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Archive for the ‘Tales from the Fit Lab’ Category

Bearing Question and Answer

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Notes:  This article was originally published in Triathlete Magazine.

Question 1) “I’m not that technical.  What is the biggest thing to focus on when choosing a replacement bearing?”

Look for quality and reputation over material and ratings.  You get what you pay for and just being ceramic, like just being carbon fiber, does not always make something better.  A high quality steel bearing made with top quality materials, grain structure and race polishing will perform better than a basic ceramic (even if the ceramic is “rated” higher) bearing.  If a company like Ceramic Speed (the arguable inventors of ceramic bearings for bicycles) or Zipp (likely the earliest to offer ceramic options from the factory) is selling a high quality bearing for a certain price, you are not going to find that same quality bearing for significantly less money.  Even if two bearings are rated the same on paper, if one bearing costs less, the lower priced manufacturer cut costs in the quality and refinement of the materials.  These are things you can’t see or feel by looking at or spinning a bearing in your hand, but that are significant in how well a bearing works and lasts when it is actually being ridden under load.

Question 2) “Why do some companies list both an ABEC rating and a millions of an inch Grade rating?”

In the August article, I misstated that ABEC rates both ball and race tolerances and that millions of an inch Grade primarily applies to loose ball bearings only.  “Radial Run Out” in regards to ABEC ratings is not the roundness of the balls; it is actually a measurement of the consistency of the roundness of the groove in the race that the balls roll. ABEC standards only apply to race symmetry and tolerances and do not consider the roundness of the balls.  Grade, on the other hand, refers to ball roundness in either a loose or cartridge bearing and does not consider the race tolerances. Companies list both the ABEC (race tolerances) rating and Grade (ball roundness) because both ratings are important reflections of the tolerances in the bearing system as a whole.

Question 3)  “Why are some steel bearings more expensive than some ceramic bearings of a higher Grade?”

Bearing Grade is not what matters most.  Bearing Grade is universal across materials, so one Grade 10, regardless of whether the balls are ceramic, steel or silly putty, has the exact same tolerances/roundness as another Grade 10.

True bearing quality and performance comes down to the grain structure, polish and refinement of the materials used in the fabrication.  You can have very round bearings and races, but if they do not offer appropriate material integrity and finish for each other, they will not work ideally together.  For example, imagine you had two bearing systems with identical tolerances (Grade and ABEC ratings) and identical ceramic balls, however, one had races made of silly putty and the other steel.  When they are unweighted and properly lubricated, both bearings might spin well in your hand, but what happens when you apply weight?  The silly putty races deform, bind and grind to a halt immediately, while the steel still spins.

Now, let’s take this same concept of harder balls and softer races and apply it to common ceramic hybrid bearing construction.  If ultra hard Grade 5 ceramic balls are placed in super hard, fine grained ABEC 5 steel races with proper lubrication, they will resist binding, pitting and deformation and will roll smooth and fast together for a long time.  However, if you take these same Grade 5 ceramic balls and place them into ABEC 5 steel races that are not as fine grained and highly polished (softer), the substantially harder ceramic balls can wear the races much quicker.  The race will pit and the softer race can even crack under impact loading (actual riding).  The same thing can happen in full ceramic or full steel construction.  In fact, some manufacturers will not even use a full ceramic cartridge bearing at this time as they have not found a ceramic cartridge where the races are strong enough to meet their standards.

In addition to making sure the balls and the races are polished and hard enough to wear well together, the quality and tolerances of the seal design, the volume of grease in the bearing and its formula, and the purity and cleanliness of the assembly process matters as well.  Just like with carbon fiber construction, keep in mind that the easiest way to save money when building bearings is to spend less time refining the materials and assembly.

If you are choosing between a $25 Grade 10/ABEC 5 steel bearing offered by a manufacturer known for high quality engineering, materials and attention to detail or a $20 Grade 5/ABEC 5 ceramic hybrid from a supplier who sources their bearings from an unknown factory based in a country that may not recognize ABEC standards, the steel bearing will likely offer you higher performance.  As stated previously, look at quality and reputation over material and ratings when choosing replacement bearings or considering an upgrade.

Question 4) “My bearings are worn out.  Should I upgrade to ceramic bearings?”

On wheels, the answer is “Maybe”.  High quality ceramic bearings in combination with tight tolerances hubs (DT, Zipp…) are a great combination.  However, if you have high precision hubs and are wanting to keep bearing costs under $100 a cartridge, consider buying the very best quality steel cartridge bearing you can from a reputable manufacturer, as they will likely work better than a lower quality ceramic.  If your wheels do not have high precision hubs, consider saving yourself some money and going with the best Grade and quality steel bearings you can.  Less aligned hub shells actually require more bearing play to roll smoothly in the long-term and a high quality Grade 10-25 steel bearing will not only save money, but might work better and last longer than a tighter tolerance ceramic that may not be aligned in the hub shell as well as its tolerances require.

Partly because they use bigger bearings than hubs, just about all bottom brackets benefit from high grade steel or ceramic bearing upgrades.  Shimano, FSA and SRAM cranks (amongst others) have a fair amount of seal and bearing friction that is noticeably reduced with a high quality bearing upgrade in ceramic (Ceramic Speed, FSA…) or steel (Chris King, Hawk Racing…).  Because bottom brackets use bigger bearings than hubs, the tolerances and manufacturing precision don’t need to be as precise to gain the same performance.  Note that no matter how high quality the bearings, if they are not mounted flush, they are going to be held back and could wear prematurely.   Very few frames come from the factory with well faced bottom bracket shells, so make sure the shell is faced by a good technician before installation.

Ride hard and smart.


Ian Buchanan is co-owner of Fit Werx.  Fit Werx has locations in Waitsfield, VT and Peabody, MA and offers cycling and triathlon products, specialty bicycle fitting and analysis services, consultation, and technology research.  Fit Werx can be reached in VT at (802)496-7570, in MA at (978)532-7348 or through the Web at

Setting Up a Road Bike for TT or Triathlon Use

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Note:  This article orginally appeared in Triathlete Magazine.

Dear Tech Support,

I have had a road bike for a few years, but am new to triathlon. At the end of last season I added aerobars to make my bike more triathlon specific. They have not been very comfortable though and my friends say I look “awkward” when riding in them. I was fit to the bike when I bought it, so what am I missing?

Caitlin V., via e-mail

Dear Caitlin,

Many riders add clip-on aerobars to their road bike to make the bike work better for triathlon. However, clipping aerobars onto your road bike, without making other changes in positioning and components, is like putting a cook top in your living room and then expecting it to function like your kitchen – additional changes are needed for it to work well. Along with adding aerobars, some other fundamental changes to your riding position and equipment on your road bike can help you achieve your potential.

Positioning: Aerobars alone do not make a bike triathlon specific – riding position does. What I mean by this is that no matter how many triathlon oriented components you put on your road bike, it is not going to be set-up well for triathlon until your bike is fit specifically for your needs when riding in the aerobars. Your bike fitter may have done a good job with your road position when you bought your bike, but I’m sure she built your position to work best without aerobars. Getting refit specifically for an aerobar based triathlon position by a fitter who is skilled and well-educated in cycling biomechanics for triathlon is where you should start. With proper set-up and a basic understanding of aerobar riding technique, the vast majority of riders should find riding in the aerobars one of their most comfortable hand positions.

Components: Once you have been fit specifically for triathlon cycling, your current road bike can often be converted to your new aerobar position with a few component changes. Common positioning adjustments include the seat coming forward (to maintain an open hip angle in the new lower handlebar position and help encourage an easier muscle transition to the run) and the handlebars being set-up lower and with a shorter reach (to make sure your body is as skeletally supported as possible in a more aero and forward riding position). Components that will often need to be changed on your road bike to allow for such positioning changes include the seatpost, aerobars and stem.

  • Seatposts: Depending on your riding position and the seat tube angle of your road frame, most riders will need a seatpost that allows the seat angle on their road bike to come forward 2-6 degrees. If you need to steepen your road frame just a couple degrees a Thomson set-back seatpost used in reverse of its original intent can work quite well. If you need a major change in seat angle, Profile Design’s Fast Forward seatpost, available in an alloy or carbon version, allows over five degrees of forward angle (thus allowing a road frame with a 73 degree seat tube angle to be capable of at least a 78 degree seat angle). Note that the hardware on the Fast Forward is not compatible with some saddles (many Selle Italia models built in the past five years, for example), so be sure to check compatibility.
  • Aerobars: Aerobars all fit different and you should understand how any aerobar you are considering relates to your riding position and frame geometry before purchasing them (Tech Support, April 2007 covers fit differences between some popular clip-on bars). Highly adjustable clip-on aerobars, like the Profile CarbonStryke, are often some of the best for adapting a road bike to a triathlon position.
  • Stem: When selecting a stem, do not sacrifice positioning and safety for aesthetics and weight. Aerobars can put a lot more leverage on the stem clamp than a standard road bar without aerobars, so make sure you use a secure and strong stem. If one is available in an appropriate length and angle, 4-bolt stems (like Ritchey’s offerings) are light, strong and secure.
  • Optional Items: Additional triathlon specific component changes on your road bike can further enhance speed and performance by allowing you to stay in your aerobars longer and in greater comfort. Bar-end shift levers allow you to shift without leaving your aerobars and can be used with flat pursuit bars to reduce weight and aerodynamic drag. A triathlon specific saddle can help address the increase in forward saddle pressure that is common with shifting rider weight forward and lower.

Once changes have been made to the bike, you are ready to start riding in the new position. Remember that anytime you make positioning changes it is important to allow your muscles a chance to adapt to the demands of a new position, so start slowly and build into the changes.

Once you have converted your road bike, you will be well on your way to maximizing your potential on the bike for triathlon. However, there are two reasons I would encourage you to still start saving your dollars for a triathlon specific bike down the road.

1) Road bike riding, without aerobars, can make you a better cyclist. Many of the most accomplished cyclists in triathlon log the majority of their training miles on a bike that is not their tri bike; we highly encourage triathletes to have a road bike, without aerobars, available as the potential training and technique benefits are substantial.

2) Road bikes are designed to handle best with the rider’s weight distribution biased slightly to the rear of the bike. A dedicated aero position, on the other hand, can have over 60% of the rider’s mass biased towards the front of the bike. Triathlon specific bikes are designed to take this more forward weight distribution into account and handle as best as possible when the rider is in the aerobars.

When the time is right for that new triathlon bike, the information from the triathlon specific fitting you did when converting your road bike can be used to help you find the bikes that match the needs of your body best. A list of dealers who approach fit from a “Rider First” perspective and product selection from a “Fit First” perspective can be found at

Ride hard and train smart.


Ian Buchanan is co-owner of Fit Werx. Fit Werx has locations in Waitsfield, VT and Peabody, MA and offers cycling and triathlon products, specialty bicycle fitting and analysis services, consultation, and technology research. Fit Werx can be reached in VT at (802)496-7570, in MA at (978)532-7348 or through the Web at

Some Great Little Known Cycling Products

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Note: This article originally appeared in Triathlete Magazine.

Dear Tech Support,

Are there any products or services that most athletes could benefit from, but that many people don’t use simply because they are not familiar with them?

Fran, via email

Dear Fran,

This is a great question.  Big and small, here are some things that are well worth knowing about.  You can find (or order) these products and services through a good dealer.

Hutchinson Tubeless Road Tires: See Tech Support, Nov. ’08 for a more complete review, but Hutchinson’s Tubeless Road Tires are the smoothest riding, lowest rolling resistance and pinch flat resistant tires you can get.  Specialized and Campagnolo, among others, have joined Shimano in producing tubeless specific wheels.  An ultra light tubeless tire is available from Hutchinson too.

Stan’s NoTubes kits and valves for Tubeless Road: Convert most any standard clincher road wheel to tubeless tire technology.

Cushy’s Replacement Aerobar Arm Pads: CeeGees makes high density replacement arm pads for just about every aerobar known.  Compared to most stock arm pads, the CeeGee’s “Cushy’s” pads last longer and support better.  They also are one of the least expensive products you can get that will increase the vibration damping and comfort of your TT or Tri bike.

Parlee Carbon Front Derailleur Clamp: Okay, this doesn’t improve your performance much, but it is super light, looks cool and mounts flush so you can put a bottle cage over the clamp without having to use spacers.  Parlee makes nice bikes, including a well priced full carbon stock TT/tri frame, that are worth checking out too.

Wide Ratio 10 and 11 speed Cassettes: A couple of years ago, SRAM started offering very functional and broad gearing combinations for the road that no one else was making.  These cassettes apparently sold quite well, as Shimano’s new 7900 Dura Ace and Campagnolo’s new 11 speed cassettes offer broader gearing options than ever before.  While they are not as smooth as Shimano on Shimano, SRAM cassettes work with Shimano shift levers too.  IRD also makes wide range 10 speed Campagnolo and Shimano/SRAM compatible cassettes (like 12-32) for those looking to climb really big hills.

Wheels Manufacturing Conversion Cassettes: Want to use a Shimano cassette body equipped wheel with your 10 speed Campagnolo shift levers?  This is the solution.  A wide range of effective gearing options and shifting that is as good (or better) than a Campagnolo cassette make a conversion cassette even more attractive.

SMP and ISM Adamo Saddles: While there is not a saddle that works for everyone, these relief zone based saddles have helped a number of riders resolve soft tissue related saddle issues. and

Ceramic (Hybrid) Bearings: If they didn’t work better, Formula 1 cars wouldn’t use them.  Hubs, bottom brackets and derailleur pulleys can all benefit from an upgrade that minimizes rolling resistance, while maximizing durability.  While you don’t need the most expensive ceramic bearings to see a nice improvement, be aware that cheap ceramic bearings aren’t going to offer you much over a high quality steel bearing.  Get a Grade 3 bearing or better.

Hydrotail Carbon Rear Bottle Carrier: While most other bicycle components were using advanced designs and materials years ago, the rear mounted bottle carrier seemed to be in neutral – maintaining the same designs available in the 1990’s.  Then, Beaker Concepts came out with the carbon Hydrotail.  The Hydrotail was significantly lighter than previous options and led not only to the development of other carbon carriers, but also the redevelopment of better designed aluminum carriers as well.  Today, both Hydrotail and X-Lab make carbon and alloy rear carriers that work better over a wider array of applications (including bike brand specific carriers), while being lighter and more functional than ever. and

TUFO Tubular Tape: Fear tubulars no more.  Two sided rim tape takes the mess out of tubular installation and cuts installation from a sometimes messy project that can span days to one that can be done in a matter of minutes.

SwissStop Brake Pads: Does which brake pad you use matter?  You better believe it.  Especially if you use carbon rims (or mix carbon and alloy rims on the same bike), the SwissStop Yellow King pads offer dependable performance with wheels from a variety of manufacturers and under a wide range of conditions.

Trigger Point Technologies Massage Kits: Almost every athlete has fought tight muscle adhesions or an injury and knows how much it can limit your performance and comfort.  Developed by an athlete for athletes, the TPT massage tools and videos are great to use on their own, on the road, or as supplements to physical therapy or deep tissue massage work like Active Release Treatment.

SRAM Rival, Force and Red Components: Ergonomic, mechanically simple, lightweight, well-priced, offering gearing ranges many riders have been asking for, and proven – SRAM went from nothing in the road world to major market player in under two years.  Campagnolo and Shimano have been forced to take a close look at the designs of their fine components because of SRAM and the performance of bicycle componentry as a whole has benefited because of it.

Cycling Footbeds: Foot stability and support is key to maximizing power transfer and minimizing fatigue, yet the majority of riders still ride their cycling shoes without adequate support for their needs.  A custom cycling footbed is the most comprehensive solution, while over-the-counter options like what SuperFeet, Specialized and Aline offer improvements over factory insoles for some riders.

“Fit First” Bike Buying: The vast majority of bikes bought today are “fit” after the bike has already been selected.  “Bike First” selection is like designing the house after you have already built it – it puts the needs of the bike in front of the needs of the rider.  There is a better way.  “Fit First” bike selection puts the rider (you) first and foremost.  By far the best way to find a new bike that will work optimally for you is to determine your optimal riding position first and then use this information to find the frame/bikes that are the best geometric matches for your needs.  Search out and find a dealer/fitter that works this way.  Don’t hesitate to travel to work with them as your biggest equipment purchase is too important to be left up to chance.

Motion Capture Fitting Technology: Dartfish, Retül and other companies make technology that can provide more data with greater accuracy than ever before to bicycle fitting.  However, realize that great technology doesn’t make a great bicycle fit.  A hospital with all the best equipment is not much good without having the right doctors  and the same is true with motion capture fitting systems.  While bicycle fits and motion capture technology are advertised and offered just about everywhere now, there are a limited number of qualified providers offering true top level fittings.  A well educated and experienced fitter in combination with modern technology can help you understand how to get the most out of bike and body in a matter of hours.  Whether you are brand new to riding or have been riding for decades, a motion capture fit session with a top fitter will pay off for the rest of your riding career.

Ride hard and smart.


Ian Buchanan is co-owner of Fit Werx.  Fit Werx has locations in Waitsfield, VT and Peabody, MA and offers cycling and triathlon products, specialty bicycle  fitting and analysis services, consultation, and technology research.  Fit Werx can be reached in VT  at (802)496-7570, in MA at (978)532-7348 or through the Web at

Rider First Fitting Video

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

MBFA Welcomes New Member – Get a Grip Cycles in Chicago, IL

Monday, March 16th, 2009

MBFA is proud to introduce Get a Grip Cycles, with two locations, in Chicago, IL as our newest member dealer. Get a Grip can be found at  

Where Did MBFA Come From?

Friday, February 27th, 2009

From a recent article on

“Some of the Worlds’ leading bike fit specialists have joined together to establish an association for Professional bike-fitting practitioners and businesses.

The seed was planted at a bike-fitting conference, held last year in the USA.  This led to a follow-up get-together in New York in November 2008. At this three-day meeting, the ‘I’s were dotted and the ‘T’s crossed by the the founding members, or the “6.0” as they have come to be known, and The Master Bike Fitters Association was born.

The idea of MBFA grew out of a meeting at last year’s SICI Symposium in Colorado. Present at the meeting were some of the most established and respected fit-centric businesses in the world – they all also happened to be run by current or past instructors at the SICI Fitting School in either the USA or London. They decided to form a fitting trade association that would represent and govern the very best of the best to the public. Although they worked together periodically the six or ‘6.0’as they had now been dubbed by SICI decided to meet in New York for three days to share their combined wisdom and experience to refine and identify the very best fit practices in the industry.

The Master Bicycle Fitter Association (MBFA) is dedicated to creating, evaluating and promoting universal and recognizable dealer standards for the cycling industry in regards to:

  • Bicycle fitting methodology and equipment
  • Knowledge of cycling technology
  • Independent product selection and sales for dealers

In conjunction with SICI (the cycling industry’s most established bicycle fit institute), MBFA recognizes those dealers who lead the industry in the above standards and serves as a consumer resource to help cyclists locate these dealers.”

The MFBA website not only acts as a directory of professional bike-fitting, it also serves as a reference point and resource  to help the cyclist “make informed decisions on cycling fit practices and product selection”.

‘6.0’ Conference In New York

At their New York meeting, the MFBA founding members set out their mission:

“While it is exciting that the fitting industry is growing at an accelerated rate, as people see and feel fitting’s potential to improve performance and efficiency, it was felt by 6.0 that the fitting market needed more clarity and defined standards to help guide the public to make informed choices about where they could get the best advice and fit experience.”

The group then started working on defining those standards.  SICI’s Paraic McGlynn, Director of Applied Cycling Science, was kind enough to donate his high-tech ‘Fit-Lab’ for research sessions.  Paraic also contibuted his own fifteen year experience fitting some the world’s best known professional riders to the 6.0 event.  From these sessions the guidelines and standards that would later be refined into the MBFA dealer and fit standards started to take shape.

To set the MBFA criteria the founding 6.0 members first had to re-evaluate, critique and, if possible, improve every step of the Advanced SICI Fitting Syllabus to consistently deliver the highest possible levels of professionalism and client satisfaction in the industry.  All of the members of 6.0, in their own ways, have pushed beyond even the Advanced SICI Syllabus working day to day with their own way in their own practices. Each had strengths, research and specialities that could improve and inform the whole group.

This search for excellence resulted in the Uniform Fit Elements and Uniform Dealer Standards that today underpins MBFA membership and guarantees the consumer an surpassed experience.
Some of the criteria and standards are so stringent that they became aspirational and some of 6.0 had to make slight changes and update their businesses to fulfil them.

It is the long term goal of MBFA to encourage the cycling industry to embrace fitting and strive for improved levels of fit-related education and qualifications. Moreover MBFA wants to improve and enhance consumer experience with the fit process and from that their relationship with their bike and sport.”

Original 6.0 MBFA Founding Members are:

Julian Wall and Philip Cavell – CycleFit
Paul Levine – Signature Cycles
Ian Buchanan – Fit Werx
Chris Soden – Pro Peloton
Chris Jacobson – Sports Garage
Chris Kautz – PK Cycling

The formation of the Master Bike Fitters Association by this like-minded  group of forward-thinking bike-fit professionals heralds a new era in Cycling Science.  Frameforum wishes the founding members of the MBFA every success with their vision and congratulates them on acheiving something the framebuilding scene clearly lacks  and, apart from the establishment a few regional groups, has so far been able to accomplish.”

To view the article on, click

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