Updated: Apr 21, 2022
Besides being an endurance sports coach, I also serve the sport as a rules official with both USA Triathlon and IRONMAN. During an average race year, I observe thousands of athletes on their bicycles from the back of a motorcycle. My best guess estimate is that somewhere well north of 90% of the athletes I observe are riding without a proper bike fit. Also, even for those athletes with a seemingly adequate bike fit, far too many ride with very bad bike position or form.
I see too many athletes crammed into the cockpits or have their saddle positioned too low or too high. Or I get sad seeing athletes riding for extended periods on the bullhorns of a very expensive time trial bike because they're apparently uncomfortable in aero. And the issue of bike fit and comfort is not limited to time trial style bikes. It's also evident in those riding road bikes. The bike has not been appropriately fit to the athlete, so the athletes attempt to fit themselves to the bike. The result is that the full potential power output of the athlete cannot be reached.
The other issue I observe with great regularity falls more into the 50%ish range of athletes I observed. These athletes ride like they are in a ballet, not a bike race. The downstroke of their pedal rotation is toe down and heel up all the way to near six o'clock. They end up toeing into the first portion of the upstroke instead of being in the proper foot position with their heel in a more parallel position (relative to the ground) before beginning the upstroke.
They are effectively overstressing the muscles on the anterior portion of the lower leg and robbing the glute engine of the opportunity to fully engage. This is another loss of power and also risks overuse injury and a bad run off the bike.
My best good friend, fellow Team MPI coach, and bike fitter guru, Adam Sczech, points out that very few would buy a 500 dollar tuxedo and not have it tailored to fit them perfectly. And yet, so many athletes buy bikes valued in the thousands of dollars and never get a proper fit. It is important to note that a good fit involves more than merely standing over the top tube of a bike and saying, "Yep, that feels about right."
Instead, a good bike fit also involves helping the athlete find the right riding position that is comfortable enough for them to sustain throughout the race and ride with maximum efficiency. The result of this is a better economy of energy expenditure, maximum power potential, less risk of injury, and a better run off the bike.
So if you are an athlete who has held off on getting a proper bike fit, I encourage you to rethink your choices and get a bike fit as part of your next race preparation. You will be a better, stronger cyclist and triathlete for it.
Mark Turner (aka Coach MarkT) is a Houston, Texas Metro area based Coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II and Paratriathlon Certified Coach, IRONMAN University Certified Coach,VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and Mental Strengths Performance Coach. Coach MarkT absolutely loves coaching and helping the athletes achieve their dreams. MarkT is also a US Veteran having served in the United States Marine Corps. He is a graduate of the University of Houston Honors College with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science. In addition to endurance sports, his interests include history, science fiction, and cooking. He can be reached at markt@teamMPI.com.