Christopher Kautz Interview of PK Cycling
Christopher, the co-founder of PK Cycling, is a technical columnist for Triathlete Magazine, former lead instructor for the Serotta fitting school, and performs over 300 fits a year for clients of all abilities. Some of his notable clients include Debbie Perry, BJ Christensen, Marcel Vifian, Lori Bowden, Heather Fuhr, Joanna Zeiger, Chris Leigh, Peter Reid, and Levi Leipheimer
TriHive (TH): Tell us about some of the athletes you fit, including where they were and what a better fit did for them.
Christopher Kautz (CK): We have fit athletes of all levels of ability, from those just starting out, to those winning Ironman events or competing as professional cyclists. The variations in what we see with their set-up issues are across the board, ranging from bikes that are completely the wrong size, to athletes who literally need two to three millimeters of saddle adjustment, or those who just need a minor cleat tweak to optimize their set-up.
When going through a fit with an athlete we first discuss in depth what problems they have with their current set-up,, flesh out other problems they may be overlooking, and then determine what we are trying to accomplish with the fitting.
We cannot properly fit an athlete if we don’t know what that athlete’s goals are, as a fit needs to be specific to both the athlete’s biomechanics as well as the intended use of the bike (a professional cyclist trying for maximum time trial performance needs a very different set-up than a MOP age group triathlete doing Ironman, even if they bring similar bodies to the fit).
TH: Do you fit an age group triathlete different than a professional triathlete?
CK: In short, no. The process we have developed over the years is a methodology rather than a formula. Regardless of an athlete’s level of ability, they all need the same level of attention and detail paid to their fitting. The end fit may look very different from athlete to athlete, as the fit is tailored to that athlete’s needs, but the process used to get there is the same.
TH: How did PK Cycling get started?
CK: PK was started with my good friend Eric Pardyjak in 1998 as a side project while we were in graduate school and racing as competitive cyclists. We both were good enough riders to have to compete against some great cyclists, athletes much better than us, and needed every advantage we could get. In looking for performance we both got our first-time trial bikes, and actually got slower as a result. At that time, TT/Tri bikes were such an unknown that we couldn’t find anyone to help us make them work right, so we decided to do it ourselves and turned bike fit into a research project.
Eric was working on a PhD in mechanical engineering with a focus on fluids (most people would call him an aerodynamicist – he’s now a professor of mechanical engineering at the university there in Salt Lake) and I was doing a PhD in political philosophy and teaching research methods. We took our two areas of expertise and developed new ways of testing fit.
Eric wrote software codes that allowed us to convert pictures of an athlete into their frontal area, and then predict drag changes with position changes, and I developed protocols for measuring efficiency. That foundation in the late 90s separated us significantly from what was being done in bike fit. In 2000 we started the company, and that year had clients win the national TT championship and Ironman Hawaii. I also started writing for Triathlete Magazine that year, and had the opportunity to help set up a number of Ironman winners, Olympians and professional cyclists. The aim for the company is, as it was from the beginning, to help set athletes up to perform at their best on the bike, whether that is through better positioning, equipment selection, custom frames, etc.
Aside from these foundations, we’ve continued to separate ourselves from other “experts” in a number of ways. First, by continuing to learn and improve our fitting techniques over the year. One of the primary ways we’ve done this is by teaching at the Serotta fit school since 2001 and collaborating with the other instructors there. Second, by writing for Triathlete Magazine for years (2000-2005 and currently) we’ve been very much connected to the industry and the latest trends emerging in it. Third, by working very closely with manufacturers on various projects, we’ve learned a tremendous amount about frame materials, design, etc.
A prime example of this would be our current project with Guru bikes, the result of which is a limited edition PK Cycling Crono tri bike with a more advanced carbon lay up than anything else they’re building.
TH: What makes a fit good or bad?
CK: The markers for a good fit are both objective and subjective. There are objectives measures that need to be applied, within their applicable ranges, to leg extension, hip flexion, etc. These are easily measurable, as are performance gains in the real world from a good fit. The subjective measures involve improved comfort, better ability to handle a bike, and more confidence in riding. A bad fit is one that lacks these criteria, and ultimately, one with which the athlete is unhappy. A good fit results in a happy athlete, which is why good fitters get so much business from referrals.
TH: When watching a triathlon, what do you notice while watching athletes ride their bikes?
CK: Most athletes are both inappropriately set up, and have never been instructed in good technique. For example, a well fit tri bike is far more efficient when ridden in the aero bars, even on many climbs. However, if you look at most athletes, they do not spend much time in the aero bars, either because of poor fit, or because no one has shown them how to effectively ride a tri bike. A good fit includes both setting someone up, as well as helping them understand good form and technique to benefit from their fit.
TH: Will a custom fit bike make my riding experience that much better?
CK: More so than you can imagine, and the difference between a “good” fit and a “perfect” fit is everything. At PK a lot of our business is making good fits perfect. A bike that fits you perfectly from a biomechanical perspective will allow you to be comfortable, stable, efficient, and powerful. A bike that matches your biomechanics with an equally good mechanical set up will handle better due to perfect weight distribution and steering geometry, and will ride better as the tubing or carbon lay up in a good custom built frame will actually match your height, weight, and riding style.