The bike and I spend a lot of time together these days. Like any relationship, it needs quality time together but also space apart. I like to think we are pretty compatible now but it wasn't always the case.
It might sound a bit daft to the uninitiated, but I have discovered you and your bike need to work in harmony - some have labelled it a marriage between bike and body. Finding the right bike is the first thing and it can be a bit like dating; try a few out before finding 'the one'.
I rode the equivalent of the Bunny Boiler when I competed in my first off-road triathlon earlier this year. It was my own fault, though. I had an old dunga of a bike so borrowed The Wife's mountain bike. Being the bloke I am, I was a bit blasé about it all and forgot to check the height of the seat. Needless to say, looking like a clown on a child's bike (think knees around the ears) is not conducive to a fast race.
That's where a bike fit is invaluable. It's more than just adjusting the seat to the right height. It's also the right positioning of the saddle and handlebars, the stem length and height, the right pedals and the best positioning of the cleats (the bits on the bottom of your bike shoes that fit into the pedals). It can take as little as 30 minutes for a basic set-up or as much as 2-3 hours for a more sophisticated and detailed analysis (the video cameras and flexibility assessments come into play then) and good bike shops should invite you to return to make any minor adjustments.
Will Turner from Hot Cycles in St Heliers says a bike fit is all about making riding more comfortable which, in turn, allows you to ride for longer and more efficiently. It's also a good way to improve your chances of avoiding injuries. Niggles (or worse) are impossible to eliminate, particularly for someone like me who is new to cycling and whose body loves to complain, but it can be the difference between starting (and finishing) the Pioneer.
"A bike fit is often overlooked by a lot of mountain bikers," Will says. "It's so important, not only for comfort and to avoid injury but also handling of the bike.
"We look at the rider's flexibility and all the contact points: the feet, pedals, shoe and saddle to your handle bar position, grip, shoulders and neck.
"We definitely need to get rider feedback. We can look at you on the wind trainers during the bike fit but at the end of the day you have to go out there and ride the bike. Generally the rider will go away for a couple of weeks and come back and we will get some feedback and make a few alterations."
I spent more than six-and-a-half hours in the saddle last weekend competing in the inaugural L'etape bike race in the Snowy Mountains in Australia and it wouldn't have ended well if I didn't feel comfortable on my bike. It was hard, damn hard, and the carnage I witnessed on the final, gruelling 22km climb up Mt Kosciuszko to Perisha skifield highlighted that. But it gave me the confidence to believe I can endure at least one (of the seven) days the Pioneer is going to throw at me.
Bike fits are probably the most use for any beginner, so they can understand how a bike is supposed to feel, anyone who just can't seem to get comfortable in the saddle and, of course, any top-line athletes looking for an edge. They're not a magic bullet (cycling can just be uncomfortable at times) but it's probably going to improve enjoyment.
I will inevitably wonder why on Earth I thought entering the Pioneer was a good idea but I hope to at least feel comfortable while cursing my way up the sort of track mountain goats would bypass for something a little easier.
For more on the Pioneer bike race, see the thepioneer.co.nz
For more on bike fits at Hot Cycles and Mt Eden Cycles, see mec.co.nz