Day -26: Why I needed a bike fitter

Donald Rumsfeld famously said “there are known knowns, there are known unknowns and there are unknown unknowns.”   The words have proven more profound as I venture through life.

I thought I knew how to train for this trip.   Heck, I rode my bicycle from Mexico to Canada in 1981 with just a map and a two friends.   We didn’t even know enough to get bicycle shorts and clip-on pedals.   We made it.

I sat down with Tony May, a Bain colleague and someone who had just finished the crazy difficult “Triple Crown Haute Challenge” — I think it is 3×6 days in the Pyrenees / Alps / Dolomites where amateurs recreate the toughest mountain climbs of the great European races — to get a few tips.    https://www.hauteroute.org/

Tony had a few basic questions:

  • What is your FTP?   I didn’t know what an FTP was.   It stands for “Functional Threshold Performance” and it basically means how many watts can you sustain over an hour to the point you are throwing up exhausted.
  • Who is your coach?   I didn’t think I needed a coach.   He said “great for you to want to control your own training, but here’s a name and an email of the person I used.”
  • Have you had your bike fitted?   I really didn’t know what I could learn from a bike fitting.   We talked through some of my injuries — broken femur, which meant my right leg is crooked, broken patella, which means I don’t have full power in my right leg, etc.
  • How are you training for the climbs?    I admitted I didn’t know how in a city where the toughest hills are highway overpasses.
  • What is your weight target?   I said 75 kilograms.   I was at 78, so not too far off.

He recommended I start with a bike fitting.

Toby Jones is a fairly quirky guy who runs BikeFit Asia http://bikefitasia.com/.   Toby watched me bicycle in his shop setup for about 5 minutes and then proceeded to tinker with just about every part of my body and bicycle.   The main thing he noticed is that both my left and right knees flared out as I rode; in addition, I was too hunched over the handlebars and there was enormous tension in my neck when I pedaled at high power.

  • Shoes.   I have two pairs of bike shoes.   One is a European 33; it is too tight on my left foot and just right on my right foot.   One is a European 34; it is just right on my left foot and too long on my right.   The reason is pretty simple — my feet are different sizes, which is incredibly common.   Toby insisted I shift to a 34 on the left and a 33.5 on the right.   I hesitated.   Toby has a fairly clear rule:   you take all of his recommendations or he resets your bike to its original settings and we call it quits.   I also remembered my Dad losing something like 6 toenails on the Appalachian trail — his feet were a grim mass of black and blue toenails and flesh by the end.
  • Pedals.   I knew my right leg was a bit of a problem from the injuries.   I had no idea what to do about it.   My right leg doesn’t point completely straight; the right foot points about 5 degrees East of North.   It came about when my broken femur had to be reattached after my accident in Mexico.   Toby put extensions on my pedal spindles and then shifted the orientation to match the foot.   What I didn’t know is my left leg doesn’t have a normal play either.   After thinking about it for a few days, I realized it must be because I was on crutches for so long — to walk on crutches, I had to keep the right leg bent and the left leg then twisted as I “pushed off” to  finish the step.    To this day my left shoes wear out early from this twisting motion.   So Toby fitted an even bigger spindle to my left side.   We’re now in discussion as to whether we should bring it in and start to reduce the twisting motion through Physical Rehabilitation or just accept it as it is.
  • Pedal clips.  As you bring out the clips / shoes you have to put shims in the shoe to adjust the angle.   So I now have shims between my shoe and the clip on both my left and right shoe.
  • Seat height.   I had kept my seat higher to try to reduce the pressure on my right leg.   But this creates stress on the seat (aka known as prostate area) — I was always uncomfortable on long rides.   It also means the quadriceps aren’t coming into play enough.   So the seat height came down.
  • Handlebars.   Somewhere in my gene pool is some Japanese, I just know it.   Because my arms are about 1-1.5″ shorter than a normal Caucasian.    Toby noticed immediately that I was too hunched over, which was creating strain on my neck and lower back.   The problem — my bike stem wouldn’t go up enough.   The solution:   I shifted from a 110 millimeter to a 90 millimeter stem and a new set of handlebars that raises the height by 20 millimeters (almost an inch).   It’s taken a while to get the parts but this change should be in place by the end of this week

Each change is a bit uncomfortable at first, like a new grip on the golf swing or trying a new piece of equipment at the gym.   My quads hurt a lot on some fairly short rides, because the front part was never really in play before.   But from day one my right knee stopped hurting after long rides.   If you had asked me the number one reason why I would fail to complete the trip, it was because my knee would act as the Terminator.   Fingers crossed, Toby has really put me in a position to finish this trip without the pain I was expecting.

It was the first of many reminders that there are people who have seen problems before; that being said, diagnoses is probably only 10% of the challenge — they need to help you come up with solutions.   I knew I had a knee problem; I wasn’t completely aware of how the short arms translated into the need for a different bike setup.   I set the bike up to make my legs comfortable but didn’t understand the implications for my “seat.”   And I had no idea how to fix these things.   Thank you Toby!

Monday 7 May 2018 Training.   60 minutes high cadence indoor bicycle; 50 minutes circuit training (upper body strength and core)

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