Back in the Saddle Again – Bike Fit Revisit

IMG_3176Well, it’s been about 3 weeks of consistent riding since I jumped back in the saddle again after a long layoff.  Actually, in one of those “life gets in the way” moments, I was trying to figure out how I was going to maintain my consistency when I had a vacation week:  which included dropping my daughter off at summer camp in the San Jacinto Mountains plus attend a remote cub scout camp with my son in East San Diego County.  Although I do mostly ride road, the only way I was going to get some miles in was to bring a knobby tire bike!  So I brought along the BMC CX01 demo cyclocross bike that you may have seen at the shop.  A ‘cross bike is a popular choice for those who have done our “Strade Marroni” shop rides which includes a mix of pavement and dirt.  It was a nice change of pace to ride off-road.   Although I was only able to get in about 37 miles, there was hardly anything flat and it was mostly dirt, which means expending more energy controlling your bike on the rutted and oftentimes sandy trails.  So all in all, I was satisfied with my accomplishment for the week!

Once I got back home, I knew it was time to revisit my bike fit.  It’s been a couple years since Barrett Brauer, ARB’s fit specialist in our SoCal Endurance Lab gave me a Retul fit.  I have mostly been riding the same model bike, Pinarello’s Dogma, during that time so I’ve kept the same setup since then.  However, after the long layoff, my body was giving me signals that I was perhaps in too aggressive a position.  Also, as my bike gets rented out from time to time, the saddle height gets adjusted and when I put it back, I had experimented going up a little because I thought I needed a little more knee extension.  My body type is such that I’m more leggy – in other words, I have a slightly shorter torso compared to longer legs.  Going up on my saddle was giving me even more of a drop from saddle to handlebar, and this wasn’t good for my finicky lower back.

A new bike fit was also a good opportunity for me to get into a new pair of shoes since I had worn out my previous pair.  It was time for me to try the new Shimano R321.  What I really like about these (as well as the Shimano RP9 – one model below) is that they are meant to be custom-molded to your own foot.  The shoes are heated in the Shimano oven for a couple minutes and then placed on your feet.  With shoes on, you place your feet in a plastic covering and a pump essentially “vacuum-wraps” your shoes so the upper conforms to your foot.  Once this is complete, the shoes cool and you can actually see how the shoe is now patterned after your own foot!  Barrett then took the time to accurately place the cleats on the shoe based on the location of my metatarsal bones.

Now it was time to see if I should make some changes since my last bike fit.  Even though I plan to stay on my Pinarello Dogma F8, we opted to go with what we call our “Bike Finder Fit.”  This means that instead of doing the fit process on my own Pinarello bike, I was put on our recently upgraded automated size cycle by Purely Custom (formerly Guru DFU).  This is kind of like starting with a blank slate.  If you are in the market for a new bike, once the fit is completed, we’ll find the 3 to 5 bike brand/model/sizes that fit you best.  For example, one manufacturer’s size 56 in a given model may be an ideal fit for you.  But another manufacturer’s size 54 in a certain model may also fit you really well.  That’s why you can never just say, “I ride a size 56.”  It really depends on each manufacturer’s bike geometry.  Once we find the 3 to 5 bikes that are a really good match for you in terms of fit, then it comes down to what you like in terms of the bike’s riding characteristics.  Are you looking for something stiff and fast or maybe something a little more forgiving and compliant?

IMG_3190Before jumping on the size cycle, Barrett conducted a body analysis to test my flexibility as well as look for any imbalances and rotational/alignment issues.  This gives him an idea of what type of position will best suit you on the bike.  Barrett utilized the Retul 3D motion capture tool to measure the angles of my body as I was pedaling the size cycle.  This is what we call a dynamic fit, as opposed to a static fit.  In a static or “basic” fit, you are not actually pedaling your bike while being measured.  And the measurement tools are not as precise in a static fit.  An impressive amount of body angle data is generated after a few short pedaling sessions.  And the platform was rotated so that angles on both sides of my body were measured.  As Barrett looked at the numbers, he wanted to see if anything in particular jumped outside the typical normative ranges.  However, even if you are outside a normative range, it does not automatically mean an adjustment is warranted.  This is where Barrett works with each person as an individual, taking into account their unique body type, previous injuries or problem areas, and riding goals.  The main problem area for me is lower back discomfort.  Part of this stems from a fractured vertebra I sustained about 12 years ago.  The other part is that I am just getting older and stiffer and need to improve my flexibility!  This is where an off-the-bike core conditioning and flexibility routine could really help – a topic for another blog post!

Barrett started my fit position to match exactly how I was currently riding my Pinarello Dogma F8.  Right away, he could see that I was on the very edge of the normative range for knee extension. IMG_3201  This as a result of me increasing the saddle height ever so slightly.  So, as I was pedaling the size cycle, he lowered the saddle.  I noticed the difference immediately.  This brought me back within normative ranges AND felt great.  Noticing that I still had a significant amount of saddle to handlebar drop and that I was putting a bit too much weight on my hands, Barrett raised the handlebars slightly.  This also made a positive difference.  Fortunately, I have a little room left on my bike’s steerer tube to raise my bar slightly and this will no doubt help my lower back on those longer rides.  My saddle fore-aft position was already solid and in the end I only needed a few small adjustments but they made a noticeable difference.  Some fit sessions will require more back & forth than others.    Barrett will take his time and make sure that each adjustment made works for that particular client.  There is never one prescribed fit, take it or leave it.  It’s always a collaboration.

I am really looking forward to taking my new fit out onto the road.  After all, that will be the ultimate test.  And if for some reason something doesn’t feel right, Barrett always offers a complimentary follow up fit session to make any necessary tweaks.  As I ride more and improve my flexibility, then at some point I could likely get into a more aggressive race-oriented position.  This would make me more aerodynamic and faster.  Something to visit down the road.  But next up for me is to evaluate my current fitness level and this means a visit to Saul Blau, our SoCal Endurance Lab’s Exercise Physiologist.  Stay tuned!

 

Saddle Demo at ARB Cyclery

You are probably excited when getting a new carbon bar, or even a new carbon stem. But there doesn’t seem to much love for our old friend the saddle. For many people, bicycle saddles are just ‘there’. They exist for you to sit on so you can ride your bike. Even with the new carbon shelled and railed saddles, they just don’t seem to generate the same level of excitement as other components. More often than not, people use whatever saddle comes with the bike they purchase. If it’s initially a bit uncomfortable, they attribute it to a “break-in period”. This is true in some cases, but that doesn’t change the shape or the cutouts of the saddle which are areas that often play a more important role in saddle comfort than padding density. It’s like your desk chair. It usually isn’t the most comfortable thing to sit on, but you just deal with it. When you start thinking about it, why should you just “deal with it”? You spend so much time in it, it would be a worthy investment to make sure you aren’t hurting yourself.

ARB Cyclery Saddle Demo
ARB Cyclery Saddle Demo

Other times, it seems like I overhear people saying that they chose their saddle because they liked the way it looked or the color matched their bike better than other saddle options. OK, that might just be me. But the more I find myself riding, the more importance I place on my comfort instead of aesthetics. It is common to fall into the trap of getting a saddle for a great price without taking comfort into consideration. The mentality is, “if I can save some money on that saddle, surely I can deal with any discomfort it will bring”.

It’s understandable. Saddles aren’t cheap, and you might just have to deal with the saddle you buy if you’ve spent a good amount on it. Similar to shoes, you don’t really know how it will work out for you until you actually use it. So when you think about it, is that deal actually worth it in the long run? Fortunately, we have a saddle demo program right here at ARB Cyclery! As mentioned in a previous blog, I came from riding a full carbon saddle with no padding. It looked really slick and catered to my desire for weight reduction. It was quite literally a pain in my ass. I knew I had to switch to something else after going on rides with the other guys from the shop, but I had no idea where to start. Being on the small side, the only thing I was sure of was the need for a narrow saddle. But in today’s saddle market with hundreds, if not thousands, of options, picking a new saddle is quite a daunting task. I don’t like committing to a purchase of an item I don’t know much about, and reading the hundreds of subjective reviews online were doing nothing for me. It just made things even more confusing.

Utilizing the saddle demo program allowed me to test multiple saddles. I figured out that I was more comfortable on a saddle with a channel. I figured out I needed a medium amount of padding. I figured out how much flex I preferred in the saddle shell. Prior to testing out the actual saddles, I had my eye on the Selle Italia SLR saddle simply because of the look. Then I actually tried it out, and decided there were better options for me. I finally ended up choosing the Fizik Antares VS, and it is by far the best fit for me. I’ve done a metric century on this saddle and my rear end was thankful. And as a bonus, even though I put aesthetics behind comfort this time around, it looks damn fine. I was also pretty close to going with the new Brooks C15 saddle, which looked and felt great. It’s styling is certainly a very attractive feature, and it felt more comfortable than it looked. The rivets add a level of class to it that would have matched my titanium frame quite well, but the feel of the Antares came out on top.

My Fizik Antares VS with carbon rails
My Fizik Antares VS with carbon rails

Everyone is going to be different when it comes to saddle. There is only so much advice that we can give you, and a recommendation from me may not do it for you. The best thing you can do is to come in yourself and demo new saddles! If you mention this blog post when you come in for a saddle demo, you will also receive a Zjay’s Saddle Sore Soother (while supplies last)! We want to make sure you have a comfortable experience. Your butt will thank you for it.

 

Titanium Bikes. They’re Something Special.

There is a certain feeling of excitement that you get when you are searching for your next bike. But sometimes, you might not even know you’re on the search for a new bike. Imagine yourself, innocently scrolling through your Instagram or Facebook feed trying to find out what your friends have been up to. Then, out of nowhere, BOOM. You get hit in the face with the nicest looking bike you’ve ever laid your eyes on. You try and scroll past it and pretend that your heart rate hasn’t raised. Deep down, you already know it’s too late. One Google search, and before you realize it, you’ve spent the entire night watching YouTube reviews on the bike, hoping for some form of negative criticism that will steer you away from committing to the purchase. But secretly, you’re hoping to hear just how amazing it is.

FND_Chilkoot_Ultegra_01
Foundry Chilkoot Ultegra

However, once you’ve actually decided that you’re ready to make that next purchase, that is when the excitement really starts to crank up. I went through this entire experience when it came to buying my Foundry. I remember seeing a picture of a super nice, custom, titanium road bike on social media and it blew me away. Coming from a carbon bike that I had purchased without enough knowledge about fit, sizing, and geometry, I vowed to do it correctly this time. My carbon bike was super light and looked pretty darn cool, but the harshness of the ride made riding any distance over 25 miles a real chore. For me, having ridden aluminum, carbon, and steel, I knew my next bike had to be titanium. I wasn’t quite in the market for a full blown custom bike, so I kept my eye open for a company that carried stock geometry frames. I’m pretty particular on how the bike looks, and I’ve always favored slightly larger diameter tubing. When I stumbled upon the Foundry Chilkoot, it was everything I was looking for. The frame came partially painted in a simple white which I love. As an added bonus, the Foundry logo is relatively small and low-key. For me, I just wanted something that would stand out from the usual crowd of bikes, but I wanted it to do that in a more subtle manner.

IMG_3184
Closeups of the Foundry

The company offered the bike as both a complete build with Ultegra 6800, or as a frameset. Because I wanted to compare how the titanium bike rode vs my carbon bike, I decided to go with the frameset so I could swap all the parts over. This way,  I had a more realistic comparison between the two frames’ riding characteristics. Being the aesthetic nut that I am, ordering the frameset only also allowed me to have white cable housing instead of stock black thanks to the Pro Build done here at ARB Cyclery.

While I kept the same SRAM groupset and wheels, I ended up making the switch to a full Enve cockpit to match the Enve fork that comes with the frame. Granted, this doesn’t make it a perfect comparison to my old bike, so keep that in mind. Watching the bike being built in the stand gave me the same feeling of excitement that I had when when I was a kid on Christmas Eve. The sense of giddiness you get on new bike day is unforgettable.

The first ride I had was amazing. I know there is a lot of marketing speak behind the handling characteristics of different frame materials. You hear things like “aluminum is harsh” and “titanium is whippy”. Whippy? That doesn’t mean anything to me. Based on my personal experiences of my bike, I can say that one characteristic of titanium frames is it’s dampening capabilities. I’ve ridden both bikes on the same stretch of road, and there is a noticeable difference in road feel between the two. On my carbon bike, I can feel the texture of the road much more than I can on my Foundry. Everything feels softer, and the little vibrations I could feel on my carbon bike were gone. My titanium bike is comfortable. I don’t put out enough power to comment much on power transfer or frame flex, but I certainly didn’t feel like there is a loss of power. As a long term bike, for me, this bike is perfect. Its comfort really stands out on rides longer than 25 miles, and I don’t have to worry about things like corrosion or about cracking my frame in the event of a crash. Riding a titanium really is something special. It is special in the way it rides, and it is special because it is different from most of the bikes out on the roads.

Mosaic
Our store manager’s custom Mosaic being built!

Now, for those of you who are truly looking to get a one-of-a-kind bike, you can go with the custom route and get a bike made just for you. No more trying to match a frame to your needs. Instead, your needs dictate the frame that you will get. ARB Cyclery is proud to announce that we are now a Mosaic Cycles dealer! Mosaic offers fully custom bikes tailored to the bike that suits your need! Paired with bike fitting that we provide here at the shop, you’ll end up with a titanium beast that was designed just for you. Receiving your Mosaic will certainly have you feeling like you once did on Christmas Eve. If one thing is for sure, it’s that a titanium bike is worth buying.

Foot Pain and Cycling – Searching for Happy Feet (Part 1)

injury feetAs an activity, cycling has a few immediate paradoxes.  If our body, through eons of adaptation is most ideally suited to walking and, some would argue, running, why is the physical breakdown of people’s lower extremities so commonplace – even inevitable?  Cycling is often seen as a palliative to the degenerative onslaught of the abuse of running and walking.  It’s often used as therapy to facilitate healing with lower body injuries or major surgery. But cycling is an inherently unnatural act.  Put simply, we didn’t evolve to apply forces in our legs in a perfectly round and symmetrical pattern, repeated thousands of times.  Somehow, however, it works.  It is a testament to the body’s ability to adapt to multivariate activities that cyclists can push themselves to repeat this unnatural act long past the duration that would cause us to break down completely when running.  Contemplate for a moment the number of pedal revolutions it would take to complete the Race Across America.

Still, cycling has a number of characteristics that act to create a pretty common pattern of pain and injury among serious and recreational cyclists.  Identifying the patterns and causes – and solutions – is an ongoing challenge, in part, because the physical loads that cycling applies to the body really haven’t been studied to the degree that other physical activities have.  A persistent puzzle to me as a bike fitter is the recurring issue of foot pain or foot related numbness.

A cursory search on the internet using some keywords related to foot pain and cycling will typically yield an equally cursory explanation in some bicycling blog magazine and almost prosaic solutions involving loosening the straps to your cycling shoes.  For someone who deals with this recurring and debilitating issue, there’s just not a lot out there.  And for me, there really isn’t a set of bike fitting best practices that address foot pain.  So, as is so often the case, I have to do a little detective work:  ask questions, watch them pedal, look at their shoes, look at their feet, check the amount of varus or valgus of the forefoot, check the level of arch support or ankle pronation while standing, check their current cleat position relative to their metatarsals…and scratch my head a lot.  Often it can be broken down into a systematic and thoughtfully implemented trial and error process to achieve the best results.  But in that process, I’ve made a number of observations.

Another thing about cycling that makes it so different from walking or running is the foot requirements.  Historically, our hunter gatherer nomadic selves would walk up and down and across uneven and rocky terrain.  No pavement back in prehistory.  As such, our foot and ankle is  called upon to do a lot of things when we walk and run.  It moves around a lot. It adjusts to camber angle and general unevenness of the rough ground we walk on.  The arch will stretch and elongate and subsequently rebound with each foot strike – acting as a natural shock absorber.  Our big toe will flex and, working in conjunction with the rest of the foot and lower leg, help propel us forward.

In cycling, none of that is relevant.  We would prefer that the foot doesn’t move at all.  In fact, all the important things that a foot naturally does, including acting as a shock absorber and moving about to provide stability in an unstable world to our unstable bi-pedal gait (humans are really the only creature that exclusively walks on just two legs, and with our heavy brain and high center of gravity, we have to work a little harder to stay upright) really are a hindrance to effective cycling.  The foot is best when it is stable and stationary, and the lower leg, rather than being a propulsive unit, is better when it contracts isometrically to provide stability for the big muscle groups – the quads and glutes – that are the real prime movers in cycling biomechanics.  Anything other than a stable shoe pedal interface that minimizes what our foot naturally wants to do creates power leakage – an inefficiency in an activity that is, by most measures, extremely efficient.

So, clipless pedals are meant to provide a stable and efficient connection to the lever that powers the cranks, and shoes, like bikes, have carbon fiber soles that are lighter, stiffer and all the rest.  But applying a static system to a foot and lower limb system creates it’s own issues.  For one, there are pressure hotspots.  We have a lot of foot variability in terms of shape, the thickness of fat pads, the amount of natural arch support we have and the natural movement of our forefoot that we call varus.  I would generally just characterize the set of problems, including pain and hot spots that derive from the static nature of pedals and shoes and cycling in general as Static Foot Problems.  Here are few examples and solutions from some actual fit sessions I’ve had:

PAIN ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE FOOT CLOSER TO THE MID-FOOT AREA.

Squelette_pied_dorsale (FF)_en
Tuberosity of the fifth metatarsal diagram.

It wasn’t so much as pain on the sole, but on that outside edge which corresponded with a wider than normal tuberosity of the fifth metatarsal.

What was the solution?  Well, firstly, this seems like it is a no-brainer, but just getting the right shoes is the first step in maximizing your enjoyment of the sport.  If you have wide feet, don’t get Sidis.  The Giro Empire, as cool and as light as it is, is probably not your best choice.  My default suggestion for those with wider feet for whom this could be a problem are Shimano shoes. A good fitter or retailer should be able to direct you to the appropriate shoe for your foot width.  I wish there was a better system for matching foot width and shape to shoe last.  Alas, maybe I need to invent something.

The second solution was to get this device that looks faintly menacing and almost Medieval and stretch out the upper in just that area that is causing pressure.  This can work, but the device itself works better on traditional leather shoes.  Cycling shoe uppers are designed to resist stretching and hold their shape, so if you try to use it, caveat emptor.

A DULL ACHE AND BURNING SENSATION THAT STARTS UNDER THE FIFTH METATARSAL AREA.

This is where some sort of pressure mapping system for the foot to use during the cycling motion would provide the necessary objective feedback to make effective changes.  Alas, maybe I just need to invent something.  The challenge here to equalize the pressure across a broader, even section of the foot. What’s happening is that there is a hot spot under the fifth metatarsal during the power phase of the pedal stroke, due most likely to a natural forefoot varus.  I’ve had decent luck using wedges to shore up the medial side of the foot and get more pressure over the first metatarsal, but I’m reluctant to rely on wedges for various reasons, and use them sparingly if I can.  The best solution here is a combination of a cycling specific custom insole and possibly and in-the-shoe wedge to prop up that first metatarsal.

Fit First, Buy Second – Why Most Consumers Are Doing It Backwards

tour-de-france-2015 climbingAs I write, Chris Froome of Team Sky is leading an exciting 2015 Tour de France. But what I notice as a bike fitter, not suprisingly, is that each pro rider seems to be one with his bike.  This is quite the opposite of what we often see on the local Saturday morning club ride.  Those with a poor fit immediately stand out.  A new way to buy your next bike would remedy this.

I had a fit session with a client a while back for what we call our Bike or Frame Finder fit.  I worked with him for about two and a half hours, set him up on the automated “DFU” fit machine — an impressive motorized fit bike — and made various adjustments based on multiple Retul motion capture scans.  Based on those scans and several questions and feedback from the client we collaboratively found a position that felt great. I then went through and sorted, based on the ideal fit we settled on, a selection of bikes based on manufacturer, size and stem/spacer combination that matched up with those optimal fit coordinates. It was a deliberate and thorough process that yielded an ideal result.  I emailed him the report, but surprisingly never heard back from him.

Read more…

Bike Fit – Don’t Set It & Forget It

abe-lincoln-riding-bike-with-penny-wheelsWe are now well on our way into the second month of the new year.  Typically, at this point, those New Year’s fitness resolutions have either been discarded to the slag heap of wishful thinking, or you’re actually making some headway, have continued to rack up some miles and are looking to make additional improvements.  Now is a good opportunity to talk about and contemplate some tweaks or changes to your bike fit.

Today is also Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.  Abraham Lincoln is perhaps my favorite human being of all time. He is that rare figure in history who achieved greatness, left the world better and has become a revered figure, not because of the typical traits of aggression, force of will or arrogance, but through wisdom, thoughtfulness and humility. I find that there’s not any question or conundrum that can’t be improved upon by asking, “What would Lincoln do?”  Is there a contemporary social issue or intractable political impasse?  What would Lincoln do?  That person just cut me off on the freeway.  Should I get irate and respond with an obscene gesture?  What would Lincoln do?

Read more…

SoCal Endurance Lab Now Offers Cleat Fit Service

That’s Right! You no longer have to purchase an entire bike fit to get your cleats to better suit your needs as a rider.
The SoCal Endurance Lab is Orange County’s premier facility for evaluating and improving endurance athlete performance, with a primary focus on cycling and triathlon.

A bike fitting is just one of the services that the Endurance Lab provides. The other two services are coaching (which you can read about here) and VO2/Fitness Testing. We have done a five-part video series explaining this process — here is the first one.

The Lab offers four types of fits for someone who has an existing bike, as well as those who buy a bike from ARB. Our fits can be done on any type of bike including road, mountain, triathlon/time trial, cyclocross, commuter/hybrid and touring.

You can read more about these different services on our website www.aroadbike4u.com or by clicking HERE.

If you buy a pair of cleats (worth $225 or more) through the month of September you will receive a complimentary cleat fit! (A $75 value!)

Come in to A Road Bike 4U to see all the sidi-five-carbon-composite-mega-road-shoestyles we have to offer, including the Sidi Five Carbon pictured in this post. We can’t wait to help you find the best cleats to meet your needs, and ensure they fit for you too.

We are located at the corner of Red Hill Ave. and Main St. in Irvine, CA.
We look forward to seeing you soon!