Thursday, February 25, 2016

If it fits, I sits!

After struggling so much on my ride last week, I scheduled a year-overdue bike sizing session at the local bike store. I'd been putting it off because the low-end service is $75, which is pretty steep for me even though it's all part and parcel of this sport. I now know it's worth every penny.

The tech asked first what my problems were, and I told him I was having a lot of pain down here *gesturing* even on short rides. He nodded and asked if I had any other soreness or stiffness in my neck or shoulders or if my hands and toes ever went numb. My hands did once, but I switched gloves and was fine. He was surprised that my neck and shoulders were mostly okay, mild to moderate soreness within the range I expect as a novice. My toes in my right foot sometimes go numb. He explained part of the problem is that I'm wearing athletic shoes (trainers) and using toe cages instead of clips. I'm not ready to make the switch yet but will think about it this spring.

He then put my bike up on a trainer facing a mirror and had me get on and spin a bit so he could see my alignment. If you've never been, it's important to wear snug athletic pants or your usual bike shorts and a fitted shirt so your spine, shoulders, and hips are more visible. As I spun, he stood behind me with a measuring stick held horizontally touching near the base of my spine so he could see whether I was balanced right to left. I was close. After his making several adjustments to my bike, I was straight.

He moved my saddle forward a couple inches and then used a weighted pendulum on a string to note the alignment between my feet and the pedals and my knees and my feet. My left foot was spot-on, but the right was a bit off. He dropped the seat a bit, and that straightened me right out. Still a hair off, but vastly improved.

I learned that my saddle is really good for riding low and fast but less suited to the base building that I need. It's also a little wide for me and touches my thighs, which could cause a lot of hurt as/if I get into greater distances. I actually won the saddle in a raffle October 2014 and then decided to purchase a bike the following spring and start triathlon, so I did not initially shop around for a good one as one ought.

I learned that my bike frame is a little too big for me even though it's 50 cm and I had been advised to purchase 49- to 51-cm frame when I went into a store and asked. This is because it's a man's frame with a higher and longer top tube than a woman's frame of the same measure would have. The tech explained it's because between men and women of the same height, men typically have shorter torsos and longer limbs. We addressed this issue by replacing my 100mm stem with a 70mm at a higher angle. How on earth does this tiny piece cost $50 after discount, I wonder? It made a world of difference, though.

After that, the tech wanted me to try a few different saddles, but the shop didn't have any of his top recommendations available in my size. Apparently my pelvis is a very common shape and size; I often have the same problem with shoe shopping. From the saddles we tried, I learned that I want/need a little more padding, because riding on the one he most recommended felt like riding on hard edges rather than a seat. I got to try one that was a little too small but I liked the padding, so the store is going to order it for me, and it should arrive next week. I didn't want to have to spend more money on a new saddle, and knowing the one I have is valued at about $150-200, I braced for the worst. But he said the ones he showed me were in the $80-120 range, which I can manage. Having the saddle I need for base building, that is, many long slow miles to build strength, is really important.

There was a small worry floating in the back of my mind before I went in that it might be impossible to avoid mental discomfort around having a strange man peering at my body and measuring to adjust my equipment because my vulva hurts, but I worried for naught. The whole session lasted 90 minutes, partly because he spent several fruitless minutes scouring the back room for the stem and saddles he really wanted me to try, and I never once felt uncomfortable. Way to go, pro!

I was even delighted to suppress a squee and happy wiggle when, while measuring my knee-to-foot alignment and watching my quads flex, he said something to the effect that he thinks my future improvement will be based largely in the "power" I'm able to create; and while comparing my shoulder-head-neck alignment before and after adjusting the stem, said it looks like I have good/strong muscle tone in my arms. It was neither awkward nor deliberately complimentary but a professional's objective observation of the way my body moves. Hearing it did make me very happy.

That was two days ago on a nasty, cold, wet, rainy night. Today dawned clear and bright and a lot less windy. I put in 7 miles at the lake and felt pretty good. I have the expected soreness on my sit bones but my vulva FINALLY feels good! Huzzah!

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