Steal this job: Bike fitter

October 8, 2013

 


Bike fitter Jeff Palmer, right, observes customer Philip Brady as Brady rides on a stationary trainer in Spokes, Etc. (Jason Hornick/For Express)

NAME: Jeff Palmer, 65

SALARY: $35,000-$45,000

POSITION: Bike fitter at Spokes, Etc. (224 Maple Ave. East, Vienna; 703-281-2004)

WHAT HE DOES: A tailor adjusts your clothes to fit you just right; Palmer does the same with bikes.

To do this, Palmer sets road bike and rider on a stationary trainer in the shop where he works. He’ll watch the cyclist ride in place while he makes adjustments such as positioning the handlebars — farther away for a more flexible rider, lower for a more aggressive rider.

He’ll dangle a plumb bob — a pointy weight on a string — from the front of the cyclist’s knee at just the right spot in the pedal stroke, to “make sure you have more weight on your rear end and less on your hands,” he says.

The casual cyclist who rides a hybrid may only need a few quick adjustments. But for serious riders on road bikes, “you’re stuck on the thing for hours,” Palmer says. “You want it to be pretty precise.”

A “basic” bike fit, which takes 15 to 30 minutes, comes with all new bike purchases. The “full” fit lasts an hour or two and costs $150 for a road bike. 

HOW HE GOT THE JOB: After 25 years as an auto dealership service manager and mechanic, Palmer downshifted from four wheels to two.

He began selling bikes at Spokes, Etc. 17 years ago, and customers would sometimes return to the shop complaining about aches and pains. Palmer decided to learn how to match bikes with people’s build, flexibility and riding style and make adjustments for each rider.

In 1999 Palmer earned his first certification through Serotta Fit School’s weeklong bike-fitting training program, which has since closed. He learned things such as how to calculate the ideal saddle height and what kind of arch supports might be needed for a rider whose knees cave in. “It was literally from 8 in the morning until about 6 at night, and it was work,” he says.

WHO WOULD WANT THIS JOB: If you love bikes, like to tinker with tools and are good with people, then becoming a bike fitter might be the right fit for you.

What keeps Palmer going is “just a real passion for biking.” His goal is simple: for his customers to “go out and do 20 miles or 200 miles and say, ‘That felt great!’ ” he says.

HOW YOU CAN GET THIS JOB: Most fit schools only admit people who currently work in a bike shop. Some programs are open to the general public, such as Fit Kit, which offers one- and three-day courses in Baltimore in the spring.

These programs can be pricey, so a smart option might be to start working at a bike shop that offers fitting services. Many of those shops will pay for employees to train at the top bike-fit schools around the country.

Palmer continues to rack up certifications from well-known fit schools such as Slow Twitch and Specialized.

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