Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Look Into the F.I.S.T. Workshop

One of the most sought after and respected certifications in the bike fitting industry is F.I.S.T. - Fit Institute Slowtwitch.  The F.I.S.T. certification is the result of many years of research by Dan Empfield, who - among many other things - is the inventor of the triathlon bike and current head of, one of my favorite place on the Internet.  I had been planning on attending F.I.S.T. for a few years now, and the opportunity finally came together.  It was a great experience.

F.I.S.T. is a 5-day workshop at Dan's home, Xantusia, in Valyermo, California.  Valyermo is located about an hour and a half northeast of Los Angeles, in the Mojave Desert.  I flew into Burbank and made the trip to Xantusia on Sunday, February 1, in what was not exactly stereotypical "sunny southern California" weather - it was cold, raining, and very windy.  There were cars spinning out on the highways leading up to Xantusia, and I learned that tumbleweeds can tumble in the rain if there is enough wind.  There was plenty.

Welcome to Xantusia

Arriving at Xantusia, there are two houses on the property.  One belongs to Dan, and the other belongs to Mark "Monty" Montgomery, who hosts all of the workshop guests at his bed and breakfast.  I was the first workshop guest to arrive, and Monty showed me around the house and to my room, which was in a cabin next to the pool.  Monty and I hung out and chatted by the fire until other guests started to trickle in during the rain, sleet, snow, and wind.  By Sunday evening, quite a few folks were at the house and we were getting to know each other.  Monty is a great cook and provided us with meals, drinks, and snacks for the week.  In addition to the F.I.S.T. workshops, Monty hosts training camps throughout the year, including some cycling teams or camps arranged by triathlon or endurance coaches.  It's a really neat area if you just want to get away and ride road or mountain bikes, run trails, or swim.  It might be something Vector Cycle Works could do at some point in the future.

Day 1 of F.I.S.T.
Dan Empfield explains the philosophy behind the F.I.S.T. protocol.
Ian Murray is in the background, waiting for his turn to present.
During the F.I.S.T. workshop, Monday and Tuesday are dedicated to road bike fitting, with a mixture of lecture and hands on fitting.  Dan has help with the training from respected fitters in the industry, and we had the pleasure of learning from Ian Murray and JT Lyons.  Monday was primarily lecture and demonstration, and I was lucky to be one of the demonstration subjects getting fit for a road bike by Ian.

On Tuesday, we had much more hands on, breaking into groups around one of the 3 fit bikes in the studio, and taking turns fitting each other.  It really was a fun way to learn the details of the F.I.S.T. protocol, and a great way to make some friends in the process.  Life at Xantusia is pretty laid back and casual, too.  We did a couple of rides during the week, with many of us grabbing one of the bikes on site, throwing on our pedals, and hammering out a few miles in the Mojave.  We took a nice ride on the "recovery loop" at lunch on Tuesday, which was about 22 miles, if I remember right.  The scenery is beautiful, the hills are definitely more challenging than anything in the central Indiana area, and there isn't much traffic on the roads.

Paul Swift of BikeFit demonstrates how we document our changes
according to BikeFit principles.
On Day 3 of the workshop (Wednesday), we changed gears a bit and switched to learning about one of my other certifications - BikeFit.  While F.I.S.T. is more of a geometric approach to bike fitting, BikeFit gets into the details of the touchpoints on the bike - the foot, pelvis, and hands.  For the BikeFit portion of the F.I.S.T. workshop, we focused on the foot/pedal interface.  Paul Swift asked me and one of the other workshop attendees, David Macleod, to help teach.  This was an honor and a lot of fun.  After about a one hour presentation, we split the 14 attendees into two groups and allowed everybody to get a chance to have their foot/pedal interface dialed in.  It was a pretty big group, and it made for a long day - I think we wrapped up around 8 PM.  Judging from the feedback from the others, learning the BikeFit protocol really enhanced the experience for the attendees, and I have a feeling we'll be seeing many of the attendees at a BikeFit certification course in the future.  I hope that I'll be teaching again soon, too.

F.I.S.T. and BikeFit make a really nice knowledge combination for bike fitting.  I feel the geometric aspect of F.I.S.T. makes for a really solid cake, and the attention to the muscular and neuromuscular details within the BikeFit protocol are the icing on that cake.

Dan dials in Ian's triathlon bike position.
For Day 4 and 5, we wrap up the F.I.S.T. workshop with a focus on triathlon bike fitting.  After a brief discussion on the theories and principles of the F.I.S.T. approach to triathlon bike fitting by Dan and Ian, Dan demonstrated the techniques by fitting Ian for a new triathlon bike.  Ian had wrecked his bike during a race last summer, so this was something that was very useful for him.  One of the fun things about the F.I.S.T. experience is that most of us spend our meals and downtime together at Monty's house, including Ian and JT.  So, we had some good conversation at lunch about which bikes would fit Ian best.  As we had out turns going through the process of being fit for road and triathlon bikes throughout the week, we were all doing a bit of shopping for the bikes that fit us best.

Tyler is dialing in David's position.
After another lunchtime ride on Thursday, we wrapped up the workshop with some more hands on application, taking turns fitting each other for triathlon bikes.  Friday was a bit of a shorter day, with some folks heading out in the early afternoon to catch flights home.  I was the last to leave on Saturday morning after hanging out with Monty, Dan, and the dogs for a bit before heading back towards Burbank to catch my early afternoon flight.

Overall, the F.I.S.T. Workshop experience was really a lot of fun - I can't thank Dan, Ian, JT, Paul, Monty and the other attendees enough for all the shared knowledge, camaraderie, and great conversation throughout the week.  I am pretty certain I will be back to Xantusia at some point or another.

How does this change things for me at Vector Cycle Works?  There are certainly a lot of aspects of the F.I.S.T. protocol that I had already been applying over the last couple of years of fitting.  The body geometry and how it relates to bike geometry in F.I.S.T. are the basis for most fitting systems out there - the genius behind F.I.S.T. is how Dan has taken so much information about bikes and the human body and distilled it down to a practical methodology that works well for most people.  There are a few details I think I will be better at, including bike selection for a customer looking at purchasing a new bike.  Bike choice and how it affects handling is also a key piece that was covered during the workshop.  A bike that fits well, handles well.

One aspect of the F.I.S.T. methodology I really like is the use of the fit bikes to create and document a series of "trials" for fitting, which is much easier and faster than doing it right on the customer's bike.  While I feel that we can often find a very comfortable place on a customer's bike, we don't necessarily know if it's the most comfortable position because it's too difficult to try variations and find the edge.  People can ride lower or more "aggressively" (and I use that term cautiously) than they think, but they won't realize it until they can try it.  I can do this with my poor man's fit bike, but it's not quite as fast or reliable as a real fit bike.  You will be seeing a new fit bike in the Vector Cycle Works studio soon.

If you are interested in purchasing a new bike or getting more comfortable on your current bike, come in and take advantage of my F.I.S.T. certification soon - sign up for your ForeverFit or sizing session at

The view from Xantusia.  Beautiful, isn't it?

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