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Thursday, May 30, 2013

RETUL-ing My Fit: A Session With Central Taiwan's Most Detailed Fit Studio

As many of my regular readers know, I have been dogged by occasional knee problems since February 2011, while on a loaner bike before my current frame arrived.

The process of dealing with this issue has been a painful one.

It is not simply a matter of soreness flaring up, but it is also a matter of life quality. Before the knee trouble I had worked and trained myself into a state of fitness that resulted in some rides that still amaze me.

I had gained speed and endurance enough to expand my day-rides to include much of western Taiwan. I felt like there was no place on the map I couldn't ride in a day or two. The thrill was in choosing harder, more challenging routes to cover... and be home by supper.

Since that time, it has been an endless cycle of rebuilding and regaining lost ground. For every recovery and rebuild that seems to be sticking, there is a eventual fall back to zero.

Doctors would shrug and prescribe rest or to ride no more than 30km because it was such long distance.

Problems like these are tricky and it can often be like owning an old Volkswagen. The problem can be one of a dozen things, so it is usual to start with the cheapest solution and work upward.

For me, I started with a new bike that was custom made to fit, and it works very well, rides very well, fits very well, and I had alleviated the issue for several months of hard riding, but the pain eventually returned.

I began to suspect that either my fit had changed for some reason or another, or I was suffering through a serious imbalance. Whatever it was, it was vexingly elusive.

That is why I finally decided to see a fit specialist.

I have known of the Retul fitting system and I have been following Winston Tam's work at his Friday Fitness fit studio in Taipei. It was an intriguing idea, but the price tag was a little steep for me at this time, so it would be impossible to justify to the wife.

As I sat in the bus last weekend nursing my knee, another rider who had done the Retul fitting with Winston in Taipei, passed on the info that there was now a Retul technician in Taichung who was charging quite a bit less for a double-sided evaluation and fit.

I got the ok from home and was booked for an appointment within a couple days.


What is Retul?

Here is how their website describes their fitting system:

Retül bike fit technology incorporates three main data points in fit theory:

1. Bike Fits Must be Dynamic

  • Using motion capture technology, Retül records the rider's positions in motion, therefore creating the most realistic picture of the rider's actual pedal strokes and body positions when out on the road and trails.

2. Measurements Must be Accurate

  • Measurements made by traditional tools are subject to human error and therefore can be devastatingly inaccurate. 
  • Slight inaccuracies can drastically change the rider's feel after a ride.
  • The Retül system is accurate to within less than a millimeter, creating true objective data which can be utilized by the fitter for the perfect biomechanical fit.

3. Biomechanics are Best Assessed in Three-Dimensional Space

  • Fit data collected in a traditional two-dimensional plane (i.e. video-based systems) is fairly limited because the fitter can only look at one view at a time, and those views stand as independent reference points.
  • In order to make the best fit recommendations, the fitter must realize that the front and side views are actually interdependent reference points.
  • In other words, the front and side views must be viewed simultaneously in three dimensions in order to see how all the applicable movements of the body are working together.
  • Retül uses a 3D motion sensor to simultaneously gather data on multiple angles of the rider.


In Taichung the Retul technician is Cienne Wang at Little Tree Fit Studio (小樹自轉車). The studio is just off of Xitun Rd. about a half a block from Fuya Rd. (福雅路) near several of the bike stores at the base of the climb to the top of Dadu Shan.

As I entered the studio I could see several pieces of Retul equipment situated around the room, including their iconic fitting rig.

Mr. Wang and I chatted for a little while and then got down to the fitting. We first discussed my riding style and some routine particulars, and then I underwent a physical evaluation to determine my strength, flexibility, muscle balance, leg length, and foot position.

It was finally time to attach the sensors and root out any anomalies I might have in my fit.


The full Retul fit tests both sides of a rider's body to more accurately assess a rider's asymmetric needs. Most of my numbers were fine. Some of my numbers were a little off. A couple others numbers were anomalies.

Many of the adjustments followed my intuition, but I never felt confident enough to follow through. Hard data made it far more assuring to make adjustments rather than basing any change on gut instinct with the danger of making things worse.

We then moved my position forward and a bit more stretched out. This felt a little strange on the trainer, but once I hit the pavement it all made a bit more sense.

We spent over two hours adjusting and refining my fit.

I was provided with a report derived from the data that I can use for any future bike. Retul also has a database of bike frames they can match to a particular rider.


It will still be a matter of time before my muscles readjust to the new position and I can transfer more of the load more evenly around my legs to repair some of my imbalance.

I highly recommend every rider should have a detailed fitting done at least once, if simply for the data or to improve your performance. If you are a rider with knee or back pain, the solution is even more pressing.

My session at Little Tree, which included a follow up fitting and further readjustment, was not cheap. It cost me NT7500 for the dual sided evaluation. A single sided fit runs NT4500. When you see the tiny adjustments being made it might seem an awful lot of money for a few millimeters. The price IS cheap when you consider an error of a few millimeters amplified over hundreds of thousands of revolutions and tens of thousands of kilometers. The price is minuscule when considering the hours of lost fitness, health, joy, and overall quality of life.

Mr. Wang was an excellent fit tech. He speaks English quite well and as a dedicated father of a little girl, he and I had a lot to talk about. It was easy to relax and get into the fitting.

I will keep everyone informed in regard to my progress, and I hope to encourage more riders to not wait as long as I did before getting a detailed fit. Life it too short to waste it recuperating.

If you are looking for one of the most detailed fit systems on the planet, Little Tree has what you are looking for. This is Taichung's best equipped fit studio for cyclists.

Special thanks to Cienne Wang for his attention to detail. Excellent!



Taiwan Retul Fitters

Little Tree Fit Studio:
台中市西屯區西屯路三段宏安巷1-3號, Taichung, Taiwan 4070976 568 890By Appointment Only

Friday Fitness:
Lane 13, Yǒngkāng Street, No. 16-4 Daan District Taipei City, 106
Tel: 886.929.623.311 (Taiwan 台灣) 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wounded Knee Buries My Heart At Wuling Pass

Climbing on Bike, Seven Resolute

It goes as it goes.

I had been signed up to do this Wuling ride for a couple of months and was not going to pull out of it after all the hard work and preparations Rocky and the folks at T-Mosaic had made for an assault on, quite possibly, the highest road in East Asia.

At 3275m. the Wuling Pass is a natural marvel that seems to hang on a cloud bank over the whole of central Taiwan. As a cycling route, Wuling has cemented its reputation, not only for its scenery, but also for its quad splitting ramps. In Taiwan, Wuling is the standard against which everything is measured. Among Taiwanese cyclists, the single mention of Wuling is guaranteed to bring forth a toothy grin that is part smile, and part pained grimace... in both recognition and remembrance of a suffering that is only cut by a mixer of equal parts success.


Without even the courtesy of a morning cup of coffee to fuel the neurons, we drifted out onto the Highway 14甲 from the Family Mart parking lot on a one way ticket upward.

I have been suffering a little bit from a recurrence of my knee issue, and all the rain hasn't helped in getting me ready for a major climb. Still, I threw caution to the wind and spun gingerly up the road toward Wuling. My one condition for the ride was that I would stop as soon as my knee felt less than perfect.

For climbing, and for this mountain in particular, the best advice is to stay relaxed.

Reservoir, Taiwan

I had been feeling pretty good. Without really trying to, I had put a sizable gap between myself and the small group of riders behind me.

The scenery spilled out below in a wash of light and shadow. It was a picture perfect day on Hohuan Shan, and a great way to break the screaming case of cabin fever that most Taiwanese cyclists have been suffering for the past eight to ten weeks.

Taiwan, mountains

Our quarry lay off in the distance, and I was all too well aware of what it would take to get there. The average ascent over the 55km course is only 6%, but there are several ramps that pull up to 12%. The majority of the real nasty parts wait at the very top-- the sting in the tail of an already formidable beast.

Reservoir, Taiwan

Biking Taiwan

I took a few photos and waited for the rest of the group to catch up. I really couldn't believe I was back on that mountain.

Then, just before the great big Ching Jing Disneyland Eatcateria, I felt a light ache in my right knee. At that point I pulled myself off the bike and calmly waited at the 7-11 for my ride. My day in the saddle was over and I would have to enjoy the rest of the day from the air-cnditioned confines of a light bus.

I knew that was a probability and simply sat back to root for the other guys in the group.

Taiwan Central Mountain Range, Wuling

Lots of cyclists try Wuling on the weekends, and it is not unusual (cue Tom Jones) to see someone's new take on biking Taiwan's modern day cycling monument. If riding Wuling on a bicycle has been done, then someone wants to try it on a folding bike. Another wants to do it on a fixed gear, and maybe another on a Penny-Farthing.

Recumbent in Taiwan

This brave (or foolish) soul decided to make the climb on a recumbent. My only concern is that it might be dangerous to be so far below the sightline of most drivers. The roads are already narrow enough and drivers routinely misjudge the corners on the Highway 14甲.

Biking Taiwan, Central Mountain Range

By midway through the climb our team started to crumble. Riders pulled up and retreated for the plush comforts of the team bus. A few more riders waved off refreshments and continued toward the top.

On this day I was rooting for one particular rider. I was rooting for my good friend, Dom. Dom had never ridden Wuling before and he has really dedicated himself to his training regimen that has seen him transform into an excellent rider by any measure. This summer will be Dom's swan song in Taiwan as he prepares to head back to the USA. It would have been a shame if a rider like Dom had been denied a go at Wuling before leaving.

The major road hazard of the day may have been the number of mountain bikers along the route.

Climbing Bike

Several riders made fools of themselves mugging for pictures on one of the more dangerous parts of the roadway.

Walking Wuling


Struggling on Bike

Before long, my man Dom was chipping away at the mountain from the lead position. We would lurch up and down the roads in our bus delivering refreshments and support to our riders. Each time I would look out of the window to see Dom steadily making headway with his eyes glued to the road ahead.

Biking Taiwan's Mountains

Seven Resolute, climbing

I couldn't resist the opportunity to shout mock cat calls at him for leading the group from a "heavy", steel frame that could never be stiff or light enough to make time up to 3275m... all with a knowing wink in my inflection.

Climbing Wuling, Taiwan

The grind of the climb was obvious. Each strained turn of the crank rippled through the faces of our riders.

Biking Wuling, Taiwan

Bikes wobbled and swayed before retreating to a more favorable gear.

Cross Island, Taiwan

The good doctor Wu was clearly suffering as he hauled himself upward.

View from biking Cross Island Highway, Taiwan

Despite the cracks, our riders held it together as they disappeared around the bend.

Biking Wuling Taiwan

By the Yuen Feng Rest Area the riders are not only forced to contend with a day of gravity defying climbing, but they must also fight for oxygen in the thinning air. At those heights there is 10% less oxygen in the air to fuel tired muscles already screaming out for more.

At this time of year the weather is entirely unpredictable. The glowing morning sunshine can quickly give way to rain showers in the course of an hour.

Far below I could see the distant scenery submerged beneath a thick bank of clouds that was rapidly ebbing toward us.

The possible change in weather painted our morning with a little more urgency as you really don't want to be up on that pass in sloppy conditions.

After a few shaded turns, the trees thin out, giving the final three kilometers a feeling of excitement and danger as you balance on two nickel-sized patches of rotating rubber along the fog line of a razor's edge.

Biking Wuling

Our bus revved and lurched between Wuling and Kunyang. There were several occasions where we were all thrown forward as the driver had to bury the brake pedal into the floor boards to avoid a collision.

Wuling, Taiwan

I could see Dom fighting his way around a train of mountain bikers with their full loads, stereo speakers and swaying mirrors that threaten to gore a passing rider like an angry bull elk.

Climb Wuling
The road creates a ladder of tight hairpins just before the final ascent. It is enough to signal an and to the ordeal, but enough of an obstacle to force riders to call it a day and walk the remaining distance to the top. This is also the section that forces many riders into the red or succumb to the hypoxic effects of thinning air.

When I looked out the window at Dom, he was completely oblivious to our bus as we skimmed past his left ear on the narrowest crimp in the road. He was completely focused on reaching the summit.

As we passed I was just able to take a few quick iPhone images of Dom practically flying up the ramp. It was an awesome sight. He was there... and then gone.

Cyclist on Wuling

On Wuling, I have either been in the mix or simply there for my own leisure. I have never had the opportunity to take in the spectacle of a single rider's battle to the top. It was an inspiring scene to witness that also put a dent into this competitor's heart. I truly wished I could have been out there on the edge of that cliff with the wind blowing off the rocky walls and into my salted face. I couldn't help but feel a shiver of jealousy in the sight of a rider suffering and dying along an exposed mountain pass. Instead, I was a simple witness viewing Wuling the way most people do; through the dead, dull corners of the picture frame of a car window.  

The final kilometer seems like an eternity. It is always hard to believe you are in Taiwan when looking down from an alpine clearing.

Hohuan Mountain, Wuling

The last few meters of roadway level off into a parking lot at a scenic spot. It offers the rider a chance to look back over the mountains with the assurance that they have just conquered a world class route. The accomplishment of riding from bottom to top is worthy of admiration from anyone. 

Dom led the way, arriving a few minutes ahead of Dr. Wu and a handful of other teammates. For the guys who finished, cursing under their breath, and for those of us who could only watch, it was an amazing day on Hohuan Shan. 

Wuling West ascent

Wuling Pass

Just as we were about to depart, I noticed a woman in 80's running shorts weaving her Specialized bike up the other side. She fought and twisted that bicycle up the final ramp to the top... all with a knowing smile on her face. 

Our eyes met as I took a picture as I cheerfully quipped, "I totally understand." 

Congratulations to all of our guys who made it to the top. I promise to lead the way next time. This rabbit ain't finished with Wuling. 

French cyclist in Taiwan