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!

 

Titanium Bikes. They’re Something Special.

Mosaic

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.

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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.

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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.

Making Sure Your Shifter Cables Don’t Destroy Your Levers

“Who knows what evils lurk in the heart of your bike’s shifting??? ARB Cyclery DOES!!” – Bruce B. the mechanic 2/25/2016Crash

When it comes to maintaining your bike, too often, out-of-sight means out-of-mind. I’ve seen this happen too many times before. Many people are super happy the first few months after they get their new bike and everything works perfectly, as it should. Fast forward a few accidental drops (I never do this) and a few rides in the rain, possibly a crash or two…

Speaking of crashes, I remember when I had finally built up a carbon steed with new parts and I was itching to ride my bike all week. A buddy and I decided to take it for a quick 20 mile spin to test it out. *Cue lens flare, dramatic overhead camera angle, and epic soundtrack. It was great. New bike day is ALWAYS great. However, just 3 miles away from home, it happened. I took a turn too hard trying to push my bike to the limit, dragged the brakes a fraction of a second too long, and slid out on the sand that made its way onto the bike path. At that point, I knew I was falling but there was nothing I could do.  I had only one thought in my head, “Man, I hope my bike is going to be ok…”.  My friend was totally clueless, and rode off into the distance, leaving me sideways on the ground, craning my neck around for any signs of damage on my new frame.

Anyways, point is I don’t like to neglect my bike and neither should you. It’s as important to me as your family pet is to you. Yeah, my bike is like family to me. But a lot of people put in big miles on their bikes and come back from their rides exhausted. Totally understandable. It’s almost instinctive to just throw your bike in the corner before you plop down on the couch with a beer. But as time goes by, the smoothly operating machine that you loved can become a cantankerous beast. Its easy to push off a tune-up, or lubing your chain, but each time you ignore your bike you’re taking a step down the dark, dark path of bicycle neglect.

So how may you avoid the dark side you ask? This time we will focus on your bike’s derailleur cables. The newer 11 speed systems, particularly those from Shimano (Dura-Ace, Ultegra and 105) rely on a systems design approach to achieve their phenomenal performance. This approach includes re-designed cable housing and polymer coated cable wires, coupled with radically higher cable tension.

Frayed
If you’re lucky it’ll all come out with some fishing around.

The result is a shifting system that works really, really well until it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it can be with catastrophic and expensive results. Derailleur cables are made up of stranded wire and work with the shift lever to move your derailleur in the precise increments necessary to smoothly shift your bike from one gear to the next. They operate by bending back and forth the inside of your levers (out-of-sight, remember) and they begin to fail by breaking one strand at a time. As you continue to shift, more and more of these wires fray and snap resulting in either cable failure or in the worst case, lever failure. In either case your bike is out of commission. The cost of a cable is about 12 bucks, (installation is included as part of an ARB Classics level or above tune-up). If an individual lever is destroyed by a broken cable, the cost of the replacement lever can be in excess of $200.

Especially if you haven’t looked at this often overlooked critical component in more than a year, it’s really a good time to include cable replacement as part of your bike’s routine maintenance. Your bike will continue to please you with like-new performance and your wallet will thank you.

 

Redeeming Myself with a VO2 Max Test

I was always very opinionated growing up. I spent more of my time trying to explain my views to others rather than taking the time and absorbing other people’s ideas and thoughts. This attitude was amplified when my parents tried to bestow any sort of wisdom upon me. They were always talking about how eating unhealthy things will be bad for me, and how I can hurt myself if I’m not careful enough. I could not help it though. As a child, I assumed I was invincible. Needless to say, my belief that I had Wolverine’s healing powers resulted in bad habits, and overly risky activities. For example, I had the bright idea of participating in a race down the six thousand some steps of a mountain we climbed in high school. Mistakes were made that day. For years after that I had knee pain. To this day, my knees still make a popping noise if I squat down. As I grew older, I also started noticing that even the smallest of scrapes seemed to take longer to heal, and when they did, it never seemed to disappear as quickly as before. 

I have been increasingly more aware of the truth in much of the advice that I hear. For one thing, I used to be obsessed with being a weight weenie. As someone who never seems to be able to gain weight no matter how much I’m eating, it made sense to me to try and reduce as much weight off my bike as a could. While I am still partial to light components, I made the poor decision to sacrifice anything to achieve a stupidly light bike (I hit a sub-12 lb bike at one point). I never did much serious cycling at the time, so I would like to believe that my sacrifice of comfort was somewhat more justifiable than if I had put that saddle on a daily bike.

So there I am, at the rest stop on ARB’s remote ride to Temecula, which was the longest ride I’ve done on my weight weenie bike. I look down at my full carbon saddle, which saved me a glorious 179 grams, and had only one thought in my head. “Mistakes were made”. Sure, I read plenty of comments on how uncomfortable and ridiculous a saddle like that would be, but I chose to believe I knew what I was doing. While I am undoubtedly changing saddles now, a teenage me would have happily sucked up the pain and ridden the damn thing until some serious damage was done, and that area is something you really don’t want to mess with.

carbon saddle
Don’t do it. It really is that bad.
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Follow us on Instagram @arbcyclery for more awesome photos!

So suffice to say, when I was told it was a good idea to take a VO2 Max Test, I decided to take the advice. Even though I was a casual cyclist looking to start riding more regularly and seriously, my initial instinct was that a VO2 Max Test would be overkill. I was previously unfamiliar with this test as I never trained as an athlete before and I went into the test without a complete understanding of what a VO2 Max Test can do for me.

There is extensive information already out there that explains it much more scientifically than I ever could. You can even read about it on our website. But for me, the most beneficial aspect of this test is the fact that I now know how hard I need to ride to see the most gains. I never knew if I was putting too little or too much effort into my rides. Sure, it felt like I was riding really hard, but I was horrifically unfit as well. Equipped with all the data
I now have, my effort levels will not merely be a subjective guess.

By pushing you to your absolute max, the test can establish 7 different zones for you. All I really need to focus on are zones 2 and 3. It shows my power and heart rates for each of the 7 zones so that when I am riding, I can match my effort to the zone and figure out if I need to work harder. I would really only need a heart rate monitor to know my effort level. The complete test comes with much more information as well as coaching advice and data interpretation. While the test does require you to give your 100%, the information that you get out of it is so valuable. Don’t worry though, if you aren’t feeling that ambitious, you can always opt for a sub max test! While this lets you ease up a bit earlier, it still shows you your Anaerobic Threshold, and extrapolates the rest of the data.

Power Comparison
Pro Cyclists Comparison

As an added bonus, you can click on this chart on the left over here to see how you would stack up against the pros! Even though I technically should be an untrained cyclist, my data shows that I would stack up against the lower end of the Cat 5 racers. There is still hope yet for me!  And if there is hope for me, there is hope for you, but be sure to commit and book your test today!