27 Feb Slowtwitch Fit Workshop 2017
“All I know is I know nothing.”
Socrates said that. Or at least, I thought he did, until Emanuel, one of our baristas, pointed out he didn’t. Apparently it’s something Plato attributed to Socrates, but technically maybe not since the translation isn’t worded like that, and I didn’t want to keep arguing whether someone said something or someone said someone said something. Although I’m pretty sure Emanuel could have happily kept the discussion going for an easy hour, my philosophical learnings didn’t make it through the second chapter of Plato’s Republic.
Anyway what i’m trying to get at is that knowledge is a cup that is never full. So as a fitter I want to continue learning, and I hope to visit each of the major fitting schools and learn all of the different fit philosophies. And right now there continues to be amazing new technologies coming out to assist riders and their fitters to find the most comfortable, economical, or powerful positions on their bikes. So with that in mind, this winter I visited the Fit Institute Slowtwitch in Valyermo California.
If you’re a triathlete, I don’t need to introduce you to Slowtwitch. If you’re not, Slowtwitch is probably the most popular triathlon website, with everything and anything the triathlete could possibly hope to find. It is run by Dan Empfield, one of the O.G.’s of triathlon, and aside from Slowtwitch, he is best known for inventing the triathlon wetsuit and the triathlon bike, both through Quintana Roo, which he founded. He also introduced stack and reach, which is a godsend in terms of measuring bikes and replicating fits from bike to bike. Instead of measuring tubes and angles, stack and reach imagines points of a bike as points on a cartesian graph. (e.g., x455, y566 denotes a handlebar position.) Most manufacturers have co-opted this system, and this has made it incredibly easy for both fitters and laypeople to compare different bicycles.
Mr. Empfield has a few workshops each year at his compound in Valyermo, which is up in the mountains on the backside of Los Angeles. A relatively short drive from the city, Valyermo has a population of maybe 450 (really!) right on the edge of the Mojave and the San Gabriel mountains. It seems a lot more like Arizona than California, which is especially true when you wake up at 4 am to the ranch dogpack scaring off the roving coyotes.
The view from the backyard of the ranch
I enjoyed my first touch-and-go landing at LAX, where apparently the plane in front of us hadn’t got off the runway quick enough and we were going to boop them. Once safely on the ground, I visited two amazing bike shops on my way to Valyermo- Pedaler’s Fork, in Calabasas, and Golden Saddle, right on Sunset Boulevard.
Pedalers Fork is the most amazing place I have maybe ever been (aside from The Bikery, of course) and I simply cannot recommend it enough. It is a restaurant/coffee shop/bar/coffee roastery/bike shop. All they needed was room out front for my sleeping bag and I may not have come back. I had some sort of crazy nacho eggs pile for breakfast and it was amazing. Make it a point to go if you’re ever nearby.
Golden Saddle is tiny, but packs so much awesome into the space you’ll never notice. These guys are on the forefront of anything cool in the bike world. I’ve been wanting to get here for years and it was worth the wait. An unexpected plus was that I was surprised to greet Dr. Allen Lim, of Skratch Labs, as I was on my way out. He was kind enough to let me grab a selfie:
Myself, Aaron Foster, and Allen Lim of Skratch Labs
Eventually I was on the way to the Slowtwitch compound (after an obligatory stop at In ‘n Out) and surprisingly had a beautiful drive up into the mountains. I got parked at the BnB that is right next to the Slowtwitch compound and met the owner, Mark Montgomery. Mark is another original bad dude of triathlon (his first race was in 1978, and he has over 60 multisport wins to his name!) and it is simply the coolest thing to a triathlon fan to get to stay with Mark. An excellent cook (pretty much the best salmon i’ve had, ever) and a great storyteller. One of the highlights of the stay was when he pulled out the old ‘Wide World of Sports’ VHS tapes and was giving us in-race commentary of an early eighties Santa Catalina Island triathlon. So good; original oakley sunglasses, steel (!) road bikes, no helmets. . . great stuff.
The riding, of course, was amazing. Being able to walk out the door and climb for an hour up into the snowline was great.
And though perhaps some of my classmates considered it a vacation, we were there to learn. The days were fairly jam-packed with classes from eight am until at least six; So while we bookended the week with rides on Monday and Friday, we were hard pressed to find much time to workout unless you were willing to head out for a run in the early AM, before breakfast. Mark kept the fridge well-stocked with beer for us, but he did note that our group was by far the drinkingest group of bike fitters he’d ever met (and it’s entirely possible someone ‘accidentally’ drank his personal stash of tequila.) It was quite fun to watch Dan torment some of my hungover compatriots in the mornings. Classes were run by Mr. Empfield and Ian Murray, a well-known Los Angeles fitter and coach. Wednesday we had a guest instructor, Paul Swift, founder of Bikefit, who gave us in-depth details on cleat wedges, spacers, and other products designed to optimize the foot/pedal interface.
Paul Swift, eight time National Champion and founder of Bikefit
The takeaway from the week, if I were to summarize everything, is that the Slowtwitch philosophy believes that the athlete, even most beginners, can be led to discover their own fit. The confidence that the cyclist gets from the fit process itself and from the knowledge that they can trust their instincts is indispensable. Furthermore, with the assistance of a Slowtwitch-certified fitter, that cyclist will discover that they can ride, comfortably, in positions just like triathlon’s greatest athletes.
One of my riding partners for Friday, Jessica Bratus of Fitmi, of Ann Arbor Michigan