Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Triathletes and Reach

This week, I'm just going to ramble off into some musings about stuff I've noticed... Let this be your disclaimer that I'm not a certified fitter, professional, expert, guru or anything else you might attach some fancy title to... I'm just an athlete that pays attention and likes to go faster. Take any "wisdom" from this post at your own risk.

As I have made a transition into the world where staying UCI legal pertains to me, it has given me a new appreciation for how much I really liked a "long" bike. Primarily because now I have a limit on it.

It's something difficult to convey in pictures, especially my own because even now I attempt to "scam" the system by riding very far back on my saddle rails, which effectively "stretches" the reach once more. Here's a few pictures of my position over the years.
Circa 2012/13 still very much a triathlete Saddle is slammed as far forward as possible on a P3 w/ a long cockpit to keep a pretty good amount of reach

Much later (2016) my hands are still way over limit and my I'm still a few cm in front of the bb with a long front end.
Current. Saddle 8cm behind the bb extensions just a little behind the 80cm line.

 Like I said, the progression of my own is kind of masked by how much farther I end up traveling backwards to "emulate" the same stretching out. It's a little more obvious between pictures 2 & 3 above, as you can see just how much further (on the same saddle) I am sitting on my Fuji. (not to mention how much further back on the rails it is)

I'm limited as to what I can do now. It's go backwards or get more compact. Why go backwards to accommodate such a stretched front end? To go faster of course. In my own experience, reach is an excellent way to shift/remove two very big cylinders (your upper arms) from hitting the air head on. But if that's true, why are so many folks that have no "guidelines" to follow so compact. Specifically triathletes, who can ride pretty much anything / way they want. I'm not suggesting for the general population to go full on superman... but they literally aren't restricted from it. The position above is nothing new, the "deep/down diver" has been around long before I was ever turning cranks. Here is one fellow who knew a bit about going fast

What a beast, right?

So if guys are trying to stretch out under the watchful eyes of "big brother" and doing some extreme stuff to get there, why aren't the guys that have no rules?

I've been helping some athletes the last few weeks to get faster... that is, more aero on the bike. One common theme I have is that the guys/gals that want to do races where they *might* have to pass a jig are ALWAYS beyond the 80cm length limit. (These athletes, as a disclaimer, are already very, very fast and have almost to a rule come to lengthen their cockpit on their own before ever talking to me)  This usually ends up with us moving them backwards on the saddle and in some cases going the more extreme/costly route of putting them on di2/etap to get them a couple more cm. (Don't get me started on how you measure mechanical shifters...:rolleyes:)

What I've found very interesting is that most of my triathletes are very near meeting the 80cm rule without any prodding. (or necessity) Look at a state level TT'er, arms are very obtuse (like Obree's / mine) look at a triathlete, that same angle is almost always 90° on the dot (or within a couple degree)

I'm not going to throw anyone under the bus (even some random off of google search) by posting "look at this position, isn't it meh!" but you can do a search of your own "triathlete bike position" into google will bring you hundreds of examples. You'll see some outliers, but you are also going to see a whole lot of "90°/115°/150°" folks out there as well.  I suppose it makes sense, as there are so many fit "systems" that basically revolve around this, and as no surprise, almost all of them are focused towards triathletes.

Sure, you can search for "TT bike fit" or even "track bike fit" but the interesting thing is that in either of those searches you will come up with a lot less info. In fact, TT bike fit will almost certainly just bring you results for a tri bike fit, as the two are so often lumped together despite being truely different disciplines. For track fit... well you'll basically get a couple of tips on slightly adjusting your road bike / tt (tri) bike fit...maybe.

Am I going to put a tri fit system (I won't pick any out in particular, as most follow very similar guidelines) on blast. Absolutely not.  I think some very good, efficient fits come out of them, whether it's FIST, Guru, BG, about 1000 websites, whatever. They have excellent broad guidelines to get pretty much everyone into a "decent" position that is relatively sustainable. Unfortunately, that's often where the fit ends for the majority of people. Instead of a tool, it's often used as a crutch by the person doing the fit, which is why you see so many athletes in cookie cutter positions. Certainly, as I've said before, you shouldn't necessarily have a long distance triathlete and a 25mi TT'er in the same position, but neither should be limited by a system that isn't taking them specifically into consideration.  I know 90° supposedly is the easiest way to support your upper body skeletally... but in practice it's often not any more difficult for somebody to support themselves at a much more obtuse angle. The key is to experiment and not be a slave to a system or the accepted common knowledge.

Andrew Coggan said this many years ago, and I still believe it's one of the quickest ways to get into a "fast" position with minimal input.

 If my goal were to set myself up
in an aero position with minimal drag and I didn't have access to a wind
tunnel, I'd just drop the elbow pads far enough down below the saddle
that my shoulders (acromion process) were within a couple of inches of
being level with my hips (head of greater trochanter), move the elbow
pads in to where my arms were as narrow or perhaps narrower than my
thighs when viewed from the front, tilt the aero bars up
ever-so-slightly, and keep my head down. I'd then go out and ride the
bike - hard - in that position and see how far foward (and thus up) I
needed to move the saddle to where my thigh-torso angle was similar to
the "working position" on my road bike. I'd then ride the TT bike for at
least one hour - hard! - each week for at least 6 weeks before any race.
Sounds crude, I know, but for a flat TT this neanderthal approach will
probably get you to within about 1 km/h of your maximal speed.

That's pretty much what I did above. I'm of the impression that this works well for just about everyone, with enough time to adapt to it. Don't take that as me saying "use this, not this" system. I'm just sharing ways people have been doing it for many years, but the vast majority of athletes do not know.

My whole point of this post (if there is one) is that we spend tons of income on go fast goodies that we hope will make us faster. Helmets, cranks, bearings, chain lube, etc (all great things) but for those of us without "limits" (again, speaking of UCI) - basically all triathletes and *most* non-elite level time trialists - maybe we should start looking at how we can make our bodies the big improvement. Don't be afraid to experiment... take measurements of where your position you are comfortable with is RIGHT NOW, then experiment slowly with changes. Maybe you'll hate it, in which case you can go back to your original setup... but maybe you'll like it. Maybe it'll make you slower... maybe faster. Never settle... continue exploring and looking for something better!

Thanks for reading, I really appreciate it!

- Christopher Morelock

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