Fit First, Buy Second – Why Most Consumers Are Doing It Backwards

tour-de-france-2015 climbingAs I write, Chris Froome of Team Sky is leading an exciting 2015 Tour de France. But what I notice as a bike fitter, not suprisingly, is that each pro rider seems to be one with his bike.  This is quite the opposite of what we often see on the local Saturday morning club ride.  Those with a poor fit immediately stand out.  A new way to buy your next bike would remedy this.

I had a fit session with a client a while back for what we call our Bike or Frame Finder fit.  I worked with him for about two and a half hours, set him up on the automated “DFU” fit machine — an impressive motorized fit bike — and made various adjustments based on multiple Retul motion capture scans.  Based on those scans and several questions and feedback from the client we collaboratively found a position that felt great. I then went through and sorted, based on the ideal fit we settled on, a selection of bikes based on manufacturer, size and stem/spacer combination that matched up with those optimal fit coordinates. It was a deliberate and thorough process that yielded an ideal result.  I emailed him the report, but surprisingly never heard back from him.

Fast forward several months.  He comes back in.  He is dismayed.  As it turned out, he bought some …thing.. on Craigslist that had a plus-30 degree stem practically pointed straight up, with a frame size that was too small, and  (surprise!) it didn’t feel right to him.  He wanted to know what I could do.  I offered, in the most diplomatic of ways, that I could try to match the original fit coordinates as best I could or refit him on his bike. This would have involved substantial stem, saddle and handlebar changes, but also involved my time and, subsequently, money. In the end, he was not a satisfied consumer, and his enjoyment of the sport was compromised.

In a way he was lucky.  He only bought some second-hand heap and his failed speculative investment wasn’t terribly high.

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I submit to you, Exhibit B.

He is a triathlete who came to me with his very expensive Trek Speed Concept with electronic shifting.  It’s a beautiful bike.  It is a technological tour de force. It does what it’s supposed to do very well.  But, it was the wrong bike for him.  It placed him in too aggressive a position, which couldn’t be adjusted due to the characteristics of the proprietary aerobar. This  subsequently caused shoulder and saddle pain and kept him from training and competing in the sport of his choosing.

In contrast to our previous example, this wasn’t his fault.  He went to his local bike shop and the employees there probably gave him the standard eyeball test and asked how tall he was and, if he was lucky, they measured his inseam or something cursory and then selected for him what they thought was the appropriate bike.  Several thousands of dollars later he’s in my studio discovering that it wasn’t the appropriate bike.  Based on his needs and individual morphology he needed a less aggressive position and a different bike altogether.  We discovered this by pre-fitting him on the DFU with my standard and deliberate process.

Era of High-End Bikes
High end bicycles, both road and triathlon, are evolving like smartphones at an ever-quickening pace; becoming faster, lighter, more comfortable and more enjoyable, and often more expensive.  But the methods consumers continue to use to choose the right bike are still rooted in an era of leather Brooks saddles, steel frames, and horizontal top tubes, where sizing the bike involved little more that straddling the top tube, lifting the bike up to your crotch, and determining if you have an inch and a half of standover height.  In a data-driven era of increased specialization and complexity, absent or faulty data yields poor outcomes.  I submit that we need a different approach.

To be fair, bike fit has come a long way from dropping pieces of string from a subject’s knee or the “Italian Slide” technique of placing the heel of the foot on the pedals and checking for leg extension.  The increased specialization, high tech tools (the motion capture system we use being one example), and greater nod to some semblance of scientific rigor is catching up to the enhanced specialization and high tech engineering of modern bikes.  That’s good.  It still think it’s backwards.

Yes, consumers being consumers, we will still make purchases based on emotion.  We have to have that swoopy, sexy-looking Italian bike or that matte black, techie looking triathlon bike with those really tricked out aerobars. Consumers, however, are also rational enough not to want to waste thousands of dollars on a bike that doesn’t work for them, and are increasingly appreciating the importance of a proper and precise bike fit.  A bike finder pre-fit accomplishes both.

Fit First, Choose Bike Second
If I work with a client to comprehensively pre-fit them on a capable fit bike with the right evaluative tools, then it’s just a matter of choosing from a list of suitable frames and frame sizes and having it set up to match the coordinates we came up with.  We’ve already determined the proper saddle, saddle height, saddle fore and aft, stem length, stem angle, spacer value, handlebar width, reach and drop and, most importantly, frame stack and reach.  This all might sound like Greek to most consumers, but in this aforementioned era of increased complexity and specialization, the world will need specialists.

That’s where I come in.   The advantage of this pre-fit process is that it nearly obviates the need for a more comprehensive fit after the fact.  We already know what your proper bike fit coordinates and equipment choices should be.  It’s just a matter setting up your new bike to match, performing a shorter follow up fit and making any additional small adjustments as needed.

So, my advice to you:  don’t be backwards with your expensive bike purchase.  Get fit first and make the right choice.  Enjoy the Tour de France and go Tejay!

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