Fit Bikes-What Are They Good For?

  • By coachimfit
  • 10 Aug, 2015

My humble take on the sudden popularity of high tech fit bikes

A lot has happened in the world of bike fit in the last few months and in many ways I have to say it's about time. I, and a few others like me have been taking bike fit seriously for over twelve years. Personally that would be four years in a shop and eight years as an independent bike fit professional. I find it equal parts rewarding, frustrating and interesting that it's taken until this year for the major manufacturers to start taking bike fit as seriously as those of us doing the fitting.

As of this fall Dorel, parent company of Cannondale has  purchased Guru Bicycles  for the sole purpose of gaining access to their Dynamic Fit Unit fit bike, Specialized  bought Retul  in order to control their proprietary fit bike and Shimano has  acquired Bike Fitting BV  out of the Netherlands. I don't doubt that fit bike announcements will be made in the coming months from the other major players, most notably Trek and Giant. In an odd way it kind of reminds me of the cold war mentality of mutually assured destruction...we've got a fit bike, you've got a fit bike, don't do anything funny and everybody's fine.

So with all this new found attention on bike fit and fit bikes in particular, I felt it was time for me to weigh in with my thoughts on where the industry is headed and where I'm positioning my services in light of all this focus.

I'll get right to the point. Fit bikes are not bike "fit" tools. They are bike "sales" tools. I've always believed this which is why I've never brought one into my studio. I've just never said it out loud. But now with Specialized and Cannondale buying up what are arguably the best two units on the market I feel pretty comfortable putting forth this argument.

Let's face it, bike manufacturing companies are in the business of making bikes for the sole purpose of being sold to a retail market. Everything that they do, every little "value added" service they bring on board is done with the sole purpose of selling more bikes than they did last year and more bikes than their competitors did.

As an extension of that, bike shops are also primarily in the business of selling bikes, in fact the real onus is on the shops to move as much inventory as they can as quickly as they can. To their credit, Specialized and Cannondale are providing their shops with another tool to help move that inventory but that's really all it is. A tool to help move inventory.

How you ask? Allow me to explain.

As I sit here writing this in early December, bike shops across the country are already receiving shipments of 2013 model year bicycles. These are bicycles that they had to pre-book and commit to back as early as the summer, when they hadn't yet sold through their 2012 inventory. The nature of the bicycle industry asks retailers to gaze into a magical crystal ball every summer and take their best educated guess as to what their inventory level needs to be for next year. The manufacturer "helps" with this crystal ball gazing by requiring a minimum booking dollar value to remain as a dealer in good standing. Some of the bigger manufacturers can demand booking minimums of $750,000-$1 million for the privilege of being a dealer. And with competition so tight in many markets, dealers have to capitulate for fear of having the line pulled and handed to the shop down the street who will be more than willing to mortgage their entire future on one years booking just to get a particular line away from a competitor. Add to that the fact that many shops carry multiple A line brands and you are talking upwards of $3 million in inventory being committed to six to eight months prior to the season.

So that's part one of being a dealer in good standing taken care of. Part two is the really hard part. Paying for everything you've committed to selling. Come January 1, 2013 terms kick in for all these bikes, typically something in the 30-60-90 range. Which means that come March it's time to pay the piper. For some of the lucky shops those terms don't kick in until the season starts which is around March in this part of the world so for them they have until June to pay up. But either way, bike retailers are under the gun to sell through as much inventory as they can as quickly as they can. The more bikes they sell at MSRP early season the better their profit margin at the end of the year.

This is where store level bike fit and in particular fit bikes come into play. I've been through the bike fit seminars and training sessions and every last one of them includes a bit on how to turn bike fit into sales. Until recently those sales have been limited to parts and accessories. New saddles, new stems, new bars etc.  It's really not that complicated. The hardest thing for any retailer to do is to get people through the door. Once you have them in your store, regardless of why they came in, a good salesperson can turn that visit into dollars by asking questions, listening and steering the conversation. Offering bike fit makes good sense for retailers now. Bike fit has become a big thing in the last few years and by offering this service you get people in your door. Once you have them on the bike and going through the fit process it becomes very easy to suggest different parts for their bike. X saddle will be more comfortable, Y handlebar will get you more aero etc...Bike fit schools, especially those created by bicycle manufacturers include this type of sales training in their fit seminars.

Until recently however, unless the bike was just blatantly not the right size or style for the rider, it was difficult to turn a bike fit into a new bike sale. That's where fit bikes come into play. And here's how it's going to work...or at least how it would work if I ran a full bike shop and were forced to care more about inventory turnover than the integrity of the fit process.

The bike fit client comes in, the fitter takes his existing bike and takes all the pertinent dimensions off of it. He then transfers these dimensions to the fit bike to replicate the clients current position. Then the fit process begins and changes are made. If they are truly serious about good fit, then hard data like power output and pedal efficiency are tracked during the fit to insure that the changes being made are of net benefit to the client. When the fit is complete the fitter will take the new dimensions from the fit bike and attempt to transfer them to the clients current ride. This is where things get interesting. Lo and behold, the new dimensions you've arrived at "together" on the fit bike can't be replicated effectively on the current bicycle. But wait, Brand Y that we carry here in the store in size X will set up exactly like we have you on the fit bike.But don't worry, if you buy this new bike, you won't have to pay for the fit, we'll just take it off the cost of the bike. Amazing how that works. How often will this scenario play out in fit bike equipped stores? That I can't say, but I can say with near certainty that part of the staff's fit training will incorporate a segment on how to turn a fit into a new bike sale. It's a matter of economics. Bike fits, at least good bike fits, are time consuming. Even at the high end of the scale, $250-$300 for up to two hours of a staff members time is not a good return on investment for a shop when no inventory has moved during the process. When I was working in a shop I could easily turn out a half dozen bike sales in the two hours it would take to do a good fit session.

All the above is reason number one why you'll never find a fit bike in my studio. I'm not selling anything. I take great pride in my neutrality. It's one of the main features of my services that sets me apart from all the other bike fitters in my market. I have no hidden agenda, I have no product to move. If I tell you that you need a new saddle, bar or even bike then you can rest assured that you really do need it. Everything I do during a bike fit is geared towards maximizing comfort and optimizing performance on a clients current ride with as few parts changes as necessary. Most of the time this is possible. Maybe a new stem, sometimes a new bar or saddle but most often all that is needed is a fresh, educated and independent look at the fit interface between cyclist and bike. And on the few occasions where the bike itself just isn't right, I stop the fit and have a discussion about why the bike is wrong and offer to assist the client in finding a bike that is right.

The other issue I have with fit bikes is that they have absolutely nothing to do with the real world or real bikes. They create an artificial X/Y coordinate based fit that, in the wrong hands, can lead to a horrible outcome once those coordinates are translated to an actual bike. If you haven't seen them yet, here's the  Guru , and here's the  Retul .

The easy part of doing a fit on these contraptions is the finding of the X/Y coordinates. And for those of you who aren't quite familiar with what that means I'm talking about a fit school of thought pioneered by Dan Empfield that relates everything in bike fit back to a pair of measurements called Stack and Reach. I've already written about my bike fit philosophy in regards to bike fit being about more than X/Y, so rather than waste space here rehashing, if you haven't read it you can pop on  over here  for a quick peek. The danger I see with fit bikes is when they end up in the hands of inexperienced shop staff who don't understand the subtle nuances of bike geometry and handling. By arriving at those X/Y coordinates on a device that has nothing to do with a real bike on the road there is huge room for error in putting those coordinates onto a bike geometry that is actually going to be functional and safe for the rider. Think I'm exaggerating? There are still shops out there who think proper road bike sizing consists of having the client stand over the top tube to check for clearance. How well do you think these shops are going to do jumping from that to a fit bike?

I don't toot my own horn nearly often enough as a business owner but this requires a little tooting. I'll put my non-fit bike methodology against a fit bike equipped shop for determining proper bike size any day.

So no, you'll never find a fit bike in my studio. They are a fit tool with a basis more in selling bikes than in creating good fits. I mean, let's face it. Fit bikes have existed for well over twenty years. They were originated by custom bicycle manufacturers who wanted to give their dealers an easy way to sell more custom. It's akin to taking the puppy dog home. Put them in a great feeling position on the fit bike that you can't quite replicate on a stock frame and custom virtually sells itself. Only now the stock manufacturers are getting in on the same game.

And for those out there who may be questioning my motives and suggest that I just don't want to spend the money, allow me to point out that over the last eight years I've spent over $20,000 on Vo2 testing equipment and upwards of $15,000 on bike fit tools. I was the first to bring the Retul to Canada. When I see a new tool that I truly believe will provide a net benefit to my customers I don't hesitate to bring it in. Since I have no interest in selling bikes, I see no need to have a fit bike.

True, competition is going to heat up in the bike fit market soon, but I prefer to position myself above the mutually assured destruction mentality I noted above. My independence, my neutrality and my skill as a fitter will continue to set me apart from others, regardless of the shiny new toys they may have.


IMFIT Athletic Performance Studio

By coachimfit 15 Aug, 2015

Greetings and salutations faithful IMFIT followers. I hope everyone has been having an awesome summer so far. I just got back from an awesome week in Mont Tremblant checking out the Ironman event. Always, always a very inspiring day. I had the chance to put some time in on the bike on some truly amazing and scenic roads. Time that also served to show me just how much bike specific fitness I've lost in the last couple of years spent with a greater focus on my clients fitness than my own. It was at that point that I decided it was truly time to get my own butt back in the kind of shape it used to be. I know how to do it...I've got countless client PB's, podiums and improved test results to show that I've created a training formula that truly works, and that is completely adaptable to each clients needs. Time to put that to work for me!

All I needed was a starting point. That starting point was some Metabolic Testing to figure out what my current heart rate zones are, where my Threshold is and how strong (or not) my aerobic system is.

Well! That was a humbling morning. A little physical history on little 'ol moi. At my peak about four years ago I had a Peak VO2 of 63ml/kg/min. My max heart rate was 198, Anaerobic Threshold was 172 and my Aerobic Endurance Threshold or Aerobic Base was 155 and I was burning 55% fat calories.

Ya. Not any more. Current data as of this past Thursday has me at a Peak VO2 of 36ml/kg/min, peak heart rate of 140, AT of 132 and AeT/AB of 114. In short, I'm couch potato fit! And yes, I'm trying to maintain a sense of humour about this. That's my bike fitness. My run fitness is slightly better. VO2 isn't much better, but my AT is in the 140's and my AB is at 131.

I am not the man I used to be. But here's the thing. Because I spent so long training at those levels back in the day, my body and my brain are both conditioned to feel that effort level. My brain especially is conditioned to look down at my heart rate monitor and see certain numbers and that is part of my problem. Up until I tested myself last week, I had been riding and running to feel. Problem is, that feel was all wrong. I know now (and new deep down at the time) that I was pushing too hard.

How could I tell? I was too tired after my rides and runs, recovery was taking too long. I was super hungry and craving bad things. I was sore a lot, more sore than I should have been for what I wanted to be doing with my training. And most importantly, I wasn't losing any weight. All of those things add up to tell me as a coach that the training is too intense, too anaerobic in nature. As a coach it's very easy for me to see that in one of my athletes. As the athlete, it's harder to admit that I need to go easier than I used to be able to. But now that I have the cold hard test results staring at me, there's no more denying it. No more doing what I used to do just cause it's what I used to do. My body has changed. My training sweet spot has changed. If I want to see the kind of improvement in myself that I get out of so many of my clients then I have to drop the pride, accept and believe in the results and train smart.

And that's what I've been doing for the past week since doing the testing. Result? I've already dropped two pounds with no change to diet. I'm not as tired after my training sessions, I'm not as hungry through the day and I don't have the cravings post workout that I was getting before.

Believe me, it's tough to spin easy enough around Halton Hills to keep my heart rate under 120. Really hard. I'm spending a lot of time doing loops around the neighbourhoods to avoid the bigger hills right now. It is incredibly humbling but I have a goal and I have a plan to get there. I don't want to waste any time in getting there either so I've made the same commitment to my training that I ask of my clients. Don't waste any time. No garbage miles. I've got the results, I know where my sweet spots are. I know that every minute I spend going easy right now will equal awesome minutes going hard in a few months time. I just need patience and focus right now.

I'll be testing every four weeks or so for the next few months as I expect my body will respond quickly to the proper training and I don't want to waste any time with fitness plateaus. As I continue following up on my fitness I will continue to post here to let you all know how it's going.

As always, thanks for reading and happy training!

By coachimfit 10 Aug, 2015

One of my favourite cycling films is a documentary called Overcoming. It follows Team CSC as they prepare for the 2004 Tour de France. It's a great behind the scenes look at what goes on in the world of professional cycling. One part that really stuck with me was a brief commentary from the team director Bjarne Riis. He was talking about maintaining the bicycles, how one of his favourite things as a racer was to tinker with his bike, making sure all the bolts were tightened just so. He talked about how you screw them in just right, but sometimes you go a quarter turn too far and the bolt snaps. But, he says...how do you know how far you can tighten a bolt if you never break one in the process?

It's an interesting question, and I think you all know he's not really talking about breaking bolts. No, what he's really talking about is breaking cyclists. Which is exactly what I want to talk about today. The Break...

Before I go any farther I want to make one thing clear. This is NOT for everybody. If you are a middle to back of the pack athlete and more importantly are happy to be there, just taking part and challenging yourself then this isn't for you. This is for the athlete who wants to move up, wants to set PR's, wants to push the limits of what he or she can handle and ultimately for those who want to win. As a coach, it's this latter group of athletes that I will deliberately attempt to break at some point during a season, because exactly as Mr. Riis said...how do I (and they) know just how far they can go unless they go too far every now and then?

There are two types of break in the athletic world. The Training Break and the Race Break. I'm going to focus on the Training Break for this instalment.

The Training Break is quite simple to understand. At some point during a macro build cycle I make the choice to push my athlete to what I think will be their limit. The training gets picked up an extra notch, I ask for more power, faster paces and/or longer distances than they are used to. But not too much more than they are used to. I don't want them to fail right off the mark. That doesn't teach anybody anything. Instead, I make them just hard enough that as a stand alone workout, each session is achievable. It takes just about everything they've got, and leaves them exhausted when they are done, but they are achievable on their own. It's the cumulative effect of a three week build cycle of progressively harder and harder workouts that causes the break to happen. If I did my job right, somewhere in that third week the muscles have had enough and just can't fire the way they should, the way they were firing even a mere week ago. It's a workout that the athlete has to shut down and walk away from. If that happens, I've succeeded. I've pushed my athlete to a new level of training intensity and from that point onward I will know exactly how far I can take them without breaking them. I know exactly how much I can tighten the screw. Effective training is very much about pushing limits, placing stresses on the body and then allowing the body to compensate for those stresses with proper rest and recovery to get stronger and better deal with that stress the next time it comes along. Once an athlete has broken in training I'll be better able to optimize those training stresses by pushing to just below the breaking point and then bringing them back to a happy place with a mix of active and passive recovery. Optimize the stress, optimize the recovery, maximize the training benefit.

Now, there's a little more to it than that. There is something else I'm looking to learn and teach in this process. You see, I don't tell my athlete when I'm pushing them to break. If I did, one of two things would happen. Either they would be afraid of breaking and not execute the workouts 100% which means they probably won't break. Or, if they do push through and break, they will be mentally prepared for it and move on from it easily. And this ruins the second part of the process. In breaking an athlete during training I'm looking to see how they handle a "failure" both mentally and emotionally. I need to know what they are made of, how they handle set backs. No matter how fit and strong you are, not every competition is going to go to plan. By learning how to deal with a setback in training they are better able to handle setbacks during the race season. This part requires a lot of feedback between coach and athlete. Once they have broken and rest and recovery kick in, it's very important to keep the line of communication open so I can assess how they are dealing with it, and help them understand how and why it happened. Most are frustrated at first, I let them talk and work through that with a little guidance from me. Once I see where they are headed mentally I talk them through my thought process and how/why I pushed them that hard. I help them understand that not only is it ok that they broke, but that it was totally expected. If they can come to grips with that concept, that not only is it ok to break, but that sometimes it's actually expected, then they are on the road to being better able to handle things when and if the Race Break occurs.

Which will be the topic of my next instalment.

As always, thanks for reading and happy training!

By coachimfit 10 Aug, 2015

Good day and thanks for checking in. I know my next topic is supposed to be a continuation of my discussion of breaking in training and racing but I wanted to divert for a moment and talk quickly about supplements.

I get asked fairly frequently what my views are on supplements and nutritional products. These questions tend to come from two camps. My athletes, and sales reps trying to sell me on their version of the latest and greatest product to hit the market. Mostly due to an increase in queries from the second camp, I feel it's time I put my thoughts on record.

I always welcome this question from my athletes, but it's a hard one to answer. I'm a firm believer that what works for one person isn't always going to work for another. We all have different tolerances, needs, tastes and sensitivities. All I can do is tell them what has worked for me in the past, and what seems to really be working well for other athletes and encourage them to experiment on their own to find what works for them.

Overall though, it should be noted that I'm not a very big fan of processed nutritional products. I don't believe we are supposed to be getting our vitamins and minerals from powders, pills and drops. I firmly believe that if you eat a truly healthy, balanced diet comprised mostly of whole, real foods, you're going to get everything you need. Granted, athletes do need to supplement their caloric and nutritional needs during training and competition but I believe that too can be accomplished through real, natural foods. As a quick example, when I'm training in the heat and need additional electrolytes and minerals I use a mixture of coconut water, plain water, lemon and either agave nectar or honey for flavour. Coconut water is truly nature's sports drink. When it comes to needing calories on the bike, I make my own energy bars and gels. There are a multitude of sources out there for recipes. One of my favourites is The Thrive Diet by Brendan Brazier. He's got some great recipes at the back of the book for home made, natural bars and gels. Yes, it takes a bit more work than stopping off at the running store on your way home, but it is a far more satisfying snack when you know exactly what is in it.

Which leads me to the second camp. I know there are a lot of coaches out there who sell nutritional products on the side to supplement their income. I don't really blame them. Coaching isn't exactly a business you get into to get rich! But for all I've said above, that business model just doesn't register with my moral compass. I take great pride in being neutral on a wide range of products. By not selling anything it leaves me free to recommend what I feel is best for each individual client. That goes from bikes, to running shoes, to cycling jackets to indoor trainers to food. If I'm making a buck by selling X, I may hesitate to recommend Y even though I know it's the better option. I want to be free to recommend what I think will be the most effective product for that client in that situation.

But beyond that, I just flat out have issues with the nutritional products industry. I don't think it's right to isolate vitamins and minerals into pills, powders and drops. I believe that nutrition is a holistic endeavour and that a particular food is made up of its particular nutrients, in those particular quantities for a reason. When we isolate these nutrients I believe we are messing with the balance of nature and risking harms that we don't even know about yet.

I also don't believe the industry really needs to exist. If it weren't for the fast food/processed food industry we wouldn't really need to buy nutrients in a bottle. Processed foods may be calorie dense (in fact the argument could be made that many of them are too dense!) but many of them get the nutritional quality processed right out of them by the time they make it store shelves. I think it's kind of ironic that many eat these processed foods in part because they are cheap, but then go out and spend good money on supplements to get what they can't from the cheap processed foods. When you add up the crappy food and the pills/drops/powders I wonder if it wouldn't have been cheaper to just buy the real, whole foods in the first place?

Now don't go thinking I'm all preachy and perfect! Far from it. I do enjoy the odd fast food meal. I try my best to live by the 80/20 rule. 80% good stuff, 20% crap that happens to unfortunately taste really good!

As for supplements, only two things on a regular basis. A vegetarian protein powder for my smoothies and oil of oregano as an immune booster when I think I may feel a cold coming on.

So, those are my thoughts. Please take them with a grain of natural sea salt and experiment on your own to find what balance works best for you.


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