Over the weekend, I got my first professional bike fit. I had been meaning to add aero bars to my bike for, oh, two years now. It’s a pretty big investment, though, so I never got around to it.
I knew I was approaching crunch time to get my aero bars on and learn how to ride in the aero position before my Ironman, so I finally bought a pair of clip-on aero bars and made plans to get them installed and get a bike fitting. I wanted to get my fitting done at TriTown, which is the triathlon/bike shop that Rob and I frequented when we lived in Boise. The staff is friendly and more than competent, and the owners are great. Antonio even tweaked protocol and scheduled my bike fitting for a Saturday (they normally try to keep bike fits on weekdays) to fit in with Rob’s and my travel schedule.
We showed up a little bit late (when you live out of state, you forget what the exact commute times are!). There’s nothing like someone doing you a favor and then showing up late to the appointment. Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem because Antonio was pretty busy with a few customers right when Rob and I got there anyway. I had a general idea of what to expect (hop on the trainer, do some spinning, get some adjustments), but I didn’t know how involved it would be.
Antonio started by measuring the current set up of my bike and watching me ride to see how I looked on it. Right away, one big thing stood out. I was sitting too far back on the bike which resulted in my feeling too stretched out as I reached for the handle bars. I had actually commented to Rob in the preceding months that I thought my frame might be a tiny bit too big for me because of how stretched out I felt. I couldn’t imagine adding another 4-6 inches to that (which is essentially what happens when you add aero bars). Fortunately, the frame wasn’t a problem at all.
The first step to fixing the saddle position issue was picking out a new saddle. Tri-specific saddles allow you to sit further up on the nose of the saddle comfortably as well as lean forward at a much sharper angle comfortably. It’s not a good idea to try to ride aero on a regular road saddle. TriTown has this great little contraption that helped me pick out a saddle quickly. Basically, it’s a stationary bike, and certain parts (including the saddle) can be replaced in 10-15 seconds. So I went through a pile of saddles. I’d ride for 10-30 seconds in both the aero and non-aero position, then Antonio would switch the saddle out and I’d try the next one. Eventually, I settled on one that felt comfortable and had positive reviews from other female triathletes.
Once I was mostly situated on the stationary bike, I moved back to my bike on the trainer to dial in the fit. He made a few adjustments and then took a look at my pedal stroke. My left knee collapsed in a bit during the phase of the pedal stroke where I applied force, and my right knee, while it was perfectly aligned during that portion of the stroke, collapsed in right at the very end. However, because neither leg was terribly misaligned nor did I have pain on either side, Antonio didn’t feel the need to adjust my equipment to correct that. He did move my cleats back a little bit on my shoes, though.
After the fitting was done, I took my bike on a quick test ride. And it felt great! I could feel a huge difference with the saddle adjustment. I actually felt like I was riding a smaller bike. I didn’t feel nearly so stretched out, and I was comfortable even when I was in aero position. I was surprised at how comfortable the aero position was. I guess I should have expected it to be somewhat comfortable as people aren’t generally able to sit in a completely uncomfortable position for six hour straight, but somehow I had gotten the idea that aero position was uncomfortable and miserable by definition. I didn’t feel any annoying pressure from my saddle. I didn’t feel overly crunched up. I didn’t feel limited at all by my sub-par hamstring flexibility. Now, my aero position is not overly aggressive, but Antonio said it’s not really conservative either, so I was pleased with how right it felt. You lose some control over the bike in aero position, so I definitely looked a little drunk as I rode it for the first time around the block.
I’ve ridden my bike a few times since then. Handling my bike has progressively gotten easier. I even hit a huge pothole the other day without crashing. I haven’t had any significant chafing from my new saddle or pain from my new position on the bike. With over two months to get used to the new position, I think I have the time I need to acclimate to my “new” bike so I can take full advantage of the benefits it provides come August.