Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Mighty Transformation

There is a genuine talent, a form of art-science, that very few people have mastered. It takes precision, patience, and an eye for detail. It takes an understanding of angles, physics, and aerodynamics ~ as well as an understanding of the goals and needs of an individual cyclist. To do this well one must be a problem solver and have a good understanding of anatomy and kinesiology. So what am I writing about? I am writing about the art of a professional bike fitting.

I have had my road bike for about three years. I obtained it new, but purchased it from a store that specialized in mountain bikes. At the time I didn't think that mattered. Looking back, I wish I had done more research. I love my bike, but what I haven't loved is the way it has fit me for the past three years. Upon purchase I was given a "fitting", but really what that entailed was a 5-10 minute seat and handle bar adjustment and a quick session on how to change the gears. I didn't know better, and I really didn't know what I wanted when I bought my first bike. My only desire was to have a pretty bike to ride that I wouldn't want to replace in six months. I decided upon a full carbon bike mostly because it sounded cool and I felt that if I spent good money on a frame I could always upgrade the components later on. I chose a road bike because I didn't know at the time how much I would love triathlon, and I thought it would be more versatile. I'm not sure what I would do if I could do it over, or if I was asked to give a newbie advice on purchasing a bike. No one starting out has any idea how addictive the sport is... or how expensive it is. Looking back, I think it was still a good idea to get a road bike (even though my next bike will definitely be a tri bike). I didn't go wrong in the bike I chose. Where I went wrong was never having it professionally fit to me.

Since the early days of riding I have been plagued with shoulder pain, neck pain, one-sided crotch pain, and the occasional back issue. Initially I passed it off as the normal aches and pains of getting used to riding, being out of shape, and poor technique. I'm not saying that all of that didn't contribute to my problem, but I knew that my bike just didn't feel right under me. Short on cash and with so many "things" I felt I needed to purchase just to function in the sport, I didn't feel I was ready to spend the money on something that to me at the time seemed like having a pair of slacks altered. One of those chances to spend money on something that was more frivolous than necessary. So instead I improvised. I added my own aerobars and I replaced my saddle. I made some adjustments to my seat height. I called upon friends and mentors to give me recommendations, and through all of this I did manage to get some improvement in my comfort.

This season I have taken a new approach to training. It's my third year doing triathlons. I'm still relatively new, but experienced enough to start using my brain. I'm trying to be smarter about things. I'm trying to listen to my body. After I injured my shoulder a few months ago (in a completely non-sports-related activity) I am more aware of my body position and technique in all three disciplines. When I feel my shoulder twinge, I think hard about what I'm doing and how I'm doing it. I have plans for some long races over the next two years and I really want to avoid injury. This past week after having just gotten a cortisone shot in my shoulder and starting to feel better, I found that again I irritated my shoulder with a light two hour ride. I decided it was time to do something about it. I got some recommendations from my coach and teammates and picked up the phone to call Mark Miller (337.981.7686) at Precision Bikes in Lafayette, LA for a fitting.

In about an hour he was able to assess my position, modify my bike, correct the cleats on my shoes, and make me not only more comfortable but more aerodynamic. I immediately felt an improvement in my position and less stress on my shoulder, neck, and back. I am still waiting to try out my bike on a long ride, but if my initial reaction is accurate, I think I am on the way to riding with much less discomfort. I also feel like my new position will maximize my efficiency on the bike and make me faster.


This picture was taken before the fitting began. Notice how far forward I am on the bike, how my shoulders almost touch my ears, my neck is missing, and all my weight is being pushed back into my shoulder joints from my elbows. I'm upright with a big curve in my back, and my legs are in a poor position to give me much power. What did this position do for me? It gave me awful cramping spasms in my right shoulder and neck and throughout my shoulder blades. After long rides my low back would be miserable and my nether-regions would be chaffed on one side.

Now look at my position post-fitting. My elbows are almost at 90 degrees to my shoulders. I actually have a neck now and my shoulders aren't going up to my ears. The angle of my back is flatter and lower. My knee is in a position to give me power unlike in the first picture. So what adjustments did Mark have to make to do this? Well for one, he replaced my seat post with one that brought me more forward (now I will be selling my full carbon 31.5 diameter post if anyone is interested). He also made adjustments to the front bars and added a few components to adjust their height and position. A few minor changes to my cleats, aerobars, and forearm pads and his work was done. For now. I will return in about 200 miles to see if we can make me a little lower to make me more aerodynamic.

I am so eager to get out and ride to feel the difference. I know I will have new aches and pains for a while as I adjust to this new position, but I think it will be a positive change. Just looking at the before and after pictures I feel like strain will be reduced on my body and I will be a more effective cyclist.

Why am I posting all of this? Well, I have been training with many of you for the past three years, and most of us started from the same place. I figure if this makes a big difference for me, then the rest of you may want to consider it at some point too.

See you at the split. But watch out. I just may be passing you soon.