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Tour de Bike Fit popular

Written by: Dan Empfield
Date: Tue Dec 30 2008

People like puzzles. I was addicted to the NY Times daily crossword for years. I got cured when I moved to the middle of nowhere, beyond the reach of any paper that carried that damned crossword.

One puzzle triathletes are both intrigued in and bedeviled by is the puzzle of bike fit. We've got dozens of articles on bike fit archived here on Slowtwitch, and that's the problem. It would be much easier navigating your way around if there were only one or two.

Where to start? Which one should you read first, and what's the progression? Which pertain to you? Which should you skip? What you're reading here is an attempt to wrest order out of the confusion — to simply whelm you (lest you be overwhelmed). Hence, this is the "Tour de Bike Fit," that is to say, your guided tour of the Bike Fit section of Slowtwitch.

One thing you should know first and foremost, I suppose, is that there's a history and a pedigree at play here. The author writing to you now (me) is generally credited with designing and building the first tri bike. My "aha moment" occurred in 1988 and after two decades I obviously have a lot emotionally and financially invested in the idea. Forewarned is forearmed: You should consider how that might color and bias everything that comes hereafter. Steel yourself for a pitcher of the Slowtwitch KoolAid.
About that historical narrative: a bit of that was recounted here, in the logical starting point in our bike fit section. In this article we ask you to ask yourself what sort of rider you are. Should you pursue a road race bike (and position) for racing triathlons? Or, are you a good candidate for a tri bike?

Before you get into the tall weeds of X/Y coordinate systems and steering levers, I recommend you inoculate against the ear ticklers that hang around tri bike world like remoras. For many triathletes — pro and AGer alike — the best thing they ever read or heard is the most recent thing they've read or heard. But it's hard to avoid this foolish behavior if you're not conceptually grounded. To that end, and to help you parse between sound and systematic thinking versus the fad of the moment, we present an inoculant in the form of an article.

If you're a confirmed puzzler, you'll want to delve further into the subject of bike fit. But you might want to avail yourself of a primer on the subject, to familiarize yourself with basic fit and geometry terminology. If this article appealed to you, then you may want to read a deeper discussion specific to a tri bike's steering geometry.

If you're ready to embark on a quest for your perfect tri bike, what should you look for? Are you a good match for a Scott Plasma II, or a Kuota Kueen K, a Kestrel Airfoil or something offered by Javelin or Felt? A bit of that nuts and bolts breakdown is covered here. This article will give you your first inkling about how tri bikes differ one from another.

Now, "Wait just one no-draft minute!" you might complain, arguing that, "Tri bikes differ in other ways than just in their geometries! What about aerodynamics?!"

True dat. But here's what's even truer: Eighty five percent of what matters aerodynamically is your position on the bike; the other fifteen percent is important, and is worth :30 here and :45 there, but let's find those bikes that'll fit you, and that'll handle well underneath you. Let's do that first. Furthermore, you're now in the BIKE FIT section. If you want to know about tube shapes, saunter over to the tech section of Slowtwitch.

At this point, you might be wondering, "What do these Slowtwitch people actually believe about bike fit? Is there a systematic theology?"
In fact, there is. Are you ready for our Summa Theologica? It's the F.I.S.T. Method for fitting triathletes to their bikes, and that link will take you to the first of 11 articles on the subject, which ought to be read in order. Following that intro article come our Ten Commandments of bike fit:

1. F.I.S.T. axioms
2. F.I.S.T. protocol
3. Measuring conventions
4. Seat height
5. Cockpit length
6. Hip angle
7. Armrest drop
8. Tools of the trade
9. Your bike's "waistline"
10. Translating fit specs to bike specs

You'll note a mention in these articles of a new metric for measuring bikes, developed here, which we call Stack and Reach. We develop this theme further in a set of articles on the subject, and you can read about them in this series of articles:

- Stack & Reach Primer: Chapter One
- Stack & Reach Primer: Chapter Two
- Stack & Reach Primer: Chapter Three

Once you get your arms around the concepts of stack and reach, you'll find that bikes today are often sized by manufacturers in unhelpful ways that make little sense. We warn you to beware of T-shirt nomenclature, and further in a follow up article on the subject.
What about custom bikes? Are you a good prospect for one? How do you develop a geometry for your custom bike? One article that'll tell you if you're a likely candidate is about folks with long legs and short torsos.

When you get to the point where it's time to develop a geometry for your custom bike, we've got a custom tri bike geometry calculator online to help you in your quest.

Remember this: Discomfort you experience on your bike may not be related to bike fit per se. Discomfort is often due to point tenderness, or friction, and if you follow the links to those articles you might save yourself a lot of money by fixing only what ails you.

We've got articles describing things to think about if you buy a one-piece, stem integrated handlebar. And speaking of handlebars, we spend a fair bit of time on the subject of the shorty bar, a design you'll find referenced over and over again, specifically for those who choose to ride a road race bike, set up as such, in triathlons.
Let's say you've wrapped your brain around most of the subject matter above. There are some little helpers that might make your experience with bike retailers more substantive, such as our discussion of remote tri bike fit and if you want to go down deep and stay down long, here's a follow up specifically for retailers and manufacturers.

Finally, don't assume that it's just "fit" we're interested in here. How you ride your bike, technically and tactically, is just as important. But you'll be less likely to find those discussions in this section. You'll more likely see them in the Cycling sub-category of our Training section.

This is not an exhaustive list of the articles in the Slowtwitch Bike Fit section, but reading these articles will tell you most of what you need to know to make informed and effective choices. This is just the sort of stuff we teach retailers, coaches and manufacturers in our F.I.S.T. Tri Bike Fit workshops, and you can find a list of retailers who've been through these workshops, and who own the tools specific to these techniques, by searching our retailer database.


Articles related to this one
The F.I.S.T. Method for fitting triathletes to their bikes
Slowtwitch means different things to different athletes, but tri bike fit is the thing we're probably best known for. Herein is a description of our process for tri bike fit. 9.13.07
F.I.S.T. Axioms
This second in a series of articles describing our tri bike fit system lays out the axioms on which our F.I.S.T. system relies. 9.13.07
F.I.S.T. Protocol
This third article in our series on tri bike fit lays out the fitting protocol. 9.13.07
Measuring conventions
In this continuation of our series on tri bike fit, we tell you what we mean by terms like "seat angle" and "hip angle," that is, what landmarks we measure to, and why we choose them. 9.13.07
Seat height
This is article number five out of eleven describing our F.I.S.T. Tri bike fit process. 9.13.07
Cockpit length
This article describes how we find a rider's proper cockpit length. 9.13.07
Hip angle
This description of how to determine the proper tri bike riding hip angle is part of a process in which we describe the F.I.S.T. tri bike fitting process. 9.13.07
Armrest drop
This article exists as part of a series of eleven on tri bike fit, and describes the proper armrest drop for a triathlete; how to measure it; how to determine it. 9.13.07
Tools of the trade
This is an article in a series describing our F.I.S.T. process for tri bike fitting, and in here we lay out the state of the art in tools for best practices. 9.13.07
Your bike's waistline
This is the second to last installment in our explanation of our F.I.S.T. tri bike fit process. 9.13.07
Translating fit specs to bike specs
This is the final installment of our series on our F.I.S.T. tri bike fit process, and takes the metrics we've generated and outputs your "best" bike. 9.13.07
F.I.S.T. Workshops
Our popular F.I.S.T. Workshops have trained and certified more than 300 retail store owners and fitters, coaches, and manufacturers, and continue to train 100 more every Winter. 9.24.07
Chris Lieto - chasing Kona dreams
At age 36, the three-time Ironman winner is still seeking the perfect balance between his cycling prowess and a fast run on the Queen K. One step to finding that faster run is taking care of detail work on bike fit. 2.01.09
World's first fit-certified dog
A female lab mix named Charlee has attended each of 40 F.I.S.T. tri bike fit workshops held at the Slowtwitch compound. Somewhere along the way, she acquired the ability to distinguish good bike positions from bad 4.01.09
Javelin Lugano
The Lugano is the top of the line bike from Javelin. But did you know you can get it made custom? Not just custom paint, but custom geometry? Yes, you can, as a matter of fact. 6.17.09
Devising a static tri-fit system
You've waited, you've wanted, so without further ado, here it is: a static fit system for generating rider coordinates. We'll describe it to you, and then tell you why you shouldn't use it. 6.29.09
F.I.S.T. Workshop schedule set
Tri bike fit workshop schedule for the 2009/2010 Fall thru Spring campaign is set, we're open for registrations. Workshops run from early November thru early June. 8.11.09
Retul or go(niometer) it alone?
For fitters and fittees alike, here's a question you might be asking: What premium does a Retul deliver to the fit process over other measuring devices? 1.20.10
Graphing geometric themes
The exercise here is in the understanding of a tri bike's frame geometry. There are several things worth noting, and this ought to impact, or at least inform, your buying decisions. 4.28.10
F.I.S.T. training for 2014
Things are changing a bit for F.I.S.T. in 2014 (starting Fall of 2013). F.I.S.T. is now F.I.S.T. BASIC, 5 days of training, and there are only 2 of these scheduled. New this year: F.I.S.T. ADVANCED, aka F.I.S.T. Down Deep. 6.25.13
Tri, road, or tweener?
There are three ways to ride a bike: road race (the way pros do it); triathlon (the way pros do it); and that strange morphing of the two which we call the "tweener." 12.29.08
Bike geometry
I ride a 59cm bike or, if it's a road race bike (as opposed to a tri bike) I'll ride a 60cm bike. If it's a Litespeed tri bike, I'll ride 57cm, and so it goes. How are these bikes measured, and why do I ride different sizes depending on the manufacturer? 8.06.02


riding bike 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed by: remington m., Mar 8 2011 12:46AM

Ride a bike for a great change! On local and state amounts, numerous studies indicate the economic effects of <a title="Bicycling has tremendous economical impact on towns" href=""> biking versus driving</a> cannot be ignored, states Elly Blue on Grist. By conservative estimate, each person in the United States who drives a vehicle to work could conserve between $ 3,000 and $ 12,000 yearly. And the savings grows by around $ 1,000 each year.

Tri-Bike Fit 5 out of 5 stars

Do I want a tri-bike?

Reviewed by: Richard C., Dec 14 2010 8:13AM

Dan, I've read several articles on tri-bike fit, and am interested in buying a tri-bike . . . at least, if it would be right for me. I am concerned that the aero position might not be for me, however, for a couple of reasons: (1) although I am in shape (6' 5", 173 lbs) and a strong AG cyclist, I have long legs and a short torso; and (2) despite constant stretching, I am one of the least flexible people that I know. Currently, I ride a Giant Defy Advanced, which has relaxed geometry even for a road bike, and am contemplating a Scott tri-bike because I've read that they manufacture bikes that are good for short-torsoed types, like me. How do I go about getting enough hands-on experience with various tri-bikes to actually get a feel for them? Which bikes would you recommend that I try?