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Critique My Fit: Moving From Comfort to Aerodynamics, Saddle Upgrades, and More

In this edition of “Critique My Fit,” our expert fitter look at an Outside+ member’s relaxed position and offers some speedier advice.

Each month, we’ll be choosing one of our members to get a free virtual fit from expert bike fitter, Jon Blyer, owner of Brooklyn-based ACME Bicycles, a Retül Certified Master Bike Fitter, and teacher at the Guru Academy in Bethel, CT.

Using the member’s email fit feedback and three video angles, Blyer gives his recommendations below, along with suggestions that can apply to other readers’ situations with similar problems. Member emails and fitter responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

For your chance to get a free virtual fit from one of the top fitters in the country, be sure to sign up for Outside+.

Jon,

I live about 28 miles north of Detroit. I started competing in triathlons in 2017 and have been hooked ever since. Until this year, I competed in primarily sprint-distance races and did one Olympic tri in 2019. This year, I did my first Ironman 70.3 in Ohio on July 26. I have no other triathlons planned for this year, but I am going to focus on improving my bike power this fall.

My bike is a 56cm 2015 Cervelo P2 with Shimano 105 pedals, Fizik Arione Tri2 saddle, Profile Design T2 Wing handlebars, and Profile Design T4 aero bars; my crank length is 170mm. I purchased the bike used in the fall of 2018 without ever being fitted for a bike.

Overall, I am fairly comfortable on my bike. From time to time I do have soreness in my left knee (between the knee cap and lower quad). I found the longer I trained, the longer I was able to hold the aero position. By race day I was able to hold aero for about three hours. My shoulders fatigue the most, and I certainly could not hold the aero position indefinitely. My primary reason for wanting to be fitted is that I have not been professionally fitted, and I plan to do longer distance races in the future.

When I first purchased the bike I did adjust the aero bars to bring my elbows in and adjusted the seat a bit. This year I tried out MyVeloFit because I was training for my first 70.3. The most I had ridden in a single activity prior was 30 miles, so I knew I would be in the saddle for much longer and proper alignment would be important to prevent injury. MyVeloFit suggested that I raise my seat about 5mm and move the seat forward 2-3mm.

Thank you,

Kevin V.

Hi Kevin,

Thanks so much for the videos and background information! I’ve had a chance to study your videos, and I would say that overall your bike position is off to an excellent start, but as you add more miles and possibly become more competitive you may want to make a good deal of changes.

First Impressions

Your position overall looks fairly comfortable. Your saddle does look a touch on the low side, especially when looking at your left side which likely explains the left knee pain (most riders sit on a saddle asymmetrically causing one leg to extend more than the other), and the aerobars look to be the slightest bit too far away. Your head position from the video gives me some concern, you are holding your head fairly high which can cause some neck and shoulder discomfort, but it’s impossible for me to know if you hold your head in this same position on long rides on the road. Dropping your head so your face is more parallel to the ground and using your eyes to look up the road will create far less stress in your neck and shoulders and is also a more aerodynamic way to hold your head. Eyewear and low-hanging helmets can sometimes occlude your vision, so keep this in mind as you give it a try out on the road.

You mentioned that you are fairly comfortable on your bike, and your position really doesn’t look bad, so you certainly don’t have to make any of the changes I’m going to outline below, but they might help. If you opt to leave things more or less as they are, I would at least raise your saddle about 5-10mm and pull your aerobars a tiny bit closer and call it a day. However, if you want to shave some time off of your bike split, I have a lot of comments for you to consider!

Potential Improvements

You are riding your tri bike a lot like a road bike. By that, I mean that you are sitting far back on your saddle and your hips are further back on the bike than most triathletes would ride. Your torso is relatively upright and you are punching a bigger hole than the wind than you probably need to. The goal of a triathlon position is to rotate the rider forward on the bike and that forward rotation typically allows the rider to lower their arm pads and thereby reduce the amount of air they disturb as they move forward.

Before I jump into the details of what I suggest, I should mention that we are talking about some pretty big changes to your position. I wouldn’t suggest doing these in the middle of the racing season, and I also highly recommend finding a local fit professional in your area to help. You can find a database of peer-accredited bike fitters at the IBFI websitehere. IBFI is the current global standard in bike fitting accreditation.

Get Faster, But Not At All Costs

Our goal is to get you into a more aerodynamically efficient position without sacrificing power output. In my opinion, it doesn’t make any sense to sacrifice proper biomechanics and lower power output for a lower drag coefficient, so let’s move carefully through the changes to make sure we are doing more good than harm.

The first change we should probably make is to simply alter the way you are sitting on your bike seat—which may lead to a change in the seat itself. If we were doing this position evaluation 15 years ago, I wouldn’t have much to say about your bike saddle, as the Fizik Arione Tri2 saddle used to be the norm. The Arione Tri2 evolved from traditional road bike saddles, and it was adapted for triathlon with a slightly wider and more padded saddle nose.

Triathletes tended to ride towards the front of their saddle and would put a lot of pressure on the perineal area, thanks to the forward-rolled pelvis that a triathlon position demands. The approach back then was to provide a wide and cushioned bike seat to distribute pressure across the entire perineal area. This solution worked, sort of, and there weren’t any better options at the time. I know that you mentioned that you currently find your seat comfortable—that’s probably because you are sitting so far back on it, and you aren’t pitched forward very far. Judging by where the seat actually is on your bike (with the saddle nose more or less plum with the center of the bottom bracket), I don’t think your seat needs to come forward to rotate your body, but rather your body just needs to slide forwards to the front of the seat.

(Lots of) Changes

In order to allow you to slide forward on the seat, we’ll need to make room for your upper body, and that will have to come from a change to the position of the aerobar. It looks like you can slide the arm pads forward a bit (by about 15mm), and I would suggest starting here, then also extending the aero extensions by the same amount you move the arm pads forward.  Once this is done, you should be able to slide a bit further forward on the saddle, and you’ll definitely want to make sure you raise the saddle a bit; sliding forward on the saddle effectively lowers your seat height. If this proves successful, you should consider sliding your upper body a bit further forwards, but at this point, you will probably need a longer stem on your bike.

I would be surprised if you still found your saddle comfortable after sliding forward on it, and if this is the case, I would recommend a split-nose saddle. Split-nose saddles take pressure off of the center of the genital area which is generally intolerant of pressure in both male and female riders. Split-nose saddles direct weight to the underside of the pelvis on a piece of your anatomy called the Pubic Ramus. The best way to select a split nose saddle is through the help of a shop that has a saddle demo program, or better yet one that uses theACME Seat Cleat orBikeFit Saddle Changer to help select saddles. If a specialty shop like this is impossible to find in your area, my favorites for you to try are the ISM PN3.0, the Speed and Comfort Type 5, and the Bontrager Hilo.

Related: The Best Triathlon Saddles of 2021

If a new saddle does help to regain comfort, be mindful of where you install it. These split nose saddles are also intended to be ridden on their noses. A good starting point for saddle position with a split nose saddle is with the saddle nose about 40mm behind the center of the bottom bracket.

Once you are comfortably set up a bit further forward on the bike, I would start incrementally lowering your aero bars. You can most easily do this by removing the spacers from underneath your stem. Your stem can also be flipped over to bring the bars down a bit further. I suggest trying 5mm at a time. As the bars go lower, you should hopefully feel a bit more muscle recruitment from your glute muscles and hopefully, your pedal stroke doesn’t begin to feel choppy or restrictive. If it does start to become harder to pedal, it’s time to stop lowering the bars and to raise the bars up to regain pedaling smoothness.

As I mentioned earlier, this is a lot of information and we are talking about huge changes to your position. It may be best to skip some of the guesswork and trial and error and go to your closest bike fit professional.

I hope this information is helpful!

Best Regards,

Jonathan

Jonathan Blyer is the owner of Brooklyn-based ACME Bicycles, a Retül Certified Master Bike Fitter, and teacher at the Guru Academy in Bethel, CT.