A Simple Test for Proper Aerodynamics and Bike Fit
By Laurin Stennis, MSW, LCSW
Laurin Stennis is co-owner of Cycling Specifics, a cycling resource center in Carrboro, NC, dedicated to pro- fessional bicycle fittings and custom bicycle design and sales. Certified by both Serotta and F.I.S.T. as a bicycle fitter, she is also a USAC Licensed and BSE Certified Mechanic and a licensed coach with USAC and USAT. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
erodynamics and proper fit should be a marriage made in heaven: both should be attainable without conflict or pain and suffering. Far too often we hear triathletes or time trialists say things like, “Well, I guess I’m pretty comfortable on my bike...it just hurts when I look up.” When you look down the road, you mean?
is unacceptable and completely avoidable, and riders need to know this.
In fact, coaches and leaders in the sport need to know this as well. At last year’s USAT Coaching Certification Conference,
one of the instructors spoke about pain and stiffness when getting off the bike and mimicked running hunched over to T2 as he laughed and said, “We all want massages after we get off our bikes, right?” We politely raised our hands and said, “If anyone we fitted got off their bike moving like that, we would consider it malpractice on our part.” He was intrigued. Pain related to position is not a given in this sport. It is completely unnecessary.
Those who focus on having riders sit as low as possible without conducting a thorough and proper assessment of each rider’s injury history, range of motion, and flexibility not only risk that rider’s cycling health and well being on the bike but also hinder each rider’s true performance potential. Each rider should be set up only according to his individual body’s natural possibilities and limitations, his distance, and his discipline. This is the recipe for optimum health and power production, two keys to a successful season.
Certainly even mild pain in your athlete’s neck, shoulders, lower back, or knees are obvious signs of physical distress and the need for a proper bicycle fitting. But is it possible to be asymptomatic and still not be positioned as powerfully and as aerody- namically as possible? Absolutely.
Next long training ride on their time trial or tri bikes, have your athlete try this: Pick a c. 10 mile loop course for him to ride for at least three laps at tempo pace after a proper warm up. If he has a power meter, ask him to use it. Take a picture or video of your athlete as he begins his ride. Then take another picture his second and third time past. Remind him: “No posing for the camera, just let your body do its thing.”
Now compare each picture, noting any changes in his position. Does his back round? Do his arms stretch out further? Does he seem to be moving around on the seat a lot? Now look at his power output information over the course of the ride. Did it decrease over the course of the ride at all? These are all signs of a poor position, potential injury, and limited power production. And in the end, all of the adaptations his body made throughout the journey decreased his aerodynamics, causing his body to work harder from a biomechanically poor position. This is not your athlete performing at his best, and it is also an injury waiting to hap- pen.
The link between comfort, power, and aerodynamic efficiency is undeniable, and, when fitted properly, unbelievably pow- erful. But there is no one way to set up triathletes or time trialists to achieve this, no magical formula or set of measurements that can tell a rider where to be. Only by way of a thorough process of physical evaluation during the fit process can this be achieved. Next to an event bicycle designed specifically for your athlete from the frame up, this is the best investment he could possibly make toward improving his performance.