My bike is old. I mean really, really old. It’s a 2006 model year Specialized Transition, which, here in Boulder–where a triathlete gets a new bike every .7 seconds–qualifies it as an ancient artifact. I’m pretty sure there’s some correlation between bike years and dog years, but I’m not exactly sure how that works. I’m often chided about my bike. “The Dinosaur” is the most common heckle, although sometimes a more admiring “That’s a classic!” escapes the mouth of an awestruck bike junkie. Need I remind you people that the Transition was the Shiv of its day?
And let’s give credit where credit’s due–The Dinosaur sure has pulled its weight (plus mine) in over a decade of service. We’ve traveled the world together, racing throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and Asia. On Monday, we’ll make our maiden voyage to Europe together. How many other–perhaps shinier, perhaps faster–bikes have similar bragging rights?
Sure, I’d love a fancy schmancy new bike, but that’s simply not in the cards at the moment. Suffice to say that, financially at least, freelance journalism is a lot like professional triathlon, minus the sponsors. It’s a career that’s often cash-poor, but crazy rich in adventure and life experience. For now, my new bike dream is on hold. Instead, I decided to upgrade the ol’ machine in the most beneficial way I know how–a fresh new fit.
Reasons To Get Re-Fit
You’ve probably heard of Retül by now–the Boulder-based innovators of 3-D Motion Capture bike fits. The Retül process may seem intimidating to the uninitiated, but trust me, it’s fairly straightforward–plus a whole lot of fun. I mean when else is someone going to spend a few hours focused solely on you and how you feel and function on your bike? The entire purpose of a fit is to enhance your comfort, power and aerodynamics on the bike, dependent on your riding style and needs. I had my first Retül fit four years ago, and while we all know my bike hasn’t changed, my body certainly has. It’s simply a fact–over time, we tend to lose flexibility, and tight hip flexors or back or neck issues can all impact one’s comfort on the bike. Injuries can also affect one’s fit needs–a few simple adjustments may greatly alleviate pain or help avoid further irritation to a specific muscle or joint. Aside from wanting to psychologically perk up my perception of my present ride, I had a few real-world reasons to ring up my pals at Retül. Most importantly, I was experiencing pain and numbness primarily in my right foot and I was struggling with the bane of cyclists everywhere–saddle sores.
What Happens During A Fit
I was fortunate to work with Todd Carver, co-founder of Retül (yup, one of the science-y minds that originally created the system) and Director of Fit for Retül University, the company’s global education program for training fitters worldwide. For the record, Carver refrained from laughing at my bike–in fact, I think he developed a fondness for The Dinosaur during our fit session. The first step in any fit is to assess the rider’s biomechanics, and Carver–with a long history of analyzing sports injuries at the renowned Boulder Center for Sports Medicine–went to work like a pro, checking my gait and posture, looking for any leg length discrepancy and learning the details of my injury history and current trouble spots. The intake also includes a series of questions about the individual’s cycling style–type, distance, volume and specific race goals.
Next comes the fun part–the interactive fit process. The bike is placed on a trainer atop a Retül fit platform, and the rider is decorated with sticky Velcro dots at every joint (elbow, hip, knee, etc.). LED markers are connected to the dots and these markers relay specific measurements pertaining to the rider’s body position as he or she pedals to the Retül computer system. The cycling motion is recorded in real-time 3D and projected onto a screen, along with each of the body angle measurements in action. Also shown are the accepted “normal” ranges for each measurement, giving the fitter a foundation from which to work to customize the fit for the cyclist. Adjustments are made according to the fitter’s suggestions and feedback from the cyclist, and continually checked and rechecked against the Vantage 3D Motion Capture System.
Carver’s assessment of my current fit and complaints led him to make a number of changes to my setup, concentrating on the two contact points that were giving me trouble. First, he swapped my saddle, replacing an ISM Adamo with an ISM Podium to provide a slightly narrower, longer nose. He also raised the saddle and moved it forward. Next he dealt with my feet, repositioning my right cleat, reducing the float in my Speedplay pedals and finally adding Specialized Body Geometry arch support inserts to both my shoes. He was tempted to also adjust my aerobars and armrests, suspecting that the change in position might cause some shoulder, neck or arm discomfort due to a shift in where I would be holding my body weight, but together we decided that I would test ride the bike with the first set of changes and then fine-tune the fit as necessary.
The final step in the fit process seems a bit like hi-tech hoodoo voodoo–and it’s really cool. Carver whipped out a magic wand-like laser beam device known as the “Zin”, a tool used to digitally measure every curve and angle on the bike. The fit dimensions are then recorded and saved for future reference. They can also be loaded into Retül’s FrameFinder software to help a bike-shopping cyclist select a perfectly compatible make, model and size to match up with his or her ideal fit. But I’ll save discussion of the FrameFinder for a future column–when I’m ready to retire The Dinosaur.
As Carver suspected, my fit required some fine-tuning–and that’s not unusual. While test-riding on the trainer provides a fairly accurate feel, and while the Retül system’s data helps determine the best recommendations for a rider, logging real miles is the true litmus test for any fit. It’s important to note any feedback on the first few rides and communicate back to the fitter if further adjustments are required. Ultimately, Carver adjusted my seat position just slightly further back, tilted the seat angle upward just a tad, widened the armrests by about a millimeter and angled my “ski jump” style aerobars inward. These were the final changes needed to create, for me, what feels like a perfect fit. After several rides, the problems I was having seem to be resolved, and overall I feel more efficient and comfortable on my bike. I’m not one to ride with power so I can’t report any particular increase in watts, but I sure am a lot happier to be on my bike, and for me that counts for a whole lot. In fact, The Dinosaur is feeling so good these days I might have to keep it around a little longer. After all, who else can claim to ride such a relic?
How To Prepare For Your Fit
- Retül fitters are everywhere–in bike shops, sports medicine clinics and individual fit studios. Be sure to choose a Retül Certified fitter, as this signifies that he or she has successfully attended Retül University and is current on all the latest Retül technology and data. You can find a Retul fitter here.
- Wear a tri kit–the fitter will need to see your body as clearly as possible and attach sticky dots to your shoulder, elbow and knee.
- Leave off the lotion–the sticky dots adhere best to clean skin.
- Take your cycling shoes and bike, and be prepared to discuss any injury history, current pain or areas of concern.