Comfort and Power: Let's Not Forget How Far We've Come

Not enough of the stakeholders who you depend on get it. The "it" they don't "get" is the foundational elements that determine comfort, power, handling.

Who are those stakeholders? Let's start with you. You are your own patient advocate. But you rely on other people, so, the other stakeholders are your bike shop, its mechanic, your bike fitter, and your coach.

Part of the problem is the lack of professionalism or intellectual curiosity. That's the case in every industry (many of us have had doctors, lawyers, accountants who don't "get it".) But part of it is the turnover. Have you been a triathlete long enough to get educated in the tech end of our sport? Has your bike shop turned over its personnel? How long has your coach been a coach? So, it's not that folks refuse, or have a diminished capacity, to learn. Our sport is kind of a revolving door.

So I'm going to take my (roughly) biennial crack at educating, and I hope I can educate a little better this time than last. I’m going to write just a little bit today, and follow with some additional articles going into more detail. And finally, I’m going to make individual outreaches to manufacturers and local retailers, coaches, fitters, to see how I can further help.

See this bike above? That was my best effort as a manufacturer if you were racing upwards of 3 decades ago. The point of that bike was to give you good handling, and to easily position you in a spot where you would be aerodynamic, and powerful, and comfortable.

My thesis today is simply this: We know what a good position on a bike looks like (I knew it when I designed this bike 30 years ago); we have really good processes and products that allow you to comfortably, easily get into that position (we did not have these 30 years ago); and finally, not enough stakeholders recognize what these processes and products are (in my subsequent articles I'm going to explain them).

I wrote recently about Richard Bryne and how he and I were independently coming up with the same basic ideas (Richard a little before me). Simply put, if you ride with the top half of your body resting on the front of the bike, you now have the capacity to ride with your hips and trunk further forward, and if you give riders the option that’s what they’ll choose the great majority of the time.

However, back then, this front end above is what we had to work with. There was no threadless headset at the time. No headset spacers. (And look at the brake levers we were using!) We had what was called a “quill stem” and you loosened a wedge bolt and ran the quill up or down into the bicycle’s head tube, much like you run your bike’s seat post up or down inside your bike’s seat tube. That’s how you raised your armrests, and it was the only way.

We all figured out, back in 1988, how to ride aerobars most effectively. To remind you, aerobars – and I’m talking about the for-sale aerobar Scott introduced that took the triathlon world by storm – debuted in 1987. The first thing I did was slap these on my road bike and ride. And it was uncomfortable as heck. So, I raised the bars to where they’re level, in height, with the saddle. That’s how I rode them. The first bikes I made were women’s proportional bikes, road bikes with 650c wheels, and if you look at the images of those bikes, that’s how they were set up, back in 1988.

But my use of the bars, and the use by athletes much better than I – like Mark Allen, Scott Tinley, Pauli Kiuru and so forth – uncovered something that Richard Bryne had figured out a few years before, when working with RAAM riders: That the bars really want to be used with the saddle forward, which in turn moves the bars lower without cramping the rider’s hips as he or she begins to put pressure on the pedal at the top of the pedal stroke.

What you see between my earliest thinking, in the bike just above, to the bike pictured highest above (2 years later) is the incorporation of all we discovered about the best use of the aerobar technology.

However, we lacked the tech to adjust the front end. The armrests in both these bikes had zero front/rear adjustment, so, the only way you could move the bars fore and aft was by putting on a different stem.

I'll not go through all the stages of tech between then and now. Just, we have a coherent system, which I laid out some months ago, but I think this passed under the radar or many or most along the stakeholder chain. That coherent system is best expressed, today, by Profile Design, in it’s FLYT System.

I’m not stopping here, but I’m going to stop here for today. I’m going to write next about the FLYT system – again – in a way that may better present what I tried to write a few months ago. Then I’m going to write what FSA is now just beginning to do, and what Zipp has done, that mirrors the direction Profile Design has taken. (I’ll add some other aerobar makers in there too.)

Were I to presume to any persuasive power, the result of what I’ll write over the days and weeks is an upgrading along the stakeholder chain: where you, your bike fitter, your bike shop, its mechanic, all understand, or have in stock if appropriate, the knowledge and the building blocks that make your bike easily, and relatively inexpensively, correctly and elegantly set up in a position efficient, comfortable and powerful.