Basically, you will need everything that you normally ride or race with.
Proper bicycle fit is essential for comfort, safety, injury prevention, and peak performance.
The bike fitter acts as a facilitator, moving the rider through a series of positions, and using feedback from the rider to select the ideal position. In particular, the fitter will spend a considerable amount of time establishing the proper seat and handlebar ("cockpit") position. Video is used to ensure that the selected knee angle will not cause injury, hip angle allows proper breathing, and shoulder angle provides for adequate upper body support. Measurements and adjustments are made to ensure that the rider is comfortable and injury free. An improper fit may be holding you back, and even worse, could lead to injury or chronic pain. Your body contacts a bicycle in three areas; your hands, your pelvis, and your feet, the fitting process can reveal positional changes that can reduce friction and hot spots.
Efficiency is about getting more for less. In cycling, this means more speed for less work. If you have an aggressive position for generating more power, is this costing you more or less energy? Does it demand a higher heart rate? And what about aerodynamics? At higher cycling speeds on a flat road, 87% of a cyclist’s power is spent overcoming aerodynamic drag. For those cyclists seeking improvements in performance, it is critical that the fitter understands the importance of good aerodynamics. The Bike Energy Lab process considers power, energy demand (heart rate), and aerodynamics in finding an optimal and efficient fit solution. For performance-oriented cyclists, video is used to align the client’s position to those of elite athletes, positions that are empirically known to produce fast results.
A typical fitting at the Bike Energy Lab includes a static fitting where we get anthropometric data (i.e. we measure you), some biomechanical assessments, a cleat fitting, and a full 3D dynamic motion capture fitting. This usually takes 2 to 3 hours.
Most of the variability in the time it takes stems from the bike itself, the number of changes required, and whether or not those changes require some re-routing of cables. This can be particularly time consuming for an aero bike with hidden cabling. Other unexpected items can also add to the time required, for instance, having to remove rusty cleat bolts from bike shoes by drilling out the bolts and rebuilding the shoe.
We are fully equipped to make detailed repairs on even the most complex and advanced bikes, and have more tooling than the average bike shop in Hong Kong. We can also rebuild and repair bike shoes! However, these things can add significantly to the time required to complete the fitting. In some rare exceptional cases, fittings may have to be interrupted so we have the time to make the necessary repairs. These repairs may be at an additional cost to the fitting. Better to do things right than do them rushed!
Quite simply, a new cyclist has much more to gain from a proper bike fitting than an elite rider. The Bike Energy Lab process applies cost-effective tools to help the newer rider avoid the years of pain and discomfort often endured by traditional cyclists who won’t pay for a bike fit. It can also help the new rider save a significant amount of money spent buying various ill-fitting bike parts that would be wasted on trial-and-error fitting.
For the newer performance-oriented triathlete, a tri-bike fit ensures the best possible performance considering that athlete’s current fitness level and goals.
F.I.S.T. (Fit Institute Slow Twitch) is a professional tri bike fitting protocol and accreditation. Its principles are highly regarded in the triathlon and time-trial community. Dan Empfield, the inventor of the modern steep-angled triathlon bicycle and founder of Quintana Roo, developed the F.I.S.T. system after years of studying the science of triathlon bike design and fitting. It is a system designed to help cyclists find the perfect fit, just as a golfer tries to find the perfect swing or a tennis player tries to find the perfect backhand. F.I.S.T. principles are documented here.
Antony Pringle of the Bike Energy Lab was one of the first fit studios to adopt F.I.S.T. principles in Asia.
Each bicycle type has a specific focus. What makes a triathlon bike different from a typical road bike is that the geometry and the design is made for flat, fast, straight, fast riding. The tri bike frame geometry sets the rider at a much steeper seat tube angle (typically in the range 75 to 81°) so he or she is more aerodynamic, while maintaining a proper torso, hip, and leg relationship for effective pedaling. The tri-specific (or time trial) geometry is the most comfortable, aerodynamic and efficient position for long timed races since the rider’s upper body is low, but the weight is supported by elbows that are resting on cushioned pads.
On a road bike, the upper body is propped up by your shoulders, which are held up by the back, arms, and hands. A road bike is more manoeuvrable than a tri bike due the rider’s centre of gravity being further back. Also, the road bike geometry is more upright. It is easier to see where you are going, you have more options for hand positions, better pelvic weight distribution, more natural breathing, less potential for strain below the neck, and it is much more comfortable on hilly courses.
So, do you need a tri bike to do a triathlon? No! Any road bike can be used and there are often more road bikes entered in the average triathlon event than there are tri or time trial specific bikes.
Which one should you choose? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
It should be noted that putting aero bars on a conventional road bike does NOT make it a tri bike! Improperly fitted aero bars on a road bike are more likely to make you less aerodynamic, less powerful, and SLOWER! If simply mounted atop existing road bars, they will make you less aerodynamic, and because they stretch you out and compress your hip angle, the result is less comfort, much less efficient breathing (and in longer events, difficulty digesting!), lower power output, and worst of all, this can lead to severe lower back pain.
However, there is a proper way to fit aero bars to a road bike. It can be done effectively, but there is much more to it than simply slapping an aerobar and pads on top of a road handlebar. There are also a few road bikes on the market today that are actually designed to accommodate tri aero bars effectively.
Hong Kong bike shops are in a particularly difficult spot as the market is highly competitive and the cost of retail real estate is the highest in the world. They need to move stock, and they do so by selling a lot of bikes. Because of this, unfortunately, they are typically more motivated to achieve a quick sale than to ensure the long term comfort of the rider.
In fact, very few shops in Hong Kong, and indeed in Asia, have any expertise in bike fitting. Bike fitting is at best seen as a marketing tool and at worst an impediment to a quick sale. Bike fitting capability places a shop in a conflict of interest; the fitter might be under pressure to use the fitting to upsell the customer to more expensive components or possibly a new bike, and that would be a bike that is in stock, as opposed to a bike model sold by a competitor.
The Bike Energy Lab, our only priority is ensuring that you get the best possible enjoyment out of your bike.
Some bike fits involve measuring you up and applying basic static equations to dictate your position on the bike. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t take into account your unique biomechanics. The best bike fit uses both static and dynamic tools in the hands of an experienced fitter to come up with an optimal solution.
Although it’s possible to approximate joint angles without motion capture systems, using dynamic video or motion capture analysis is much more precise as we can stop the motion and take measurements throughout your natural pedaling motion, at normal pedaling speeds and loads. Moreover, we can visually record and compare changes in position. Video is also used to provide live feedback during the fit session. You’ll be able to quickly see how the fitting has improved your cycling position!
Proper cleat placement the foundation for a great bike fit, as the foot/pedal interface is where the power you produce is transferred to the bike. Poorly positioned cleats have a negative impact on power production, and more importantly, they can be a potent source of overuse injuries.
Having worked with a number of different positioning systems in the past, many with overly complicated fitting devices, we now use the Bikefit Systems method developed by Paul Swift, eight times US National Cycling Champion and Dr. Robert Mohr, Chief of Podiatric Surgery UCLA medical centre. The protocol is elegant, and we have found that it provides consistently good results on all brands of pedals, with float and without. Cleat position can be adjusted to place the foot where it naturally wants to sit throughout the full pedal stroke, thereby minimising the transmission of stresses up the lower limb and in to the knee.
This is a possible outcome of the fitting process. Often, bike retailers (especially in Hong Kong!) simply need to move inventory, and invariably, some customers end up with the wrong frame or mis-sized parts. At The Bike Energy Lab, getting you the best possible fit is our first and only priority.
Should you need adjustments to your bike, we carry the tools to make nearly all possible adjustments on-site. Should you need new components, we carry an inventory of the most popular saddles, stems, and bars, and other accessories, and we sell them at very competitive prices. We can also get you discounts at some of Hong Kong’s best bike shops.
Much of what is currently used in bike fitting is based on lore and tradition. Although these have an important role today, and there is undeniably an art to a good fit, there are unfortunately as many opinions out there about position on the bike as there are athletes and coaches. There needs to be a forum where the theories are tested and evaluated, and science provides that. The gold standard in research is the “peer-reviewed” study. Below this would be properly conducted independent studies, and large-scale empirical observations, and below that, studies conducted for marketing purposes. These all have a place, but in the complete absence of a scientific justification, a recommendation is just “one person’s opinion.”
Over the past decade, many wonderful tools have been developed in the field of bike fitting. A lot money has been committed to studying bike position, not just to yield better performances at the elite levels of the sport, but also to develop products to allow people who spend long hours working on bicycles, like police officers, do so in comfort. Motion capture in cycling is one technology that has brought a huge understanding to the field. It has really provided a quantum leap. A dynamic 3D motion capture bike fitting coupled with heart rate and power data can provide information towards improving performance well beyond what the most elite professional athletes could receive only 5-10 years ago.
We don’t hear this often, but it does happen. We try to be upfront and let people know that bike fitting is sometimes an iterative process involving some trial & error. Anyone who tells you differently is simply stretching the truth! For this reason, follow up consultations are offered free of charge, whether via phone, email, or in person.
There are numerous peer-reviewed studies that show that there are clear benefits to riding bikes that are properly fitted. Here are just three of the more interesting ones:
Dave Warden, the host of Tri-Talk.com, cites a study published in the New Zealand Journal of Sports Medicine that claims, for a 40k time trial, a well trained cyclist would save:
A British clinical study known as the Garside Study (Garside and Doran in 2000, Journal of Sports Sciences) demonstrated that 2:34min time savings is possible in the first 5k of the run leg of an Olympic triathlon as a result of having a fitted triathlon bike, in addition to a 1:16 faster bike leg time. It is hypothesed is that a more forward seat position (typical of the F.I.S.T. bike fit) encourages the hamstrings and gluteus muscles to be recruited more readily than a slacker seat angle. This encourages more balanced muscle recruitment during pedaling by taking some dependency off the psoas and quadriceps while riding. This can help preserve these muscles, allowing them to remain fresher for the difficult biomechanical and physiological adjustment period that is inherent in the transition from cycling to running.
A 2006 study from researchers at the University of Texas and Western Michigan University showed that steeper triathlon bike seat tube angles (as are established in the F.I.S.T. protocol) enabled triathletes to maintain power production while significantly reducing muscular activation of the biceps femoris (thigh) muscle.