Tuesday, August 21, 2012

If the Bike Fits, Ride It

I have known that my old bike didn't fit me for a while. I had to raise the seat quite a bit to fit my long legs. The reach to the handlebars, which seemed a bit long already, was made worse by me having to lean down so much due to the high seat post, putting pressure on my hands. The bike's size was a compromise between my long legs and short torso but I knew that someday I could do better.

While the accident totaled my bike's frame, the components (except the wheels) seem okay. That has allowed me to spend the money that would replace the bike with just a frame and have the components transferred over to it. What kind of frame, though? First, I don't want to mess with carbon. Carbon broke on the last bike and I don't want to deal with it being so fussy with its care. Plus I read about carbon frames having a lifespan of just several years so I don't want to deal with the hassle. Aluminum? Yeah, I could but I have a bit more money to spend than that. Titanium? Now we're talking. Even if I get hit again, titanium is really rugged. It's as light as carbon, too. Reviews of titanium frames are always positive. Okay, titanium it is.

First off, though, I wanted to get a professional bike fit. Not a shop fit but by someone whose job it is to do bike fits. Get fit first, then get a frame based on that fit, then when the bike is assembled put the finishing touches on the fit while on the new bike. How does one shop for a bike fitter? I did it on the internet. I looked for a fitter that used Retül and was F.I.S.T.-certified. I was going to be getting a road bike but if I want to get a tri bike down the road, I'd like to go to the same place. Then, once I got a (short) list, I visited the fitters' websites and checked online reviews. The fitter I came up with was Jim Manton at FinalFit, down in Long Beach.

The fit was interesting. You start off on the Retül rig, which isn't a bike but you "ride" it like a bike. All parts of the rig are adjustable while you are riding, so your fitter can, say, move your seat up and down while you are pedaling. Oh, they also put motion capture dots down my right side. That allows them another view of my riding style. For instance, one of the things they measure is how much your knee moves from side-to-side while pedaling. It turns out mine only move a freakishly low 8mm, which is a good thing. At the beginning the focus was on seat position but I was anxious to get to the reach to the handlebars, which I knew was way off on the rig (like my bike). We did adjust the seat here and there and it did make a difference (I remember on one particular adjustment we could all hear me pedaling better). I ride 175 cranks and we even tried 177--too big; I was bouncing all over the place. Finally we got to the handlebars and I was so happy when we started moving them closer...and closer, and closer. We finally reached a point that felt great: I could lift my hands off the handlebars and not fall forward. Nice.

I was able to have Jim tweak the cleats on my Giro Trans road shoes. I had one nailed but couldn't seem to get the other one positioned right. Jim got it. Then he turned his attention to my Specialized Trivent Sport triathlon shoes, which I could never get adjusted right. Jim pointed out that the cleats on those shoes are positioned farther in than my Giros. He did his best but they still didn't feel as good as the Giros. Jim mentioned that Shimano shoes are even worse (for me) than that. Good thing Giro has started making triathlon shoes. Something to keep in mind for the future.

I should also mention that the fit wasn't simply about dialing in number on the rig. They evaluated things like my flexibility and I filled out a questionnaire and discussed the type of riding I do and goals I have. For instance, was I interested in bike racing or did I just want to cruise around the neighborhood? It would make no sense for me to get a bike frame with an aggressive geometry that was great for racing criteriums when I don't do that.

Two hours later, we had a position that we were happy with. End of part one. As Jim said, "Today we deal with centimeters. When you bring your bike in, we'll deal with millimeters." Now I had to order a bike frame and once that came in and was assembled, I would bring it in to get fitted on that. But what bike frame to order? Since I wanted titanium, the best place to go was also in Southern California: Adrenaline Bikes in Tustin. I had looked at their website and a couple of very good options in my price range caught my eye: the Sabbath and Carver frames. Looking at my fit measurements (long leg, short torso) and after having talked on the phone with them, Jim suggested that I go with Carver. They impressed him during their conversations and could build me a custom frame in my price range. Why would I not want a custom frame?

Two weeks later I made my way down to Adrenaline to place my order. I could have done it directly with Carver over the web but a) support your local bike shop when you can, b) going through Adrenaline wouldn't cost any more than going directly through Carver, c) easier to handle warranty issues with the LBS, and d) there are so many options when building a custom frame and I don't understand the pros and cons of most of them. The gang at Adrenaline were very helpful, patiently explaining each relevant option, and even recommending not adding options when they didn't make sense with other options. In the end, I ordered a fairly basic bike with curved seat stays. It will take 8-12 weeks to arrive (on a slow boat from Taiwan). Another post when that happens (late October, early November).

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