When you're planning to sit for a very long time every single day—such as in an office chair or a living room couch—you want the most comfortable seat available. The same holds true for a bike. If getting in the saddle feels as good as plopping on your sofa (or close enough, considering), you're more likely to spend lots of pain-free time on it. Like six, seven, even eight hours a day or longer, which will probably be what I'll be clocking daily during the 545-mile AIDS LifeCycle Ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles this June.
To get started on finding the best bike for the job, I reached out to the charity event's official bike sponsor and one of the most popular bicycle brands in the world, Cannondale, which conveniently has its headquarters located in Bethel, CT, just a two-hour train ride from NYC.
For the past nine years of the west coast ride's 12-year history, Cannondale has provided support for all cyclists at every stage, offering bike mechanics, demo bikes, and a general helping hand along the course. When I told them that I was looking for the coziest long-distance ride yet, they knew just what I needed: An appointment with the Guru Experience, an automated bike-fitting machine and software program that hones in on the most precise riding position to maximize power, comfort, and efficiency, all while you pedal.
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Even though Cannondale and the Guru Experience are owned by the same parent company, Montreal-based Dorel Industries Ltd., the innovative bike-fitting program is not partial to any one brand. Its database features more than 1,000 bike geometries from all over (find a dealer that offers this technology here). However, since Cannondale has generously offered to sponsor my ride for the event, I met with Guru fit expert Christopher Kautz with only one bike model in mind: Cannondale's lust-worthy SuperSix EVO. It's the same lightweight beast ridden by six amateur cyclists who made up the first all-female team (called The Rev) to complete the grueling Tour de France course one day ahead of the pros last summer.
When I mounted the machine that resembled a crude prototype of a boxy bike with one small back wheel, I had no idea what to expect. I began pedaling the stationary device in front of a large monitor featuring both a video of my moving image and some stats as Chris typed real-time notes into the unique software using a wireless keyboard.
Soon enough my bike seat started moving ever so slightly (we're talking millimeters) backward. While asking me questions about how it felt, Chris also watched my leg positioning and took measurements. Next the seat moved up and down, and again he asked questions, sounding a bit like my optometrist: “Do you like position A or B better?” At times, I couldn't even tell the difference, it was that subtle (that's partly what allows this device to be so precise). For the handlebars, it was the same protocol. We swapped out saddle styles a few times too.
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About an hour or so later (Chris really took his time getting it just right), the fit was complete and I had a long list of brands, models, and ideal sizes to choose from. I was totally surprised by the results:
- I've always preferred a more upright position—handlebars high, bike seat low—for comfort, but it turns out that lowering my handlebars may actually create more power in my pedal and protect my lower back.
- Since I started riding more seriously a few years ago, I assumed that a 51-inch bike frame is the perfect size for my 5'5" height. But the Guru bike fit revealed that in some brands and models, a 48-incher would serve me better.
- Interestingly, the bike doesn't necessarily have to be a women-specific model. Some men's (or unisex) styles are totally fine for me.
- If I were blindly granted my wish of a SuperSix EVO, which is a more aggressive frame that's a dream for shorter, faster distances like triathlons, I would have gotten the wrong bike for my body and this particular ride. Based on my specific stats, the equally drool-worthy, slightly more relaxed Synapse Carbon is ideal for my long-distance adventure.
I'm all set to pick up my all-white steed that was created to fit me like a glove on Friday. My first date with my new, made-just-for-me bike is Saturday, where I'll head out with Angie, my AIDS Ride buddy, for a 60-miler to see what this baby can do. Can't wait!