Well, 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?
Before 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. 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!