Buying Time: How Proper Fitting Can Make You Faster
by G.M. de Rossi, Technical Editor
With the MABRA Time Trial Championship less than a week away, it may be a little late to start training, but it’s never too late to consider if your bike set up is doing everything it should be to maximize the training you’ve already put into the season. Yes, perhaps it’s time to think about your “bike fit.” Have you considered getting your time trial position looked at by an expert? We have and we did and we’re hear to report that it can make a difference for you.
So, what does it mean to be “fitted” for time trials? The time trial superstars on the ProTour might be able to describe for you the hours they spent with researchers in the wind tunnel, tweaking positions and adjusting fractions of a degree to compensate for different material composition of their skinsuits. But, for the average amateur cyclist, the time trial fitting process is often little more than clipping on some aero bars and borrowing a pointy helmet from a triathlete-friend. A simple visit to a local bike shop, however, can often result in minutes’ worth of time savings over a 40K time trial such as competitors will face in this weekend’s Church Creek Time Trial.
Adam Lewandowski, manager of the The Bike Lane’s Reston location, recently discussed time trial fitting with us and summed it up by saying that “what we as fitters are looking for is a sort of ‘sweet spot’ that allows the athlete to hold one position for the duration of the event.” The position ideally allows for the maximum power output over that given distance but, he adds, “if properly positioned, the rider should not feel the urge to move back and forth as fatigue sets in and power output gets harder.” In other words, the proper position should take the focus of the position entirely and put it right back where it needs to be: telling the legs to “shut up” for a few more minutes.
But finding that sweet spot may not be all that self-evident and may not be the sort of thing that can be self-adjusted by an athlete with a full-length mirror or a webcam. “The truth is,” Lewandowski notes, “even a trained bike fitter cannot really be objective about the proper fit on his own bike. An independent set of eyes and measuring tools is really the key to getting a proper fit.” It’s all about looking at the angles and potential power output while compensating for the athlete’s sensations of relative flexibility or tightness in the position. The athlete, according to Lewandowski, is both part of the equation and part of the solution as feedback during the process helps the fitter adjust the aerodynamic theory to match the rider’s reality.
TBL Logo So, what are the basic aerodynamic theories guiding time trial positions these days? Lewandowski argues that “gone are the days of the ‘Superman’ position” since it tends to force the athlete to put a lot of stress and energy into pulling on the bars to maintain power and stability. Instead the common practice these days is to find a position which puts as much of the athlete’s weight as possible over the front of the bike, resting on skeletal structures instead of pulling with the muscles of the upper body. While the “superman position” may offer some aerodynamic benefits in a full-on headwind, Lewandowski contends that “the fitting process is not all about aerodynamics, but about power transfer. You want to put the athlete in a position where he is most efficient while maintaining the best aerodynamics possible in that position.”