Speedvagen Fit Clinic
Words By Samantha Cassidy
Photos courtesy of Speedvagen
NYC was grim and sad in the days following the presidential election. You could feel it everywhere, in the subway, on the streets. New Yorkers are like that, we don’t hide how we feel. We show solidarity in our sadness. So, that week, it felt particularly meaningful to be surrounded by a group of women empowering themselves in a sport in which they've been traditionally underrepresented.
Pretty Damned Fast founder, Anna Maria Wolf, coordinated the clinic. We gathered at Sun and Air, a beautiful new bike shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, just blocks from the Williamsburg bridge. The women's fit event was part of the Speedvagen east Coast Fit tour, and this event in collaboration with Pretty Damned Fast was the first of its kind. Sacha White and his crew, Jen and Gordon from Speedvagen/The Vanilla Workshop, were the night’s MCs. Sacha is known around the world as a master frame builder and bike fitter and was here to share his knowledge about bike fit.
The Speedvagen/Vanilla Workshop's signature baby blue stationary bike sat poised in the front window eagerly awaiting the night’s events. Sacha, Jen, Gordon and Anna Maria greeted each attendee as they entered with their bikes. Drinks and snacks were served. With the sixteenth and final bike propped up in the spacious new shop, we were ready to begin.
Being a woman in a male dominated sport can be very intimidating. Sacha, Jen and Gordon really went out of their way to create a friendly and approachable environment, as did the crew from Sun and Air. All types of women attended, from those who race road and cyclocross to women who commute and ride for pleasure, beginners to experts. As we waited for the clinic to start, we talked about the sport. In the wake of a disheartening week, I felt myself regaining strength from my fellow female cycling enthusiasts.
Sacha began by walking us through print outs of a bike diagram labeled parts and lines drawn to make relationships between them. The first topic was saddle height and how to properly measure for that. Sacha then moved on to the relationship between the saddle and pedals, demonstrating the proper fit on the bike. We then adjusted our seats and took our bikes around the block to test out the new saddle positions and determine if our feet where at the correct angles. Being able to adjust our bikes and test our adjustments immediately with a quick ride was one one of the best parts of the clinic.
Next, we stood around the room facing one another, while Sacha told us to bend from the waist as if we were riding our bikes, demonstrating while he explained. "Start by bending over a bit and you can feel the tension in your lower back, keep bending to the point where your back and stomach muscles are engaged and doing the work to hold you up.” It is this point, further over than most of us thought, that is ideal when riding. It was the most surprising and interesting part of the fit - how posture is to a good bike fit. After this exercise, we moved on to a discussion of proper handlebar reach.
Sacha had us break into groups of three with our bikes. One person sat on the bike while another supported the bike from behind and the third person took a before photo of the position with the current handlebar reach. Sacha then made his way around the room to make physical adjustments, keeping in mind the body positioning we had just practiced. I originally thought my handlebars were too low but to my surprise they were not, what actually needed adjustment was my reach. My hands needed more room out to the front of the bike so my wrists were straight and not bent.
Then we talked about balance and riding out of the saddle, then sitting back down. We learned that if you need to move forward or back to get back into the saddle, you are not evenly balanced over the bike. We went out on our bikes again to try this out. It was a great exercise and something that needs to be done again once all adjustments are made. Sacha then brought up stems and different lengths, as well as crank lengths, then opened the floor to questions.
It was a satisfying, positive and informative night surrounded by others who are passionate about cycling. The knowledge and insight from The Speedvagen/Vanilla Workshop crew was invaluable. I rode home that evening with three women from the clinic on the Kent Avenue bike path to Vanderbilt Avenue and into Prospect Park. It was great to continue the conversation on our bikes and comforting to know there are so many women riders out there. Women’s cycling is a growing sport. I’m excited to see just how far and how fast we'll go.