A couple of weeks ago, I spent several hours working with a bike fitter – something I never would have envisioned myself doing. I am certainly no speed-racer type, I’m not an uber high-mileage junkie, nor did I ever feel like I was having problems (discomfort, pain, whatever) with any of my bikes. As I have written before, I’m probably considered by most as not being one of those serious cyclist types. Dedicated, enthusiastic … yes. “Serious“, skilled, fast … not so much.
So what was I doing? For one thing, I am a proponent of efficiency and ergonomics and, I suppose, conservation of energy. If I can find an easier way to do something, do it more efficiently and with less effort, you can bet I am signing on.
Several years ago I worked with a couple of swimming coaches for similar reasons. It’s not that I had any intention of competing, or swimming the English Channel, but I was interested in becoming more efficient in the water, more streamlined (or “slippery” in the water, as they liked to say), along with wanting to minimize wear-and-tear to my rotator cuffs. It was amazing what a few adjustments to body alignment, rotation and sweet-spot drills did for me; I cut my stroke count down by 8-10 strokes/50 yds, I am preserving my shoulders, I love the nearly “effortless” feeling, and I am faster. (OK, maybe just a little less slow.) For me it simply means I can swim farther in less time and with less wear-and-tear, which is about all I’m after.
Back to bikes – and the bike fitting. It was a pretty fascinating experience. My fitter, Eddie from Cycology Bicycles, was a really wonderful guy – very patient, extremely detail-oriented and knowledgeable, and great about explaining the significance of all of the measurements, angles and adjustments he was measuring and making changes to – not to mention he had a very impressive curriculum vitae (along with some amazing photos) of “serious” professional cyclists who come to him for fittings. (Yeah, next to them, I did feel like a bit of a doofus, I will admit.)
I was measured from top to bottom and sideways and back. Height, weight, femur length, inseam, wingspan, my level of flexibility, you name it. Eddie also had an interesting self-engineered set of electronic scales he could use to measure weight distribution while I was on my bike – it’s an interesting ratio to look at, as he adjusts saddle height and other positioning. He took a look (and more measurements) at my position on my Dolce, which ended up being a remarkably near-perfect fit for me with only a couple of areas that could be changed – handlebar width (narrower), possibly my crank length (shorter), and some tweaking to my cleats.
Finally, he moved me onto the Serotta fitting bike – an amazing little bike-like device enabling multiple adjustments with countless combinations for riding styles. Basically, he sets it up with his calculated settings for ultimate bike fit for the rider, and then can tweak it from there. It was really remarkable to feel the difference a slight adjustment of angle/height/length could make. But now I know what my ideal “numbers” are, because I was able to feel them.
So where is all of this leading? Well, for one thing, the adjustments made to my Dolce have made it even more comfortable and efficient for me to ride. After my experience, I fully endorse a bike fitting session by a qualified fitter – it’s not only an education, but you will be amazed by the changes that small adjustments will make, regardless of your riding style and level of cycling seriousness. Do it.
But there was another motive for my fitting, and you may have already guessed. After years of lusting after her Sweetpea bikes, and having some great phone conversations with Natalie Ramsland over the past few weeks, she is now building a custom bike for me. The frame geometry is custom, designed for my optimum set of measurements; she and Eddie have nailed down the perfect fit. And beyond the frame, this bike will be fabulous in every aspect … Natalie has an uncanny sense for knowing my aim, mechanically and aesthetically. The build list reads like a perfect dessert menu: Brooks, Chris King, Sugar Wheel Works…
Most of all, I love that my bike is being built by an incredibly inspiring and talented woman framebuilder – a rare thing in the predominantly male bicycle-building world . Watch her video, read her blog; her bicycles are stunning, and her thoughts are insightful and meaningful. I feel we are on the same page, in so many ways, philosophically.
Another bike? Do I need it? I am not sure … What I do know is that I will love this bike, it will fit me in every way, it will be beautiful, it will make me happy to ride it, and I will cherish it and everything that went into making it become uniquely and specially mine. The tentative plan is to make a trip to Portland to have Natalie do the final fit once the build is complete, and to hopefully have a chance to explore the amazing world of Portland bicycle culture for a few days. Fingers crossed.
And so, this is how it begins.