By: Ben Waite
Is there such thing as a bike fit for a short course athlete? A long course athlete? Do athletes that race both distances change their bike setups depending on the distance of the race?
The Long Course Fit
We constantly hear people talking about what comfort level they expect from their bike fit. They think a fit focused on racing Ironmans will be comfortable and a fit for Olympic distance racing will be less comfortable. This is simply not the case. We work on the hierarchy of Comfort, Power & Aerodynamics. This means that our foremost goal is to get you comfortable in the aero position and we will consciously sacrifice everything for that goal. Secondly, we will maximize your body’s ability produce power but never at the cost of comfort. Thirdly, we work with you to practice certain posturing techniques to help cheat the wind. But using this hierarchy is almost useless because in the end, it is always amazing to see how those three metrics relate to each other. It is not a coincident that comfort, power and aero almost always converge to the same position on the bike.
I cannot count the number of times that someone with chronic back issues comes in with a fit where their front end is entering the stratosphere. The thought that sitting more upright is easier on your back is simply false. An overly upright position is just as likely to cause back pain as an overly low position. Usually the culprit has to do with the combination of poor saddle selection or positioning, reach to the bars, or a postural error...not the height of your aerobars.
Other than riders that are carrying around extra weight and have clearance issues, we have yet to see a case where an athlete cannot achieve a proper aero position within the confines of the accepted body angle ranges. We have fit people with prosthetics, previous back surgeries, destroyed rotator cuffs, etc. This position transcends ability level and race distance. With a proper fit, a 16 hour Ironman racer’s bike position will hold the same key characteristics as the athletes winning the race.
The takeaway: With a proper fit, your body will immediately gravitate to an “aggressive”, powerful and aerodynamic position. Everyone may not be as fast as a pro on the bike, but there are little excuses for not looking as good as they do!
Bike fitting has and is become more and more popular amongst triathletes and roadies alike. Bike companies have caught on and are developing and manufacturing bike fit tools that can make a fit very dynamic, experiential and efficient for the customer. However, a proper bike fit is still dependent on the skills, experience and knowledge of the fitters. The example we constantly use is that you can give a master carpenter a hand saw and a hammer and he will build a beautiful house. You give the same master carpenter some power tools and a nail gun and he will build you the exact same beautiful house much quicker. On the contrary, even the most advanced tools in the hand of someone who does not fully understand the intricacies of their craft will result in inferior work regardless of the tooling.
As the industry continues to market and develop fit tools as the centerpiece of bike sales, the quality and efficiency of bike fitting will rise. However, you need to make sure you search for a quality fitter in your area as superior fit technology can not replace superior fit knowledge.