain bikers who like to go fast down hills it can mean the difference between control and a spectacular wipeout. For regular folk interested in fitness or leisure on any kind of bike, it can mean the difference between wanting to ride and not wanting to ride.

"There’s no reason why people shouldn’t enjoy riding their bikes. It’s fun," says Liotta. "But even if you unconsciously associate it with discomfort or being a little scared, or it’s just not fun, there could be an unconscious aversion to it. You just don’t feel linked up.

"Riding a bike that fits should be like walking into your favorite room in your house: 'I don’t know why I like it, but I just like being here.'"
Read Why Women's Mountain Bikes? Here's Why

Liotta gets a lot of sore butts walking in his door. He also gets sore necks, especially among road riders. "You have to kind of stork your head, and if you grab the bars too hard because the fit is not good or the bike is the wrong size, you get tension in your neck. Sometimes people even get numb hands because there’s like a subluxation or a nerve pinch in the shoulder. You can get a nerve pinch in the back and the feet will go numb."

What's The Angle?
The fix can be counterintuitive, like adjusting the position of the feet to ease pain in the hands. Liotta has a secret weapon in his arsenal. The Retül system at Bicycle Trip uses infrared sensors to analyze a rider's movement while riding his or her own bike. The resulting data tells the fitter whether certain joint angles are out of "normative" range, which can slow a rider down or cause injury. The goal, says Liotta, is for the body's interaction with the bike to become "very transparent," with nothing interrupting the smooth transfer of power from your legs to the bike's wheels.

Asked when people might know it's time to seek professional help, Liotta answers: "If the duration of a single ride is limited by comfort. And if the frequency of riding is limited not by how good shape you're in, not by daylight but by comfort, that’s an indication you could use some improvement."

Women riders in particular, be they road or mountain bikers, would do well to pay attention to bike fit. Women's bike lines like Liv/giant and Juliana stress the female-specific geometry of their frames as well as other features like smaller hand grips and women-specific seats.

And what do you know? A good opportunity to explore the difference between conventional bike fit and women-specific bike fit is coming up this Thursday, April 17. The Liv/giant Demo truck pulls into Bicycle Trip in the afternoon for a Fit, Form & Function party, with a chance to demo high-performance rides like the Avail road bike and the Obsession mountain bike, as well as the Lust and Intrigue mountain bikes and the Envie and Invite road bikes. Refreshments will be served and swag will flow. And all in the name of fitness.

To reach Dave Liotta, visit

Catch the Liv/giant Fit, Form & Function event at Bicycle Trip, 1001 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz, this Thursday, April 17 from 6pm to 8pm — or come at 3:30pm to check out bikes. Free, but credit card & I.D. needed to demo the bikes.