Thursday, June 09, 2016

Equipment - Fitting

(Disclaimer: although I paid a slightly discounted price for the fit, I gave a saddle that put me way over the top of any discounted rate. Out of pocket costs for me were on par with a retail customer. Over it, actually.)

A long time ago one of the guys that raced at the Bethel Spring Series was a guy I'll call CP. He was a local guy, Cannondale technical something or another, and he helped organize the team that eventually morphed into the current Stage One / Fusion think team.

CP is a sort of car guy as well, and for many years he worked a dream job at Lime rock.

One year, after moving to our present house, I was on my normal Quarry Road Loop when lo and behold, an old Stage One kit (with a rider inside it) turned onto the road in front of me. I caught up to the rider. To my pleasant surprise it was CP. He and I lived in the same town now!

We chatted a bit, I turned off (or maybe he did) and that was that.

He is involved with the local cycling groups and helped me try to get a race going in town. Unfortunately the town balked at the liability aspect of things so no crits here for the foreseeable future.

Fast forward a half dozen or so years and CP reached out to me. He'd just opened up a fit studio, Body Over Bike, not far from where I first spotted that Stage One kit. He asked if I wanted to get a fit done.

I hesitated, for many reasons.

I'd worked on my position for many years, slowly honing it, experimenting with variations, and arriving at what I felt was close to my optimal position after literally decades of experimenting. I was thinking I might have just a bit more length possible in my fit but it was otherwise pretty good. So, in my mind, my fit was pretty good.

There was another thing. Ego.

I didn't want to be found wrong.

I can admit that now, although it was hard initially to think this. I'd poured a lot of time and energy into my position, and I sort of needed, for my mental sanity, for my position to be right. Some of my A-B-A experiments (one position, then another, then back to the original) took many months, and during the B phase I had some pretty bad races and rides. I spent two separate seasons testing a different crank length, both years with the same dismal results. Effectively I had gambled and written off two seasons of racing to see if a particular crank length worked for me. I paid for my experiments, both fiscally and mentally. I was afraid to learn that all that was for naught.

Finally, I didn't want to be shoehorned into someone else's idea of what I should be doing. When I first used the Fit Kit, back in the 80s, it basically told me a definitive range of measurements. Once I strayed outside of their parameters it was game over, at least from the Fit Kit's opinion. My weird proportions meant I didn't fit anything, and the Fit Kit told me that I was just wacky on the bike. Of course back then there were no power meters, very little sophistication in measuring accuracy, and a lot of, "Yeah, that looks better." I know because I did that with my customers, my clients, when I fit them.

Eventually I got over my fears, doubts, and insecurities. I called up CP and took him up on his offer to do a fit for me.

My Fit Philosophy

In terms of fit thoughts I have two things that I think work in my favor. The first is that I'm not afraid of thinking outside the box - if I learn that I might be better doing this or that I'll analyze the idea and, if it's even remotely possible that the change is good, I'll give it a shot. The second is that I've had some significant success stories when fitting others. A corollary, and sort of significant, I've had no real failures that I know of.

I definitely think outside the box. Back in the shop days, for a recreational woman rider, I recommended a pretty aggressive position. She had back problems, she felt like the bike wasn't going anywhere, her saddle was uncomfortable, and she didn't feel like the bike was stable. I dramatically lowered her (straight) bars, added bar ends for more positions including a longer one, and moved the saddle up and forward. I wanted to reduce weight on the saddle, increase leverage on the pedals, and increase weight on the front end. These would deal with her saddle issues, speed, and stability, respectively.

I went that direction because I had similar issues, over the years. Her position mirrored mine, believe it or not, just on a hybrid instead of a road bike. I explained my philosophy, my goals, and how such a position would meet those goals. Hesitant but trusting, she tried it.

And she loved it.

She rode faster, easier, and in more comfort.

I fit only three very talented riders in my life - a strong duathlete, a Masters stage racer, and a low level pro. The dualthete admitted to me many years later that, even with sponsorship on nicer, more aero bikes, he would race on the (wrong sponsor) bike I fitted for him because he felt so much better on it. He was ranked in the teens (13th or 15th or so) nationally on the bike, so he was no slouch.

The Masters racer came to me, a bit desperate, after finding it virtually impossible to win a big Masters stage race in South or Central America, the biggest Master's stage race in the world. He was okay in the road race and a circuit race, but in the time trial he would lose a bit too much time. After I fit him to his TT bike (he seemed very dubious about the whole process) he went and won the stage race thanks to his time trial. He randomly reminded me of that a few times over the next 10 or so years - it was very nice to hear him thank me for my fit work yet again when I saw him at a race or something.

Finally, the pro. I may or may not have helped him, but the fact that he came to me asking for help after getting fit by (Euro) pro team staff… that was enough for me.

Body Over Bike

So that brings me to CP and his fit studio. I knew my life would be changing in the near future, severely limiting the time I had to ride and race - I'd be taking care of my elderly dad, basically tethering myself to the house.

Even so, I was thinking of ways I could progress with my riding. I wanted to use the limitations in my life to focus on things I'd let go. Since I'd be homebound for the most part I wouldn't be able to race much or even train outside.

Therefore I thought about "indoor stuff". I plan to focus a bit on my diet, which, after a very high A1C blood reading showing me as diabetic, forced my eating habits into a slightly unexpected direction. I wanted to take some time to perform badly needed maintenance on my bikes. For example those that race with me may have noticed I had no spare bike for a couple years now - it's still being put back together. I never bothered changing my chain this year so I'm a super loose, super worn chain. Even my bar tape dates back two years, and because it's black tape on black bars, you can't tell that half the drop on one side isn't even covered in tape. Since it's not noticeable from, say, 50 feet away, I haven't bothered replacing it. I can catch up on this kind of stuff while I'm at home.

And, significantly, I wanted to explore possible position changes on the bike. Since I expect to be on the trainer virtually every ride for the foreseeable future, I'd have a great laboratory for experimenting on fit. I could do some pretty straightforward "before and after" type comparisons, I could make changes mid-ride, and I could sort of measure power changes from one position to another.

Therefore CP's offer to do a bit more structured fit came at the perfect time.

Due to my then work schedule, and my preference to come in on one of my work late nights (so I could spend my early evenings with Junior and the Missus), we scheduled my fit session for 8:30 PM on a weekday evening. Expecting the fit session to run 2-4 hours, it'd mean a late night for the two of us.

I showed up at the studio with my bike, my riding gear, and a brand new saddle I wanted to try. I kitted up while he set up the fit bike with my pedals, saddle, and appropriate bars, and we got down to business.

Pedaling on the Guru fitamajig.

Note the white rectangles on the wall with cleat cut outs. These are templates for cleat placement on shoes. You can put your current shoe on the template, note on a grid where various landmarks land (I used the heel area), then replicate the position with new cleats or on a second/third pair of shoes. Very useful.

The Guru system has a bunch of Fizik saddles and Zipp bars and stems. We used a Zipp bar that measured the same as my FSA Wing Compacts. My saddle, my pedals.

CP with a corner of his fit studio, Body Over Bike.

We got down to business right away. I had no idea what to expect. I wasn't sure if I'd be told "you fit like this", or if there'd be some adjustments to the "base fit" based on stuff like having a bad back (me) or weird physiological proportions (me again). I went in with absolutely no idea what would happen in the session.

First, he had me stand next to the fit bike thing. Some camera thing scanned me and calculated my physiological dimensions instantly. That was really cool, and, for those with personal space concerns, it meant that no one had to stick a ruler between your legs or whatever.

The next thing was for me to check my shoe size. I was like, okay, whatever you have to do, but seriously, I've worn the same size and make shoes since the early 90s. Thankfully it seemed that I'd been wearing the right size shoes for that time. However, it appeared my feet sat really crooked, my ankles collapsing inward. An insole corrected that. I wasn't sure about the insole thing but I was willing to give it a go.

Next I got to ride my bike on a trainer. I suppose this is so that I refresh my muscle memory on how I fit on the bike I've been riding. CP had the same brand trainer as mine so that was straightforward, no need to even change the rear skewer. I quickly got going.

My first surprise was that my knee, which normally wobbles mid-stroke, wasn't wobbling mid-stroke anymore. I also felt like my feet were much more supported. It wasn't that they were "supported", it was more like they weren't collapsed inward. Before it felt like I was standing with my feet on two slopes, like I was standing inside of a flat-V shaped trough, one foot on each angled side. Now it felt like I was standing on a flat floor.

CP noted that when I was pedaling I reverted to the drops pretty quickly. I pointed out that because my back bothers me I find it most comfortable to be on the drops, and after a 12 hour day at work, I was sort of tired. Apparently many riders end up higher on the bike, meaning they have optimized their bike fit for a different position.

After thoroughly warming up I moved over to the fit bike gizmo. You can see the pictures above, but the main thing is that it allows position changes while you're on the bike, even while pedaling if you want. The only things that can't change automatically are the actual bars and saddle (they have to be removed and installed), the crank length (requires a few bolts to be turned on the cranks), and pedal type (remove/install like normal). Once you have a pedal, saddle, and bars, and you have a crank length selected, it's very straight forward.

CP suggested I give 170 mm cranks a shot. I ride 175 mm cranks, and I have really short legs, and 170 mm would work better on paper. I'd tried them for two seasons, unsuccessfully, but when we changed the arm length to 170 mm the fit bike felt so much better that I decided to give it another shot.

With that we got into the heart of the fit session. We didn't say much for a while - it was all stuff like this:

"You want to go another 5mm on the saddle?"
"I'd like to go forward a bit more on the stem."
"Wait, let's go back, can we compare this position to the one from before?"

Stuff like that.

Oh there was one bit that I think for me was significant. My legs were fatiguing pretty badly. CP asked if I was okay.

"Do you want me to reduce the resistance?"
"It's at 150w. I can bring it down to 80w or so."
"Yes, please."

Haha. No wonder I was fatiguing badly - 150w is close to an average race pace for me. I wonder if I was the lowest "fit power" rider out there.

At one point we were slowly raising the saddle, 5 mm at a time. One move in particular was a bit much so I asked him to bring it down "maybe 2 mm". I felt a bit ridiculous asking for a 2 mm adjustment but, whatever, it felt much better when he made the move.

I should point out that I wasn't being pushed into a particular slot or measurement. It wasn't like, "Your quad is x long so your setback needs to be y cm." It was more if it felt okay for me, with CP making suggestions to explore just outside my comfort zone. Then, based on my requests, he'd raise/lower or move forward/back contact points just a touch.

We ran into something pretty quickly - the fit gizmo ran out of room when I asked for more length. CP punched in the command then looked up at the screen with surprise. There was an error about not being able to move that way.

"Hm. That's the first time I've seen that."

So apparently my torso length is freakishly long because the fit gizmo wasn't able to accommodate me being a bit more stretched out. For me that meant that the length recommendation has to be taken with a grain of salt since I couldn't explore the limits on the fit gizmo.

However, with the bar drop and such, I did notice something. I did want to go lower, just to see what would happen. As CP dropped the bars lower and lower I suddenly felt a twinge between my shoulder blades. I never noticed the sensation before, not in an on/off way. I knew I got fatigued like that but I didn't associate it with a particular bar height. Now there was a definitive bar height value which produced the twinge.

To me this was significant. First, it taught me that such a thing happens. Second, it also taught me to look for that sensation when experimenting with my bar position. I knew I'd be experimenting on my own, and with the length part of the equation sort of "out of bounds", I'd be experimenting on my own.

As we honed in on where I felt good on the fit gizmo, CP would revert my position wholesale to another position. I could feel the difference between two positions immediately, without even having to stop pedaling the bike.

The final step in the fit session was to measure my bike. I had basically forgotten about that until now. CP measured my bike and while keeping the fit bike numbers handy.

The fit bike's saddle height? 518 mm (BB to Saddle rail, not BB to Top of saddle).

My bike's saddle height? 518 mm.

That "2 mm down" that I thought ridiculous? Not very ridiculous.

The results - this is with an SLR saddle.

CP noted that I have some significant drop, over 14 cm (14.2 cm, the lower left blue box in the picture above). I protested, saying that my saddle and bars were sort of level. I pointed out that a taller rider would have much more drop. He called me on that because in his experience my drop was pretty significant. We let Google decide after agreeing that Adam Hansen, ProTour rider, was a "much more drop" kind of rider. Hansen is 6'1", he's not afraid of going against conventional wisdom, and he has a super forward position with long cranks, just like me. We looked up his saddle-bar drop.

14 cm.


At the end of my session CP sent me a pdf of my fit session results. This is nice because I have a record of my fit that I can refer to any time.

With the time well after midnight we cut the (first) fit session short. I returned to do a saddle session, primarily so I could explore other, more readily available saddles. I also had this idea of having a saddle that allowed for some setback. Even with my SLR saddle pushed back a bit I was left with only 4 mm setback, a far cry from the 4 or 5 cm setback commonly found on road bikes. Even the rules require something like 4 or 5 cm of seat back.

I'd brought along a Tares saddle I bought new literally 4 or 5 years ago. I never mounted it, never tried it, but because it has a short length it would make my bike look a bit less freakish. I sat on it, hated it, and immediately rejected it. So much for that. This is the saddle I gave CP.

CP examined my saddles, the SLR and the Titanio, comparing the shape of the saddle. We tried this or that based on the saddle shape. However nothing really seemed to match my saddle shape, and the one that was close wasn't comfortable at all.

Then CP made a suggestion. He put an Adamo saddle on, one of those twin tusk nose saddles. I was really iffy on this one but I knew CP wouldn't have me try something if there wasn't something there for me. Plus, as he pointed out, he doesn't sell them, so there was no conflict of interest on his part.

I got on the Adamo saddle and it felt okay. Not fantastic, just okay. However, it was "just okay" all the time, in any position. On my SLR I was "just okay" in one position and it was "horrible" everywhere else. With the older Titanio saddles that I thought fit me best, they were "great" in one position and not very good in everything else.

A day after the saddle session I got on my (SLR equipped) bike and thought to myself, "How the heck did I ride this thing?!" I got off the bike, looked on eBay, bought a saddle, and waited to ride until it came in. I installed it and BAM! I was good. It's "just okay" but not uncomfortable, and I have a much wider range of positions available to me. Sliding a bit back is still "just okay", sliding forward is "just okay". Everything is "just okay", making every position on the saddle totally usable. I haven't done much more than 2 hours at a time on the trainer, if that, but the saddle has been absolutely fine.

Adamo saddle on the red bike.
I bought it off eBay.
An internet forum member mailed me the black one that's on the black bike.

I've been good with the insoles too. I think that I need a shoe that lifts the inside of my foot a bit more than they do now. I started dreaming of a set of custom soled shoes but that's a wild dream for now. My ultimate dream would be to take a page from Adam Hansen's book and make some custom shoes based on the shape of the insoles.

I did two things that screwed me up for a while. First, the 170 cranks meant I needed to raise my saddle 5 mm. However, my first ride on them felt a bit low so I raised the saddle another 2 mm, then another 2 mm. Within an hour my knees were in pain. I returned the saddle to the "right height" but it took about 3 weeks for the knee pain to go away.

Likewise I decided to experiment with a 2 cm longer set up on my own. This was disastrous. I've returned to my previous reach, the one I already had on the red bike with the custom stem.

For now I'm good with the current fit, which the fit basically verified. I prefer the new saddle. I'm trying out the 170mm cranks. I really like the feel of the insoles. I'll see how they all work through the remainder of the season and make decisions from there.

No comments: