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.