Saturday, January 21, 2012

get back on that horse and ride

Bike fitting can be a frustrating experience. Bike shops provide a range of initial fittings when you purchase a bike—some more skilled than others, and different shops rely on varying fitting equipment sophistication. Then, after you spend some time on your bike, you wonder if you need adjustments. “If I move forward/back, up/down, and lower my bars I can discover more watts, get ‘more aero,’ or just finally get comfortable?”

At this point, I have had the range of fit experiences. With my first road bike, I put my fit in the hands of someone that I did not trust (of course I had no idea what was “typical” at that point). A plumb bob and two TV antenna-looking things, some sweat, minor adjustments, and I was on the road. And, I rode. I didn’t know what to expect and didn’t know why a fit was actually necessary. I just rode.

Replaced my seatpost, added some aerobars, and did what I “thought” was best based on my experience (none). Then, a year later, I added my tri bike to the arsenal. A more experienced fitter at the shop, and I felt relatively comfortable. After a solid time trial, I felt good! Then I made changes—lowered my front end, replaced my saddle, and just rode. Another time trial six months later, and I was slower! Even though my fitness was better! Two months before collegiate nationals, and I was panicked. Time for a “real” fit. So, I finally spent some money for a professional fit. My overall experience was good. Lots of adjustments based on visual observations of my pedal stroke (and a plumb bob and angle-measuring antenna contraption again), and I felt comfortable on my bike again. I did not have any visual feedback, but assurance from my fitter that I was good to go. My time trial speed returned, and I was again confident. For over two years I kept this fit on both my road and tri bikes, and I spent a LOT of time in the saddle. More than 30 races, and 700+ hours of riding. A lot changed over that time. IT band syndrome. I threw out my back at work. After training for Ironman, I just wasn’t comfortable on my bike anymore. I watched my knees when I rode, and had a huge wiggle at the top of my pedal stroke. Time for a change.

I had done some reading on Retul bike fitting, which captured my interest—a computer tracking joint movements; no plumb bob or antenna-outfitted protractor. Instant, visual results. No, it is not cheap. But for the sake of my knees, back, and race results, it was finally time to go for it. I discussed fitting with my long-time coach and recently-certified retul-er, Brian Grasky, and we decided that it was time to go for it.

The fitting started with some background information. Flexibility tests, discussion of issues I had. This included my minor aches and pains as well as my scoliosis (one of the not-so-great genetic gifts I received). Then, time to get going. Onto the tri bike, and fitted with the Retul goodies. Velcro dots at each joint.

I started riding, and Brian slowly increased resistance on the trainer. The software tracks movement of each joint and automatically calculates angles. Pivot 180 degrees on the rotating platform, and do it on the other side. Then, 30 seconds later, Brian and I are looking at the results on the computer. Not only angles, but 3D knee tracking. Seat fore-aft adjustments. Seat height adjustments. Aerobar width. Do it again, and then look at the results again. Height is barely off (talking a couple millimeters), which was apparently unacceptable J Adjust, and more pedaling. Height is good. Now, cleat rotation—something none of my other fitters had thought of. Right foot pigeon-toed. Left foot splayed out. Ride again, and see the results. Seat post rotation (what?!). I was able to see my before-after knee tracking and the drastic improvements on the spot. More minor adjustments, optimizing saddle height for leg-length differences (and a former ankle injury that Brian detected and we discussed), and I was good to go!

Now, it is one thing to have faith in your fitter. It is another to have faith in your fitter AND be able to see your results right away, and actually have the data explained to you. I am a data nerd, so I appreciate that :) Good stuff.

Switched to the road bike, and did it all again. As a final step, Brian digitized all of the contact points on both bikes using the Retul remote (Zinn). The software creates (and stores) all of the fit coordinates. I left the Grasky Endurance Performance Center feeling confident in my fit, and ready to ride.

Months have passed, and I had a little hiatus due to my nerve issues following a DNF at Barn Burner—on my mountain bike. But now, I’m back at it. I had some accidental saddle movements, but an email later, Brian sent my fit coordinates and I was able to get it right. I still have some back issues that I am working out with my chiropractor (and I need to up my concentration on core work). BUT the big change is in the smoothness of my pedal stroke. No hesitation at the top of my cycle, and I just feel the change in power. I have not had any knee issues yet, so I am keeping the fingers crossed.

For now, I am working on getting my fitness back. This means a lot of riding time, and I am enjoying the quality time on both bikes with my new fits. Very soon, I will be racing again. And then, the proof will be in my results. We shall see!

After four and a half years of training and racing, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot be trusted to fit myself. Tinkering left me with slower times, aches and pains, and general frustration. After finally taking the leap to Retul fitting, I would recommend it to anyone that wants to make sure their training translates to faster times, and that they don’t injure themselves in the process. No, it is not the cheapest way to go. But being able to instantly see, not just feel, the results was worth it for me! I do have one regret, though—I should have gotten Retul’d on my mountain bike. Probably would have prevented my DNF at Barn Burner…

If you’re interested in Retul, check out the Grasky Endurance page for more info!

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