Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bike Fiddling: It's Important

Although swimming and running are both incredibly simple from an equipment standpoint – really, even swimsuit speed technology and running shoe construction vary minimally – biking is a different beast entirely from an equipment standpoint. There’s the cost associated with everything, sure, but even once you take care of the cost of the bike itself, you have a lot of work to do to make sure that the bike is set to race. The longer the race is, the more complex the preparations are. If you’re doing a sprint triathlon with a 12 mile bike leg, you can get away with a less-than-ideal fit, and probably don’t have to worry about stowing much, if any, hydration. However, since I have a 56 mile bike leg followed by a half marathon  in 8 days, I’ve spent a good deal of time on my bike setup the past few months to make sure that I can turn in a good bike split while keeping my body in good shape for a half marathon immediately after. Not only do I need to keep myself (relatively) comfortable so that my legs, back, and abs are ready to run after several hours of biking, but I also need to stay hydrated and avoid total glycogen depletion so that the run leg takes me to the finish line instead of in the medical tent. With that very important goal in mind, here’s some of the obsessive…er…careful work I’ve done with the Felt.

Mechanical function

Obviously a very important consideration, as a catastrophic bike malfunction during a race can lead to a DNF. This may seem easy, particularly if you purchased your bike from a shop that offers complimentary maintenance with your purchase. However, they can only fix up your bike if you bring it in, and you only know to bring it in if you pay attention to how it is (or isn’t) working while you ride. I’ve had a couple small issues creep up, including one with my front derailleur.

Its position was slightly off, causing it to rub up against my chain in a few gears, and also causing dropped chains once in a while. Three visits to Bonzai later, and that little brat has finally started behaving. Glad I had my ears open and figured that out before race day.

Then, my front brakes were misaligned.

As in, they rubbed up against my wheel because the cable was all screwed up. That means that I go slower for the same effort. Meaning my legs would be even more tired than necessary after 56 miles of biking. Once again, listening to your bike pays off.


My Garmin Forerunner 305 can function as a bike computer, so I didn’t purchase a standalone bike computer. Still, there’s the issue of exactly where to mount it because my handlebars aren’t a standard shape.

Some of the data is just too important to neglect during the bike. Speed isn’t something I obsess over during the bike, since false flats and headwinds can impact your speed and cause you to slow down even when your effort is strong. But I need to be aware of elapsed time so that I stay on top of my nutrition and hydration, and total distance covered is important for guiding my level of effort.

Solution: the standard quick release mount, along with a little handlebar-shaped extension on my aerobars, which gives me a nice view of the time, to keep me aware of when I need to eat and hydrate, and a constant reminder of my heart rate, which I can monitor and control to avoid blowing up later in the race. 

Nutrition and hydration

The Felt only came with space for one standard water bottle holder, and that’s just not going to cut it for 56 miles. Plus, if I have to get out of the aerobars to hydrate, I’m going to neglect it. So, bring on the dorky looking aerobottle.

Even that won’t be enough to hold me over for the entire bike leg, so I got seat cages added on, too.

Oh, and then I need to keep my glycogen up, which means food. Which needs a place to sit on the bike. Which is very difficult when a standard bento box won’t work because the handlebar stem area looks like this.

Sometimes, I think that the designers at Felt were trying to make everything as difficult as possible. But I stumbled upon a bento box with silicone grips on the bottom that sits nicely on my bike.

So far. Hopefully that doesn’t change with any bumpy road surfaces.

Fit and comfort

This may sound trivial, but being comfortable is not a minor detail for several hours. I found this out when the saddle that came with my bike started irritating me anytime I spent more than a few minutes on the aerobars. After asking around for recommendations, I got the Adamo TT saddle to replace the hard, poorly shaped saddle. 

All better? Sort of. The new saddle, of course, meant that I was sitting a little higher. Time to screw around with the seat height.

And now that my sit bones were happy, there was the issue of my ulnar nerve being annoying. Gloves. Not optional for a longer bike.

Finally, this thing is ready to go for 56 miles.

I’m sure there will be more tinkering to get it ready for 112 miles. But that’s not for a few months, thankfully.


  1. Any bike recommendations for this newbie? I don't think my beach cruiser is going to work, even for a sprint tri. I also found a place to take swim lessons!

  2. The more I learn about bikes, the less I want to get into cycling. I'll see how my sprint tri in June goes but I don't forsee myself becoming a cylist/triathlete any time soon.

  3. Very cool to see what you've put together. I think my investment for next tri season, assuming there's a next tri season, will be a good bike fit and maybe a new saddle. Honestly, all of the equipment involved in biking exhausts me (especially when compared to running), but I realize it's part of the game and I might as well learn it.

  4. Wearing gloves on a tri bike? FAIL

  5. I don't know if I can read your blog anymore until after my tri. You are too good at this.

  6. Not sure if this will fit on your aero bottle, but I put this tray on mine which is perfect to mount your bike computer and or watch :)

  7. ahhh, love my adamo. Nothing beats having a good saddle for 112!!

  8. Love seeing the gear! I just got a new bike (which was so exciting!), and I took a friend's advice and went in for a fitting within the first week. I walked out with shoe inserts, a better-fitting bike for me and a new saddle. The new saddle - I can already note the difference, even on shorter rides!
    Good luck on your upcoming race!

  9. i've been wondering about that saddle... do you like it? i have definitely been feeling not that awesome when i try to do longer rides, so i should give it a try!

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