A Good Bike Fit Is the Easiest Way To Get Faster Instantly
There is something about triathlons that seems to suck you in. What starts with a goal to just survive the swim of your first race quickly turns into a deep passion for the sport of triathlon in most.
Soon we find ourselves spending gobs of money on triathlon specific gear, subscribing to Lava and Triathlete magazines, and walking around comfortably in clothes more revealing than the road bike kits we once said we’d never wear. It’s about this time that we concern ourselves with our times.
The most wonderful characteristic of triathlons are that they are a race against yourself for 99% of triathletes. Its not about what place you got, its about achieving your goals. Maybe this is why the sport is so addicting. We can all be successful!
Being the bike is longest portion of a triathlon race and the easiest to improve in, if you want to improve your times, this is the place you should focus on first. If you are a serious racer looking to compete and are not riding a triathlon/TT bike…get one.
For regular road bikes, a good fit is very important. For triathlon/TT bikes, a good fit is what will make that bike pay off. I see so many people at triathlons riding expensive triathlon bikes outfitted with all of the gadgets and expensive wheel sets that are riding with their seats back as far as possible and propped up so high in front they could as well have saved their money and ridden the road bike they already had. They are losing the benefits of a triathlon/TT bike. If you are going to spend the money on a triathlon specific bike, spend another $200-300 on the proper fit. Fezzari’s 23-point custom setup will get you 99% there on this fit. They take specific body measurements to determine the proper frame size, stem length and angle, stack height, bar width, crank arm length, etc. This is pretty great because if you do need to change what comes standard on the bike, i.e. a medium bike usually comes with a 90mm stem, 172.5 crank, etc., you would have to pay this out of your pocket. They include this free of charge on every bike purchased which can save you a good amount of cash. Take a couple minutes and watch this video that describes what the 23-point custom setup is all about.
What Type of Bike Fit Is Best?
I am hugely biased toward digital motion analysis fits, either 2D or 3D is fine. The system I seek out is Retul (http://www.retul.com/). Although these fits cost more (usually $200-300 compared to $75-150 for a manual fit), they are definitely worth the extra money. I’ve noticed that many manual bike fitters concern themselves more with the drive train and revolve everything around that. The couple manual triathlon bike fits I’ve had that were done in such a matter resulted in me being in a position that was more of a hybrid between a road bike position and TT position. At the time this position felt great to me, however after getting a digital fit, my eyes have been opened.
My rationale for prefering a digital bike fit is because it eliminates most human error. Research has provided us with information regarding ideal hip angles, knee angles, etc, etc for optimal power output, endurance, aeroness (is that a word?), and comfort. With a digital fit, markers are placed on specific body landmarks and angles are measured while pedaling. The fitter then can adjust the bike to place you within these ideal angles. Compare this to eyeballing a fit and utilizing ancient plumb lines. I love science and exactness, and that is what a digital fit provides.
Below are my before and after pictures of my bike fit. From the naked eye, the changes look small. However, from a performance perspective, the changes are big. Most notably, look at how my entire body looks like it rotates forward, making me more aero and put my legs in a position of greater power and endurance of the pedals. This is achieved without changing my hip to torso angle, which means no greater strain on the low back.
Here are my improvements in average speeds (compared to last years times) with changing to a triathlon bike and getting a digital fit:
Race 1: 25.0 mph compared to 22.1
Race 2: 24.1 mph compared to 20.9
Race 3: 22.5 mph compared to 20.5 (this course has 1500 ft of climbing and is almost better suited for a road bike)
Prior to my digital fit through Retul (and following my first manual fit with my current bike) I averaged about 0.8 mph slower on my standard training rides. Over the course of a 70.3 or Ironman distance, that equals a fairly significant amount of time.
So, the moral of this story is…if you are looking to get faster, get a professional bike fit (preferably digital). If you are going to spend money on a tri/TT bike, get a professional bike fit. Just get a professional bike fit, you’ll be happy you did.