A proper fit.

On Wednesday night I spent 3 hours with the good folks down at CycleLife USA in Georgetown.  And not just for the smoothies and good company (although I did enjoy both).  This little pre-Valentine’s Day date was with the most romantic thing a girl can imagine…

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a professional bike fit!

It is no secret that being properly fit to your bike is a number one priority for any triathlete.  I love my bike, but I must confess I bought her on the cheap without much awareness or concern of how she fit.  At the time I wasn’t sure I was going to stick with the triathlon thing, so I figured as long as I could pedal hard and get somewhere on her, I’d be fine.

Here we are several years later and I’m hooked on triathlon.  But the longer I stay in the sport and the longer the distances I cover, the more aches and pains keep creeping in.  Long rides cause me serious neck, shoulder, and back pain.  Sometimes I wake up the the morning after a ride unable to turn my head to the right without sharp shooting pain up the right side of my spine.  The last year or so I’ve also had a number of sharp knee pains, especially in my left knee, and my knees always feel tender the day after a ride.  Even after 6+ years of running, I never had knee problems until I added biking into the mix.

I figured that all that ish could only be caused by one thing: riding a properly sized or fit bike.  I’m still not ready to commit enough to drop 4 figures on a new fancy bike, nor was I convinced that was necessary.  But after lots of expert advice, I decided to bite the bullet and spend a fairly big chunk of change on a professional fit.

I heard fantastic things about the fitters at CycleLife, so that’s where I headed.  When I first arrived, fitters Gonzalo and Amanda measured my feet, legs, back, and the angles of them all in various positions.  They put me through all sorts of flexibility and movement tests to determine exactly my range of motion and my body’s natural alignment.

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Next, they put me on my old bike, in all the old positions, hooked me up to all sorts of super old school sci fi style electrodes so I could pretend to be a badass cylon, and then videotaped me riding on the trainer to analyze my form and positioning.

Let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, there is a certain moment of truth when you first see an image of yourself squeezed into your bike shorts, hunched over on a trainer.  Blech.

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But it got the job done.  Based on the video’s revelations, Gonzalo and Amanda made a number of adjustments to my saddle and handlebar positioning.  I tried again, we video’d again.  We made more changes.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Finally, we got to a place that I felt comfortable and powerful, and it was time to record that position for prosperity.

The very cool thing about CycleLife is that they use Retul technology to measure your specs down to the millimeter.  This is super accurate and avoids human error problems.  Plus, since everything is recorded electronically, it is saved in CycleLife’s computer so you don’t have to go through the whole rigmarole all over again if you buy a new bike or if something happens to your bike such that you need a readjustment.  They even emailed me my retul report so I have my own record of all of my measurements.

What I learned from this experience is that my saddle was way too low.  Like WAYYY too low.  This was very likely the cause of my knee pain.  We moved it way up and switched out for a saddle that better fit my bum.

I also learned that my handlebars were excessively tipping me forward, causing me to tense way too much in my already precarious neck and shoulders.  Now with slightly narrower, differently angled handlebars, I will hopefully be in a much better riding position.  We also installed clip-on aerobars on the new handlebars, and made several adjustments until we got them positioned in the right place to balance comfort and aerodynamics.  I’m super excited to start experimenting with riding aero!

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All of these changes should also help me with power and efficiency on the bike.  My low saddle was really impinging on my ability to generate power and especially to climb hills…a skill that will be absolutely paramount for IMLP.  And the constant upper back and neck pain was causing me ALL sorts of problems.

I don’t have my bike back yet – we had to order cheaper aluminum versions of the saddle and handlebars since they weren’t in stock at the shop (I felt no need to spend the extra hundreds of $$ on carbon everything).  But come Tuesday, all should be in and installed, and I’ll be ready to hit the road (or at least the trainer) on a new and improved Rio!

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