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The off-season is upon most of us at this point, and it’s a great time to get ready for your next (and best) season. Cycling is usually the longest leg of every triathlon, and it’s also the easiest leg to gain or lose serious time.
As you reflect upon your riding and your racing from your previous seasons, consider what may have held you back on the bike. Were you able to stay in your aero position for the majority of your races? Were you able to stay aero on your long rides? Were you able to stay comfortable or were you constantly shuffling around looking for that sweet spot of comfort and power? Do you have a lingering injury or chronic pain that held you back? It’s impossible to focus on going fast and putting down power if every moment on the bike is agony. On the other end of the spectrum, you may have spent the past season riding very comfortably and may have made great strides in your fitness only to find yourself frustrated on race day when performance didn’t compare to others in the way you would have hoped; you may have seen others, seemingly just as fit as you, zooming passed in their über-efficient tight aero tucks as you pushed harder than you should to try and catch up into the headwind.
If you are considering pretty much everything about your bike for next season, then booking an appointment with the best bike fitter you can find should be your top priority at this time of year. A bike fitter’s job is to be the therapist that mends and develops the relationship between you and your bicycle.
A great bike fitter wears many different hats: They are an expert in all the contact points of the bicycle, an expert in bicycle geometry and adjustability; they are versed or possibly an expert in anatomy and physiology; they are patient, understanding, and great listeners and teachers; and they have raced and/or ridden many bikes at many events. They hopefully also know how to assemble and disassemble just about any bike and maybe they even understand all the current bottom bracket standards. They may work at your local bike shop or have a private consulting business. Some will even have fancy tools, but a bike fitter’s greatest tool is their experience and well-developed wisdom and intuition.
Let’s look at the three top reasons to get a bike fit in the offseason:
If it hurts, a bike fitter can probably help, and pain is the reason most seek out a bike fit. Cycling will never be as comfortable as sitting on a La-Z-Boy chair, but it should be reasonably comfortable to the point where your pain doesn’t dictate the length of your ride or get in the way of your performance.
The most common ailments on tri bikes tend to be saddle-related, and many of these issues take time to fully resolve—hence why the off-season is a great time to start. It’s fairly easy to rule out a saddle that feels terrible immediately, but it can often take a month or so to really get to know a saddle and to determine if it’s going to be appropriate for you long-term.
I really hate changing a rider’s saddle when a big event is right around the corner, making the off-season the absolute best time to experiment with a new saddle. As an added bonus, indoor riding tends to bring out the worst in everything on a bike, so if you can ride without pain on the indoor trainer, then there is a very good chance that you will be pain-free outdoors.
Once you have the nuts and bolts of your bike position established and have a position that can be sustained for the duration of your event, it’s time to start making adjustments to squeeze out some free speed. Typically, a bike fitter’s “go-to” method for making a triathlete more aero will be progressively pushing the rider forward on the bike (within reason) and simultaneously lowering the aero bars down. This forward rotation of the rider aims to preserve healthy biomechanics while punching a smaller hole through the air. Other aero speed tricks may include inclining the aerobars, narrowing the arm pads and shortening the crank arm length.
RELATED: The Best Aerobars, Tested and Rated
Riding a bike in a speed-focused aero position is not a natural act and acclimating to this takes time. Also, it is entirely normal for an athlete to come back in for a follow-up appointment or two after a fit session to fine-tune the position. The closer an athlete is to riding a position that’s 100% focused on speed, the finer and finer, yet more meaningful, the adjustments will become. It’s easy to see how these types of adjustments are best saved for the winter months when an athlete has time for all of this acclimation and experimentation to occur.
3. New Bike Purchase
Perhaps the most valuable use of a bike fitter’s service is for this purpose. Buying a new bike is not like buying a car. Test rides are 100% meaningless when it comes to bike sales, so don’t even bother wasting your time thinking about them. Simply put, it is impractical for a bike shop to set two bikes up to the exact same specifications in order for you to really make a valid comparison from one bike to another. Different tires, air pressure, or saddles can make a huge difference in the way a bike feels, not to mention setting the bike up to the exact same bike fit coordinates.
If you are in the market for a new bike (road, gravel, or tri) for the upcoming riding season, your first call should be to your bike fitter. Any great bike fitter will use a fitting bicycle, which is essentially a spin bike that is tailor made for bike fitting. Performing the fit on the fitting bike will let you and the fitter figure out the best possible bike position, and the fitter can suggest actual bicycles that will match that position. Choosing a bike based on fit isn’t just about making sure the bike can fit you today, but also that it can fit you in the future as your body adapts and changes for better or worse. Again, since the off-season is the best time to buy a new bike (with all of the adjustments that come along with it), it’s also the best time to get fit before you make that purchase.
So when you’re plotting out your off-season, be sure to move “getting a bike fit” to the top of the priority list. The gains will take time, but they’ll also make time out on the course.
Jon Blyer is the owner of Brooklyn-based ACME Bicycles, a Retül Certified Master Bike Fitter, and teacher at the Guru Academy in Bethel, CT.