A lot of hype concerning the difference between fitting a road bike and a cyclocross bike could be cleared up if we all agree on two simple things: put the engine in the right place, and then adjust for handling and comfort. Let’s break this down.
Your pedals are driven by large muscles surrounding the trunk, hips and knees. In fact, about 98.8% of the force you deliver to the pedals comes from your hips and knees. That’s right, the ankle only produces a very small percentage of your total power. So it makes sense to have the saddle height and setback (also called for-aft position) the same between your road and cross bikes to maximize power production. Why would you select a saddle position that compromises power output? Keep it simple. If you like your current saddle placement on your road bike, there is zero reason to change it on your ‘cross bike.
Handling and comfort
Okay, now here’s where things are a bit different. Instead of rolling your slick tire down fresh asphalt, you’ve got to contend with dusty pumice, wet grass, rocks, roots, and the nutrient ‘crossers crave: mud! In short, it’s critical to have a good handling front end. This means that you want to have a little less weight on the front so that you can lift your front end over obstacles easier. Careful though, too little weight on the front end will bring your torso too upright make it hard for your front tire to bite and send you skittering wide towards the outside of the turn. Let’s see how this all plays out in fit.
- ‘Cross bikes typically have a higher bottom bracket. If you were smart, you’d kept your saddle in the same place as your (properly fitted) road bike. This means that your saddle is higher in the air than your road bike. Since your saddle is higher, your handlebars also need to be higher.
- Hand-grip placement for optimal handling: A lot of people rarely use their drops on their road bike. Then when on the ‘cross course, they find that they are forced into the drops on steep downhills to brake and get a better grip on the front end. Most riders find the bike is much more stable when conditions get squirrely if they use the drops. So if you are going to be in the drops, make sure you are comfortable.
So what’s the secret recipe to make sense of it all?
It’s simple really; the goal is to get the bars a bit “closer” to you. And you can do this in three different ways. You can run a shorter stem to move the bars closer, you can run your bars higher (by putting a few spacers under the stem or by using a stem with more rise), or a combination of both. I typically recommend that riders start by raising their bars first (because this usually only means moving spacers or flipping a stem). Setting up the bars with some combination of “up and back” will allow you comfortable access to the drops for good grip and handling, and while still allowing you to have optimal engine placement so you don’t lose any precious watts.
Powerful, sketchy, and somewhat comfortable. Yeap; sounds just like ‘cross racing!
“Hello- this is Jay can I help you?” After a short sigh, I get a panicked summary of the past several months. A constant battle with shin splints and stress fractures. Not able to run. Rest isn’t helping. Oh and their biggest race of the season – IM Kona- is in 7 weeks. I wasn’t startled. I asked her what her goals were for race day and she said top 10 and a PR in the run. Fast forward through 7 weeks of targeted rehab,strength, and form work. Longest run up to Kona was only 9 miles. Results? She ran a 3:04 and got 10th.
How? It’s actually really simple. For years the triathlete mindset has been that strength and cross training is “something else” to fit in on top of your swim, bike, and run volume. Well, research and successful splits on race day are blowing this myth wide open. The truth? To perform at your limit, its essential to benchmark, and target, your mobility, stability, strength, and power. Instead of just improving your fitness, you can improve you. We didn’t just think outside the box, we threw the box away and re-engineered Linsey’s training in new way to meet her goal. A better you is a faster you.
When I saw Linsey 1:40 down with 1.5 miles to go, I knew she could pull through and make a move from 11th to 10th. She had strength and form nailed down solid. Not only did she make the pass, but she made it with over 20 seconds to spare. And I should note that she also maxed out on several of her strength exercises the same week as Ironman. Strong runners = fast (and happy) runners!
My first, and likely only pic, in Triathlete. Doesn’t this pic look a bit like the “which one of these is not like the other one” song from Sesame Street? Yours truly hasn’t seen 6% body fat in a while…..From left to right: me, Linsey Corbin, Matt Lieto, Chris Lieto, and Elliot Bassett.
I work with many athletes – and to be honest, I get just as much personal satisfaction seeing a person complete their first 10K as I do helping an elite earn a spot on the podium. I’m always humbled and honored when athletes seek out my help, and even more humbled when they put out some nice footage such like this as a way of saying thanks. I’m really just trying to do my job!
Well, professional triathlete Linsey Corbin is also trying to do her job with a stellar performance in Kona 2 weeks from today. Check out Day 2 on linseylucky13.com to learn what Linsey and I have been working on together.
Cyclists want two very simple things. They want to be comfortable on their bike, and they want to be fast. And anytime we “want” something, we must ask the question – how hard must I work to achieve it? Or in this golden age of cycling, a lot of cyclists ask a different question – can I buy more speed? Well, let’s stop asking questions, and start producing some answers.
As a physical therapist, I can tell you that cycling takes its toll on the body. You do a fairly limited range of motion over and over and over again for thousands of miles a year. If things are lined up properly on the bike, and you are careful and follow a smart training program, you’ll maximize efficiency and prevent injury. When things are “off”, we wind up with imbalances that manifest themselves as injury. Injury is a whole other topic for a latter time. The other problem we wind up with is poor efficiency. Proper knowledge and equipment go a long way towards accomplishing a goal of optimal fit.
I’d like to summarize a paper that was published in a peer-reviewed, independent journal. Asker Jeukendrup and James Martin wrote “Improving Cycling Performance: How Should We Spend Our Time and Money”. The authors wanted to quantify the effects of various cycling factors to see which was most beneficial from both a time and cost standpoint. In this study they use simulated “models” to arrive at their predictions. Since they aren’t comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges, the mathematical models allow them to base time gains on previously established research findings (from independent, peer-reviewed journals). Instead of just saying, “bike fit helps”, the authors sought to quantify exactly how much help a cyclist gets with a given alteration in their program. If you ride for Team Sky, you can skip the rest of this, as your cycling resources are unlimited. However, if you are a cyclist balancing riding, school, wife, kids, girlfriend, busted radiator, food, and time at the dog park – read along. They examined both Internal and External Factors as shown below:
|Factors Changed||Time Savings Observed in 40K TT|
|Altitude Training||23-34 seconds|
|Body Position||2-2.5 minutes|
|Aerodynamic Wheels||60-82 seconds|
|Wheel Weight||10-72 seconds (grade dependent)|
|Body Mass||19-25 seconds (rolling TT course)|
|Bicycle Mass||5-13 seconds (rolling TT course)|
You can see that the old adage holds true – there is no substitute for training. Period. Got it? Yes – you have to ride you bike. And you have to ride smart. Lots of base, properly periodized training plan, intervals, and a good taper all add up to good performance on race day. Aside from training, this article offers some interesting findings on where we should concentrate our efforts. Bike fit is key. It’s free speed. Faster with less effort and more biomechanically sound. It’s a win-win all around for the time and money you’ll invest and performance gained. Also – it’s a benefit that is there every time you get on your bike. You are always reaping the benefits of training in the most optimum position. It is very different then spending 1200 dollars on a pair of wheels you only get the benefit from 5 or 6 days a year.
At the REP Lab, we use a whole lot of technology, knowledge, first hand trial and error, experience, and common sense to achieve the most optimum fit for you – not a formula out of a book. A solid bike fit gets you a whole lot closer to achieving your optimum performance now.
I encourage you to check out the full article if you want more information:
Jeukendrup, A.E., and Martin, J. Improving Cycling Performance, How Should We Spend Our Time and Money? Sports Med; 31(7):559-569
The black box training model that most of us follow is pretty much like a blender.
Its time for breakfast, and you want a smoothie. You scrummage through the kitchen and try to find anything resembling fresh or frozen fruit. The blender is loaded up, and spinning loudly as the morning sun crests through the window. You take a sip……its good. But why isn’t as good as the smoothie you made a few days prior. What specific things made the other smoothie better?
Most of us put as much forward thinking into smoothies as we put into our training plan. We throw a bunch of training hours in, and based on our success, we arrive at conclusions. Well, what really happened? Some of you may have gotten faster. But could you have gone faster yet? Some of you may have plateaued…..why? And a few of you may have even gotten slower…..a lot of people really want to know the answer to this!
Wouldn’t it be nice to know more than just “effort in = race performance out?” What if you could actually see inside the black box?
When athletes come to me for an analysis, my goal is to find their limiters. Everyone has them, but not everyone knows how to find them. Over the past decade, I’ve blurred the lines between sports medicine, lab analysis, and performance training. And I’ve done it by being specific. I take a hard look at the state of your body, and a hard look at your sport performance. My lab has fancy tools like force platforms and instrumented treadmills, and a real knack for understanding how these values actually impact your sport’s performance. I can see into your body in ways that no “trained eye” could ever hope to capture. Specific measures = specific answers. I call it “opening the box.” It works.
Over the next few posts, we are going to go through some examples on how this approach has helped others in the past. But if you want to know how it helps you, and want to look inside your own box, give me a call!