By Rick Schultz
Below is an interview conducted with the new 2019 California State Time Trial Champion, Holly Gabel. In preparation for Nationals, Holly stopped in for a bike fit for her Cannondale Slice TT bike. Following is the interview.
BFC & HOLLY: Hi Holly, How are you doing? Before we get started, can you give the readers some basic information?
HOLLY: I’m well thank you. Looking forward to Nationals in Colorado Springs next month.
|How tall are you?||5 foot and not a centimeter more!|
|Current TT bike Make/Model?||Cannondale Slice|
|Size/Components?||44cm w/ Ultegra|
|Original Crank length on Slice?||165mm|
|Reason for the visit?||New bike was uncomfortable and needed to be fit to me|
BFC: Holly, you are the 2019 Women’s 40+ TT California State Champion! First off, Congratulations! Tell us about the race. How did you prepare for it? How did it go for you? Were you comfortable on the bike? What averages did you achieve (speed, power)?
Holly: Thank you! To prepare, I began doing intervals on my TT bike twice a week. This was my first time trial bike. Previously I did time trials on my road bike with clip on aero bars. It went pretty well. I was comfortable on the bike until the last 3 miles but after 20 miles of 100 percent, who is still comfortable?! I don’t have power [meter] on my bike. The only time I train or ride with power is when I’m on Zwift. I use Heart Rate to gauge my effort when outside. I do most of my training on the TT bike on Zwift though so I know what my HR is at certain power outputs. My average HR for the 40K was 187 bpm. 190+ bpm is my blow up zone so I was right under it the whole time. My average speed was 22.5 mph.
BFC: You mentioned that you were not comfortable on the bike — that you just couldn’t put down the power. Can you go into more detail?
HOLLY: I was too extended on the downstroke but on the upstroke my knees were slamming into my chest. My knees were also hitting my elbows. So I was losing power all over the place. Then there was the knee pain. I’ve had it for years on my road bike on the top on my knees, but after three different bike fitters I gave up on it ever going away. After getting the TT bike, I was also getting it under my right knee.
BFC: Holly, you have just described the classic symptoms of crank arms that are too long for the cyclist. Reaching for the pedals at 6o’clock means that the saddle is too high and knees into the chest at 12o’clock means that the saddle is too low.
The issue here is that the knee(s) at 12 o’clock are hyperflexed to the point that you were (a) placing extreme shear forces on the knee, (b) losing power due to no leverage over the top and (c) even more power loss due to excessive hip closure angle causing soft tissue and, in your case, bone-on-bone impingement.
After placing you on the Serotta size cycle, we confirmed this. We then configured the adjustable cranks to 145mm and found that was your ‘sweet spot’. We were then able to get you into the perfect position for both 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock.
HOLLY: That’s exactly right.
BFC: Short story first. Early in 2019, a manager for one of our local racing teams came in for bike sizing. He was retiring his Tarmac and buying a new Roubaix. For pre-bike fit data, he completed a controlled 20-min FTP test in our fit studio, as is, with no changes to the Tarmac. Next, one his Roubaix arrived, we gave him a bike fit followed by a second FTP test. Even though both bikes were the same size, the biggest difference between them was their crank arm lengths. The Tarmac had 172.5mm and I recommended 165mm for his new Roubaix. When he was ordering his Roubaix, the salesperson as well as the bike shop owner tried numerous times to talk him out of the 165mm cranks. He stuck with his decision saying that he trusted his bike fitter and the bike was ultimately ordered with 165mm cranks.
PRE-FIT (TARMAC): He was literally fighting with his bike for the entire 20 minutes. He was all over the saddle, sweating profusely, and was about to give up at the 15 minute mark. 178w FTP. He was surprised at his ‘low’ number as I was explaining to him that a lot of his energy was going towards ‘fighting’ the bike instead of pushing his pedals.
POST-FIT (ROUBAIX): Looking like he was one-with-the-bike, he was now spinning smoothly and efficiently. Barely breaking a sweat, 228w FTP.
BFC: Holly, the reason I mentioned this is that it sounds pretty much like you described your TT?
HOLLY: Yep, that pretty much sums it up! Every minute was a struggle.
BFC: Your 44cm Cannondale Slice came with 165mm cranks. Most cyclists think 165mm is the shortest crank made. In fact, Shimano now offers 160mm cranks (FC-R7000) in their new R7000 (105) groupset. Rotor offers several cranksets with crank arm lengths of 150mm, 155mm, 160mm, 165mm, etc. Cobb (Speedandcomfort.com) offers aluminum and carbon cranksets down to 145mm, 150mm, 155mm, etc. and Lightning Bike can make whatever crank length coupled with whatever q-factor you need in full carbon fiber. For more information, please contact us at bikefitnesscoaching.com.
BFC: During the interview, you mentioned some knee-pain. Don’t worry, you are not alone. I have had literally hundreds of clients mention the exact same thing and the one thing that they ALL had in common was crank arm lengths too long for them causing extreme knee hyperflexion and extreme shear forces leading to chronic knee pain.
Interviewing these clients showed that ALL of them believed that cycling is supposed to be painful. It was just that it got too painful for them, to the point that they could not spin the cranks anymore. Only then did they decide to come in to get their bike fit checked out. Over the past several years, I have helped alleviate a lot of knee pain so we are happy that you came in to see us and that we were able to help you.
The OEM crank arms that came on the Slice were 165mm (6.5 inches). The correct crank arm length for you turned out to be 145mm (5.7 inches). What did you think when I mentioned that?
HOLLY: I thought you were crazy! And then my second thought was if I could find them they’d cost a fortune.
BFC: Haha. We found a set from Cobb for a reasonable price. Even had the chainrings you wanted included. But, when I ordered the cranks, they asked if your bike was a BB30 or BB30A? I thought, “Oh great, yet ANOTHER BB standard.” Turns out your Slice is a BB30A, but they sent the Direct Fit BB instead of the correct Press Fit BB. I remember the look of shock on your face when we started installing the bottom bracket and it fell right through the shell and out the other side. Welcome to the life of a mechanic. I sent it back and they sent the right one. A nicely machined work of art from BBInfinite. It pressed right in and we installed the new cranks.
BFC: Post fit, you said you felt pretty comfortable. Now that you have been riding the bike for a couple weeks, how do they feel? Duban Sanchez, a pro-cyclist who went with shorter cranks said “initially they felt a little weird but I quickly got used to the shorter cranks”. Duban also said “it just felt like it was easier to put the power down while taking a lot of pressure away from my knees.” I really like Duban’s comment, as it sums up the whole reason for shorter cranks.
What has been your experience?
HOLLY: They felt better immediately. They never felt weird at all. In fact, it was instant relief. It was so much easier to produce the same power and no more knees slamming into anything! I set a new FTP the following week.
BFC: New FTP! FANTASTIC and CONGRATULATIONS!
Going forward, how’s the training going for Nationals?
HOLLY: It’s been going great! I feel good. The bike feels good. It’s not a struggle to get the workouts in when you’re not miserable on the bike.
BFC: Holly, I like how you summed it up “The bike feels good. It’s not a struggle to get the workouts in when you’re not miserable on the bike.”
Everyone here says congratulations on the State championship and we are all here and will be cheering you on as you represent California at the Nationals–next stop PODIUM. You are off to being an outstanding 40+ racer, keep up the great work!
BFC: Holly, we wish you the best of luck at Nationals and in all of your future races!
HOLLY: Thank you
This is a real interview and a testament to the success a thorough bike fit will achieve both in performance and injury prevention. We’re all happy that Holly trusted us at Bike Fitness Coaching to determine the issues and solutions.
US Nationals 1-week away. Holly came back for any last minute recommended fine-tuning.
Here are the things I always recheck and all looked good:
|Metatarsals positioned over pedal axles||Good|
|Saddle fore/aft, height, tilt||Good|
|Hip closure angle / Hip impingement||Good / None|
|Upper torso – upper arm angle||Good|
|Upper body relaxed||Good|
|Hand placement||Shorter aero bars eventually needed. Current carbon set is non-adjustable.|
Coach Rick Schultz is an avid cyclist who trains, races and coaches in Southern California. Rick is an engineer by trade, and in addition to being a coach, he's a bike fitter and prolific product reviewer. He's the author of Stretching & Core Strengthening for the Cyclist and Bike Fit 101: Your Toolset for a Great Bike Fit in the RBR eBookstore. Check his product reviews website, www.biketestreviews.com, and his coaching site, www.bikefitnesscoaching.com. Click to read Rick's full bio.