Xantusia is on top of this dead end dirt road. Mark Montgomery, ex-pro triathlete and road racer, resides on one side of the road, and Dan Empfield (triathlete, SlowTwitch founder, author, bike fitting advocate), lives on the other side of the road. 4100 feet above sea level, you are surrounded by the high desert, sun and Joshua trees. For the past 5 days, I lived and learned at this small endurance training compound, that both of them call home.
There were many stories shared while on my learning get-away, and I'll share along some of them, which may be well known, or not. I don't have enough room to write all the stories, but I'll give a few random knowledges to put in your useless knowledge bank.
Random knowledge #1 - Dan Empfield created the first wetsuit with Mark Montgomery.
In Dan's garage, 8 of us sat and learned about F.I.S.T. This stands for Fit Institute SlowTwitch. Dan has been the leader in bicycle fitting for many years. He has set the standard in fitting and established things such as stack and reach and what a proper front end of a bike should look, feel and ride like. I was going to get to learn first hand from the original.
The 8 of us were from all around the world. We all came from Vancouver, San Diego, Mexico City, DC, Seattle, LA, Romania, and of course, Madison. I was the girl there of an all boy band.
Dan's teaching area was literally his garage. Dust, tools, computers, fit bikes, and more, scattered the room. Some comfy old college couches were ready for us to sit and call home.
Random knowledge #2 - One of the stages of the Tour de California goes right by the compound. It's an 11.6 mile climb to the top, starting at 3700 feet and ending at ~10k feet. I rode one day, and got to a mile above sea level after 5 miles, and called it a day. Whew. New respect for mountain climbing at altitude.
Day one was an intro to bike fitting concepts and protocol, and a start at road bike fitting. Spending a lot of time reading, researching and self-learning about bike fit and how I can relate my biomechanic background, I feel l have a pretty good grasp on bike fitting. After I got through the entire week, I know feel validated in how I fit, and have a new to bring to bike fitting. As I discussed on the last day with Dan, I have a stronger sense of where I want to go with bike fitting, and now have a stronger base of knowledge of ideal fit, suggesting proper bikes for ride style, and talking points about how bikes should feel and ride.
The key process I took from the first few days of road bike fit were how to take XY coordinates (these are not stack and reach) and how to find a bike to fit properly, retro fit a current bike, and even design my own custom bike frame (now that's pretty sweet). Stack and reach can only tell you about the bike frame. It says nothing about how a bike's front end needs to be, and how it will ride. It's just the frame. Knowing this piece, the XY coordinates are just as, and even more valuable then stack and reach.
SBR and Rocket Bikes have a Dynamic Fit Unit (aka DFU). It was actually the brain child of Dan. He took his bike fitting tools, flew to Guru Cycling, and told them to make a fit bike move on the fly. He wanted to see where certain points were in space (saddle, handebar, contact points) according to the bottom bracket. With these handlebar and saddle XY coordinates, along with stack and reaches of bike frames, the ideal bike could be found for each individual. And now, you have the DFU.
We bought into dynamic fit 4 years ago, with the first DFU arriving at our studio shop 3 years ago. We were the first believers in this dynamic method of fit first. Instead of going out to buy a bike, then get fit to it, you can save time and money by getting your XY coordinates, then referring to stack and reach charts to determine the ideal bike for you. The key to this math, is to know the proper front end for a certain bike to match your XY coordinates.
Random knowledge #3 - Dan Empfield was a Jeopardy question and answer. Dan Empfield was the founder of Quintana Roo and designed the first wetsuit for what sport? What is triathlon.
Day three was interesting, or shall I say, I wasn't sure how to handle it. Paul Swift was coming to share his bike fitting series for cleat and pedal interface. His philosophy is based on viewing how the athlete bikes, and then shimming and wedging to create a more solid pedal stroke. So, in his eyes, if he sees your knee twitch at the top of the pedal stroke, he will suggest to wedge the foot to make the knee not twitch at the top.
Here's my beef. Over the years, I have worked with age group to professional athletes in pretty much every sport except sumo wrestling. Unless this athlete has a severe skeletal issue, 99% of all biomechanical issues can be solved through muscle balance assessment and corrective action. Every day, I correct imbalance and teach athletes how to perform better, and without pain. If I saw that same knee twitching at the top of the pedal stroke, I would investigate if the cleats are straight, is the saddle height too low, is the cyclist sitting straight on the saddle, look at a pedal stroke analysis to see what muscles are not activating, or maybe the athlete just needs some pedaling education. I've seen too many people with wedges and shims to support an imbalance that can be solved by some simple corrective motions.
However, I will defend Paul, and ultimately Dan's point of view. And, Dan and I are on the same page with this point. It's not possible to train each and every fitter the years of training, knowledge and experience I may have, or someone else in the field with similar background. Thus, Paul Swift has created a protocol for cleat/pedal/shoe interface. It does give the standard store bike fitter guidelines. Over time, however, I hope to help change the fit thought process. If the fitter does not carry the education to correct muscle imbalance issues, I hope to create a protocol for a fitter to recognize certain issues, and then refer to a professional that can deal with imbalances.
I ended up bowing out of Day 3 as I felt that I would want to support my beliefs with Paul on his shim/wedging protocol. I didn't want to disrupt the others learning opportunity with Paul.
Random knowledge #4 - Dan was Lance Armstrong's first bike sponsor, with Quintana Roo, the bike brand Dan founded.
Days four and five were spend on time trial bike position. There is a significant different between road and TT position.
Road bikes have a less aggressive geometry, meaning that the seat tube angle is closer to 72 degrees. The angle is generated by the angle of the seat tube through the bottom bracket, then parallel to the ground. A typical TT bike is 78 degrees or more. This is what allows the rider to be in a more aggressive position, lay down on their forearms, and cut more wind. This will instantly make you faster only because you cut more wind and create less drag, to then be faster. This is, aerodynamics. These bikes, however, are only fast if ridden in the TT position. The moment you get out of the position, you loose the advantage of the bike, and the money spent on it. If you cannot sit comfortably in a TT aero position for 95% of your ride, you are not fit correctly, not on the correct bike frame and setup, need a re-fit tune-up, riding a bike course that is best suit for a road bike, or just not built for a TT position.
For fitting with TT bikes, fitters also need to take in consideration the XY of the aero pads. This is a separate contact point from the frame, and needs to be addressed. If the stem is too long, or at a poor angle, or too many spacers, etc the bike will not be comfortable and typically not steer very well. I see these issues walk into the studio every week. Someone got sold a bike, because their real size was not on site, or it was on sale, or the sales floor person did not know how to fit for a proper front end to match the cyclists needs.
On the aero pad XY topic, we have the super bikes. Super bikes are the ones with integrated front ends. They may look all hot and sexy, however they are aggressive, and can only work for certain riders. Don't get caught up in a sexy bike or a hot deal for a TT bike. If the front end is not set up for your geometry, you will endlessly deal with pain and discomfort.
Random knowledge #5 - Steve Hed, creator of HED. wheels, starting making fast wheels to impress his now wife, back in the day, as she was a professional racer. The engineering geek wanted to provide the faster wheels for the girl he was smitten with. In the end, he got the girl, and we got some fast wheels from what is now HED. Cycling.
Closing thoughts? Bike fit first. You're going to want to get fit after a bike purchase, so why not do it before. Spent your money wisely and fit first, buy your bike, then finalize the fit on your new bike. SBR and Rocket Bikes has the latest in bike fit systems to get you to your ideal bike. On top of that, if there are any biomechanical issues we see, we will work on correcting those imbalances so you can ride your new bike, in the ideal position, and perform your best. With the tools and knowledge we have in house, we can provide you the highest level of bike fitting there is. We don't care if you are buying your first bike to get in shape, or are looking for an upgrade on a bike for performance, we just want you to feel good on your bike and have it perform for you how you want it.
Completing my F.I.S.T certification is only "freshman" year of my continuing education. I plan on taking the next level certficiation, F.I.S.T. Down Deep as soon as I can. I am now a part of an elite level of fitters with first hand education to bring to you at any chance I get. I have regular access to Dan and his knowledge, to continue my education. Super excited about that!
Till next time...