Verona, Wisconsin sits on Highway 18 west of Madison. It also sits on the “stick” of the Ironman Wisconsin triathlon course and a hub on the Military Ridge Trail where cyclists can park and ride 40 miles west to Dodgeville if they choose.
All this cycling activity means the community of Verona sees hundreds of cyclists coursing through town on a typical weekend. Some are there for recreational purposes while others are there on the serious business of preparing for the Ironman in September. Many riders start from Verona and catch the “stick” west to ride the 30+ mile loop that makes up the guts of the Ironman course.
The triathlon and road cycling communities in Madison mix fairly well out on the roads, where everyone shares the white line and everyone climbs the same hills. The two sports may never synthesize completely, but they mix as well as they can in Madison and the hills beyond.
On a given day, a healthy mix of roadies and triathletes circulates through Rocket Bicycle Studio on the far west side of Verona. RBS is unconventional in appearance compared to standard bike shops. For starters there are not hundreds of bikes hanging from the ceiling like a harvest of overripe carbon fruit. That’s because RBS does everything rider-specific or custom. From the bike frame to saddles, wheel sets and everything a cyclist needs to go comfortable or go fast, RBS starts from scratch and works made-to-order. The shop is run by expert mechanic and corporate expatriate Peter Oyen.
RBS shares the business complex with SBR Coaching, a progressive multisport practice run by Jessica Laufenberg. She has impressive credentials including USA Level II Triathlon coach certification backed by degrees in kinesiology, exercise physiology and biomechanics.
Just as importantly, Laufenberg has a passion for helping athletes get the most out of themselves as well as their bikes. She is trained in sports performance, muscle balance, posture and gait assessment, muscular injury and rehabilitation, athletic coaching, and nutritional education. That means no stone goes unturned when preparing her athletes for participation and competition in multisport events.
Open door policy
On an exceedingly warm Saturday morning in May, Laufenberg stands front and center as cyclists come through her front door. She counsels numerous cyclists heading out for a loop or two on the Ironman course. One rider that completing his first loop stops in to ask questions about nutrition and hydration. Laufenberg spends 15 minutes walking the rider through the fact that he’s already put himself at something of a disadvantage in terms of salt levels in his system. She carefully counsels him on what to take during the next 40 mile loop, and how to ingest what he needs to feel better.
As the first cyclist rolls out the door on his way to another loop on the triathlon course, Laufenberg turns to a female rider walking in with a puzzled look on her face. “Hi,” Jessica greets her. “You look like you need something…”
“No,” the cyclist replies at first.
“Well, make something up,” she warmly chides.
“Well, something’s not right with my bike,” the rider responds. Laufenberg does not have to wait for her partner Peter Oyen to step up and check out the situation. He kneels down to feel her chain and informs her. “Your chain is bone dry…” and off hustle back to the bike shop for a quick lube on the chain and components.
Advice freely given
So it goes on a typical day at SBR and RBS. The advice and assistance is given freely to every cyclist that walks in the door.
“That’s definitely our approach,” Laufenberg say. “We believe in supporting everyone. We don’t run a team so we have no priorities that way. Everyone that comes in our door is our customer.”
Laufenberg has worked with all kinds of athletes in her career. “Pro football and basketball players, and swimmers,” she shares for perspective on her coaching background. “But when I moved back here to Madison from Green Bay, there was really no place to go for cyclists and triathletes to get help, so I started this business,” she notes.
Her own athletic career has included success in Ironman and numerous other triathlon events. She now combines that personal experience with her background in exercise physiology and biomechanics to help athletes start right and finish right in whatever cycling, running or other discipline they choose.
She’s now been leading small group and one-on-one coaching for 10 years. the process is methodical and founded on core principles of sound mechanics. “If you come here and ask me to coach you, we do an assessment to look at where you are, how you swim, how you bike, how you run. Instead of just pumping out training plans…”
Building the right bike fit
As her business progressed, Laufenberg was approached by bike manufacturers that wanted partners with her expertise and background to fit bikes. SBR now works with five different bike makers and component companies to build bikes specific to client needs.
The process employs a bike-fitting machine that enables Jessica and Peter to get precise measurements of everything needed to build a bike to order. The bright red Dynamic Fit Unit uses a combination of mechanical adjustments and computerized readings to build the ideal profile for a cyclist. “I worked with Dan Empfield to get my Basic F.I.S.T. Bike Certification, and just this year finalized my F.I.S.T. Down Deep Professional Bike Certification,” she observes.
But that’s just the start of the cycling makeover. Once the cyclist or triathlete gets their new bike, there are training methods and riding techniques to learn and build into the cycling regimen.
Asked if people are intimidated by all the expertise and knowledge evident in the facility, Laufenberg notes that they try hard to avoid that “bike geek turnoff” of some facilities. “We have a significant number of people in that 0-3 year experience range as well as athletes that have been competing for a while. So we make sure we give people the help they need and might not get even at a bike shop.”
The bikes sold at RBS start at $3500. “But if that’s not a price point people can handle, we will fit you and give you the measurements to go get your bike somewhere else,” Laufenberg offers. “Our full bike fit is $275.00. That includes the initial fit and a couple follow ups depending if you purchase a bike or not. That gives you everything you need to get a proper fit on the bike. It’s like buying a nice suit,” she smiles. “You need to have it fit.”
An expert eye
All that bike fitting has given her a unique perspective on what good bike fit really looks like. “Last year I sat up on top of Midtown and took videos and photos of people riding their bikes. I blocked out their faces and such, but I showed people what their fit looked like, and predicted how they’d finish based on their position on the bike. So I wrote a small blog about it, and how important that can be to survive 112 miles (the Ironman cycling distance) much less conserving energy because you still need to run yet. But that type of information is important for anybody, at any length of ride.”
“I have a lot of people that have running problems stemming from the bike,” she continues. “And some people tell me, ‘Well, you’re supposed to be uncomfortable on the bike, and I say, “Noooo! You’re supposed to feel good on a bike.”
“If you came in on your current bike, I don’t even look at you on it. I put you on the Dynamic Fit Unit and then I can take measurements on your current bike and move you back and forth instantly. And you can go, “Ahhhh…that’s how it’s supposed to feel.”
Completing the picture
SBR Endurance Performance Center works with athletes in all phases of the triathlon, swim, bike and run. Come winter the training moves indoors to a studio where cyclists can tune in and ride hard on CompuTrainers by RacerMate.
Athletes can work all the way through an evaluation phase and get metabolic testing to work on specifics in their personal biology. SBR offers both Standard Coaching utilizing group learning sessions and prescribed workouts as well as Deluxe Coaching that carries an athlete right through the specifics of preparing and competing in a chosen event.
When asked if her business feels a bit ahead of the curve in terms of its willingness to dispense free advice balanced with specifics of expertise and individualized coaching, Laufenberg replies, “It’s just who we are,” she smiles.
Author’s tip: If you’re cycling in Verona, Wisconsin, be sure to stop by Sow’s Ear, a great coffee shop on the main drag in downtown Verona. Excellent coffee, beverages and fine food. Plus it’s air conditioned.