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Triathlon Tech: The Value Of A Bike Fit

  • By Triathlete.com
  • Published Dec 8, 2010
  • Updated Dec 17, 2012 at 3:59 PM UTC

Find out why investing your time and money into a proper bike fit could be the most important thing you do heading into the 2011 season.

Written by: Mark Deterline

Finding a bike fitter who knows what he's doing is key. Photo provided by Mark Deterline.

There are so many bike fit services and tools to choose from these days, and many represent a significant investment of time and money. It might seem overwhelming, but the most intimidating thing about bike fit can be the uncertainty that surrounds it. Is it necessary and worth the money? Will it really make you faster? You’ll never know unless you explore the potential benefits, so taking that first step—no matter how small—is key.

Many bike shops offer fit services of some kind. These can be simple and are sometimes included with the purchase of a bike. Otherwise prices for basic shop fits range $40 to $150. They are often based on popular measurement practices intended to provide helpful guidelines about proper leg extension via saddle height and setback (fore-aft) positioning, proper orientation of knees and feet in relation to pedal axles, comfortable upper body posture, and where to place pedal cleats on the underside of cycling shoes.

A basic fit can give you an initial point of reference. From there you can track how comfortable and efficient—or not—you feel on the bike over time. You will likely experience increased awareness of your feet in relation to the pedals and how much pedaling workload your knees are carrying. You’ll also receive immediate body feedback in the form of neck and upper-back pain, or lack thereof.

A key piece to the bike fit puzzle is how your position affects your upper body. Even though your torso will ideally be “quiet” when you ride, except perhaps when you’re going hard out of the saddle, it still serves as a cyclist’s fulcrum of movement and power. For triathletes and time trialists alike, neck, shoulders, arms, wrists and hands play a composite role in stabilizing the body for efficient pedaling, steering and even shifting. As such, a good bike fit should address your unique upper body anatomy, which will prevent you from making constant, subtle balance adjustments to control your bike or “pull” on your bars when going hard. All of this translates into better endurance and remaining fresh late into a race.

Finding a good fitter is paramount, as he can immediately intuit many components of your overall riding dynamic by simply watching you ride. Several months ago, biomechanics expert Paul Kundrat fit me and my fiancée (who is also a bike racer). At that time, he used lasers for precision vertical and lateral alignment checks, as well as SpinScan analysis to assess our positions on both road and TT bikes. His emphasis stressed bike fit as an evolutionary process ideally undergone with a communicative and collaborative fitter.
Our fit with Kundrat yielded noticeable gains: We felt better on our bikes and riding companions commented on how relaxed we looked and how effortless our pedaling appeared. We also seemed to recover faster between hard efforts during races, as well as post-workout.

Later, Kundrat asked us to come in for another fit, this time at Studio Velo in Mill Valley, Calif., which uses the much-acclaimed Retül 3D motion capture system. With all we had heard about Retül from Kundrat and others, how could we refuse?

Retül is a super-tool, and you know a studio is serious about providing the best fit possible if it has one, as it represents a significant investment of money and technical training time. “It’s a great weapon in the arsenal,” says Kundrat.

Retül helps fitters to see real-time data. Photo provided by Mark Deterline.

Still, the human expert serves as the foundation of a good bike fit, working with you to determine how best to implement what you’ve learned together using whatever aids you have at your disposal. Fitters such as Kundrat appreciate Retül for the help it provides in measuring, recording, sharing and logging rider position and movements, as well as the resulting fit information. It captures and records within a millimeter of precision the angular and linear extensions and rotational movements of body parts (upper leg, lower leg, foot) around their axes (hips, knees, ankles). The recorded information also includes prescribed bike measurements to assist a rider in duplicating a position on other bikes, as well as serving as the basis for a custom built frameset, StudioVelo’s specialty. StudioVelo includes an abbreviated Retül fit for final bike setup as part of any bike purchase.

As a rider, Kundrat has struggled with anatomical imbalances and injuries of his own, explaining that “most of us have at least subtle imbalances, so it’s important to determine what they are and figure out how to accommodate them with a good fit. In fact, riders are asymmetrical by nature while bikes are symmetrical, so much of what I do in all three areas—comfort, injury prevention and efficiency—is work with clients toward balance.” At StudioVelo, the rider is literally positioned on a turntable, goes through the motion capture process on one side, then the other.

The service at StudioVelo goes for about $270 per bike, with adaptations of each fit to successive bikes of the same type costing $100.

A bike fit doesn’t need to be high-tech or expensive to be helpful. It’s an evolutionary process best undertaken with the help of a savvy and collaborative fitter. The two of you should decide together how crucial a role technology will play in that process.

Learn more about StudioVelo’s fit services at Studiovelomv.com or by e-mailing Paul Kundrat at paul@studiovelomv.com.

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