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If the Show Doesn't Fit, Don't Wear It.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.

Tom with award.



I liked NBC's coverage of the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona. They always do at least a decent job. There never fails to be a moment that reminds me why I love this sport and I'll keep doing Ironman.

The telecast reminded me how important our job is here in the bike store, and how few people take it seriously. Here's why:

NBC followed NYC Firefighter Larry Parker at Ironman. Like a lot of Firefighters (and others) Larry Parker went above and beyond the call of duty on September 11, 2001. He lost friends and co-workers and was honoring them by completing Ironman: A touching and appropriate tribute. It didn't hurt (for NBC) that along with the heart and mind of a hero Larry Parker had the build and appearance of one.

There's one problem though. The guy's bike didn't fit.

 

His reach was too long and I'm not sure if that frame was the right size. His position was awful. I was embarrassed for the bike industry. Cannondale, the company who made Larry's bike, has got to be embarrassed too. Larry Parker went to all the effort and expense of preparing for Ironman, along with the added burden of what he'd been through, and a shop sold him a good bike but didn't bother to size it correctly. Amazing. Cannondale should call the dealer that sold him that bike and ask, "What were you guys thinking when you sold this bike?"

Triathlons are big business now. Everybody is now an "expert bike fitter" and a "triathlete". New England Cycling Academy is doing big business selling "Fit Kits" to anyone with $700 (It costs another $450 to go to NECA to learn how to use it). Interestingly, the word "Triathlon" is not even spelled correctly throughout the Fit Kit manual. I imagine one of these new "experts" fit Larry Parker to his "triathalon" bike before Ironman.

Eighteen years ago before triathlons were cool (or on NBC) I didn't see any of these people that now claim to be triathlon experts at the races. I saw Lew Kidder, Karen McKeachie, Dan Empfield, John Cobb and a few people who aren't around any more. These people are experts. They helped invent the sport. They helped invent triathlon bike fit. People like Kidder, Empfield, Cobb, McKeachie, Vroomen contributed to the sport- they gave something to it.

I imagine this is not all Larry Parker's "bike fitter's" fault. The guy was just trying to make a living and triathlons are what is happening right now, so he did the dance and said, "Yeah, I can fit triathlon bikes, I do it part time to pay for school!" The problem is he made a huge mistake fitting Larry to his bike, and I know it compromised Larry's performance to some degree, although- hats off to Larry Parker- he had an OK race despite it.

Not many people know how to really size a person for the correct triathlon bike and then position them on it. My guess is there are less than a dozen in the U.S. If you are going to buy a triathlon bike you owe it to yourself to make sure the person fitting you has as much experience in the sport as possible. If you are doing Ironman on this bike they should have done it too. If you are doing Olympic distance they should have done it too. If you want to win your age category some day they should have done it too. And, because just being a decent athlete (or at least a persistent one) certainly doesn't qualify you to even touch another person's bike position, they should have gone to school to learn about bike fit, learned about it from the best fitters and athletes and coaches in the world. After they did all this, then done a couple thousand repetitions of fitting athletes for triathlons they are qualified to tell you what bike you should buy and how it should be set up.

And if they have these qualifications you should listen to your bike fitter. It is their responsibility to be sure you are on the right equipment set up correctly for you and what you want to do. Good bike fitters do bike fit for a living, it isn't a part time job, a hobby, a fall-back or what they are doing until the next thing they are doing. Learning and re-learning bike fit is tough. You have to travel, you have to dig for information, you have to ride, train and race on a lot of different bikes, you have to measure a lot of cyclists and triathletes, you have to go to school. It's more than a full time job.

A thousand dollars and up (sometimes way up) is a lot of money for a bike. Training for Ironman, or any triathlon, is a significant investment in time. That's worth remembering when you make the most important buying decision of all: Who you trust to fit your bike.

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