Built To Fit :: Interview With Master Bike Fitter Chris Soden

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When we say “Built to Fit” we literally mean, built to fit. For our GBL CX bike we consulted with Master Bike Fitter Chris Soden of Boulder, Colorado. Chris is the owner of Pro Peloton Cyclery, a boutique shop that specializes in custom bikes and top notch bike fit. He expertly led me through the bike fit process for our Built to Fit project with Mosaic Cycles.

It is no surprise that riders come from all over the country to visit Pro Peloton and consult with Chris for a bike fit and custom bike purchase. Although the shop is small, it is comfortable and well laid out. Each customer is attended to with the same great smile and attention as the next.

We thought you might want to know a little from the master himself so we caught up with him for a quick interview.

Q: How did you get started in cycling?

I remember seeing the Tour De France on Wide World of Sports in 1985 and they were showing a distraught Greg LeMond who had just given away the tour that year by following team orders and waiting for Bernard Hinault. I didn’t quite know what it was, or what it meant, but I was hooked.

I started seriously biking my Sophomore year of College. After my right arm finally succumbed to years of pitching Baseball, I needed something to do. I had played several sports non-stop since I was 5. There was no way I was going to run for pleasure at that point so I had a buddy who had started riding road bikes.

I went to my local shop in Scotch Plains, New Jersey and bought my first road bike… a steel Fuji with Suntour components. It was $429 dollars and it took me forever to pay it off. The irony was that they sold me too small a frame! Luckily by that time I knew somewhat what I was doing… the frame broke and I had them replace it with a better size. I guess that is why fit is so close to my heart.

I remember the first time I got the bike home. I went down my driveway and street and was hooked by the precision, the speed, the freedom. One of the few moments in life that I thought “this is something I will do forever”. But because of my size – 6’5″ and 235 lbs, I put that bike under a lot of strain and broke a lot of wheels and parts in a short period of time. That is how I learned to work on bikes. I had to. When I would take my bike in for service, there was usually no one there who could ride my size and therefore my issues never got addressed. The old “We can’t make it do that…”. So I became a bike mechanic in Doylestown, PA.

Q: How long have you been a bicycle fitter? What kind of training do you have?

I think I have always been a bike fitter to some degree ever since I started in the bike business (1993). I have always been fascinated by proportions. I love the synergy that riding a bike entails. That relationship that can be so special or for a lot of people, so problematic. I officially got my start on the fitting side of the business in 2002, when I stated working at Pro Peloton. I was immediately sent off to Saratoga Springs to SICI fit school. There I was lucky enough to be taught by Paul Levine from Signature Cycles and Chris Jacobson from Sports Garage here in Boulder. Their passion and zest for fit really proved an inspiration for me at that time in my career. I took both the elements class and then quickly on to the advanced class.But I really feel my best training was in Boulder. I am lucky to have such a vibrant and hard core riding scene. While other fitters that I went to school with were doing 10 fits a year, I was doing that in a week! You learn a lot hands on. You really have to treat every individual you work with as just that, an individual. They are unique, have different physiology, different goals… you simply cant put them into a cookie cutter or pre-fab formula. I feel like I learn every day as a fitter. Boulder provides a great canvas to work from.

Q: How important is it to get a bicycle fitting?

I think it is everything. But I do think people need to understand that there are many different parts to that question. Getting a bike fit BEFORE you purchase a bike is an opportunity to understand what your body needs and what will make it happy, fast, and make the whole experience of riding a bike enjoyable.When you are buying a new bike, a bike fit is the process that helps you understand how your body works… and what it needs. It is really about discovery. If you don’t do this up front, you are making a lot of assumptions that you might find in time are wrong.Getting a current bike fit on a bike you own can help you see how position, comfort, and power can be improved. But by that time you are working within the bookends of what you bought, so you can see why that initial discovery is so important.Getting a current bike fit is a great thing to do, but most fitters would tell you they can only correct so much, especially if the frame size is drastically off. This happens more than you would think as manufacturers reduce the amount of sizes that are available, thus making it easier for shops to inventory product.

Q: What do you think are the biggest selling points for a custom bicycle? Is this different for women?

The greatest selling point for a custom bike is that you have the opportunity to get everything, every selection just right. So often people focus merely on the frame and forget that saddle, handlebar, pedals, bar width, are all choices that effect the overall performance and enjoyment of the bike.The other big issue is that when you design a bike for a specific point and fit that you know up front, you can create more “space” or “usable fit area”, so your client can enjoy the bike now, but have plenty of room to adjust the fit should their flexibility, use or physiology change.Fitting women is only as different as that particular woman in front of you is. I often try and get people to think about the fact that all the other bikes that are designed are not “Men specific”. So trying to derive a whole fit story based on ones sex is about as probable as trying to guess their favorite meal or wine based on their gender. You might get some right, but you get a bunch wrong. Bike fitting is a scalpel, not a chainsaw.

I get a lot of riders telling me that they have had a good bike fit yet they still complain of discomfort. What expectations should riders have for a bicycle fitting?Well the words “bike fitting” gets used a lot. Most people I fit these days have had some sort of “bike fit”. It is interesting to see what that term now encompasses. I do think customers need to ask deeper and more probing questions about the bike fitting process that they are engaging in.Athletes need to understand that bike fitting is about setting the rider up for success, both performance and comfort. Swimmers are still powerful, yet fluid and efficient. I always tell my client, “my job as a bike fitter is to put the bike in a place that enables the athlete to be comfortable and powerful.”I task my athletes with working on better form and understanding that the changes we are making take time. I often have to remind athletes that you are here because there are issues, and yet I am trying to overcome years and many miles of bad habits. It’s not always easy.I think the best advice is to be open. Tell the fitter what you are feeling, not what you think they want to hear.

Q: Do you have any suggestions on how a to find a good bike fitter?

Interview them just as you would any other professional. Ask for references and for their training. “Well I ride a lot” or “I have been doing this for a long time” are not enough. I think you can look at the business model of the shop you are dealing with. If they have thousands of bikes on the floor, that imposes a different selling philosophy and not one that always has the customer’s best interest at heart.

Q: How can riders do their part to work with fitters for best results?

Just be honest. There are no right or wrong answers. The fact that your friend “loves” that saddle has nothing to do with whether you will or should as well. Be open, and be ready to practice riding your bike. Form and good habits take time and practice.

Stay tuned as our Built to Fit series takes an inside look at our bike fit experience with Chris Soden.

By Sarai Snyder – Boulder, CO – Founder, Girl Bike Love

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