The TTBikeFit BLOG:
We don’t post that often these days, but there is a ton of good archived info here and when we have something REALLY SMART to say, look no further!
The fast year is ALWAYS the year you don’t go. It sure seems that way, right? Well this year the data is indisputable. 2018 is by far the fastest year for the Kona Ironman World Championships in the last 11, and maybe the fastest ever. I haven’t heard how many age-group records fell, but obviously the pro records were smashed and at least the overall female AG record was annihilated by a 45 year old no less (and with it Lisbeth’s 8-year old 45-49 course record).
First, let’s talk about “normal” Kona and what can cause it to be fast or slow. Obviously the weather is a major factor. Yet for all its micro-variability, the Kona climate in October is remarkably constant. Weather reports will usually show daily high temperatures of 82-83. It is actually reasonably comfortable in the shade. But exposure to the powerful sun will instantly raise your core temperature so it feels much hotter out on the course. Then add the black pavement and Lava, and it will be bloody hot no matter what. Occasionally, like 2016 for example, air temps were more like 90 and that will certainly add additional stress. Significant cloud cover for any period of time is rare on race day (although abundant during race week!). Madam Pele’s no pushover. But some years the clouds make temporary appearances and this can speed things up a bit vs zero cloud years like 2017. So as far as run course conditions, solar radiation time and air temps will have some effect, but it will always be fairly awful. The bike conditions may actually influence the run more than the relatively small changes in run conditions.
The swim always has some amount of swell and current. Then add varying amounts of wind chop. These each make sighting tougher and may push you off course. Some years have significant swells running – 1996 was one such year with surfers riding double-overhead waves just inshore of the swim course. The overall times however seem to vary by no more than a few minutes for the pros. Clearly 2018 was faster than normal if anything with 2 swim records cracked. So subtract a few minutes for the swim in 2018.
The bike is always the wild card. “Normal” conditions will include sweltering heat beginning within the first 10 miles, but generally favorable winds until the last 7 miles to Hawi. There, at approximately mile 53, just as the grade gets tougher, Madam Pele turns on the jets. Palm fronds are horizontal west. Winds gusts well over 20, but there may be some rain sprinkles. Speeds are typically sub-10mph in many spots due to winds combined with the grade. Once you hit the Hawi turn and start back down hill, these same winds accelerate you to ludicrous mode, but also enjoy shifting and gusting in an attempt to catch out the unwary and launch them into the lava. It is at the bottom of this white knuckle descent that the race (read suffering) begins. The 1 mile climb from Kawaihae to the Queen K is akin to riding into a Bessemer blast furnace. With some 35 miles left to go the Queen K is now stupid hot, the solar radiation is frying your skin, and the winds are raking you from off your right shoulder. How can it be so windy and yet still be so damn hot? From here back to town, the winds and heat conspire to sap any remaining fight from the athletes. This stretch is physical and mental torture, and average speeds rapidly decrease just to add to the misery. Many folks lose the race here. They overheat, dehydrate, and under-nourish. More than anything, the relative run performance can be decided here.
So why wasn’t 2018 “normal”? Heck I wasn’t there I have no idea. Actually I do – when you hear descriptions of the conditions that you have never heard in more than two decades of Kona trips, you know. Mark Allen described the morning pre-start as cool and comfortable. He was waiting for the heat to appear in transition, and it never did in the morning. The race announcers kept describing windless conditions on the bike and relatively moderate temps. On-screen graphics appeared to show the winds switching after the athletes turned at Hawi, so that they had light tail winds in both directions. Clouds were present at times. When the pros hit Hawi the trees and bushes were still. Moreover, when passing Waikaloa on the way back, bushes were still stationary. This area is typically a wind tunnel on the return. There were no signs of bikes being blown across the highway in the last 20 miles. A highly experienced and competitive multi-time Kona age grouper I know said she has never ridden the Queen K like it was on Saturday – with no cross winds.
SO HOW FAST WAS IT ALREADY?! I have been using age group women times to gauge relative difficulty and averages for Kona for some time now – obviously for one because it is useful to Lis, but also because the pros often have very different conditions than the age groupers, especially the now late-starting women. Queen K winds switch on instantly at random times – the earlier you get out there the better chance you may avoid them. Hence the pro men can have an advantage. 2017 was a clear example of this. The pro men almost entirely avoided the winds on the bike – hence the new bike record, and this years times were only slightly faster for them. But even the female pros got nailed by the winds – they start only 5 minutes later but by the time they get to the windy sections they are maybe 20 minutes back. And that can make all the difference as it clearly did in 2017 – men had record bike splits, women were average. Age groupers of course got the usual Pele cocktail.
The way I analyze the conditions is to look at the average time of the top ten female age group bike splits, and also the average time of the top ten female age group overall finishers. Finally I look at the average finishing time for the top ten female age groupers. I cover the period from 2008-present. This simple methodology shows that most years are pretty consistent. The top ten female age group bike splits average about 5:16, or 21.3 mph. The top ten overall female AG finishers’ bike splits average a bit slower, about 5:20. And the average finishing time for the top ten female AGers is about 9:57. 2018 however crushed these averages. The top ten bike split average was 4:55, or 22.7 mph! And the average finish 9:39! So the bike was about 20-21 minutes, or 1.4 mph, faster than average. Rumor has it Madam Pele was up all night playing with thunder storms so perhaps she overslept. Finishing times were slightly less faster – about 18 minutes. This is probably well within the range of error here. But assuming the swim was a few minutes faster than normal, the run, where things did get hot, may have been a bit slower than average – but then again the less-tortuous bike had to help.
Looking across the 11 years of data here, it seems that 2010,2012,2014,2016 and 2017 were “normal” overall. 2013 and especially 2018 were fast, with 2011 also being a bit speedy. 2013 gives 2018 a run for its money – which is strange because I don’t remember that much talk about it being a fast year. The 2018 bike is clearly faster, but 2013/2018 finishing times are identical. 2008, 2009, and 2015 were slow. 2016 interestingly was one of the slowest years on the bike, but overall times were average. The data also seems to indicate that slow years are a “bit” slower, by maybe 10 minutes, while very fast years can be substantially faster by around 20 minutes. The moral of the story? We may never see another year as fast as 2018 in Kona. 40-year veterans were saying they had never seen anything like 2018’s conditions. If this was your first Kona, expect to go maybe 20 minutes slower in a “normal” year. Or 30 minutes plus in a bad one. UPDATE: An astounding 14 AG records fell in 2018. Nine of these records that fell were set in the other fast year, 2013.
One thing you notice in Kona is that some companies go out of their way to support their customers. Lately the bigger names in the bike world are notable by their absence, Cervelo being the exception. Several smaller brands also work hard to make sure their customers are taken care of led by Ventum. Ceepo is another. Argon 18 continues to be a standout, as they have here for years, with their own team of mechanics toiling all week in the Kona heat. You have never seen more Argon 18s, Ceepos or Ventums than you will see here, so maybe this matters. Better yet, Argon 18 threw a barbecue for all riders and dealers, featuring a Q&A with 3-time Kona champion and Argon 18 athlete Craig Alexander. Crowie dished out some valuable tips worth considering for any Ironman competitor, so here I will attempt to summarize his sage advice.
Training and ageing: Crowie is 44 now but still slugs it out with the big boys a few times a year. For maintenance he likes to train 10-15 hours/week. But any of the top guys are going 30+/week (as he did in his younger days) so he does a 4-week build into race day of 20+ hour weeks. But the focus as you get older should be on strength and speed, and he also mentioned biomechanics. You have a lot of miles and hours under your belt, more won’t help you go faster. Focus on proper strength, speed and mobility work will. I believe this is also one of Lisbeth’s “secrets” as her coach Al Lyman puts a premium on this kind of work. So here you have two multiple-time Kona winners giving you this advice. Maybe there is something to it? Yet, every day in the fit studio I see folks with terrible mobility and compromised strength who believe that doing more hours will make them better. It doesn’t need to take you more than maybe 45 minutes a week to make great gains here, but you need guidance. If you can barely lift your leg over your $10000 bike, as I saw yesterday, you are certainly not getting the full benefit of that $10k.
The Bike: If you want to win (or qualify) you need to focus on bike fit and aerodynamics. As he said, there are 10-15 minutes of free (for your legs anyway) time to be gained, and he is not willing to give that up to anyone. Guys like Seb and Frodo focus on this stuff all year long with great attention to detail. He even mentioned switching to glued versus stitched seams on tri suits. Beyond having a well-designed bike that fits you (Crowie rides an Argon 18 E-119+), everything from helmet choice to suit choice to fit parameters is extremely important. You must get a good bike fit, and from there drill down on the aero details (this is Crowie talking – not me although of course I agree). This may mean a trip to the wind tunnel or track. But then again, maybe not as Argon 18 and Notio Konect are releasing a device which essentially serves as a portable wind tunnel, providing the rider with real time CdA measurements on the road. Clearly this could be a revolutionary technology and we will be sure to have one once they become available.
Ironman Race Nutrition: He didn’t like to take in anything solid on race day – even for breakfast. However, Dave Scott did say he should consider solids later in the race including some protein. But although he would have a set plan, he would also be ready to address any problems and changing conditions that might arise. If you are getting irritable and the rest of the competitors are starting to piss you off, you are probably low on calories (or maybe you are just at a flat Ironman where everyone is drafting). He noted if the wind really cranked on the bike, he might need to up his calorie intake. The good news is in this state the body can quickly absorb any input to bring you back. If your stomach feels bloated and you still feel weak and irritable, you may be failing to absorb the calories you are consuming. Your stomach contents are too concentrated and the stuff just sits there. Dilute it with water and get it absorbed, stop taking in calories. I would say the one exception to this is if you have consumed too much water – hyponatremia and your belly is bloated with water – a potentially dangerous situation. Crowie remembered one year where he came out of the swim having swallowed much seawater. He felt ill and didn’t want his regular calories. In these situations, sodium and caffeine would help calm his stomach and get things assimilating once again, so Coke was the ticket back to normal. For sodium, he would target 800-1000 mg/hour. So that would often mean taking two salt stick capsules along with the 400+ mg he might get from sports drink. As he said he felt like you can’t really overdose on sodium so better to err high.
Race week prep: Don’t do anything unusual. Seems painfully obvious, but many screw this one up. If you drink beer in training, have a couple during race week – my favorite tip. Don’t change anything on your bike, shoes, etc. He believes a taper should be just that – not a training cliff where you go from 30 hours (if a pro) to 3. He never went faster than IM pace during race week but emphasized keeping the plumbing working and well-oiled so to speak. But then again, everyone is different and needs to find what routine works well for them and stick to it.
Race day psychology: He would expect the worst. For Kona he would assume the hottest and windiest conditions possible. But to the extent the conditions weren’t worst-case, that was a bonus. And he accepted that he would feel very bad at times even if having a great race. He mentioned that Mark Allen told him that during every Kona he won, there was at least one portion of the race where he felt like he wouldn’t be able to finish. Expect it, make good decisions about pacing (don’t chase Frodo if he flies by you on the bike unless that is part of a well thought out and appropriate race plan) and nutrition, and it will pass.
So, there you have everything I can remember from Crowie’s Q and A courtesy of Argon 18. Might be easier if I take notes next time. You have undoubtedly heard some of this stuff before, but in that case you must ask yourself if that is because it is super important, and whether or not you are truly following it.
Do I recommend starting an ironman build 7 weeks before a race? My plan was ironman Germany later in the summer but due to circumstances too boring to detail, I jumped on the opportunity to race Texas, giving me, you guessed it, 7 weeks to build and taper. Two goals: race exactly fast enough to secure a spot (i.e., top 2 AG) and minimize damage for quick recovery. I believed, if ironman fit, I could race conservatively and meet my goals.
I thought I would give Coach Al a conniption but he jumped at the challenge in Al style and thought the timing was sufficient given our work since Hawaii. His biggest job was getting the space between my ears ready – sometimes a coach is 10% coach and 90% psychologist.
Me me me for the next 4 weeks building muscular endurance; instant twenty hrs weekly, up from ten. Fourteen hours of indoor biking that week, up from three. Except everyone around me was sick and I got bronchitis (didn’t tell coach). Trained through it as intensities were low. Dayquil, Nyquil; a terrible week. T-6 weeks and I was feeling pretty good again. T-3 weeks we took volume down and added quick stuff before a steep rest.
The reason this seemingly panic-ridden plan did not set me up for injury was that my fitness level was relatively high from short quick stuff all winter plus my body was strong as my neighbor’s bulldog from 4 months of Al’s body weight daily 10-minute challenge online class that he teaches during off season. I had graduated from a perfect Turkish Getup balancing a shoe on my knuckles (took me 2 months to perfect, thank you, as it required more mobility than I previously had) to doing them with a 25-pound kettlebell. Point is, I was fit, balanced, and had no ‘issues’. Which answers my initial question: it depends. And definitely not unless you have a few under the belt. All that (non-weight) strength work didn’t make me a faster triathlete of course but it granted me a larger margin of error – the type of margin that I naturally possessed a decade and two ago. While this short lead-up was super family/work friendly, it played with my confidence. I will go the traditional path for Kona.
Texas. Holy grandmother of heat coming off RI snow only a month prior with zero high temps over 70 and most bike rides requiring tights. Mantra for the day: ‘This Is Exactly the Right Temperature for Me’. Conservative pacing, calm head. Skipped the practice swim due to bacteria level issues which meant the race
would be my first open water swim since Hawaii. 81 degrees’ water. Swam it more or less alone; every time I tried to draft I got dropped. Time 1:07 yuck, gone are the days of one hour flat but I was hardly out of breath. Following my plan of conservation.
Bike course was moved and shortened to 95 flat miles with 80-something turns added; this due to Houston floods and a certain county commissioner’s dislike of tri-geeks. I was impressed by how safely this course was run by WTC and the area police squad. Corners were fast apart from a few u-turns. The only issue were folks slowing out of turns bunching you into their draft zone without space to make a pass, but draft marshals were more focused on straightaways and penalty tents were indeed packed. Still there was blatant intentional drafting aplenty including orchestrated rotating pace-lines (the guy in back was always the moto-lookout). Disgusting. Time 4:17, 22mph, VI 1.01, 10W below goal iron pace (this is hard to confirm as my ancient Quarq drifts down with increased temperature).
Hot now; 89-96F depending on who you ask. I wasn’t feeling terrific. Somehow I managed to get dehydrated despite enough fluids and salt – I was peeing way too much. My mistake during the days prior had been drinking too much plain water. The absence of heat acclimation had me losing more salt than usual/sweating more. The excess peeing was to keep blood sodium in balance. Hot races are so tough to get right. And it’s tricky to analyze exactly what you need to do to correct the situation.
Trotting along no faster than my conservative goal pace of 8:20ies/mile, I started out with my FuelBelt and a handheld so that I could focus on cooling – ice down shorts, top, hat. I needed to get my body temperature down or implosion would be imminent. I knew aid stations would be competitive during the more crowded 2nd and 3rd laps. I drank a lot and increased salt. I hadn’t peed since the bike and wouldn’t again until hours after my race was done. Body doing what the body does to keep equilibrium.
During 2nd lap I was passed by a lady wearing pink from top to toe; a very good runner in my AG. I had no chance. Surely, I couldn’t be a whole lap ahead so I assumed I was in 2nd and couldn’t afford lollygagging from there on. Thank you lady in pink (she was indeed on her 1st lap I found out upon finishing); she was the reason for my HTFU mode. 3rd lap, avoiding the 10 minute per mile pace of shame with all my might. This race is just too damn hot; the F-bomb emerged and my mantra departed with it. Thunder from afar, then closer. Clouds rolled in, temps all of a sudden dropped drastically like an inverse menopausal episode and the rain and wind got nasty. 2 miles to go and we were running in deepish water having to lift our feet like clowns – and then came the hail. It took me a moment to grasp what was hurting my skin. The lightening was so close a girl in front of me ducked to the ground. As we say in Norway – we weren’t very high in our hats (= scared shitless). My glasses blew off my face never to be seen again. Some say 50 mph winds at this moment in time and I believe them; I had to make myself smaller. I used my hat to protect the side of my face from the hail. The finish was anti climatic in that they had evacuated the tents and only a few remaining brave souls were waving us in through shifted barricades. Behind me they apparently started pulling people off the course to seek shelter, something that would later cause timing mayhem.
Time 3:55 including a dreaded 10min+ pace for the last 3 miles into the wind for a happy ending. 9:27 total time.
From hyper to hypo – my body was doing the big uncontrollable shivers, they wrapped me in a silver blanket and a towel and gave me a hot burrito. 1st age group 50-54 and Kona number 9 – yabadaba, baby!
Thanks to The Academy (my family), Coach Al, Ventum (Looove My Bike!), FuelBelt, VASA, Speedfil, and Tifosi Optics. Only 4 months to wait in suspense for TTBikeFit’s world famous slo-mo video bike position analysis from the Queen-K.
I have been spending some time analyzing Kona bike split data for the last 8 years. Coincidentally, this is when Lisbeth started racing Kona consistently (she also did it in 1996 pre-kids). I wanted to see what years were “tough” years, and how Lis has fared versus the fastest women bikers, fastest overall finishers, and masters women in general. I found the results pretty interesting both on a general basis and relative to Lisbeth’s performance over the years.
One reason I undertook this task was that Lis felt she had a bad race this year, finishing second in her AG. She definitely overheated during the last hour of the bike, and by the second half of the run was in pure survival mode. She ultimately lost 4% of her body weight by the time she hit Alii Drive. That is way too much. Her power on the bike seemed low, even considering heat-influenced drift affecting her early-model Quarq. I think many folks felt that the El Nino conditions were harsher than usual. But would the split data show this? I also wanted to get an idea if Lis’ new bike setup, a Ventum One and Nimblewear speedsuit, may have helped her bike split.
Note that I avoided bringing any pro data into this analysis, as the pro start times versus the age groupers have varied over the years. Since 2008 they have gone from a pure mass start, to pros first; to men pros then women pros then age groupers; to men pros, women pros, male age groupers and finally women age groupers this year. The 45 minute time spread can significantly affect racing conditions in Kona. A few minutes can make the difference between calm conditions and raging head winds, not to mention moderate vs boiling heat. Note that the women starting last this year, 15 minutes behind the AG men, may have had significant effects on bike splits thru reduced legal and not-so-legal drafting.
What years have been TOUGH bike years, and how fast do you need to be to make UBERBIKER status?
For this analysis I looked at the average bike split of the 10 fastest age group women bikers, and the 10 fastest age group women finishers. There was quite a bit of consistency in the splits from year to year, but it is clear that 2013 was an “easy” year, while 2015, 14, 09 and 08 were tougher.
Average Bike Split of 10 Fastest AG Women Bikers, and Fastest AG Woman Bike Split
2015: 5:19:53, 5:15:48
2014: 5:19:45, 5:13:24
2013: 5:03:05, 4:49:54
2012: 5:18:38, 5:00:42
2011: 5:11:22, 4:58:40
2010: 5:17:17, 5:07:00
2009: 5:21:38, 5:15:51
2008: 5:23:26, 5:15:33
Eight year average bike split, top ten AG woman bikers: 5:16:53 +- 06:37
Eight year average fastest AG woman bike split: 5:07:07 +- 09:48
So without getting into statistical arguments, I think it is safe to conclude a few things here. 2013 was definitely an outlier – super fast on the bike. 2015 and 2014 look a bit slower than average, as do the earlier years, but then there may be some technology drift there (as the UCI would call it) – faster bikes, electronic shifting, faster wheels, overall better bike fits in recent years versus 7 or 8 years ago. I think it is fair to say if you want to be in the top 10 AG woman bikers, you need to be able to ride around a 5:17 (21.2 mph average) in Kona’s rolling hot and windy conditions. If you want to be the fastest AG woman biker, plan on riding just over 5 hours (more like 21.75 mph average).
How do the Fastest Bikers Compare to the Fastest Finishers?
Next I looked at the top ten AG women FINISHERS, and averaged their bike splits. Obviously the fastest bikers are not necessarily the fastest finishers, sometimes the opposite. There is this marathon thing to deal with after all.
Average Bike Split of Top-ten AG Women Finishers: Bike Split, and Finishing Time
2015: 5:25:55, 10:08:02
2014: 5:22:05, 10:01:25
2013: 5:06:40, 9:39:20
2012: 5:19:34, 9:56:11
2011: 5:15:03, 9:45:01
2010: 5:21:12, 9:56:43
2009: 5:24:25, 10:07:37
2008: 5:32:03, 10:10:29
Eight year average bike split, top ten AG woman finishers: 5:20:52 +-7:35
Eight year average, top ten AG women finishers overall time: 9:58:36 +- 10:38
This data is consistent with the previous data in that 2013 was super fast, and 2015 was slow, especially when the run/swim is added in. Only 2008 is slower, but there is that technological creep to consider (no to mention overall greater participation and deeper fields now). And, we can see that the top ten finishers ride on average about 4 minutes slower than the top ten bikers – not much difference, about 0.25 mph. So, if you want to be a top overall finisher at least in the AG women in Kona, your bike split needs to be top notch. And you need to be capable of sub 10 hours overall in Kona conditions. Note that I only bothered to look at the finishing times for the top ten bikers in two years: 2015 and 2013. They were 12 and 7 minutes slower than the top-ten finishers. So it’s really no surprise that the finishing times of the top ten bikers are a bit slower than the top overall finishers. Maybe 10 minutes or so.
How did Lisbeth do in 2015?
Lisbeth’s bike split this year was 5:26:36. Not her fastest by any means. But I had some ideas that it may actually have been very fast, especially considering her “new” age group. She out-split the next woman in 50-54 by a healthy 20:53. Yes this was her first year in the AG giving her an age advantage, but 5 years prior in 2010 when she was the youngest in 45-49, she out-split the next woman in the AG by a mere 3 minutes. Her largest margin prior to this year was 2011 where she out-split the next woman in her AG by nearly 14 minutes. She had the 2nd fastest over-40 bike split this year (a 43 yr old went less than 2 minutes faster), and the 12th-fastest of all AG women. Her time was 6:43 slower than the average time of the top ten AG women bikers. This is actually the smallest margin since 2010, when she was only a couple minutes back (and 5 years younger, a year when she had her fastest ever Kona).
One other way I came up with to “normalize” Lisbeth’s bike data was to look at how the fastest over-50 AG woman biker’s bike split compared to the fastest overall AG woman cyclist’s bike split. The average margin from 2008-2014 was 29 minutes slower, +- 9 minutes. The smallest gap was 20:33 in 2009. Lisbeth however was only 10:48 behind the fastest AG woman biker in 2015. So she clearly had the strongest bike leg of any 50 plus woman in at least the last 8 years. Considering her power was down, likely due to a overly-high core temp during the last hour, and that her bike training was less than usual if anything (and is always quite slim compared to most athletes at her level – but this is by design since her training time is relatively limited and her coach Al Lyman does a great job of wringing the most from her training budget), I would say her Ventum One served her very well.
This is the first in a series of posts looking at some interesting features of the pros’ bikes at the Kona 2015 Ironman World Championships. I hope to point out some stuff you might not notice otherwise. Most shots are from bike check-in with some from the expo.
The first two specimens just happen to belong to the first two finishers, Frodeno and Raelert. And coincidentally, both are made from pure 100% high-modulus unobtanium. At least if you live in the US that is. Canyon is not selling in the US market yet, as they have a direct to consumer model and rely on a central service facility in Germany to support European customers in lieu of a dealer network. They say they are working on bringing this to the US. We will see. Andreas’ Cube is a true cost-was-no-object one-off, but Cube claims they are using it as a development platform for future stock bikes.
Jan Frodeno's Canyon Speedmax CF SLX
Although this is not the bike Jan raced on in Kona, the setup is mostly the same. For the race, he switched to an Elite aero bottle on the down tube and ZIpp 808 wheels. Besides the overall angularity of Canyon’s latest superbike, the front end treatment is also striking. The hydration unit hangs in front of the head tube and sits on top of the stem. A trapezoidal bento box blends seamlessly with the back of the bottle. Jan uses a Sram Quarq power meter and a Fizik Tritone nose-less saddle.
Jan rides with his elbows jammed together. This CAN certainly be more aero, it can also be quite uncomfortable for most folks. He also runs a relatively low hand position in a time where many are re-recognizing the potential aero benefits of higher hands. The base bar is quite square and has integrated rubber grips. It also sits very low due to the integrated stem design. Note the clean positioning of the drinking straw and the spacious bento.
Is there a curve anywhere on this bike? Actually there is – the leading edge of the bottle is curved. Obviously Canyon makes generous use of Kamm-type truncated airfoils. But you have to wonder if all those square edges are as aero as they could be – like the trailing edge of the bento and the bottom of the hydration bottle, not to mention the very stubby square-section basebars. Looks like aesthetics came into play here, but in the end maybe it makes very little difference in performance.
Frodo uses Sram Red E-tap “wireless” shifting. Note that there are still plenty of wires in the cockpit area connecting the shifter “blips” to the control box – they are just well hidden within Canyon’s spacious front end storage. The small grey box attached to the derailleur is the removable battery – each derailleur has its own and they can be swapped between derailleurs as well.
The rear hydration mount is integrated with the seat post. See that little fin in front of the seatpost on the top tube? That is a lid for yet another storage chamber within the triangular frame gusset.
Frodo’s position looked great. Move along, nothing to complain about here.
Andreas Raelert's Custom Cube C:68
Andreas Raelert’s one-off Cube C:68 ranks as one of the most striking bikes in Kona this year. F1 engineers Swiss Side pulled out all the stops to make this bike as aero as possible. Yet, most of the aero features are similar to those found on other superbikes – the seat tube gusset (Canyon), the smoothly-integrated front end (Scott), the deep aspect-ratio head tube (Cervelo and Scott), the kinked chain stays (Blue), and the “big block” carbon (Felt).
Unlike on Frodo’s Canyon, the front hydration unit is practically sealed to the front tire. Clearly Swiss Side’s aim here was to divert flow around the fork/wheel complex. Others have gone opposite way by widening the fork leaving large gaps between the front wheel so that air can presumably flow between the wheel and fork. This is a touchy area in the aero world – two objects with a gap between them can “act” like one big object to the air flow (bad). So maybe best to keep everything narrow and force the air around everything.
The bars are modified Profile Aerias. Note that Andreas chose Shimano Pro elbow cups though. No BTA bottle here – instead we have a Garmin affixed with electrical tape. Aerobar shifters are the Dura-Ace 1-button type (they only operate the rear derailleur in one direction or the other). You get another good look here at the front hydration unit, with TRP brakes just barely peaking out. Tires? The ubiquitous Conti GP 4000 S2.
He actually left it unaccompanied for a short while in the chute. Andreas was running Rotor 3D cranks, FSA aero rings, and a Power2Max power meter. Wheels are Swiss Side Hadrons. Presumably they are not intended to super-collide – just go fast. And yes, those are only (GASP) Ultegra 6870 Di2 derailleurs – probably cost him .001 watts versus Dura Ace. As noted before, Andreas did not run a BTA bottle, but chose a frame-mounted aero bottle and two cages fastened under the rear of the saddle. Gotta wonder if Swiss SIde approved of the frame bottle and lack of BTA, as both of these generally increase drag.
Andreas’ fit was excellent on the Cube. Like with Frodo’s fit, it is hard to complain about anything here. Notice the Zipp rear wheel, courtesy of neutral support after a flat. Even so, Raelert’s bike time was only minutes off the top split.
Let’s face it; we are getting to the point where the likes of Cervelo, Specialized, Trek and others are going to be hard-pressed to ring any more aero gains out of a “traditional” double-diamond frame shape. The top aero bikes are converging on each other’s designs, and aero differences are becoming negligible while many of the bikes are a nightmare to live with and work on. Not to mention, the benefits of a good fit will always outweigh aero equipment tweaking. But assuming you are dialed in, if you are looking for that extra bit of aero magic there may be only one way to go – backwards 20 years to the “golden age” of aero. The 90’s produced many iconic aero bike designs: the beam (Softride and Zipp), the Z frames (Lotus), Pinarello’s bizarre shapes as ridden by Miguel Indurain and Bjarne Riis (which also worked quite well as a frisbee when Bjarne tossed his over a hedge in a fit of rage during TDF time trial), and many others like Hotta and Corima.
Then, the UCI’s Lugano Charter ruling quickly killed any frame that didn’t consist of a “double diamond” design. Hence these weird yet aerodynamically beautiful shapes were relegated to the pages of history (or Google). I have an original Softride Power V beam bike (now on display in the shop) that I still think is the fastest bike I have owned at least on flat courses. Luckily, triathletes need not play by the same rules as bike racers (most of the time – except in ITU races), and recent years have seen the return of the beam bike (Dimond and Falco), and now, the Z frame in the form of upstart Ventum’s “One” tri bike. The Ventum One clearly echoes the iconic Lotus 110 Sport bike of the mid 90s (other than the steeper tri-based geometry of the One). Seeing as the 110 set hour records under both Colby Pearce and Chris Boardman, it seems like a good place to start. Steve Larsen even raced a 110 in Kona before his untimely death.
Anyone interested in TT bikes in the mid 90s lusted after the Lotus, so when I first got a look at the Ventum I took notice.
I was lucky enough to work with Ventum this March at the A2 wind tunnel as I have been pro Alicia Kaye’s fitter since 2010 and she had just received a Ventum for the 2015 season. The day was mainly devoted to dialing in their two top pros at the time, Alicia Kaye and Leanda Cave. Most of my time was spent fitting Alicia and Leanda on the Vertex Fit Cycle and then transferring the fits to the new Ventums. Much of the tunnel testing was about testing position changes along with helmets, hydration, etc on the girls. Yes there was some comparative testing versus a Canyon, Cervelo P5, and Scott Plasma, both with and without riders. And these tests suggested the Ventum is indeed a very fast design. Certainly my “eyeball wind tunnel” said so. Many have asked why this data has not been published. Well, first of all the forks were pre-production prototypes. Second, the primary aim of the day was to get Alicia and Leanda as dialed in and aero as possible. Based on subsequent race results, mission accomplished. So the
time spent on head to head bike testing was really insufficient to cover all the bases of a rigorous, publishable test. But it DID provide some very suggestive data that the One is super aero, maybe more aero than just about anything out there. I have the data. It would raise some eyebrows. It won’t likely ever be published. But I have no doubt that Ventum will visit A2 once again with this goal in mind. Or perhaps a neutral party will test a Ventum. In any case, I was impressed enough to ask them if Lisbeth could possibly ride one in Kona this year, and to our delight Ventum came through for us.
The Ventum frameset incorporates a fork with a standard steerer tube so that any traditional front end can be used on the bike. However, it does come with a proprietary stem and bar combo that makes for a very clean leading edge. The basebar bolts to the stem with 4 vertical bolts, and the stem attaches to the steerer in the traditional way. The fork incorporates a faring that covers the TRP V-brake and runs upward to the stem to hide the brake cabling. This also provides a place to stash the Di2 Junction box. The stem has a hole in it to pass the brake cables and Di2 E-tube wires through. The stem also has a carbon cover which serves as the steerer cap as well. We have not mounted this yet as it requires cutting the steerer flush (very short) with the stem, and we wanted to make sure Lis was happy with the bars and fit before cutting the steerer. Once cut, you will be hard-pressed to fit a standard stem to it (other than a low profile model like a Syntace or FSA). The top tube of the frame has a single hole behind the stem for derailleur and rear brake cabling, and the basebar has a port in the center trailing edge for cables/wire entry. All in all it was a fairly straight forward and clean build as far as super-bikes go. No real gotchas, everything fits perfectly. The rear brake, mounted underneath the bottom bracket, is a Shimano direct mount, which provides easy setup and superior braking versus most other aero brakes. Bottom bracket is BB30 meaning it can be adapted to just about any crankset and bb system out there. The bike should be an easy one to live with mechanically, especially for a super bike.
One of the other main features of the One is the integrated hydration system. A plastic tank completes the aero shaping of the top tube and holds 40 oz of fluid while improving the aerodynamics of the bike. This system is elegantly simple in that the tank plugs into a hole in the frame “seat tube” and attaches with an adjustable thumbscrew mount in the front. It blends in seamlessly and does not rattle or move. A soft rubber fill cap is easily removable for refilling and cleaning. A hose, bite valve and magnets provide for easy drinking while aero. Add a BTA bottle on the aerobars, and you have all you need hydration-wise, with nary a watt wasted.
The frame stack/reach is fairly middle of the road – not overly aggressive nor conservative. The stock aerobar/stem system provides a minimum of approximately 9cm of stack. In other words, add 9cm to the published frame stack and that gets you the minimum “cup stack” achievable with the stock bars. The stem is a short 75mm, but when combined with the aerobars which have relatively forward-mounted cups, the minimum cup reach (reach to back edge of aerobar cup) is approximately frame reach plus 3cm. How does this compare to a typical traditional front end setup with a standard stem and “typical” aerobars with 6cm of stack and -6cm of reach? It is very close to using a -17 degree (level) stem, 10cm long, with a 1cm steerer spacer and the aforementioned bars. Note that the stock Ventum bars come with pedestal spacers that can raise the extensions and cups 1, 2 or 3cm. Reach can be adjusted another 1.3cm forward using the second set of holes in the cups. And, you could use some steerer spacers as well under the stem for additional stack, at some small aero penalty. Note that ideally, you will not want to be pedestaling the bars up too high or you may find the basebar grips too low for you. They have a decent amount of drop built into them – the minimum drop from the pads to the grips is 7.5cm. This compares to the above traditional bar setup which would have~ 5cm of drop if using a flat basebar. Or, you can scrap their front end and add your own for more fit options. So far we have found the stock aerobars with shallow ski bend extensions to be quite comfortable if you don’t mind the basebar position and are fine with a maximum pad width of about 21cm (the two other width settings are 17 and 19cm). Overall the fit parameters of the bike are well thought out for the likely target market of the bike – aggressive racers with good aero fits. The stock setup interestingly just hits both Lis and my fit coordinates in the lowest setting, and we both have quite aggressive positions.
One issue for some riders will be the standover height due to the hydration tank. The 51cm frame (the smallest current size) has an 80 cm standover. Ventum has indicated they may add a smaller frame size, and I could also see them offering a lower-profile hydration tank option. At 51cm stack / 39.4 cm reach, the 51cm frame is not particularly small so if demand is there I could see them going down to a ~48 cm stack / 38 cm reach option. Another challenge is where to put food for long races on such a clean integrated ride. The aero answer is “nowhere – hide it somewhere else” but long course folk will want an on-frame solution for this. Ventum is rumored to be coming up with one. I could see an optional hydration tank with a reduced 30 oz of capacity with the rearward 20% of it being a covered box for nutrition. Certainly one advantage of the integrated hydration tank design is that it can be modified far more easily than the frame can.
How does it ride?
I have not ridden it – I am not sure a size 58 exists yet. In any case, Lis has a few hundred miles on hers including a 100+ miler at IM tempo and an Olympic distance race. She loves the handling and responsiveness of the bike, and based on her splits in the race (24+ mph in the middle loop of a rolling course with 2 hairpins) and my experiences riding behind her, it is fast. Not scientific of course, but if she feels like it is fast, I am confident it will be in Kona. It was very windy and gusty during her 100 miler, and she felt like it basically ignored crosswinds – another bonus for Kona. The hydration system works beautifully. The tank shape allows every last ounce to be easily extracted, and the flexible hose and magnetic mount makes for convenient drinking with no aero penalty. She is looking forward to refilling on the fly less with the huge 40 oz tank capacity.
In conclusion, the Ventum One looks like a winner. Is it the fastest bike out there? Who knows – maybe time will tell. I am confident however that it is fast, at least competitive with any other exotic design. And if you own one you will not look like everyone else, at least for a while. So I think it is definitely worth checking out if you are in the high end of the market and do not want to default to the usual choices (of course it must fit you, and a crappy fit will more than outweigh any aero benefits from the frame). Expect to see plenty of these bikes next season at big races.
We have been running electronic shifting (Shimano Di2) on our personal tri bikes since it was first introduced. Most of our training buddies have picked it up along the way as well, and we have built many bikes for clients with Di2. Each one of them says they will never go back to mechanical shifting. With the wider availability of compatible frames and both SRAM and FSA threatening to release their own electronic componentry, the time has come for every serious triathlete still riding mechanical to ask themselves why. Here are our top reasons you should very seriously consider going electric:
1: SAFETY: One of the key advantages of electronic shifting is dual shifter positions. You get shift buttons on both your aerobar tips and on your brake levers (or at least you should – see important note below). Hence you never need to remove a hand from the base bar and reach out to your aerobar tip to execute a shift. This is extremely valuable when in a pack situation (see #2) or otherwise technical section. Keep a firm grasp on the horns and shift like crazy (and brake too) if needed. IMPORTANT NOTE: Some high end tri bikes have done away with the brake lever shifters in favor of hydraulic brakes (which require special brake levers and hence replace the electronic shifter brake levers); yes some have jury-rigged shifter buttons onto these levers, but do you really want to go there? NO ONE needs hydraulic brakes on a tri bike – NO ONE. EVERYONE needs brake lever shifters on a tri bike. End of story. I’m talking to you, Cervelo (and I believe Specialized has some previous Shiv versions with hydraulic brakes)! PLEASE do not buy a Di2-equipped bike without brake lever shifters! Some bikes come without just to keep the price down, so plan on adding them if buying one of these bikes (e.g., Felt B2). The brake lever shifters will run you $350 retail for Ultegra.
2: PACK RIDING: The brake lever shifters effectively turn your tri bike into a road bike when pack riding (you don’t ride in your aerobars in a pack, DO YOU?). Most triathletes do some amount of pack riding with roadies or other triathletes (or at least they should). Electronic shifters remove the tri bike wobble or late braking caused by the one-handed aerobar shifter reach. Tri Geeks previously shunned by the local roadie peleton may be able to regain favor (assuming they stay out of the aerobars, don’t attack every time they get to the front, and don’t overlap wheels).
3: SPEED and EFFICIENCY: Electronic shifting can (should) make you faster. The more hilly and technical a course, the bigger the advantage. After several rides, it starts to seem that your derailleurs are wired directly into your brain (maybe Shimano’s next innovation…). You never think about shifting anymore. Your thumbs, wherever they may reside at a given moment, just shift automatically. No longer will you debate on that long steep climb whether you want to reach out onto the end of your aerobar and slam it down to the small ring. It will just HAPPEN. You will shift far more often, and more efficiently. You will actually use both chainrings because it is so easy. You will never get bogged down coming out of a corner because you’re in a big gear and can’t reach out to shift while trying to accelerate. You will never again need to feel like your legs are about to spin off when preemptively dropping it down to the small ring coming into a hill or turn. With electronic you really can wait until the last second, and you can and will double shift – drop to the small ring while simultaneously shifting up two cogs in back. The transition is barely noticeable to your legs now, but you are in the small ring and ready to tick it into easier gears as the climb steepens. You will simply ride better. Not to mention, those run legs should feel a bit better too.
4: RELIABILTY: The stuff just works. Shimano Di2 anyway – don’t know about any of the others yet. I have yet to see a single failure. I have heard of a case of older Dura-Ace 7970 croaking completely, but did not see it with my own eyes/hands. The shifting stays perfectly adjusted. It shifts perfectly every time. Front shifts are effortless. The chain doesn’t drop. This all assumes it is installed and set up properly, which is really exceedingly easy to do. Easier than mechanical shifting. Yes you need to charge the battery occasionally. And I do mean OCCASIONALLY. Once every month or two should do it. Just hold down any shift button and it tells you how much charge is left. “But what about all that electrical stuff? Won’t it short out or something and leave me stranded?” Not that I have seen. But I have seen PLENTY of mechanical shifting failures. Ask Macca about Kona a few years back. Or what about the guy I know whose SRAM mechanical shifter failed during an Ironman forcing him to hold the shifter back for most of the bike or else be relegated to the highest gear. Missed a Kona slot by 90 secs or so. I am sure the shifter was worth way more time than that. Anything can fail, but electrical seems more reliable in my experience. We will see what happens when some of it starts to approach several years of service. But by that time with mechanical, you will need several cable replacements and readjustments at the very least.
5: SIMPLICITY: It really is simple stuff. Just a couple of junction boxes, wires, and a rechargeable battery. The wires easily plug and unplug using the included tool and form water-tight connections. No more cables and housing that fray and corrode and muck up your shifting. No more cable stretching (also mucks up your shifting) when new cables are installed. No more multi-hour sessions redoing your housing and cables in your internally routed superbike and readjusting the derailleurs. Need to adjust the rear derailleur because your race wheel cassette is just a bit different than your training wheel? Press a button. Press another button a few times. DONE.
Yes it costs more. There is no need to pony up for Dura-Ace as Ultegra works just as well and is only incrementally heavier. But if you look at electronic shifting in the same light as other performance upgrades like a power meter or race wheels, this cost makes more sense.
If you need further convincing, ask someone who has it and then was forced for some reason to go back to mechanical. Such as when your race bike is away with TriBike Transport. Or you are between new bikes and have to pull out the old beater (even if it is a P3). We can say from personal experience, nothing will make you appreciate your electronic shifting more. Or make you wonder how you ever lived without it.
Preface: This was not the ideal year for a northerner to choose Ironman Texas as a Kona qualifier. A voluntary hiatus from the big dance last year after winning #4 in 2013 meant a qualifier was needed if Lisbeth was to return to the lava, and qualifying earlier in the season is always better – right? Unless Ma Nature whips up one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record. The first 1 hour outdoor ride was Easter day. The first 6hr outdoor ride was a few days later with full tights, gloves, jacket etc. Yes, there were a few 4 1/2 hour indoor rides at the TriFitLab Pain Cave, and many painful interval sessions and 2-3 hour Sunday rides on the Computrainers. But it was clear this was not going to be an easy or fully adequate buildup for Lisbeth. The peak 3hr run came on our shortened Spring Break road trip to visit colleges and kiteboard on the Outer Banks. Heat acclimation? Ha. There was barely a single bike ride without tights and long sleeves. No open water swims. Training volume was low average by the standards of many IM training programs these days. But then again, there was a well of experience in both Lisbeth and her coach Al Lyman to build upon. If you can’t do it all, be smart about what you can do. Consider that race day was 90 degrees plus and preceded by countless inches of rain that then proceeded to boil up out of the ground as ungodly humidity during the race. Or that race day was the first day in who knows how long that it didn’t cloud up and pour in the afternoon – sun stayed out ALL day. This wasn’t going to be for wimps, but at least it would make Kona weather less of a shock! – Todd
I felt like a million bucks on my trusty Blue Triad SL but curbed my enthusiasm per strict orders. Indoor riding had prepped me better than anticipated. I chose my LG Course stealth aero helmet over full aero for lack of heat acclimation reasons. For hydration I used my usual Speedfil setup – A2 and Z4 between the arms, R3 behind the saddle. This course favors folks with comfortable fits as you can stay tucked in aero position almost the entire ride. I am back on an ISM Adamo Racing2 saddle – the modern version of the first Adamo I used back in 2007 – and it has been working great as I never need to get out of aero. 30 miles in, our (1/4 mile away) neighbor Patrick McCrann of Endurance Nation passed and yelled ‘this wind is unusual’. Yes we had wind already and from a strange direction which was an indication of even windier conditions to come. I was pleased that there were no packs and my only minor annoyance were a handful of guys who passed me only to relax immediately. Then you have to tap your breaks to slow until you are out of their draft zone and then power up so you can make the pass. Or else just sit up and take care of nutrition or perhaps coast and pee. The possibilities. I was riding a Hed Jet 90 mm front and a rear Jet disk and in spite of the remarkably stable handling of these wheels had a few uncomfortable moments in the gusts. This is a fast course even with winds and uneven road surface. 112 miles 5:07.
T2 changing tents never cease to amaze me. 3 ladies busying themselves around me telling me to sit down for my pedicure (those were their words). I didn’t lift a finger and somehow was sent on my way with clean feet, socks and shoes, race belt, FuelBelt, fresh Tifosi sunglasses and a visor on my head. How did they do that?
First run loop of three felt super although the heat was burning my face (at 5pm it was 91 Fahrenheit and 90% humidity). The highlight of each loop was the wild and crazy speedo dancers; their energy was contagious. The rain never came. There was ample ice and I spent every mile’s aid station cooling the body and taking care of hydration and salt. Second and third loops got crowded; items were harder to come by while trying to run through. I focused well on controlling my body temperature but retroactively speaking did not take in enough fluids. All of a sudden I was so desperately thirsty I gobbled down everything I got my hands on and immediately got a side stitch. My feet were barely leaving the ground, otherwise called a shuffle. During 10 hours of racing there are details you often don’t remember until a couple of days later. One such was a long black snake at a corner that I almost stepped on but with a leap and shrill scream managed to avoid – generating big laughs from the crowd. The last 10 miles had me question life, the universe and everything. Marathon 3:53. Ugly but could have been worse. Total time 10:16. So hard.
Unlike some European races, you don’t receive different color bracelets that mark which loop you are on and for that reason I didn’t know how I had placed until I spotted Jordan Blanco at the finish who verified my 1st in 50-54 (shut up) and 6th amateur. Fantastic feeling and relief! Maybe if I knew I was the overall age group woman leader from mile 3-18 on the run, I wouldn’t have slogged it so much. Yeah right.
My body is still not right 6 days later and my toe nails are falling off because my feet swelled. Like one of the motivational signs on the run course: “if it were easy it would be called your mother”.
Huge thanks to my brilliant Coach Al, Pursuit Athletic Performance, FuelBelt, VASA, Blue Bicycle, Speedfil, PowerBar, ISM, Tifosi Optics, Trueform Runner and Powerbar. Not to mention my kids for putting up with their crazy mother during another Ironman buildup. Ok, so they get to go to Kona. I think bribery is too harsh of a word for that. And to the world’s best husband, training partner (and bike fitter), Todd – we are going to Kona number 8! Which means the famous super slo-mo video studies of the pro’s bike fits are back!
I finally made it around to doing an analysis video on the pro women. In this video we compare and contrast the aero positions of Michelle Vesterby, Liz Blatchford, Jodie Swallow, Amanda Stevens, Caroline Steffen, Amy Marsh, Rachel Joyce and Mary Beth Ellis. Here we talk about the meaning of an “aggressive” aero position, and compare setups at both ends of the aggressiveness spectrum. We also discuss whether the positions are appropriate for the rider in question (or anyone for that matter) and why. Finally, we put a couple of the athletes in the bike fit penalty box. As always we employ our videos shot on the Queen K at mile 110 at 300 fps.
Let’s face it: there is a huge disconnect in the tri bike world. As with most things in life, it has to do with incentive-caused biases. By that I mean what is best for the manufacturers, bike shops, and athletes is not necessarily the same thing. Hence as a potential consumer of a tri bike, you must be armed with good information – not marketing hype or forum hearsay, but in-depth knowledge and unbiased advice. Unfortunately on a daily basis I meet with athletes who still fall into the traps of agents (shops, manufacturers) who are simply trying their best to do what brings them success, even if that is at the expense of the athlete.
First we must understand where the interested parties are coming from; where their bread is buttered so to speak. As an aside, in another life I hold a Chartered Financial Analyst designation and have spent years as an equity analyst and portfolio manager, so I do know a little bit about business and finance – especially behavioral finance. The bike business is tough. Manufacturers must invest in engineering, molds, and marketing many months (years) before a new bike design will hit the market. These investments ideally need to be amortized over quite a few years of robust bike sales. So for them it is a volume game. Scale of operations and more bikes sold means better margins, survival, and success. If you want to sponsor a Pro Tour road team, it will cost around $2M plus maybe 80 bikes. That is a tough nut to crack for a small or medium company regardless of whether they have the “best” product. Only the companies that have achieved scale can even consider playing here. Sponsoring a top pro triathlete might cost $100k – still tough for a small company. So the industry consolidates into fewer larger players, where synergies in management, distribution, and manufacturing can turn it all into a reasonably good business. But you need to sell a lot of bikes – ideally all kinds of bikes – MTB, recreational, road, tri, etc – to leverage your infrastructure.
Tri is just a niche, but a fast growing, high income niche. Triathletes are the early adopters and are willing to spend for speed. While a topic for another article, in the non-drafting race world, you can buy some extra speed. In the draft-legal road bike world, not so much. Once you hit a certain level, a good road bike is a good road bike, assuming it fits you. That new one is unlikely to move you from Cat 4 to Cat 3. But the high-zoot tri bike just might make the difference in qualifying for Kona or Worlds. Of course, that assumes it is the right bike for YOU, and that your fit is dialed. Which are a big assumptions.
Next comes the retailer who buys bikes from the manufacturer and sells to the athletes. The bike shop business model was built over many years of selling a variety of bikes that require little knowledge of fit. Road, recreational, MTB. You can get away with quite a bit as far as fit is concerned in these categories. In tri you cannot – end of story. Triathlon is simply a very different sport from cycling having amazingly little overlap with traditional cycle sports. Many tri bikes continue to be sold as if they were $400 hybrids. Stand over it, ride it around the parking lot, maybe get on a trainer for a few minutes. SOLD. This model is not the fault of the shops, but a product of tradition and the economic constraints of keeping a bike shop in business – a very tough business. We absolutely need quality local bike shops, but many walk a fine line between survival and doom. Depending on the manufacturer, if you want to carry a big name brand (and as we said, the smaller brands are finding it harder and harder to survive), you must commit to a large preseason inventory order. Then you have the typical fixed costs – facility, staff, financing. You need to move these bikes to keep the lights on. This works ok for most bike categories. As a triathlete though, you should not allow this model to rope you into a stupid purchase. Remember that shops need to SELL. You, however, need to spend many many hours training and competing on a bike that costs you $2-10,000 or more in a sport that costs you God knows what. You better get it right. Unfortunately, most bike shops are not equipped, nor are they incentivized to make sure you are on the best bike for you and that you are fit correctly. They most likely come from a road racing or MTB background. They may have never raced a tri. They may have a fit certification from somewhere – better than nothing, but 2 days does not a fitter make. They are rarely triathlon fit experts- even if they are road fit pros. I have seen some of the worst tri fits come out of well known road-fit shops.
Tri bike fitting is a specialized discipline, and most shops cannot find, much less afford to hire a fitter with the deep knowledge of tri fit required to get your fit right and be able to tell you exactly how your contact points translate to available bikes. That fitter will have had to invest a great deal of time learning his craft, and undoubtedly racing in the saddle too. They must have an architect or engineer’s brain. The fit process takes time, and it may honestly result in selecting a bike that the shop does not sell. A shop can only carry so many brands. And the brand portfolio is not likely to be selected as to fit spectrum – i.e., so that they have at least one model that fits each part of the typical spectrum of fit “shapes”. If I sell Specialized (in which case I have made a large inventory commitment), and you are a tall athletic guy with short legs you probably don’t fit on my Shivs. So am I going to send you across town to the Cervelo dealer when I’ve got all these Shivs on the floor, and another shipment coming in 2 months? Although some newer fit systems claim to produce ecumenical results, that is ultimately up to the shop and fitter. Always consider what the guy on the other side of the transaction’s personal incentive is. Most likely it has something to do with selling more bikes as quickly as possible. It is not evil, it’s just survival.
This points out why a prebuy fit SHOULD cost a decent amount of money. It should take some time and some serious thought/work by an educated fitter. BUT – if you end up buying a bike from that fitter’s shop, I believe the prebuy fit should cost almost nothing. Because it really SHOULD be a standard part of buying a tri bike. So paying for the fit SHOULD ensure good results and should promote unbiased info – if you buy a bike elsewhere, at least the shop made something for its work. If it is free, it might just be a sales pitch for one of the bikes on the floor.
A tri bike should not be an impulse buy. It should not be prompted by that cool looking bike you saw in the transition area at least week’s race. It should NOT be prompted by a “test ride” around the block – there are so many variables here that any bike can feel like crap in a test ride – and a poor match can feel ok for a short while. Wheel, saddle and bar choice along with how the fit is set up have far greater influence on your test ride outcome than the frame itself. It must be an informed decision. Ask around – get referrals, figure out where you can go to get the advice you need – and focus on the fitter, not the tools involved (beyond what I consider the basics listed below). Make sure you consider the source of the referrals and whether there is any conflict. Once you drop several thou on a bike, there is strong natural human behavioral bias to really believe it is the best bike ever.
How should a tri bike be purchased in a perfect world? First, you need to know how you fit on a tri bike. You need to know your fit coordinates. You MUST either go to an experienced tri fitter to figure this out, or you MUST, if you are really dialed in on your current bike, be able to translate those coordinates and determine their suitability relative to any tri bike you are potentially interested in buying. One tool that can help with this is our newly launched free site, mybikefit.com. Here you will find fit information that you cannot find anywhere else (certainly not on manufacturer’s websites), and if you know your fit coordinates you can zero in quickly on specific bikes via our Fit Targets. The site is only in beta mode, and there is lots more to come in terms of fit tools, but it already has some very valuable features.
If you get a prebuy fit, it should be done on a dynamic fit bike. Here the fitter is unconstrained in his quest to figure out where your contact points should be. And you can feel immediately, while riding at a moderate or even hard level, what affect any position changes have. In our studio, we designed, patented and built our own automated fit bike. If you want to do some workouts to test out your new fit coordinates, we’ll hook it up to our multirider system and you can go to town. Intervals, what have you. No guess work. Regardless of how the fit is determined, you should receive a report with your coordinates illustrated as well as a listing of what bikes work well for those coordinates. Ideally the fitter understands the tradeoffs and trigonometry here. Not just that the bike “can” fit, but that it is a good fit – and why. Some newer systems spit out a list of bikes (ecumenical or not). But does the fitter in this case really know which ones are “good” and why? Does he have the tools to play with component selection and determine exactly what is needed to make frame X and bars Y hit your coordinates – and can he tell you? Are the choices based on rational front end setups with the ability to tweak the fit in all directions without needing to do something stupid? If not, you are wasting your time. Go elsewhere. If a fitter insists you MUST get a custom bike, be VERY skeptical if you’re not 6’5″ or taller or shorter than 5′ (and even then you may be fine on the right stock bike). First, have him explain exactly why you are so unique, and then get a 2nd opinion (run, don’t walk). If you want a custom bike – great – just be DARN SURE the fit the custom frame is based on is a good one. I have seen way too many custom-made frankenbikes, or customs that coincidentally measure exactly the same as stock sizes but cost 2x as much.
Once you have those coordinates in hand, you should know exactly what bikes to look at, and how they should be set up. In our perfect world example, that fitter can get you the bike and build it to your specs – especially if it is a “super bike”. Otherwise, if you buy the bike off the floor or online, expect that it may need to be completely reassembled to your specs. The more the bike costs, the more proprietary components it has, the tougher it is to adjust/reconfigure, as a general statement. If a shop built it up generically for display, assume the cables or wires will need to be pulled so that extensions can be cut to your specs – and that is just for a start. This is another huge reason the setup should be known BEFORE the bike is even pulled out of the box.
Ironically, the big companies that make the most complex, proprietary bikes, are the ones LEAST likely to deal with fit boutiques. These guys got where they are by moving product! By relying on the old traditional pre-season order-or-die model. As a general statement, their dealers have no idea how (or desire) to properly configure one of their flagship $10k bikes to a specific set of fit coordinates. I have examples of this walking into my shop every day. Bike shops often do not have the tools or knowledge to do it right. When I talk to the folks at these big bike companies, they typically say, “we leave the fitting up to our dealers”, or “we have a system that does this” (which assumes the “fitter” understands the system and can operate it, not to mention has a deep understanding of tri fit). Some companies are so nonchalant about fit that they don’t publish relevant geometry specs, and/or post INCORRECT measurements (which I find indefensible but amazingly common). But the shops have no incentive to take the time or attention to detail that understanding all this requires – they will do much better spending their time on moving bikes that require far less effort. A good fit studio should have the time, knowledge and incentive. But said fit studio cannot order a Cervelo or Trek or Specialized bike for the guy they just did the prebuy fit on. Fit studios aren’t bike shops (unless they are, in which case they aren’t a true fit studio and have the same potential conflicts as any bike shop), and they aren’t high volume and they don’t sell hybrids and urban bikes. But they may actually sell quite a few high end tri bikes. We do. Granted they are from smaller companies that allow us to order bikes as needed.
I don’t want to be in the bike shop business. I want to be, and am, in the “help athletes get the best racing experience they can business”, the performance business. I sell bikes because people begged me to, and I found a few companies that make quality products and don’t require the dreaded $50k+ preseason order. Large inventory overhangs and order commitments lead to bad decisions and advice – it is a clear conflict of interest between the shop and athlete. I have had reps or management from most of the big bike cos visit. One said, “you know we have 4 dealers within 10 miles of you and didn’t sell one (high end tri bike) in this region last year.” “That’s funny”, I said, “I just had a guy fly in from Wisconsin (maybe the co’s home state) so I could spec out one of those bikes for him – because no dealer within 2 hours of him could tell him what stem he needed or could agree on which frame size was best and why”. Most big bike cos will not sell their bikes, even a small subset of their bikes, to the very outlets that understand them best and will ensure a fantastic experience for the athlete who in turn becomes a great brand advocate.
Typical scenario: Joe Kona Qualifier comes in for a prefit with a few big name super bikes in mind. Fit results are generated, and we go over the list. Yes you fit on that one well (and here is why). No we can’t get it for you. Why not? (read above paragraphs out loud)… Well which ones can you get? Joe Kona buys one of the good fits we can get, not the big co super bike he thought he wanted. He gets the bike built to his spec the right way, gets some good advice along the way, and gets a free fit on the bike itself once it’s ready. Loves the bike, and now really likes brand X which he never thought about before coming in because they don’t have a huge marketing budget. Seems like a missed opportunity for big bike co.
We (and I am sure many other specialty fit operations) really know a thing or two about each of these manufacturer’s bikes – I would posit WAY more than just about any traditional bike shop. The hard truth is these super bikes are just a big pain in the butt for average bike shops. Whereas the big dollar road bikes are generally no more difficult to fit, build or configure than a bargain basement model, the same can’t be said for super bike tri rigs that come with stacks of proprietary fit parts, about 4x the build time (not to mention the learning curve required to build one), and finicky type-A riders (who SHOULD be finicky). The assembly manual for super bike A is 19 pages with 97 figures, super bike B is 57 pages, and super bike C is 42 pages and/or a series of 18 videos. Then there are the fit manuals and whitepapers. All of which we read and understand, even though we can’t offer said bikes to clients. We built custom fit computers for each of these super bikes just so we can understand how fit works on them. I can tell you in minutes what stem and bar setup you need on that new super bike. And we can build it to suit your fit and race goals perfectly. But just don’t ask us to get one for you.
I spoke with another rep from a big Pro-Tour-sponsoring bike co who looked to be losing their only dealer in our region. So I said we can sell your tt bikes and probably some road bikes too. I have a custom-built computer that specs out exactly how each of your umpteen proprietary stem configurations affects fit. His response was that they can’t just let me sell their “hot” bikes… Once again, they need to move a lot of product to pay for the Pro Tour sponsorship and R&D, I get that. A fit studio isn’t going to put much of a dent in that nut. But then again, I am not sure that offering select bikes via a high service, high touch, knowledgeable channel like a specialty fit boutique somehow hurts the rest of the business. Seems to me it would be additive if you already aren’t selling any of these bikes in a region. And in brand satisfaction and loyalty, the payoff could be much bigger than the relatively small monetary bump. But then you would have to tell any traditional shop that you sign on as a dealer that some fit guy is selling their high end TT bike. Which is probably the big issue here – that just won’t float in the bike shop world – unless maybe some kind of a partnership could be developed.
We don’t need to sell bikes. But it sure makes the process more enjoyable for the athlete and we sell quite a few even though we have almost zero inventory. And we certainly don’t mind the extra revenue. Ask any client of ours – you get a list of all bikes that will fit you – the way it SHOULD be – but many/most of which we probably can’t get for you. We are a fit studio first – that sells some bikes via special order, not a bike shop. We believe we are the model that SHOULD be used to sell tri bikes to triathletes (maybe only tri bikes but probably high-end road bikes too) who invest huge amounts of money, time, and effort into their sport. Luckily some bike companies are on board with this. Most are not – yet. Maybe this will change. We CAN get you any wheelset, any components and accessories you need. We SHOULD be able to get you any bike you want. Assuming the big bike cos can’t wrap their heads around this, I think there is potential for the tri-specialty fit studio to partner with bike shops so both sides come out ahead. The bike shop can outsource the fitting, bike selection, and even the bike build to the fit studio while increasing the throughput of high-end tri bikes and bringing more triathletes in the door. The fit studio gets access to bike brands that they wouldn’t otherwise get – both sides bring each other business and stick to their core competencies. Both sides, the bike company and the athletes benefit. But until then the industry is stuck trying to push high tech, high strung high cost machines to high knowledge high dollar clients through a channel designed to sell moderately priced bikes to everyman. Remember that next time you go shopping for a tri bike, and please get a GOOD fit FIRST.