As I contemplated getting a triathlon bike, I had two dominant thoughts:
1. I will never be comfortable on it.
2. I will never be comfortable on it.
But as I, a middle-of-the-pack triathlete, starting climbing up in age groups as my injury-prone body started complaining more, I wanted the free speed that comes with spending the majority of a race in an aerodynamic position. And I certainly didn’t mind the other benefits that come with the Trek Speed Concept 7.8: a carbon-fiber OCLV monocoque—that’s geek-speak for “one-piece”—frame and plus wind-slicing Bontrager Aura 5 aerodynamic wheels.
And honestly, I was willing to trade comfort for some increased mph. I just wasn’t sure how much of the former I’d have to give up to make the latter worth it.
I bit on the Speed Concept and knew I needed a thorough fitting, not just a raise-the-seat, take-a-test-pedal, and off-you-go fitting. An in-depth fitting, which can take around two hours, looks at every aspect of your unique body—and the bike you’re riding—and tries to melt the two together as seamlessly as possible.
I scheduled my fitting with Adam De La Pena, a fitter with seven years experience, at Wheat Ridge Cyclery, a bike shop that does up to forty fittings a week. I’ll admit, I was nervous. And when I’m nervous, I talk. So I spewed out a novel about how I haven’t done a triathlon in three years and I was hoping to do a half-Ironman but am not sure how my body would hold up on a tri bike and I’m not really sure who I’m kidding thinking I can ride a tri bike. Adam listened, and just smiled. “Don’t worry,” he said.
I was worried, though. The regal Speed Concept was already up on the fit pedestal, looking like it was ready to fly down the Queen K Highway in Kona, not grind out 8-mile laps around my local reservoir. I did my best to ignore it as we started with an interview: how often do I ride—or plan to ride—this bike, both in terms of length of rides and number of rides a week; what are my training goals; what are my complaints about my fit on my current bike; what injuries I’m currently nursing. I talked and talked, and Adam took notes, and asked relevant questions (none of which were: “Why do you think you can ride a tri bike?”).
Next up: a scan of my body and my flexibility. With special tools, I measured my inseam and, um, the width of my sit bones. (I tried not to think of it as a how-wide-is-my-ass assessment.) Then I walked back and forth a few times so he could check for any significant imbalances. After that, I took to a massage table on my back so Adam could assess the range of motion of my hamstrings and hips. He compared my leg lengths, measured the width of my shoulders, looked at the structure of my feet, and otherwise dissected the way my body moves and has polished its quirky imbalances over my 40 years of life. I am pleasantly surprised when he deems most of me balanced, minus some super tight quads and an inflexible lower back.
He can work with that—and my attitude, which is to be as comfortable as possible on the bike. “Most people come in with an picture of how they want to look on the bike: aerodynamic, back flat, super aggressive position,” he says, “Not many people can actually ride for hours like that.” I assure him, I want to be as non-aggressive as possible on this Great White of a tri bike.
I finally get on. During my first few minutes of pedaling on the yet-unfitted bike, I am can’t believe it: this aerobar set up is way more comfortable than I expected. But there’s much more comfort to be found.
We spend the next 90 minutes or so doing a series of small adjustments, starting from the back of the bike to the front. First up is the seat alignment: fore and aft as well as height; the position of the seat obviously relates directly to the pedal stroke. I get on, pedal for a few minutes while he videotapes me to see how things are lining up—I have small white dots stickers on my knees, hips, and bike shoes that help him measure angles as I pedal—then I get off and he makes some minor change, I get back on and I let him know how it feels. If it’s good, we leave it. If it’s not, we go back to the drawing board. He shows me occasionally how the changes look on the screen, but the most important thing isn’t looks. It’s how my body feels as I pedal.
By the end of the fitting, I can’t wait to take on my eight-mile loop again and again. More importantly, my right knee isn’t swinging out anymore thanks to a shim in my right shoe; my troublesome back has lost its curve thanks to risers under the stem; and my elbows are almost directly under my shoulders in the aerobars so that my bones—not my muscles—can do the heavy lifting and support my upper body. I truly feel like the Speed Concept was built for me. But the real proof, of course, is on the road, when I have to make tiny adjustments to stay balanced, and the wind, hills and other elements conspire against me feeling comfortable.
Not quite ready to hit the road—or endure the chilly spring temps—I spend two weeks on the trainer in my basement getting more familiar with the bike, my new position, and the gear positions. After an hour of tough, fluid pedaling, my back, my Achilles heel, barely peeps up. It’s not a recliner, but the Speed Concept is far from the comfort compromise I imagined it to be.
My first real outing is on a local bike path, where I tell myself I’ll turn around after 30 minutes; better safe—and comfy—than sorry. But it’s a gorgeous day, and I feel so fast and strong, I could be on the Queen K, not the Cherry Creek Bike Path. I think to myself, I can make a loop out of this route and turn it into a 30-mile ride. I can’t resist. I happily take the long way home—and as I do, I have two thoughts:
1. This bike and my body have become one.
2. This bike and my body have become one.
Dimity McDowell is co-author of Run Like a Mother and Train Like a Mother. Find more of her triathlon adventures at Another Mother Runner. She—and her bike, which she has since named Lyle—have committed to the Harvest Moon half-Ironman in September.