During a visit to the Chicago Auto Show this past weekend, we were entering the Toyota arena while a speaker laid into the benefits of some sort of concept or luxury sports couple gleaming in the bright lights. He was talking about how the car came about and spouted a phrase that stuck in my head. “This vehicle was designed by air,” he said.
It certainly looked the part. The car looked like it was formed from a pile of molten grey metal on a slab blown free of anything that did not fit the aerodynamic scheme of a fast-moving piece of machinery.
Then it struck me. I’m the opposite of that machine on the bike. I admit it. Despite a bike-fitting that was supposed to build comfort and aerodynamics, my position is still all wrong. It hurts me in particular on windy stretches of road. I can see over the heads of literally everyone in front of me.
Bike fit. Fit bike.
How this came about I’m not exactly sure. One has to trust that a bike fitter will arrive at the best solution. Tweaking yes, we have to do that ourselves. As the season went on last year I moved my bike seat back a centimeter or so because my strength allowed me to do so.
But that’s about it. I have not the courage to radically experiment with the fit lest I screw it up altogether. There is nothing worse than a bike that does not fit. Nothing. Basically it becomes a torture device. The longer you go, the less efficient you become. And the pain. It can arrive in the lower back. The hamstrings. Even the calves, the neck and the face.
Well, the face is the part where you make angry pained expressions at having to try so hard to ride easy. Professional bike racers actually spend time in wind tunnels testing their aero positions. My wind tunnel is a stretch of road 15 miles west of where I live. Out there among the flat cornfields of Illinois, there is no place left to hide. Headwinds. Crosswinds. Either you are riding in an efficient position out there or you are not.
The real test comes when you are riding with triathletes. Road cyclists sit up a bit when riding in a group. We use the draft to move along together. But ride with a group of triathletes and no one gives a rat’s ass if you’re chewing the wind by yourself. They’re all tucked down on the aero bars with thighs pumping. So either you crouch down behind them or you take about a 30% efficient drop from the wind gulping down your throat.
If you have not experienced that gap in efficiency, just trust me. It’s depressing.
Frankly that has long been a problem in running as well. At 6’1.5″ I was often taller than my nearest competitors. The fastest runners tend to be in the 5’8″ range. That meant the wind was almost always hitting me in the face. Thanks, guys. Grow a little.
So okay, that can’t be controlled while running. But on the bike I think something can be done about it. And I’m just now headed up to a swim lesson. And if your efficiency in the water is not what it should be, you literally go nowhere in the pool.
Designed by air. Refined by water. But it all comes to trial and error. And then trial by fire. Yes, I learned a couple things at the Chicago Auto Show. Now it’s time to put them into action.