Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Trek picks local bike fit expert to lead national program

Posted by on December 5th, 2007 at 4:11 pm

Michael Sylvester

Michael Sylvester in his
Southeast Portland studio.
(Photo © Jonathan Maus)

Portland-based bike fitting expert Michael Sylvester has been hired to create and lead an ambitious new bike fitting program for Trek Bicycles.

Trek introduced Sylvester and the new “Fit System” at Trek World, their dealer-only trade show back in August.

Sylvester — a 50 year-old yoga teacher and former elite-level cyclocross racer — did private fit consultations and was the bike fit specialist for the Bike Gallery from the late 1980s until he launched his own company, Bicycle Fitting Services, in January of this year. In addition to his private practice, Sylvester conducts fit seminars for bike shop employees around the country.

Highly-regarded both by his clients and throughout the bike industry, Sylvester is also the man behind the Serotta Fit System, which he developed back in 1996.

I spoke with Sylvester about the partnership yesterday and he says working with a company like Trek is like being “a kid in the candy store”.

“My goal has always been… to have the bike industry take fitting as seriously as they take carbon fiber.”
–Michael Sylvester

When Sylvester worked with Serotta he says they had an excellent program, but he realized they did not have the size and resources to raise the bike-buying public’s awareness of the value of an expert bike fit.

“My goal has always been to get fitting into every shop and to have the bike industry take fitting as seriously as they take carbon fiber. I think it’s ironic that so many bikes are sold but not much attention is paid to the interface of the body and the bike.”

Sylvester says he’s “been bugging” Trek to create this program for the last six years because, “They have the resources to make a cultural change in the way people think about bike fit.” Trek listened, but wasn’t quite ready to act.

An image featuring Sylvester from
an internal Trek newsletter.

They would send employees to attend his seminars and report back on what they’d seen. Then, about a year ago, one of Trek’s top brass had a layover in a city where Sylvester was teaching. He liked what he saw so much that he invited Sylvester to Trek Headquarters to give the seminar to 20 of their R&D and product managers.

“It was a hardcore seminar” remembers Sylvester, “and they loved it.”

Soon after, they gave Sylvester the “green light” to create his dream fit program.

Trek’s Fit System is still being developed, but Sylvester says in addition to dealer fit seminars, they plan to create an online resource for dealers, create new diagnostic tooling (based on his designs) and offer bike fit certifications.

Sylvester is especially excited for the opportunity to collect data from the fits that will help improve bikes and components. “The idea is to use hard data from the fitting procedure to directly inform design”. Sylvester says he’s already working on a new handlebar.

For Sylvester, it’s all about making a good bike fit mainstream. He hopes his efforts with Trek trickle down to the entire industry and “force everybody else to raise the bar in terms of fitting services.”


Read more about Michael Sylvester in this story I wrote about him last year.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

34 Comments
  • L December 5, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    Congrats to Michael!

    I got a bike fit from him this summer and it radically upgraded my comfort level on my road bike. It was expensive, but I think well worth it.

    He really knows bike fit inside and out. Do take advantage of his presence in Portland if it all possible.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • m December 5, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    Be careful of clicking into the Bicycle Fitting Services link. I did and was inflicted with a virus.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Natalie December 5, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    Michael has been a friend and a mentor to me over the last couple of years, as he\’s taught me the art and science of bike fitting. Our work together has really developed my capacity as a custom bike builder. His yoga-teacher eye for body alignment and his open and flexible approach to working with bikes and bodies make him the perfect fella to take the good word about bike fitting to a larger audience.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) December 5, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    \”Be careful of clicking into the Bicycle Fitting Services link…\”

    my apologies m. I\’ve removed the link to that page. that is weird…not sure why that happens. don\’t think it\’s a virus though, just a very dodgy pop-up ad.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Matt M December 5, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    Great article! Michael has worked long and hard to get where he is and he does a great job fitting. I’ve worked with him over the last 8 years on a number of interesting bike shoe projects for his customers. These projects have been challenging and fun. Congrats to Michael for his success this year!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Bookhouseboy December 5, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    I have avoided getting a fit for years cause its so expensive. Maybe Michaels efforts will spread enough information to help out all bikers and not just the wealthy ones.
    Its not rocket science, or is it?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • wsbob December 5, 2007 at 9:19 pm

    I also offer my congratulations to Michael for his success and innovation in this key area of superior bicycling performance. Met him quite a few years back, even bought some good used cycling gear from him, but never had him fit me to a bike.

    Though my own cycling needs haven\’t called for a professional fit to my bike, as I observe and study different people on their bikes, I\’m inclined to believe that many, many people could benefit from help in arriving at a better fit to their bikes. There\’s so many different body types out there and quite a number of different types of riding. Factor in variances in physical ability or disability from individual to individual and lots of different settings for a proper fit would be called for.

    I don\’t think it\’s rocket science to get properly fit to a bike, but it\’s not second nature to everyone either.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • brady December 5, 2007 at 9:32 pm

    Bookhouseboy:

    There is more to it than you think… Michael\’s fittings are light-years beyond what you get when a salesperson \”sizes\” you for a bike, and well beyond other fittings I\’ve had (and paid dearly for) from other fit experts. I\’m not sure how often you ride your bike, or how far you ride when you do… but if you ask yourself \”Would I pay a single dollar to be more comfortable, powerful and less fatigued on this ride?\” and say \”Yes!\”, your fit will pay for itself pretty quickly. If you\’re reading this blog, my guess is you ride at least 7x / week… so you will have paid for your fit in 4 months. (And I\’m talking about short rides… think about what you might be willing to pay to have a single century ride be more comfortable!) Once you have a proper fit, the important measurements will be recorded, so you can apply them to any future bike without going thru an entire fitting (and the $$ associated therewith.) The way I see it, only the rich can afford NOT to get fitted: they can keep buying bike after bike, hoping to find something that feels good. The rest of us need to get it right the first time!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • wsbob December 5, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    People that are in tune with their body may be more inclined to be able to arrive upon a proper fit to their bike on their own than those that aren\’t. Getting in tune with one\’s body is probably a big part of arriving at a good fit to a person\’s bike, and is likely to be a big step in itself for many people. Michael\’s experience as a yoga teacher probably comes in real handy in that respect.

    I feel like my own fit to my present bike is good, but you could say it was a long process in arriving at it. Too complicated to go into details here. Years and years back, I had a fit consultation using something called \’the fit kit\’. Measurements and all that stuff. It didn\’t really work for me. I have an average proportioned body frame. Ultimately what allowed me to get a proper fit was relaxation and general conditioning of my body, some familiarity with the type of bike and riding I wanted to do, and a developed sense of awareness of my comfort and power zones while on the bike.

    I think the numbers and measurements are good, but I\’m not sure just how they would be applied from bike frame to bike frame and crossing between different riding types for the same person. Seems like variations in the arrived upon measurements would be called for.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Cøyøte December 6, 2007 at 8:20 am

    I remember seeing Micheal race in the late 80\’s. It was well into the race and he took a hard spill at 20+ mph. He was back on his bike in one motion, not a second was wasted being hurt. No one else was around to see the crash except my wife and I. He won that race going away. A real tough racer.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Moo December 6, 2007 at 9:27 am

    So what does a \”fit\” usually run. And if you already have a bike and the fit isn\’t…well a good fit- what next get- out the cutting torch and welder?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jean Reinhardt December 6, 2007 at 9:29 am

    Bike fitting will always be LESS expensive than chripractors, physical therapists, selling off bikes that don\’t quite fit, etc.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • AC. December 6, 2007 at 9:45 am

    Good for Michael and good for Trek.

    If cost is a concern (as it would be for me) think about it this way. You paid good money for mechanical upgrades to your bike. Why not put some time and money into the bio-mechanics? Make your relationship with your bike more synergistic. And, maybe you can avoid a repetetive motion injury too…
    Michaels services do not come cheap, nor should they. He has also trained some people over the years and some of them are working as bike-fitters in Portland today. Maybe ask for a referal if his fee is out of your range?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Rawn December 6, 2007 at 10:43 am

    This is a great thing for Trek and all cyclists who are fit at local bike shops.
    Congratulations to Michael. The big \”but\” here is the continued marketing of road racing as the model for what\’s normal in cycling today. Too often average, non racing cyclists are steered toward $2000+ wunderplastik bikes with racing geometries and fast but ultimately uncomfortable riding positions built in. I see change coming in the form of more street and urban oriented offerings and even the Rivendell \”country bike\” model. But for the uneducated/novice cyclist, it\’s still 150 pound racers in spandex and that bikes they ride that grab all the attention.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Qwendolyn December 6, 2007 at 10:45 am

    I\’m skeptical of any fitting advice that is so expensive.

    This guy claims he wants well-fit bikes to become mainstream.

    Well then I have an idea. Instead of charging the mainstream cyclist for fitting services that he cannot afford, –get the big companies to stop making racing bikes for people who don\’t race and that aren\’t comfortable even if you do race.

    Get them to make bikes for everyday use. Real bikes for everyday typical riders that are actually comfortable.

    Then when the everyday mainstream rider goes to buy a bike, all they have to do is get one with the right size frame, adjust the seat height and ride off.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • steve December 6, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Qwendolyn,

    You obviously have no idea what you are talking about. Have you been in a bike shop in the last decade or so?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • steve December 6, 2007 at 11:51 am

    I bet the Bike Gallery is thrilled to hear about this.

    Nothing like chasing off a dedicated employee with several decades of tenure in your company, to only see him receiving national exposure. Michael has acheived this level of recognition in spite of the Bike Gallery, not because of it.

    Think of the lost marketing value and industry prestige. Way to go Bike Gallery!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • AC. December 6, 2007 at 11:55 am

    Rawn,

    I think Michael is trying to get the geometry of those\’wonderplastic\’ and other bikes changed to something more comfortable, and realistic for the typical bike buyer.

    Street and urban bikes are great for what they for everyday use, but would not be ideal for, say Cycle Oregon.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • wsbob December 6, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Moo, nobody seems to be saying, but I\’m guessing a professional fit is going to be more than $100. That would be fairly reasonable actually. You shouldn\’t give a shot at analyzing your own fit to your bike and see if you can\’t get a little closer to the way you like it.

    Raise, lower, tilt your seat, move it back and forth. Try get an idea if your back is too arched or sagging. Stem extension and angle relates to that. Poor people should be able to get a good fit too.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Moo December 6, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Cash-strapped people should get a good and cheap fit. They\’re the ones who need the most prevention of medical issues for lack of adequate medical insurance,chiropracty help, or yoga and strength exercise- for the lack of funds altogether. Can\’t Comm. Cycling Ctr. or some other non-profit hold some seminars to those with the above shortcomings? I couldn\’t afford insurance if my place of work didn\’t pay for it, and would have to forgo food to pay for some fittings…Ugh!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • wsbob December 6, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    comment 19…\”You shouldn\’t…\”. Substitute: \”You should…\”.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • joeb December 6, 2007 at 12:48 pm

    I put out a chunk of money on a new bike this year and plan to get it fitted. It’s great for commuting, but I\’m pretty uncomfortable after about 30-35 miles. I want to test out the rumor that the bike disappears under you when it is properly fit.

    I expect the fitting to cost $125 – $150 plus parts as needed (new stem, etc) another $60-$100. Then I expect new shoes and pedals will be recommended which could jump it another $250. Upwards of $400. Those numbers are my inexperienced guesses, but Ouch! While it will be hard to lay out $200-$400 I want my transportation to be the best it can be and to be ready for centuries and weekend tours next summer.

    I’m interested in Michael’s cost and availability in Portland and whether a fitting at Bike Gallery or River City should be considered. I guess I won’t try the Bicycle Fitting Services site…

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Rawn December 6, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    AC.

    \”I think Michael is trying to get the geometry of those\’wonderplastic\’ and other bikes changed to something more comfortable, and realistic for the typical bike buyer.

    Street and urban bikes are great for what they for everyday use, but would not be ideal for, say Cycle Oregon.\”

    That\’s great to hear about. Michael sounds like he\’s doing all the right things. As to the rider who takes on Cycle Oregon; he/she is not a rider who needs much help. Those people are already pretty experienced cyclists. If such a rider hasn\’t figured out what a good fit means to them, then that\’s a different issue. You\’re right, most \”urban\” bikes aren\’t necessarily the best tool for Cycle Oregon or even STP.

    I wonder is it the role of a bike fitter to question/recommend a different style or size bike for a customer rather than taking the bike already purchased and trying to make it fit the rider after the fact?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Moo December 6, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    wsbob, I\’ve ridden for many years without a fit, so maybe as I start feeling those aches and pains in my later years, I should consider a professional one. But for now, I enjoy the feel of my bike, and the way I set it up is fine for now. Now pass the pizza!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • AC. December 6, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    Rawn,

    \”I wonder is it the role of a bike fitter to question/recommend a different style or size bike for a customer rather than taking the bike already purchased and trying to make it fit the rider after the fact?\”

    Good question. A good fit starts with a comprehensive interview about the kind of cycling the rider is or will be doing, and any physical consideration such as injuries etc.

    Sometimes the bike is obviously too big or small. If it isn\’t going to work, you don\’t fit it.

    Also, a bike fitting isn\’t just for people who are having problems on their bike. A lot of cyclists a interested in getting the most from the experience. Having you handlebars at just the right height and reach might mean being able to raise your saddle a half centimeter more. Thats more power and less fatigue at the same time!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • wsbob December 6, 2007 at 2:15 pm

    Here! Here! Moo! Artichoke and pepperonchino please! Sounds like you know you\’re body and its fit to the bike well enough.

    I\’m thinking big money for a pro fit, keyed to the particular kind of riding they do, can really really pay off for competitive cyclists, giving them greater speed, efficiency and so forth, but probably at the cost of some comfort or fatigue for general riding around or touring.

    With a little help, ordinary people ought to be able to get a good fit for general riding around or sport riding. I think it\’s good to be able to try different bikes before you buy one, and I don\’t just mean ride them around a little bit in the store parking lot. At least for me, it took 2-3 weeks of having the bike, riding it and around and adjusting things here and there to get the fit. Of course, I was green at the time too, not having ridden for some years, even though my last bike was a decent road model whose fit to my body I was very familiar with.

    Seems like bike shops should be able to get you fit to your bike well enough for general riding purposes as part of buying the bike from them. Maybe they do. I don\’t know since I haven\’t bought a bike from one in a long while.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Jim Bombardier December 6, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    I wish to offer my congratulations to Michael. He deserves to start getting credit for all of the effort he has been putting into raising the awareness of the need for good bicycling fitting for riders over the years.

    I also want to defend the amount that Michael charges for his fitting. He deserves to get top dollar for his fittings directly because he is so good and experienced. If you look at the value to your body that his efforts bring most would agree that his fitting is a bargain. Michael is not a fat cat getting rich on all the effort he is and has put into the bicycling industry. With the recognition that he is getting now he may make enough to be able to retire someday and he deserves every penney he gets IMO.

    Be safe out there….Jim

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • steve December 6, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    I am sure the budget oriented folks will do just fine at the \’bike farm\’. Remember they are open next month(maybe), for 3 entire days a week.

    I am sure that it will be the same experience, just cheaper.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Curt Dewees December 6, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    Proper bike fit is the #1 most important factor in the comfort, efficiency, and enjoyment of riding your bicycle. To spend a lot of time riding your bike without having it fitted to you properly is asking for trouble–in the knees, back, neck, wrists, you name it.

    Buying a bike off the showroom floor is like buying a suit off the rack at Nordstrom. Odds are that you\’re body isn\’t an exact fit for that 40 Reg. suit. So it\’s probably worth the money to have your suit hand-tailored to fit your exact body measurements.

    Same thing with bikes: Buy the bike that\’s closest to the size you need, then have it professionally fitted (\”hand-tailored\” so to speak).

    Adapt the bike fit your body, not the other way around. It\’s worth the money.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • tonyt December 7, 2007 at 10:01 am

    Steve said, \”I am sure that it will be the same experience, just cheaper.\”

    As someone who has worked in the industry and been lucky enough to get a bunch of free fits using various systems, let me tell you, they are far from all the same. Not even close. But it should also be noted that price in and of itself, is not a good gauge of quality.

    Some systems treat you like a math equation – plug in leg length, torso length, arm length, blamo! Here is what your bike should be. Some of them don\’t even put you on a bike! (hello online bike-fitting \”techniques\”)

    Some use lasers and/or full body scans, appealing to the notion that if it\’s high-tech it must be better (those are expensive AND very often they suck).

    The nice thing about Michael\’s system is that it actually takes into account your range-of-motion, and the kind of riding you want do.

    That being said, the vast majority of people could greatly benefit from some very basic, and often free, fit information.

    Get the saddle height right, get the right stem (probably the biggest mistake the industry is making right now is stems that are too long), and pedal with the balls of your feet.

    PS – That old \”your handlebar should block your view of the front hub\” is worthless.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Michael Sylvester December 10, 2007 at 9:56 am

    Hello I want to thank everyone for their words on bicycle Fitting and their opinions and concerns.
    In my work at Bicycle Fitting Services I try to to help everyone with their bike regardless of what kind of rider they are. I accept them as they are and work to solve their pains and allow them to realize their goals wether they are a racer or commuter. I use a process that tries to listen to the customer and consider everything about them. I have worked very hard to not steer anyone into any one direction but only to try to have them leave my studio feeling like I really tried to help them. My prices are the highest in the city of Portland and I feel that it helps me feel good about spending the time that I do with my clients. It takes time to really consider all the issues of a fitting. I take a complete history, do a series of range of motion tests and spend alot of time observing them on the bike before I change anything. My system is not relient on formulas or computer generated information but to consider all of the information and to listen to what the client really wants.
    I am very excited to be able to create a national program for Trek that will some day allow someone to walk into any store and have the ability to get good help around the topic of bicycle fitting. I am very open to your questions and comments and welcome you interest.

    Thanks
    Michael Sylvester Bicycle Fitting Services

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Michael Sylvester December 14, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    Hello From Michael Sylvester again! Web site is fixed and up and running. Sorry for the delay. http://www.bicyclefittingservices.com

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • […] been reading about Sylvester in the press recently – though I’ve known his name for years.  After 6 years riding my road bike, I bought a […]

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • […] the interview I called Michael Sylvester, my bicycle fitting mentor to check in about some of our upcoming Sweetpea fittings. We went over […]

    Recommended Thumb up 0