Bike fitting in Boulder

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I’ve rented a bike probably a half-dozen times while traveling. When I pick up the bike, I pull out my tape measure to set the saddle height, then ask if I can put on my 120mm, -17 degree stem. I tell them it just won’t feel right otherwise. Then they look at me as if I’m straight out of The Princess and the Pea.

For the last year my bike hasn’t felt right. I’ve told people that I felt “crooked” on the bike. It didn’t used to be like that.

The person who did my last bike fit (Andy Applegate) suggested that I visit the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine (BCSM), as they could do a real ‘medical fit’. I filed it away as an interesting idea — maybe, some day. The thought of getting 2 bikes to and from Boulder seemed like a hassle. But then everyone I mentioned it to said, “wow, that sounds cool. You should do it.”

I exchanged a few emails with a guy who works at BCSM, and when he told me that I would be seeing Andy Pruitt were I to come, I said “ok, let’s do it”. How could I turn down the chance to be fit by a rock-star bike fitter? Andy Pruitt has literally written the book (well, “a” book) on bike fitting and has worked with many Pro Tour cyclists.

As an added incentive, there are like 1000 microbreweries in Boulder. “Beer is everywhere”, Shawn Adams told me.

Arrangements were made, the bikes arrived, and I showed up first thing Tuesday morning at BCSM.  I showed Dr. Pruitt a picture of my x-ray.  He had a similar break, years ago.  I felt like I’d hit the jackpot — not only someone who knew about cycling fit and problems, but who know about my specific problem, first hand.

He poked and prodded, noted the still-apparent muscle atrophy (18 months later!), noticed that I still limp a bit, have leg-length imbalance, and reiterated what I’d been told previously: the anatomy of my right leg is just different now.

We got a baseline with my current fit, with Dr. Pruitt watching me ride.  The motion capture confirmed what I had been saying: I was crooked on the bike.

First step was switching pedal systems (to Speedplay, since they are so adjustable). Next was putting a wedge and shim under my left cleat. Then moving the right a bit on my shoe.  Lowering the saddle a bit.  Raising the bars a bit.  Another capture, and I was indeed straighter, but  still a bit off.

Next step was putting a pressure-sensor pad over the saddle to get a ‘heat map’ of the pressure points.  Before doing it, I said that I felt like most of the pressure was on my left side.  The pressure map confirmed it — bright red on the left side. We tried a different style / shape of saddle — one where I would be sitting more on top, and that would encourage me to rotate my pelvis forward more.

Another look at the pressure map, and wow, it was amazing how it had evened out.  This got me pretty close to straight on the bike.  It felt good.  I liked the pedals.  The saddle would take some getting used to.

We moved to the TT bike, which went much quicker.  A few minor adjustments, but nothing major.

By the time I got dressed and got my bikes back in the car, it was after 3pm.  I’d been there most of the day.

It’s been over a month now, so I’ve had time to adjust to the changes.  The new setup is most definitely better.  I love being on the new pedal system.  It took a while to get used to the saddle, but I like that too.  It’s clear to me that I am sitting straighter on the bike, with more even pressure on the saddle.

It still doesn’t quite feel like the “old me” on the bike, but the gap is closing.

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It’s easier to write when you have a bunch of problems

Huh. I would not have guessed that it’s been 6 full months since writing anything here.  A few people have asked, so I checked.  Kind of fitting that the last post was about the first race back.  I guess it’s easier to write when you have bigger problems to write about.

The short version of the racing season goes like this: it went better than I feared, but not as well as I’d hoped.

I was able to race regularly, but not as much as I’m used to.   I actually raced at times, rather than just riding along with the pack.  Won a few races.  But when things got really hard I was often at my limit. A lot of the time I felt nervous.

The big problem was that I just couldn’t train hard, consistently.  Hard races or too much hard training would make my leg hurt.  Not a tired-hurt, but hurt deep inside somewhere (which would move around to different places).

I’ve accepted what my orthopedist, massotherapist, and physical therapist have told me: my anatomy is different now; it’s not going to be the same. Which doesn’t mean that it can’t still get better: looking back since May, things  continue to improve (but often in a two steps forward, one step back sort of way).

Maybe the biggest adjustment has been in learning to continuously make adjustments — both in attitude and in what I do physically.  I still have this constant — and I mean literally constant — awareness that my leg just feels different now.  I’m not sure that will ever go away (at this point, it doesn’t feel like it will).

One aspect of the ‘continuous adjustment’ was getting a full-on, medical bike fit at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. More on that in another post.

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Update: Apparently I jinxed myself by writing this, as I woke up in the middle of the night with leg pain, and couldn’t ride. I’m blaming it on hammering a Strava segment 2 days ago. Stupid Strava.

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Race crashing

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Yesterday I finally pinned on a number and raced again. My number said 224, but the real number was 364: it was that many days since breaking my femur. One day shy of the anniversary.

After the race quite a few people asked, “how did you feel”? They didn’t ask about the result. They knew: the result wasn’t important.

So, how did I feel? At first it felt as though I’d crashed a party that’s been going on without me for a year. It was a very strange feeling — like I didn’t belong. That’s one of the things about bike racing. You could show up to run in the local 5k after not doing so for a year, and no one would notice. But in bike racing, you race with the same people week after week, ride shoulder-to-shoulder and put a large amount of trust in them.

It didn’t take too long to get over that though. And then the breakaway went up the road, containing my former teammate, Tris. And then it felt like ‘old times’ again.

But I think the people asking how I felt were really asking how my leg felt. And the answer to that is not as good as I’d hoped, but better than I had feared. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish the race.

A couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to race, period. I give my new physical therapist most of the credit for getting me to this point.

I’m not assuming that I’m back on the “race 2x per week” plan. But it’s a start.

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Waiting game


It feels very strange: sitting at home on the first Saturday morning in April, drinking coffee, listening to music, and putting off doing my taxes. As opposed to being in the car, loaded with bike gear, on the way to a race. Which is what I’ve done on the previous 20 first-Saturdays-in-April (with one exception: the broken-collarbone-year).

Drinking coffee and listening to music isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not what I’d choose this morning, given the choice. Since people have been asking: I want to be racing. I just can’t yet.

I gave it a little test, out in Arizona, which didn’t go too well.

It comes down to: I can’t go hard enough without it hurting. Go too hard then I end up having trouble walking up/down stairs. Or it hurts to walk, period

There’s an ironic aspect to this: getting on the bike and doing a bunch of miles has really helped — both mentally and physically. But so many miles on the bike I think has reinforced the imbalances that we cyclists tend to have. Strong in very specific areas, but weak in others.

It occurred to me that I haven’t walked more than 10 minutes straight for several months. It’s been all bike. When I walk, it’s still a bit crooked. I can’t stand one-legged on the repaired leg. So my operating hypothesis at the moment is that I need to do some more PT to strengthen those other areas.

We’ll see. The goal is that you see me with a number pinned on my jersey, before too long.

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Cycling Terroir

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Wine people have this concept called terroir that they use when discussing qualities of wine that are due to local conditions. Wikipedia says it pretty well:

Terroir can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had […]

Having ridden my bike in a bunch of different places, I’ve decided that terroir applies to cycling, too. This became apparent while riding in Tucson, then Phoenix, then back in Tucson again.

Adam Myerson (Team SmartStop) speaks to some of this, here.

Tucson and Phoenix are barely 2 hours apart by car, but couldn’t feel more different when riding.

After unpacking and assembling my bike in Tucson I rode out to meet Shawn, who was waiting at a coffee shop. I had a bike lane the entire way. A few minutes later we were on a path, then off, then were climbing up Gates Pass.

It went that way the next few days: ride on some city roads with bike lanes, then within 15-20 minutes be out in the desert or climbing up mountains. Coffee shops and gas stations that are cool with cyclists filling bottles. Traffic, yes, but mostly tolerant.

Up in Phoenix a few days later, I rode out from my hotel looking over my shoulder every few seconds to check the traffic bearing down on me. Zig-zag down a maze of side streets to get to something more rideable, 45 minutes later. Look back and see the expanse of concrete.

That’s not meant to be completely down on Phoenix. There are some nice places to ride: from Scottsdale out to Fountain Hills, then north. Or up through Carefree to Bartlett Lake. But riding there feels more like a battle to get to those nice places.

I’ve previously written about “feeling like a local” when I get on the bike somewhere else (and interestingly enough, the last time I wrote about that was from Phoenix).

“Feeling like a local” and terroir seem to come together. I’ve long felt that you can more readily get a sense of place being on the bike. Certainly more so than driving in a car, and as much or even more so than walking.

All these different places become “my place” for a while, even Phoenix, even if it means I am primarily looking to survive on the roads.

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Arizona by the numbers

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Shawn and Aaron have their summaries here and here.

Here’s mine:
Cities visited: 2 (Tucson and Phoenix)
Number of unpack/repack cycles: 6
Days riding: 12
Miles ridden: 820
Feet climbed: 38,000
Farthest day: 101 miles (Madera Canyon)
Longest day: 99.8 miles, ~7 hrs (Lemmon)
Minutes riding in circles trying to find my hotel: 40
Times passed by hipster on fixie: 3
Times seeing hipster on fixie not able to stop: 3
Flats: 0 (Continental Gatorskins!)
Saddle sores: 2 (one on each side)
Visits to chiropractor: 3
Lost credit card: 1
Snickers bars eaten: 8
Best coffee: Le Buzz (Tucson, bottom of Mt Lemmon)
2nd best coffee: made with my Aeropress
Best lunch: Epic Cafe (Tucson)
Best dinner: Cup Cafe (Tucson)
Best pizza: Il Bosco (Phoenix)
Favorite stretch of road: Picture Rocks Rd, Saguaro National Park (see photo)
Favorite climb: Mount Lemmon
Least favorite climb: Mount Lemmon
Least favorite road: Most anything in Phoenix
Seemed like a good idea at the time: following Shawn, Aaron, and Sam on the dirt

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Mount Lemmon, on top

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The day after arriving in Tucson I tried riding up Mount Lemmon with Shawn. It did not go well. By mile 13 I was feeling pretty horrible. Trying to climb another 14 held no appeal. “I’m ready to go back down”, I said.

As with many things these days (so it seems), I needed to go back and conquer that demon.

This time I rode it more sensibly, at a pace that would let me enjoy the view rather than one that made me suffer.

At mile 13 it occurred to me that I should be grateful — and happy — just to be able to ride like this. 10 months ago I wouldn’t have imagined doing such a climb. It’s not that Lemmon is brutally steep. It’s just so darn long: you keep going up and up and up.

Actually it’s the perfect climb for where I am right now: it requires patience.

I made it to the part where most people stop — at the Cookie Cabin — then made the right turn on Ski Run to go up the final pitch to the “tippy top”. That is also the steep part of the climb, the part that you can’t really fake.

25 miles of patience allowed me to to finish those last 2, out of the saddle most of the way in the 39×26. I was on top of the world, any way you want to interpret that.
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