Saturday, August 20, 2016

When 54 Does Not Equal 54: Part 2

A while ago, I posted some thoughts regarding the variation in the sizes of bikes that are labeled as being the same size.  Many manufacturers offer bikes in sizes like 51, 54, 56, 58, etc., but that doesn't really paint an accurate picture of how well the bike will actually fit you.  As an advocate of a "fit first" approach to buying a bike, I feel it is important for my customers to understand that if a size 54 from Brand X fits them, that doesn't necessarily mean that a 54 from Brand Y will work, too.  A different model from Brand X might not even fit.  So, in this "Part 2", I thought it might be helpful to look at some actual data.

I maintain a list of bikes and all of their geometry information and use this data when helping customers find the right bike for them.  The bikes in this list include most of the bikes available from several of the local bike shops in Indianapolis.  There are currently 14 brands represented, and I am always adding more as new models are introduced and time permits.  The 2017 models are starting to be introduced, so it's time to start hammering away at adding more to the list.  This is what bike geeks do for "fun."

The purpose of this exercise is to get a visual of the range of bike sizes that exist within a given size label.  Using a designation such as 54 just doesn't give us the best picture.  The better picture is painted using stack and reach, a concept developed by Dan Empfield and which has gained traction with the manufacturers over time.  Most of the manufacturers now publish stack and reach numbers on their websites.  I've actually run into a couple who still haven't jumped on board with this, and it makes it very difficult to compare two bikes.  I love the simple elegance of stack and reach.

We will pick on size 54 today, since it is fairly common.  Bike sizing conventions introduce a lot of variables.  Some manufacturers might opt for a different naming convention such as XS, S, M, L, XL.  Some brands may have only a handful of sizes per model, while others, like the Trek Madone, can have up to 9 sizes.  We also have the concept of geometric classifications such as "endurance", "race" or "women's" geometry.  These exist based on the intended use and market, and other classes exist based on the type of riding, such as gravel, adventure, or cyclocross.  These are all essentially drop bar road bikes.  We'll look at these by their intended use/market, and then see what happens when we combine everything together.

Road Race Bikes
We'll start with the classic race geometry.  These are the Trek Madones, Cannondale SuperSixes, and Specialized Venges that you see under the Grand Tour riders.  These are the bikes you might think you can't ride because you're "too old," "too inflexible," or "want something more comfortable."  The reality is, these could fit you, but you won't know until you are properly sized up.  Let's see what happens when we plot these based on their stack (Y) and reach (X) numbers:

Road Race Geometries
(click on the image for a bigger view)
Before getting too deep, let's define what we're looking at here.  The X axis of the graph (horizontal) corresponds to the reach of the bike, which is also the X axis of the bike.  As you move to the right, the bike gets longer, while moving left, the bike gets shorter.  The Y axis of the graph (vertical) corresponds to the stack or vertical height of the frame.  as you move down, the bike is lower, and as you move up, the bike is taller.  So, the term "shorter" is a bit confusing, but I will use that to refer to the length of the bike rather than the height.  Additionally, these aren't necessarily scaled perfectly where one mm of stack is perfectly aligned with 1mm of reach, but I hope this will give an idea of the ranges involved.

Looking specifically at the race geometries, we can see quite a bit of variance.  Looking first at the horizontal differences, we have size 54 road race bikes that have a reach of as short as 376mm and as long as 390mm - a range of 14mm.  This is where you might find some overlap with sizing up or down - that shorter bike in a 56 might still be shorter than the longer 54 bike.

Looking at the stack, we have even more range - the lowest bike has a stack of 526mm, while the tallest bike has a stack of 565mm - a difference of 39mm.  That's pretty significant.  We can see that we have some bikes that are long and low, which is what you might expect from a road race bike, while others are tall and short.  In this case, the longest, lowest bikes are the Trek Emonda H1 and the Felt F1 (the two dots down in the lower right corner of the graph).  The tallest bikes aren't necessarily the shortest, with the Scott CR1 being the tallest in this group, with the Jamis Xenith being the horizontally shortest of the group.

Endurance Bikes
Next up are the endurance bikes, the geometry that I have more people specify they "need" than any other.  Marketing has led us to think that upright = more comfortable, but once again, this is where a proper sizing may change your mind.  Nonetheless, let's take a look at our selection:

Endurance Bikes
(click on the image for a bigger view)
Here, we can see quite a range, both horizontally and vertically.  Horizontally, the reach is as short as 362mm and as long as 385mm - a 23mm spread.  Vertically, the stacks vary from as low as 552mm and as high as 597mm - a difference of 45mm.

I think where this gets interesting is if you combine the race and endurance geometries together into one chart to see how they trend:

Race and Endurance Bikes Combined
(click on the image for a bigger view)
Once we combine these two types of bikes, we can see that we have a wide variety of bikes called 54. Horizontally, these bikes span 38mm, with the shortest bike being the Jamis Quest and the longest being the Trek Emonda H1.  It's interesting that the shortest two bikes in each category are from Jamis.  The longest endurance bike is the aluminum Fuji Sportif.  The Sportif is a bit tall, and if you look at the Felt Z series, you will see these are almost as long as the Sportif, but lower.  You can see a pretty clear separation of the race and endurance geometries, with some bikes that cross over - the Felt Z series is longer and lower than some of the race bikes.

Women's Bikes
For fun, let's look at a few women's bikes.  The women-specific cycling industry has been on the verge of taking off for what seems like about 30 years now.  For the most part, we're still in "shrink and pink" mode - offer some smaller sizes with some pink touches, and it's good enough.  That concept isn't necessarily reflected here, since we are looking at just one size.  So, what do we see when we add in the women-specific size 54s?  Let's look at the race geometries first:

Men's and Women's Race Bikes Combined
(click on image for a bigger view)
A couple of things stand out here:  First, there are only 4 size 54 women's-specific race bikes offered by the 14 manufacturers in this list.  They happen to be from two manufacturers: Cannondale (CAAD10 Women's and Cannondale SuperSix EVO Women's) and Trek (Emonda Women's and the Trek Madone Women's).  I need to look at my list - there may be more out there, but I might not have added them yet.  I would think Liv would be listed here, and this may be an oversight on my part.

Second, with our small selection of women's race bikes, we can see they tend to be a bit more upright and shorter than the men's (or unisex) race bikes.  That is also not necessarily a bad thing when we take into "normal" human proportions and saddle issues.  But, that doesn't mean every woman has a short torso and long legs.  Nonetheless, if we look at the women's race bikes we do have, these are trending towards the endurance geometries.  So, let's look at the Women's endurance geometries and how they fit into the men's endurance bike world:

Men's and Women's Endurance Bikes
(click on image for a bigger view)
You can see a couple of things here - first, we have a few more women's endurance bikes to pick from, and second, they still trend shorter and taller than the men's versions.

That really leads to a discussion about how appropriate and effective women's bike sizing is.  That sounds like some good material for a future blog post.  From what I've seen, there are a couple of assumptions about women that lead to the trends we see here.  There is an assumption that women tend to have longer legs and shorter torsos.  I don't believe that to be 100% true or as extreme as it might be perceived, but I will need to do some research.

Another assumption gets into the female genitalia.  Part of what makes us different is why saddles cause us problems.  The pressure points that cause men and women grief are different, and in women's case, can make it more difficult to rotate the pelvis appropriately.

Let's Add Cyclocross to the Mix
Finally, let's look at cyclocross bikes.  'Cross bikes have some different considerations that go beyond the practicality of fit - we have to take into account the race format itself.  The cyclocross race format is short, intense, often muddy, requires a lot of getting on and off the bike, and involves shouldering and carrying the bike.  Speeds are relatively low compared to a grand tour or crit, so aerodynamics are less important than making power or maintaining traction.  So, the frames are a bit different.  When I fit a CX bike, the fit is different.  I will use the road sizing, but then generally take the bars up and back a bit, and maybe lower the saddle a bit for ease of getting on and off.  Overall, it's just a bit different - a few millimeters on the seat, and a centimeter or so in each direction on the bars.  We can see how cyclocross bikes look if we just mix them in with the rest:

Race, Endurance, Women's, and Cyclocross All In One
(click on the image for a bigger view)
As it turns out, our 'cross bikes seem to mix in all over the place - mostly right in the middle of the endurance geometries, with a few dropping down into the race geometries.  I'm not quite sure what this tells us, other than maybe the few manufacturers that I have in the list can't seem to decide where CX bikes live.  Maybe as I add more bike brands and new models are introduced in the future, we'll start to see a more distinct pattern here.

I don't know if this discussion will help anybody at all, but I found it fascinating to see what happens when we start looking at the variety of sizes within a stated size.  In the future, I hope to continue to look at how geometries align.  There are a few things that fascinate me about this, including how sizes may cross over (i.e. Brand X's 58 is shorter than Brand Y's 54), what the deltas between sizes tend to be, and then delving into how brands equip the bikes by size - what the crank arm length tends to be by size, handlebar width trends by size, trends over time, etc.  If you made it this far, I hope that you will consider be sized properly by a fitter before your next bike purchase.  Don't make a $5,000 mistake.

Bike sizing is available by appointment at Vector Cycle Works.  Schedule now at

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Reflections on the Medicine of Cycling Conference

It has been a while since I've posted anything here.  It's not that I haven't had much to talk about, but life has been extremely busy both in and out of the Vector Cycle Works studio.  Sometimes, I like to take a moment to reflect and realize how good things are.  It has been really good - I am so lucky to meet the great people I meet through bike fitting and cycling.

I am and will always be a student of life.  Every person that comes in is a unique challenge, a unique character, and a new opportunity to learn.  I enjoy and appreciate the time I spend with them and what they teach me.  I only hope that I can return the favor.

In order to rise up to those challenges, my bike fitting processes, philosophies, and choice of tools are constantly evolving and adapting in order to provide a better solution.  Bike fitting is not about the bike - it's about adapting the bike to work for the body.  To reflect this philosophy, I have a new Vector Cycle Works tagline: "The body and bike in balance."

In order to find that balance, we must first understand the body, and adapt the bike to it.  The body is asymmetrical, but the bike is not.  In an order to find comfort and performance, we must understand the challenge in front of us, and determine which solutions are best right now.  A bike fit isn't necessarily about where we want to be a year from now, but where we are right now and formulating a plan to get where we want to be.  When a customer comes to me, they enter a performance and comfort partnership.  Vector Cycle Works is designed to support your evolution.  We are not building a better bike.  We are building a better cyclist.

In the constant search for better solutions, I am often reading, studying, experimenting, and exploring things that, at first glance, might seem to be beyond the realm of bike fitting.  Bike fitting is often seen as a mix of art and science, and both aspects offer plenty of opportunity to explore.  There are a lot of things that a bike fitter can pursue to add value to the service, and there are things that might not add that much value.  I often pursue things accepting the risk that the effort might not result in an adequate perceived value for my customers.

As my exploration gets deeper and broader, the reality of what I do is getting to be more and more quasi-medical, for lack of a better way to put it.  The way we interact with our bikes is amazingly complicated, but it's not because bikes are complicated - it's because the body is complicated and always changing.

Dr. Andy Pruitt, one of the pioneers in bike fitting,
leads a discussion of various fitting case studies.
I learned about the Medicine of Cycling conference a couple of years ago and was finally able to attend this past weekend.  This was a very enjoyable trip, on so many levels.  Part of it is because it was in Colorado Springs, one of my favorite places on Earth.  Some of it was because of what I learned while I was there.  Some of it was learning that some of my fitting theories and philosophies (which I felt might be a bit "out there") were validated by other people doing much of the same stuff.  Much of it was the great people I met at the conference, many of whom I have interacted with in the past, but hadn't met in person.

With all that said, here are a few key things that were discussed over the course of the weekend that I really enjoyed.

Functional Movement Screening
When I first started exploring Functional Movement Screening (FMS) and the knowledge around it, I was somewhat skeptical of the value it might provide to bike fitting.  Even when attending the classes, it was obvious that I was one of few endurance sports people there.  There were a lot of strength and conditioning coaches, CrossFit coaches, and personal trainers.  But, I felt there was something of value there - FMS looks at us a species in motion and not just a cyclist, triathlete, or CrossFitter.

I have a lot of people come to me hoping to get faster.  Faster is relative and there is only so much that can be done with the bike itself before we reach our personal limits.  It's then a matter of "building the engine" to produce more power.  The problem is that the engine is flawed.  Our bodies are asymmetrical and a series of deficiencies resulting from accommodations as a result of our history.  In order to truly unlock our potential, we have to address those deficiencies.

I've pursued FMS as a way to identify and potentially correct those deficiencies - helping the rider understand what is holding them back, while helping me understand what I see as I observe the rider on their bike.  Greg Choat, a respected and very knowledgeable fitter and strength and conditioning coach from the Las Vegas area, presented FMS to the group and touched on the portions of the screen that align well with cyclists, specifically.  Greg's presentation validated so much of what I felt, and he was saying things - almost verbatim - that I find myself telling people all the time.  FMS has become a cornerstone of the Vector Cycle Works solution, and I learned a couple of tricks to further cement FMS's place in the process.

Assessment of the Foot
It is sometimes difficult to explain the importance of the foot on the bike, how it affects your mechanics, the aches and pains that stem from our feet, and how the foot behaves differently on the bike than it does when walking and running.  Foot mechanics were a major topic throughout the conference.

The foot assessment and metrics I've been using have been good enough, but I always wanted more.  Armed with some new tools, the foot assessment will get better, as we'll be quantifying how the foot behaves weighted versus unweighted.  This will also give me a better picture of appropriate shoe size for a rider.  I will also be delving into custom footbeds, which I had avoided thus far because of concerns of not being able to receive adequate training and support for something so complicated, and at the same time, questioning the return on investment for the rider.

Crank Length and Aerodynamics
John Cobb discusses his research related to short crank arms
and aerodynamics.
I've often talked about crank arm length with customers.  There are many advantages to going shorter, and John Cobb presented his results of testing different riders in the wind tunnel as their positions changed over time with different crank arms and subsequent fit adjustments.  We can try lengths down to 150mm at Vector Cycle Works, and if you're at a point where you would like to give it a try in anticipation for next year, we'll work together to find the right solution for you.  I can get shorter cranks from various manufacturers - SRAM, FSA, Shimano, and many others will make cranks down to 165mm, while Rotor and Cobb will go as short as 150mm and 145mm, respectively.

Bike Fitting as an Extension of the Medical Community
One of the more difficult conversations I have with people is that sometimes, I simply can't help them - I'm not a doctor.  We may identify issues during the bike fit that are a symptom beyond the bike fit itself, and suggest a need for medical intervention.  One of the neat things about the Medicine of Cycling conference was the mixture of people there - fitters, Physical Therapists, and Doctors.  I continue to build relationships with professionals in the medical community, and we've got some great Sports Performance organizations in the area that are helping to bridge the gap between sport-specific training and medicine.

Where do we go from here?
There is certainly more to come.  There was a lot more covered, and it was all really good stuff that I feel will help improve the quality of the fitting experience for Vector Cycle Works customers.  The evolution continues.  There are a lot of bike fitting services available in the area, and they vary quite a bit in their scope and value.  My goal is to provide the best solution for you, by having the right tools to do it.  Vector Cycle Works has become a bit different approach than the other fitters in the Indy area, and it was good to meet and spend time with other fitters who are on a similar path.

Of course, the only way for you to know if what Vector Cycle Works does for you is the best option for you is to give it a try.  If you don't think ForeverFit is the best bike fitting solution available, not only is it guaranteed for life, but I will give you your money back if you are not happy.  You can schedule at

If you haven't had a Vector Cycle Works ForeverFit yet, or haven't been in in a while, I hope you will consider visiting Vector Cycle Works soon!