It’s Fitting

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Alright, I’m going to level with you all here. Not funny, not cynical, not anything but the best for you. In fact, this is coming straight from the Drunkmenistan Department of Health and Cyclist Services.

Get fit.

And I don’t mean the gut. Get your bike fit checked out. I’m gonna tell you why my personal experience can save you suffering. It’s long, but you’re at work and looking for something to read. Here’s a chain of events that seemed unrelated, yet lead to one simple conclusion, that I discovered 3 weeks ago.

I’m a 28 yrs old and short. And from about 15, when I stopped growing, I’ve been a little bummed at my growth plates. I topped out at 5’8”. My arms, extended out to the side, are about 5’10.5”. My legs are short. I’m apelike. And, at 22, when I discovered I was fast on a bike, all my competition, teammates, and mentors were tall, rangy mountain bikers. Tyler’s about 5’4″, and Levi is just about 5’6″, but they weren’t my heroes then. I wanted to be Ryder, Carl, Tinker, and Neil, my teammate who was a beast. So when I got a bike, I started creeping the saddle up. Old height? Unknown. New height? 27.3 inches from center of BB to top of saddle.

‘Cause a short saddle is like a small package. And Sea Otter is like a beach, in the south of France, where it’s out there for everyone to see, and the chicks are hot. Gotta look your best. Doesn’t matter if you rocked the race, if you look slow, well, read what I think of Floyd and his NASCAR sunglasses thing below. People judge.

While I’m entirely in the heart of the bell curve of height, I was trying to make my saddle higher. Meanwhile, I was making my bikes smaller, lighter, and I was lowering the handlebar.

Flagstaff cured me of the low handlebar. Too damn technical here. Our racecourses look like the surface of the moon. And people ride them like the Salt Flats.

Anyway, I started in 2002, racing hard, and I was fast. I had more power than the average racer, and I could uncork these vicious little attacks on climbs that would drop my competition. By 2004 I had no power, couldn’t pop people off my wheel, and started getting used to losing races. 2006: I decide I need power. I buy a single speed, 2:1 ratio cross bike, and start using it to climb the biggest longest climbs around. What did I get? Sore. Did I get power? No. Damn.

2006: I start yoga. If you haven’t done it yet, don’t. Wait until you really want to. Because it will push your body and mind in ways you never dreamed. In my case, it made me realize that my hips were a tight, disastrous mess. I wasn’t getting any power out of the hip musculature, and I was starting to develop horrible posture to correct for my inflexibility. I was getting old.

The other thing it did for me was lengthen my spine. And when I finally exploded my Cannondale this summer, on “Yer Mom,” (that’s right, I broke my bike over Yer Mom) I realized it was time to get a new ride. And I realized that with my longer spine, and better posture on my bike, I should get a bigger bike. The bike is sweet (product review to come later) and the longer top tube and wheelbase helps the balance. Good.

What really threw me was when they fit me at the shop. It comes with the bike. I was like “oh, I’m good, I don’t need it,” but they said, “hey, it’s free,” so I took it. Best money I didn’t spend. ‘Cause during the fitting, the dude looks at my knee angle, resets the saddle height, and says, “try that.” so I get on, and the thing is outrageously low. I feel like I’m on a beach cruiser. I tell him so. So he bumps it up an eighth of an inch. “That’s more of a racer angle” he says. Hrm. I’m trying to get away from the racer thing, I’m thinking, what’s the deal, why does this feel so low?? I thank him, take the bike home, and put it in the garage.

Next morning I get up, go to the garage, and measure the saddle height. 25.5”. Yo. So I bump it up to 26”. And it still feels like a beach cruiser. But I think, what the hell, my body’s changed from yoga, I’m not trying to be Mr. Racer-head, and so I’ll ride it, and when I hate it, I’ll bump it back to 27.3”.

I ride it, and whaddaya know, it’s ok.

I keep riding it, and I’m starting to notice some things. I have some power. In fact, I have a SHITLOAD of power. I’m uncorking nasty, brutal, fun little jumps on the climbs. I’m whipping up stuff that I labored on before. I feel like I’m pedaling squares, because my feet aren’t pointed down at the bottom of the stroke, ready to pull back through. My heel’s down. I jam down, and the jamming’s coming from my glutes, not just my quads. My calves are engaged.

I start thinking about it…and thinking…and you know where I’m going:

My EGO made me bump up the saddle. And it made me slow. My muscles weren’t efficient. My hips seized up as they were rolling for the pedals. In the last few yoga sessions, my hips have opened like I had taken time off the bike, but I hadn’t. The tendons just weren’t getting maxed.

But I’m a scientist. This doesn’t mean anything just yet. So I break out the road bike, which has the 27.3” Saddle height, and away I go, down the road. And I felt like ass! My muscles fatigued. I didn’t have pop in or out of the saddle. After the ride, my hips were tight. All my old sensations that felt “normal” three weeks ago now felt strange. While this still isn’t “replicated” or “controlled” it’s good enough for me. I can tell what the hell’s going on. And DC ain’t exactly the journal Nature, if you know what I’mean.

So the moral is: get your bike checked out. You may think you’re Mr. Pro-style, and that may be, but really, you might not know shit, because your mind is getting in the way. Have someone check you out on the bike. It could save your body from trouble later.


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About the sullied cycologist

"measures, daily, just how quickly we are destroying our atmosphere. thinks riding bikes might just help this problem. tapes his middle finger to the handlebar (unsuccessfully represses rage). mountainbikes in lycra. Tomac did it. he does it. he's not Tomac." Missoula, Montana, USA

One Reply to “It’s Fitting”

  1. Be warned, though, that although many shops will happily charge you for a “fit” session, they have no clue what they are doing. Ask around, or look for a crusty old shop with a 20-year old FitKit before doling out your bucks.