This week's article was originally posted by the Australian crew at First Off The Bike. The athlete I used as my example was 3x ITU World Champion, Peter Robertson. After a 4yr retirement and being a former ITU athlete, Peter's experience riding a TT bike was slim to none. He had to start the process just like any other triathlete...
Mat Steinmetz | Photos: @koruptvision
Renowned bike-fit expert Mat Steinmetz checks in to firstoffthebike.com to let us know what to expect when swapping from the road to a time trial position.
Adjusting to the time trial position is something that every athlete, beginner to elite, must go through at some point. I’m not going to talk about the “how to” of a proper fit, but what you should expect when you first change over to riding in the time trial position.
First off, what is so important about the TT position? Aerodynamics – 70-90 per cent of the power you generate on a bike goes toward overcoming aerodynamic drag and your body accounts for most of this. If this weren’t important, we’d just stay upright on our road bikes and not deal with thechallenges of adapting to a good TT position.
The main goal is not aerodynamics, but speed. Speed is a combination of fitness (power), comfort (ability to stay in position), aerodynamics (decrease resistive forces). When I’m going through the fitting process with a rider, I’m very open about what to expect during the period in which they’ll be adapting to their new position. Some athletes adapt quicker than others, but hardly anyone gets a free pass without experiencing one of these three areas of discomfort. The good news, the body eventually adapts to the TT position and these areas of discomfort go away.
Saddle: A good TT position is achieved by rotating the pelvis forward on the saddle. Even if this rotation is slight, it will increases soft-tissue pressure. However, you’re in luck as saddle manufactures have created TT specific saddles that are meant to accommodate rotation and alleviate pressure. Via trial and error, work with your fitter to select the saddle that is most comfortable to you. Don’t let someone tell you what saddle to ride. Try several types during your fit appointment.
Arms and shoulders: The TT position puts more weight on the front end. It’s important that your upper body is supported skeletally versus using your erectors to try and stabilise yourself. Finding the appropriate reach and how your elbow contacts the arm pad are important for stability.
Neck and Back: As we lower your back angle, you must still be able to look up the road. While back pain is often due to poor saddle selection or an inappropriate reach, neck discomfort is something that takes time to adapt to…it’s unnatural to look up the road in the TT position. If you continue to experience neck pain, you should look to raise your front end, or work on your head and neck posture (i.e., getting rid of your periscope head). As I mentioned, this process applies to athletes of all abilities.
Below, I’ll walk you through the process of three-time ITU World Champion, Peter Robertson.
Peter received his Giant Trinity in early 2013 and I helped him get started over a few Skype calls. I wanted to find something conservative to get him started until he would arrive in Boulder, where I could do some hands on positioning work. The image below is what we came up with when I saw him in Boulder for the first time. He looked ok, but not quite where he needed to be.
2013: You can see that the position is sound. It’s not great, but there’s not a lot to pick apart and a good starting point. At the time, this felt fairly aggressive to him and he was just trying to get used to riding the position. The one area that I was not happy with was how he postured on the bike. Robbo would bring his shoulders forward and perch up on the aerobars. This squared his shoulders and made it difficult for him to drop or lower his head. This is something he’s still working on and has gotten much better with year of riding under him (see below).
2014: This position is much better and more relaxed. He is lower in the front (flat stem versus rise), but the saddle and arm-pad position (fore/aft) are exactly the same. The other change, is the extension shape. We didn’t intentionally go to s-bends, but they came on the bike and the ski-bend extensions were in transit. I was actually pleased with how Robbo was able to posture using the s-bend, so this might be something we stick with.
2013 w/ Helmet: Again, not a bad position, but as a professional athlete, I believe there is a standard that must be achieved in order to not leave time on the course. That’s not to say athletes with poor bike positions can’t win races, but when the resources are available to improve, why not take advantage of them?
2014 w/ Helmet: This position is much better. It’s more relaxed and I’d imagine more aerodynamic (I’ve got enough wind-tunnel experience to make this guess, but can’t objectively make that claim). Even though this position has him in what could be considered “more aggressive”, his hip angle has not been altered, which is the primary cause of not being able to produce power in the TT position.
The take away lesson: triathletes need to work on their TT positions. Not every athlete hops on the bike and feels/looks great, although it does happen. The position is adaptable and it can take some time to get to that optimal position. Often times, a rider’s position will improve without changing any of the contact points. They will improve their position on the bike as they improve the way they posture and/or support themselves on the saddle and bars.