It was about 27 years ago when I bought my very first road-bike so I could take a run at the Ironman Triathlon in Kona. I can still remember when I bought the bike the exact method that was used to ensure the bike would fit me. The salesman had me straddle the bike with my feet flat on the floor and then checked for clearance between me and the top tube of the bike. There was a couple of inches of clearance so the verdict was considered a “perfect fit.”
Well, my introduction into the world of road biking began and from almost the very beginning I hurt pretty well everywhere. Of course the further I biked, the worse I hurt. My hands, knees, neck, back, and a crotch that went numb became my badges of honor. I just assumed this was a normal part of being a road warrior of the biking fraternity.
It’s hard to believe, but things even got worse for me when the very first “aero-bars” were introduced into the market-place as the sport of triathlon began to pick up steam. My back and neck might have hurt before, but now it became a nightmare and I adopted the mindset that biking was not meant to be fun and was just something I had to endure if I wanted to be a triathlete–especially an Ironman.
Boy, was I wrong.
As the years passed and more and more triathletes hit the road on their increasingly more expensive tri-bikes, people who really knew about bikes began to realize the terrible body position so many triathletes were enduring on every single ride. Here they were going to their doctors and physiotherapists, massage therapists, and witch doctors for help, when all that was needed was re-positioning on their bike in order to alleviate the pain and enhance their over-all biking performance– by a huge margin in some cases.
It might cost a bit these days to go to your local bike shop professional and get properly fitted to your bike, but for anyone who is intent on spending hours on their bike in order to develop the skill and conditioning to take on triathlons, the investment is well worth it. In this day and age, any reputable bike shop should offer that service to you when you purchase a bike from them, and I don’t just mean standing over the top tube to see if there is a few inches of clearance. It should involve tweaking your bike so it fits “your” body frame followed closely by analyzing your body position to improve the efficiency of every single pedal stroke.
Everyone is built differently and that’s why it’s simply not enough to accept “well this frame seems to fit you.” Your body weight, the length of your arms and legs, gender, and many other factors all come into play and have to be considered when you are being fit for a bike.
If you go into the aero position on your bike and are all “scrunched up” you will not be cycling with efficiency and most likely will not be using all the big muscle groups of your legs to best advantage. Plus, you will hurt all over during and after you go on rides that might require you to be on that bike for hours. It’s really no different if you are stretching your leg way too much at the bottom of the pedal stroke. There is definitely a happy medium between over-reaching on every down stroke and being too cramped, and that’s why you let a professional find that sweet spot for you.
If it’s done properly, the adjustments will be made to “your bike” to fit your particular body-type and frame. The bike seat can be moved forward or back, or raised or lowered, and the height of the handlebars can bars can be altered. It might involve putting a longer or shorter stem in the handle-bars. Even the pedal crank might have to be replaced. A pro will make adjustments by mere mileometers in some cases that will eventually make you and your bike perform as one unit. Also, the days of tilting seats back and forth to alleviate crotch pain or numbness are long gone. Now there are specific saddles for men and women and many cyclists seem to be unaware of that.
If the fitting is done properly, it will be obvious the very first time you get back in the saddle and out on the road. First of all the comfort level should increase dramatically and the every single cycling stroke will be smoother and in sync. Many cyclists are actually quite shocked at just how much smoother and faster they can ride without working any harder than they did before their bike was properly fitted. Equally important for triathletes is being comfortable and efficient in the “aero” position. It doesn’t really matter what your ability is as a cyclist or triathlete, being in the perfect aero position on your bike will translate into putting out far less effort on the bike course and making the transition to the run far less painful.
Whether you are getting ready for your very first Olympic Distance triathlon, or getting ready to tackle the Ironman, a properly fitting bike will make those training rides much more enjoyable and productive and could very well be the key to achieving your goals on race day.