Saturday, July 30, 2011

A New Bike fit and a fabulous ride

Last weekend I went on my longest ride yet: a group ride that was supposed to be 55 km (34mi) and ended up being 65 km (40mi). By the end of it, I was struggling. The final 15 km were into a brutal headwind and it really broke me down. The distance was a stretch for me, but the more challenging part of it wasn't pushing my body's endurance. It was pushing past the pain and discomfort I got from such a long ride. My back ached. My shoulders ached. One of my hands kept going numb.

Now, I know that a certain amount of discomfort can be normal when you start riding, or when you go longer distances. In my case though, I've pretty much dealt with pain and discomfort anytime my rides get past the hour mark and particularly past the one and a half hour mark. I've done plenty rides of those lengths on a regular basis, so it's no longer a case of just getting used to being in the saddle. Not so normal. Not good either, not when my eventual goals are likely to have me doing 8 hour rides...

After the ride, I chatted with Jen, who has had a bike fitting with Marcelo. I've heard Marcelo's name pop up a lot. Of about 8 triathletes at the group ride, it turned out 5 had been fitted by Marcelo. All of them said that it made a huge difference for their comfort and performance on the bike.

I gave up hoping to get comfortable by simply riding more. I've been doing that for months. I made an appointment to see Marcelo and was able to get in before this weekend.

The first thing Marcelo did was put my bike in the trainer and adjust my seat angle and handlebars. He commented that "unless the bike shop sold you the wrong bike, those aren't where they should be." It got me a little nervous. Despite some discomfort on Bella, I love my road bike, and I was afraid he would tell me she wasn't a good bike for me.

Then he had me walk and observed that I over-pronate. Not news to me, as I've been told that when buying running shoes. It was news to me, however, that it had a significant impact while cycling. He measured my feet (or calves?). Then he put a couple thing-a-ma-jigs between my cleat and shoe (shims, I think?) He also adjusted the angle on my cleats.

Then onto the trainer. He did a series of measurements and used a tool to check the angle of my knee at various points. It was very interesting and very technical. The fit I'd received at the bike shop was done entirely by eyeballing me and my position. Marcelo might have done some early adjustments by eyeballing them, but everything was measured and tweaked to position very scientifically.

Ultimately, he ended up changing the angle and adjustment on my cleats, the height and angle of my saddle, the angle of my handlebars, and the saddle itself. (There may have been more, but this is what I remember.)

Then he stuck a round sticker on my shoes and wrapped a strap just below my knee. He told me it was to check my alignment. He lined a couple laser levels up to the dots and had me pedal. At this point he announced that I was the best that he has seen in all his time of bike fitting! No idea if there would have been another adjustment if I had been crooked, as it seems this was one thing I am just about perfect at.

Finally, he hooked my bike up to his computrainer to check how efficient my cycling was. The answer? Not particularly. Truthfully, I'm not that surprised. I haven't been riding that long, and I know I still have a lot to learn. He gave me some tips on how to improve my efficiency - mainly to try to glide more. Concentrate more on bringing my feet forward and back, rather then just mashing them down.

On the trainer, I felt more comfortable on Bella, but I wasn't really on it long enough to know for sure. The real test was a road ride - something that went past that hour to hour and a half point that usually becomes the pain threshold.

I headed out early this morning. I was meeting a new friend and riding partner (Amy), but first I had to ride to her house.

The first thing I noticed when getting onto my bike was that the seat was higher - a lot higher. Before the fitting, I could clip in on one side, kind of scoot myself onto the saddle and then start to pedal. Now, I have to follow a method that I once saw on a utube video of "the proper way to mount a bike". (In all fairness, there are probably multiple "proper" ways.) I clip in on one side and basically lift myself into the seat with my first pedal stroke. I also have to be careful stopping. Before, I could get my feet somewhat comfortably on the ground after stopping. Now, if I am still in the saddle, I'm only touching the ground with my very tiptoes.

The next thing I noticed was my cadence. Previously, 75 rpm has been about the maximum rpm that I've been able to maintain for any length of time. I know that a higher rpm is ideal, but it has never been easy for me to keep it up. Today, I naturally fell into a comfortable 85 rpm.

What followed was a fabulous and challenging ride. Amy suggested a route that I haven't taken before which took us up one of the bigger hills out of town. Then onto a rolling route. Lots of downhills to test my bravery and just as many ups to test my fitness. I'm still working on letting myself just go down the hills. I have a tendency to ride the brakes a bit too often. It was a beautiful morning and a perfect temperature. We had a stunning view of the mountains. My only regret is not having a camera along to show you how good it was.

On the way back, we had to cross a busy road where we had a stop sign. I almost had an embarrassing clipless pedal fall there, but fortunately saved myself in time. Yep, definitely noticing the difference in the seat height when I stop still...

Then down the hill. For those that know Cochrane, we took Gleneagles hill down (rather then the much busier Cochrane hill). It is a steep decline with lots of turns. I must admit that I hit the brakes a bit much there. Then Amy passed me and started getting ahead. Now, I wasn't being competitive (at this point) and trying to get in front of her, but I didn't want to get dropped either. I let go a bit and just concentrated on watching the road, while keeping relaxed.

I achieved a goal going down that hill! One of my goals has always been to hit a new top speed on any given ride. With all the hills on my riding routes, I'm not limited by my fitness in this goal, but rather my bravery. My previous top speed was 54.9 km/h (34.1mi/h). Today I hit 66 km/h (41 mi/h).

Shortly after that, we parted ways and I headed home. It was a great start to my day.

All in all, I noticed a few things in the ride: my higher seat changed how I mount and dismount - it will take some getting used to; my natural cadence is suddenly higher; going down hills fast is really fun.

There was one thing that I didn't notice in almost 2 hours of cycling: pain or discomfort.

Thank you Marcelo!


  1. That is awesome!!! I really need to get myself a good bike fit. I've got a couple of issues that I would bet could be taken care of. I'm glad yours worked out so well!

  2. It's amazing what a good bike fit will do for your ride! Glad to hear that you are noticing lots of positive changes, including no pain!!

    I will admit that the change in mounting would scare me!