• A proper tri bike fit means more comfort, power and speed
  • An experienced tri bike fitter and road bike fitter are different
  • Motion capture allows for a more comprehensive fit

Tri Bike Fitting – part 1

by | Mar 10, 2019 | Bike, Training

We all KNOW that proper bit fit is important, right?  That said, how many cyclists and triathletes actually invest the time and money to get their fit right? And, maybe even more importantly, by the right fitter?

OK, that’s a lot of questions to open an article so here are a few data points about proper fit –

  • Comfort – The right fit will ensure comfort while you’re on the bike.  This doesn’t just mean saddle comfort but comfort for your upper body, too.
  • Aerodynamics/Speed – If you’ve put a bunch of money into a fast bike and wheels but you’re still presenting a bunch of your body too the wind you’re certainly not getting all of the speed out of that fast bike that you can.
  • Power – Making sure that your hip/thigh angle is open at the top of your pedal stroke is critical to generating power well.  A closed hip angle results in less power at the top of your pedal stroke.
  • Enjoyment – Fast is fun, comfortable is fun, running comfortably after getting off the bike is fun.  (OK, maybe not exactly FUN when running off the bike but more enjoyable…)

Those points are the same whether we’re talking about fit for your road bike or a time trial/triathlon bike.  We went to The Energy Lab in Doylestown PA to work with Marc Gallietta and to get Tara fitted on her current bike as well as to determine what bikes would work for her if (when) she gets a new bike.  While Marc is well versed in road bike fits he’s a master at tri bike fitting.  His years of experience coupled with Todd Kenyon’s TTBikeFit methodology means you’re pretty much guaranteed a perfect fit.  As a note, there are lots of great road bike fitters out there.  The challenge is that fit on a triathlon or time trial bike is WAY different from the fit of a road bike.  Applying road bike fit methods to a tri bike isn’t likely to result in the best (fastest, most powerful, most comfortable) position.  Make sure you find a fitter that is experienced in tri bike fitting to be sure you’re getting the most out of your bike and effort.

Marc’s set up at The Energy Lab is cool and Eric’s bike/technology geek was well fed.  Marc owns one of the few Vertex Fit Systems in existence.  The Vertex and it’s proprietary software allow Marc to make fit adjustments in very small increments in real time.  The rider stays on the bike and continues pedaling while the position changes.  No stopping and sitting up to change the position of the fit bike.  The fit gets changed from an app while the rider pedals.  More on that later.  Marc has a large monitor on the wall so the rider gets to see their fit changing live, gets to see before and after images, etc.  The system includes motion capture to ensure that all aspects of the rider’s position and pedal stroke are taken into account.

Before we got started Marc showed us some previous fits.  There were great transformations, of course, but the one example that stuck out the most was of a rider who was sold the wrong bike.  This was a woman who was sold a bike that was simply too big for her.  There was only so much that Marc could do to get her into a better position.  Mind you, this wasn’t a department store bike we’re talking about but a $5000+ purchase.  Maybe the cyclist got a “good deal”, maybe the shop sold her what was in stock without a ton of concern for finding the RIGHT bike for her, I don’t really know.  The point here is to make sure that you’re getting the right bike for you when you’re throwing down a few thousand dollars of your hard earned cash.

With that said we went into this fit session for Tara with two scenarios in mind – fitting her on her current bike & determining what bikes would fit her well once her right fit was determined.  Both of these are services that Marc offers – pre-buy fits and current bike fits.

First step in the fit was to get Tara’s Felt on the trainer, have her warm up and pedal, grab some video of the current fit and see where we were starting.  What we found was:
Relaxed seat angle – Tara was sitting too far back.  That meant…
Closed hip angle  – This results in less power generation, particularly at the top of the pedal stroke.
Seat height too low
Upright Torso – This is obviously less aerodynamic than a less upright torso but it also requires more muscular support.
Areobars at a negative angle – This, too, is less aero and likely was causing some level of wrist and hand strain.

The picture below illustrates all of this well.

With Tara’s current fit determined Marc duplicated that position on the Vertex and had Tara hop on.  Tara hopped on the Vertex and Marc had her pedal at a steady 100 watts.  From there the fun started.  To be honest, I don’t remember the order in which the various aspects of the fit were tweaked.  What I do remember is that as Marc made adjustments I could HEAR the difference in the position.  Tara’s cadence would go up and her pedaling was smoother as Marc dialed things in.  

Ultimately, here’s what Marc changed on Tara’s fit via the Vertex:

  • Seat height went up by 2 cm
  • Saddle moved forward by 2.5 cm
  • Reach on the aerobars moved back a bit

What that meant was that Tara’s hip angle opened from 17 to 28 degrees.  Her upper arms were more vertical resulting in more skeletal support of her upper body rather than relying on muscular support. A WAY more aero position.  Her back was flatter and her head was lower. That will mean she’s having to punch a much smaller hole through the air as she pedals.  So, better power generation, less drag, and less muscle fatigue.  That seems like a pretty good recipe for faster bike splits and an easier transition to the run.  Wait, faster on the bike?  Maybe this won’t be so good for me!  🙂   

Once the new position was done Marc and I played with Tara’s Felt to get that dialed in with her new position.  It turns out the Felt is a bit small for her (50cm rather than the 52cm determined by her position on the Vertex) so we had to go with “pretty close” to her perfect fit.  It struck me that relatively small moves resulted in very big changes.  Again, we’re talking about 2 cm in seat height (and, yes, I know that this would usually be considered a LARGE change in seat height for a properly fit bike) and 2.5 cm forward for the seat.  As I said, we moved the aerobars a little bit back to get close to the perfect position.  We also put on new aerobar pads & cups while we were adjusting things.

Take a look at the image below.  The new angles show clearly the changes that were made.  In particular, take a look at Tara’s back and head in relation to the pictures on the wall.  You can see a pretty big difference in how flat her back is.  Less frontal area presented to the wind = a faster bike split and less effort.

Here’s what Tara has to say about how she feels on the bike after the fit:

Before visiting Mark I thought my fit was dialed in but after a few hours in his shop I learned what riding in the proper position feels like.  Before the fit, my body was unknowingly showing signs of bad positioning, my back and hips were tight, I was experiencing Tensor Fasciae Latae pain, it got to the point I was not able to run and had numbness in my feet and pinky fingers when I rode

On the Vertex machine Mark was able to make minute adjustments which made a great difference in my comfort and ride.  I was able to feel the power difference from making slight adjustments to my seat height and positioning.  What seemed like a normal effort became an easy effort, at the same wattage, after the adjustments.  I could also feel the relief in pressure on my shoulders and arms when the handlebars moved back into a more compact position.  The new position opened my hips allowing me to have a full pedal stroke and gave me the ability to apply full power at the top of the stroke where it is most efficient.

I have been back on the bike since the bike fitting, unfortunately on the trainer due to weather not outside, but have noticed a difference in my rides.  My power is more sustainable, my body is less tired and I am comfortable for most of the ride.  I am even experiencing less pain in my hip which has allowed me to get back to a little running.

Overall the experience with the Vertext bike fit was positive and beneficial.  I am looking forward to this coming race season to see how much more competitive I am with the new positioning.

Like I said above Tara also went into this as a Pre-Buy fit.  Marc came us with a few bikes that would fit Tara well based on her new position.  One of the bikes that came up in Marc’s software was the Quintana Roo PR series.  By strange coincidence I’ve seen Tara looking at the QR site a few times.  Who knows, maybe we’ll have a Quintana Roo in for testing soon…

So, what does this cost?  About the cost of a new helmet.  Marc’s pre-buy fits are $175.  A portion of this is refundable if you buy a bike through Marc.  He has access to bikes from Argon 18, Blue, Fuji, Kestrel, Look, Louis Garneau, Ventum, Quintana Roo, Litespeed, Open, Orbea, and Premier.  
If you’re getting your current bike fit to you the cost is $225.  This cost is a bit higher but will include adjusting your current bike’s fit after determining things on the Vertex.

In the course of a year of triathlons we all spend a ton of money on race entries, travel, nutrition, new gear, etc.  $200-ish is a pretty small price to pay to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your bike and body.  If you’re within a reasonable driving distance from Bucks County PA go see Marc.  If you’re in New England go see TTBikeFIt.  No matter where you are seek a qualified triathlon bike fitter and get your fit dialed in.  I’m up next and I’m curious to see what Marc can do for my fit.  After watching Tara’s fit session I think I have an idea of where my position needs to change but we’ll see…

UPDATE – See THIS ARTICLE about Eric’s fit session.

Video provided by Marc from The Energy Lab’s fitting system:

A bit of disclosure – Marc is a friend from our community.  We swim with him and have run into him on rides (but he’s way faster than us on his Ventum).  We agreed to write up our fitting experiences as part of a trade for Marc’s fitting services and some product discounts.  Eric is also creating a website for The Energy Lab through his company SherpaWeb as part of the agreement Keep an eye out for a new Energy Lab site soon.

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