The Burlington Free Press

August 1, 2002 by Nancy Remsen

Fit for Function – Riders turn specialists to aviod pain and gain speed


Kevin Brennan had figured out that his legs wobbled when he pedaled his bike. It was tougher to know what to do about it.

Brennan pedals a lot – as many as 20 hours a week to keep in shape for mountain bike races. He’s a professional racer. "I've always had a problem with the way my knees bend, “ said Brennan, who is pursuing a graduate degree in exercise physiology at the University of Vermont when he isn’t pursuing victory on a race course. He desribed the motion of his legs as a figure eight. The ankle of each leg leaned in at the botom of a stroke and out at the top.

Brennan found the remedy for his wobble in Ian Buchanan and Sarah Shorett, whose business – Fit Werx – is making bikes fit their riders.

Buchanan and Shorett spend two or more hours with each customer, measuring limbs and torso, testing range of motion and flexibility and observing body alignment during movement. Based on a mountain of data, they recommend changes in seat height and tilt, handlebar and pedal positions. They can also mold custom liners for bike shoes called foot beds and install cants that help align feet, knees and hips for the most efficient and comfortable pedaling.

Buchanan said he and Shorett aren’t trying to steal customers from the other bike shops. They know Vermonters are loyal to their local shops. While they do build custom bicycles for customers, their primary focus is finding the best setup for people’s road and triathlon bikes – regardless of where the riders bought their bikes.

Brennan said the fit specialists discovered that his legs were different lengths. They adjusted his bike and shoes to put his body in a better position for efficient riding. "It made an incredible difference. I could feel it right away,” he said. "I’m definitely getting more power per pedal stroke and it definitely feels better on my knees and legs. More importantly,” he added, “ in the long run, we are alleviating potential injury.”
Shorett and Buchanan want to dispel the notion that discomfort is an integral part of cycling. "People think they are supposed to put up with a lot of pain and they do,” Shorett said. The Fit Werx motto is “Never just settle for what is offered to you; insist on what is right for you.”

Buchanan, who worked in bike shops in Vermont, Colorado and Washington, said few are staffed with technicians who have the time or training “to give people what they really need to be happy on their bikes, and, on the competitive athlete side of things, objectively find ways to make people faster.”
Until recently, most cyclists weren’t focused on fit either, he said After they found out that Lance Armstrong paid attention to fit, the idea began to gain momentum. Armstrong just won the Tour de France for the fourth time.

Buchanan credits skiing with introducing him to the idea of proper fit. After college, he spent several winters in Colorado working in ski shops. “I just saw a lot of techniques and concepts in ski boot fitting that applied to cycling as well.” His wanderlust took him to Washington state, where he worked for Softride, a cycling manufacturer. In that job, he met many people in the cycling industry – including John Cobb, the technician who fits Armstrong to his bikes. Shorett gained her grounding in body mechanics in a running shop. The pair decided to build a business around cycling, a sport they both love. "There are a lot of really nice products out there,” Buchanan said. "We want to help the products work as they were designed to.” "There are only a few people doing this,” Buchanan added. "We didn’t see anyone in New England doing what we wanted to do – and my family is here.”

The couple opened Fit Werx in February in a small shop that is also their home on the main road in Waitsfield. They reached out to cycling clubs with seminars. They travel to Boston and Manchester once a month to serve customers there. They even make house calls.
The basic fitting they offer costs $150 and takes about two hours. That might seem expensive, Buchanan said, “but that $150 can save them a lot of money.”

"We are trying to help people make informed decisions,” he continued. "The information that people get is a long term investment. They can use it years from now.”

Jim Sullivan of Westfield, Mass., is a triathlon competitor who said he was always buying the latest bike equipment, hoping it would improve his times. Triathlons are grueling events that require the racers to bike, run, and swim.

"A minute advantage over a 25-mile bike course is huge if you ar trying to win your age group," Sullivan said. He’s in the highly competitive 35-39 age bracket. Sullivan turned to Buchanan and Shorett to make sure that he fit his fast equipment. "My goal is to ride faster and feel more comfortable in two upcoming half-ironman distance races," he said. "So far, everything is going well. I have been getting off the bike and feeling fresh on the runs.”

Nancy DeRoma is another of the couple’s new customers. The Natick, Mass., athlete has competed in triathlons for 15 years. She bought a new bike and wanted a good set up. When she heard about Fit Werx she made an appiontment. "Thank God I did, “ she said. "I’ve never felt so comfortable on a bike, ever.”

DeRoma claims that having a properly adjusted bike gave her a competitive edge. "Since my fitting, I qualified for the Hawaii World Championships in October and this is no easy task. I also qualified for the world championship short course in Cancun, Mexico in November. I am very excited.”
In triathlons, the rider’s position on the bike is key, Buchanan said. Riders hunch down to decrease wind resistance. "Getting someone’s position as aerodynamic as possible and still comfortable, can really save them some time.”

Competitor Rick Kennedy of Bolton, Mass., came looking for advice on his riding position. He’s a triathlon coach and a member of the U.S. team that will compete in the international championship in Mexico in November. "I was having a lot of trouble staying in a good position on the bike during longer races because I was so uncomfortable."

"Some of the changes they made to the adjustments on my bike were measured in inches,” Kennedy said. "What this indicates is that my original setup was way off. I can now ride comfortably for two-plus hours, whereas before I couldn’t really sit on the bike comfortably at all.”

"There aren’t many people who have the experience and training to properly fit riders to triathlon bikes, “ Kennedy said. "Ian and Sarah are the only people I’ve found in New England who, to be blunt, know what they are talking about.”