The Difference Between a Fitting Tool and a Fitting Philosophy

Dan Empfield is certainly one of the pioneers of tri bike design and fitting. He recently wrote a lengthy article (lengthy for the internet anyway) comparing apple pie baking and bike fitting. As strange as the subject matter sounds,  I think the article is quite good, but I would like to summarize my view of his view, so to speak.

The basic premise of his article is: Beware of confusing a fitting tool with a fitting philosophy or methodology. You wouldn’t say you had a DeWalt home if your builder used DeWalt tape measures – yet we are seeing more and more instances of people talking about “Retul” fits. The Retul is nothing more than the bike fitting equivalent of your builder’s DeWalt laser measure and levels. It simply provides numbers – what you do with the numbers is what’s important. Now we can argue whether the Retul provides “better” numbers than other fit tools, and I have my opinions which I will be happy to share with anyone who asks me. And I will also say that even Retul itself seems to be blurring the line here, whereas early on their marketing stuff clearly stated that it was an agnostic tool compatible with any philosophy – maybe I’m wrong but it seems that way.

I use another type of motion capture: motion analysis software. All considered I think this is the “best” tool. But I do NOT say that I do “Pro-Trainer” (the name of the software) fits. I simply use it to facilitate my TTBikeFit fitting philosophy and methodology. The point is, just because a shop or fitter has tool X, it in no way implies that you will get a good fit, or that said fitter knows the difference between a road and a tri fit.

Dan rightly points out that several of the fit “systems” do not address tri or TT fitting – they work pretty well for road fits but make no special considerations for aero fitting. And take it from me (and him): they are completely different animals. His FIST system is specifically designed for aero fitting, as is my TTBikeFit system. Unlike FIST I also have a road fit system/philosophy.

One thing I would like to take some issue with is the matter of “certifications”. There are several available for fitters, with FIST being the leader for aero fit certification. Most of the others, again, do not address aero fitting. While in general it is probably better to find a fitter with a certification, it also in no way means you will get a good fit. I have worked with many athletes who have been fit by various fitters with various certifications, and I’m here to tell you the resulting fits can be all over the map. Just because the guy went to some class doesn’t mean he can apply what he learned (or that he even learned anything – much like me with my differential equations course in college). There is also the issue of how much time the fitter has spent training and competing. Beware of those who haven’t been in the trenches – alot.

So how to pick a fitter? Get a referral. Get several if possible. Look for testimonials and evidence of results. That’s why we post every comment we get from clients, and post many videos and images of our fits. Understand where their philosophy comes from and if it makes sense. Ask questions – if the answers are boilerplate or don’t inspire confidence, look elsewhere.

Finally, Dan talks about using a fit bike. We currently don’t have one. And it’s not because we’re cheap, it’s just because we don’t like any of the ones on the market. Just as we didn’t like any of the fit “systems” on the market and hence created our own, here we’ve also taken matters into our own hands – stay tuned. We’ve been working behind the scenes for more than a year on this, not to mention on something else that we think will take the fitting world by storm. As I said, stay tuned….