Beyond Norms: John Markstein and the Body Geometry Fit


John Markstein quietly sits on his Park Tool stool in his pristinely organized fit studio inside BikeSource Columbus’ Dublin store. After having gone through a fit with John I asked him for an interview for the blog so others could learn a little bit more about the BG FIT and a little bit about John.

Lauren Updyke (LU): Thanks for sitting down with me John. So, I guess to start, how did you get into the BG FIT?

John Markstein (JM): I started working at BikeSource as a college job, and then it became a full time job. Now it’s become my career – an opportunity came up for someone to implement BG FIT in the Columbus area. That was in 2010. I was asked so I went for it.

LU: What does BG FIT stand for? What is it?

JM: BG FIT stands for Body Geometry Fit Integration Technology. A collaboration was started between Boulder Center for Sports Medicine (BCSM) and Specialized Bicycles and Components, as the need for properly fitted bikes is a clear necessity and integral part of bicycle retail. Both found that there was no tool or kit that could fit a rider better than a well-trained Fit Professional, who can understand a rider’s neutral body structure and predisposition.

LU: So what was the process of becoming a Certified BG FIT Technician? I assume it was pretty intense given what I’ve learned about the process.

JM: The certification process definitely requires that you be invested in the fit process. It starts with the base BG FIT course. The first course is three days long out in California at Specialized. After about a year of fitting, you go back to an advanced level Masters BG FIT course. Once both classes are complete you are then eligible for the Certified BG FIT exam. It’s the only pass/fail exam in the industry. Basically, two years, hundreds of fits working with different rider’s bodies, and dedication to succeed.

LU: Nice! So what was the test like?

JM: The written part took about 2-hours and had 160 or so questions. On top of that, I had a 2-hour fit practicum where you are doing an actual BG FIT while being evaluated through the entire process.

LU: How do they evaluate the practicum?

JM: They grade you not only on your knowledge but your interaction with the customer, level of professionalism, and application of your knowledge. You have to make the customer feel comfortable during a fit.

LU: So you’ve passed and you’re the only Certified BG FIT Technician in the area. That’s pretty cool. In your opinion, what do you think makes a good fitter?

JM: I think a good fitter is someone who not only understands the rider’s physical and structural differences but also understands that rider’s experience of riding. What concerns have they had in the past with riding, and what are their strengths and weaknesses. A fit is something that the rider needs to be a part of. There is more than just science behind it, there’s an art to interpreting different variables.

LU: Talk more about the art and science of it.

JM: The BG FIT Method is about connecting different parts of the fit: The Interview, The Physical/Structural Assessment and The Dynamic Bike Fit. Unless you connect it all, you’re likely to miss crucial parts of the fit. For instance, if I took all the baseline data and applied it to perceived standards I’d be missing what the rider brings in the form of their individual body structure. Most people have some deviation from the norm. No one is ‘normal’ or ‘perfect’ and unless you understand his or her unique body structure, the bike fit may not support the rider adequately.

Getting tired of reading? Check out this video of Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack and the BG FIT.

LU: In the past when we’ve talked about the BG FIT and when you fit me, you used the word ‘support’ a lot instead of ‘push’. What does that mean?

JM: If you push a rider into a perceived ‘normal’ position it is not going to work. “What’s normal” doesn’t work for each individual because each individual has his or her own ‘normal’. If you support the rider you allow the bike to be a more direct extension of their body so they are efficient, comfortable and can endure hours on the bike, all the while reducing the chance of injury.

LU: I’ve been through the fit process but for those who haven’t explain what an athlete would experience when they come in for a fit.

JM: Sure. First we start with an Interview. I need to understand what the rider’s style is (endurance, competitive, triathlon, etc), what are their goals, and concerns with how their body interacts with the bike. We go through all the major joints in the body and address any areas of discomfort so we know what we need to focus on with this rider. Basically, why are they here? If someone comes in with a back problem, I need to think about that in every aspect of the fit.

From there we do 23 assessments of the rider’s body to find out what makes this rider unique and where limitations may lie. These are assessments that came out of The Boulder Center for Sports Medicine to look at biomechanics (foot structure, flexibility/range of motion) and dynamically how the rider is going to be supported on the bike.

After that we move on to the bike fit. I’ll evaluate the rider’s current position to understand why they are having the issues/discomfort that needs to be addressed. Then we know what actions to take to improve it. I take into consideration the limitations based on the assessment (i.e. limited ROM). I then focus on adjusting all three points of contact: cleat, saddle, and handlebar position.

LU: Without sounding redundant, it seems like a really dynamic process.

JM: I’m not JUST looking at adjusting the contact points, but constantly evaluating how these points support the rider.

LU: There’s that support thing again

JM: Look at it this way, if a rider has knee pain – it’s probably not just due to the fore/aft positioning of the saddle, or the saddle height. It could be how they are sitting on their saddle. This goes back to the assessment when we look at the rider’s ischial tuberosity width – they just may be on the wrong saddle.

LU: That makes sense. We found that out about me during my fit didn’t we? You know the other thing I wanted to ask you was about products. Specialized makes a lot of products that are used in a fit. For instance, what’s the deal with wedging?

JM: Everyone has a foot that is biomechanically intended for walking and running. Those biomechanics work against us when we ride a bike. In regards to wedging, we’re assessing the rider’s forefoot angle – so almost 90% of the population has a varus forefoot and we need to support that amount of angulation because the rider doesn’t need that biomechanical function on the bike.

LU: Say that again for readers who don’t know what that meant

JM: Your foot collapses in the human gait cycle to absorb shock and then propel us forward. All this does on t

he bike is cause rotational knee movement and requires the rider support the knee up and down in the pedal stroke, causing pain, wasting energy and the possibility of an overuse injury.

LU:  I would think that much movement of the knee might also cause some IT band issues?

JM: Yes, absolutely. Your IT band is working to support your knee in the pedal stroke. When your foot collapses, your IT band can easily be overworked if the knee isn’t tracking correctly. That’s where wedging and Specialized BG FIT inserts play an integral part of someone’s fit.

LU: You advertise a 3d fit. What does that mean?

JM: We evaluate the rider in the XY and Z plane. We are using a side view and front view to understand how the knees are tracking, how square an athlete is on their bike, and that explains a lot of why they might have a concern that is inconsistent from the right to the left.

See the importance of squareness: Check out another video on Burry Stander.

LU: Oh, that seemed pretty obvious. So on a lighter note, what is your pet peeve? I’m sure you’ve pretty much seen it all, especially with us triathletes who are notorious for having no clue what’s going on with our bikes.

JM: Serious? Hmm… (John sat for a minute to think about it). It would probably be digging the dirt out of cleats, especially Speedplay due to the integration with the pedal. Keep them clean and replace them often, it will help your cleats and pedals work better and last longer. This is the first contact point with the bike, so it has to work the way it was designed.

LU: That was pretty PC, John. I’m sure lots of athletes rave about your fit, I certainly was impressed. So what is the best story or result you’ve had in your years as a fitter?

JM: I think anytime I hear the positive feedback from a rider I’ve worked with it gives me satisfaction in what I do. That’s why we invested in this service at the shop and why I spend so much time, focus and attention to detail in all the fits I do. We want to keep people on their bikes

LU: Thanks for your time John; I know I learned a lot during my fit and during this interview. I hope it helps athletes who have thought about doing a fit make the decision to invest in one.

For more information on the BG FIT or to set up an appointment email John at Jmarkstein@biggear.com.