Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Thinking About Buying a New Bike? Get the Right Bike!

One of the services offered at Vector Cycle Works is RightBike.  RightBike is the service you want if you are looking to buy a new (or new to you) bike.  I'm a firm believer in that buying a bike can be better than walking into the local bike shop, having someone look at you and say, "you're probably a 56" and then throwing you on a couple of bikes in stock for a quick test spin.  That's OK, but I want you to feel like you are one with the bike.  This is what RightBike is all about.

RightBike is based on F.I.S.T. (Fit Institute Slowtwitch) principles.  I tend to think of the F.I.S.T. protocol and RightBike as being about "sizing" rather than a "fitting."  I feel those two terms are often mixed up in the industry - "fitting" is often used to describe sizing.  I tend to think of sizing as the geometric approach, which is certainly a major component of fitting, but real fitting gets into more detail at the touch points of the bike - where your body meets the pedals, seat, and bars.  RightBike is about establishing a good foundation for a CoreFit or ForeverFit fit.

So, how does RightBike work?  I thought it would be good to walk through the process and provide a couple of examples.  Here is the RightBike process, in 10 easy steps:
  1. You want a bike.
  2. You schedule your RightBike session here.
  3. I'll send you an e-mail with a document covering how to get here and what to expect (click here to see it), and a form that helps me get a better understanding of your history and goals.
  4. When you arrive at Vector Cycle Works for your RightBike appointment, we'll spend some time talking about what matters most to you and the current bike market.  Things we cover include:
    1. Your riding history.
    2. What kind of bike you're looking for.
    3. Your budget for the bike and any other accessories or changes that need to be made to accommodate your body.
    4. What attributes you like in a bike.
    5. Any bikes you might prefer.
    6. Your goals.
  5. We take a few body measurements that will drive the sizing process.
  6. We'll set up the aerobars or handlebars for you.  At this point, we're making an educated guess as to what bars might come on the size of bike that will work for you.
  7. We'll find a saddle that works.  It might not necessarily be the perfect saddle, but something that at least doesn't interfere with the rest of the fit process.  I often gravitate towards saddles that can often be spec'ed out on current bikes.
  8. We set up the crank length according to what you might typically find on bikes in your general size.
  9. We then perform the F.I.S.T. protocol, setting the bike up based on your morphology and then running through a series of trials to find the position that feels the best and allows you to produce the most power.  You will sweat.
  10. Finally, we use some geometry and trigonometry to generate a report of all the bikes that fit your body and budget.  We use stack and reach to get an apples-to-apples comparison of bike options.  You can read more on stack and reach here.
One thing that I take pride in with Vector Cycle Works is that I maintain independence but have a good relationship with the local bike shops.  Vector Cycle Works is a dealer for 6 brands of bikes - Bombtrack, Ceepo, Chromag, Dimond, Girs, and Ventum (watch for some posts on each brand soon) - but the goal is always to find the bike that fits you well and you want, regardless of where you get it.  

The main deliverable from a RightBike session is the list of bikes.  I have a database of bikes that I continue to develop and build that includes 93 brands of bikes.  I am not aware of anywhere else that can give you a comprehensive list of everything on the market like this.  Each person that comes in for a RightBike session gets a report that can be pretty comprehensive.  I'll often spend a few hours on a customer's report, because it's important to me that we get you a quality list.  So, I like to step back and think about what I'm recommending.

With that said, here are three examples of recent RightBike sessions.

Example 1 - Male Triathlete

For this example, I have a male triathlete who is relatively fit, has been fit by me on his existing bike before, and is ready to buy something new.  He had the following rules:
  1. A budget around $6,000.
  2. He wanted Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting.
  3. He wanted to buy from his local bike shop, who sells BMC, Cervelo, and Quintana Roo.
  4. He currently rides 165mm cranks.
  5. He liked the Cervelo P3.
Based on those rules, his report turns out to be fairly simple - a handful of bikes from those 3 brands. He's also lucky in the sense that he's not a physical anomaly - he's tall, but not too tall, lean, and male.  He has a pretty good budget.  He has a lot of options available to him.

You'll also notice that in his report, I shared my opinion on what bike would be best.  That is because he asked me for my opinion and recommendation.  I will typically try to share some thoughts about the advantages and disadvantages of certain bikes on the list, but try to keep that as neutral as possible.

Example 2 - Female Roadie

For our second example, we have a little bit trickier person - a woman who is less than 5' 4".  Frankly, the bike industry can be pretty frustrating for people under about 5' 4", as there aren't as many good options out there that fit well.  The problem is not overall height, but inseam and torso length combined with the industry's move to 700c wheels for pretty much everything.  That's another story, though.

Our female roadie actually came in with an existing bike, but it was way too big.  She knew this going in, so she was ready for the news that she might be buying a new bike.  After attempting to make her bike work, we switched from fitting mode to sizing mode.  The female roadie had the following rules:
  1. A budget of $2,000-$2,500.
  2. A preference for a few brands of bikes, but mostly pretty open.
  3. Her inseam is 75.5cm - this is important, especially with smaller people, as it is going to limit which bikes they can stand over.  The manufacturers don't always provide the standover information, which is frustrating.

In her case, a lot of bikes came up - if I'm counting correctly, 191 bikes from 13 manufacturers.  Now, some of those are the same bike from different years (the database includes 2015-2017, with varying levels of data entry performed based on time.  I only have about 25 brands entered for 2017 so far), and many of them are the same frame with different components.  Nonetheless, she has a nice list of options.

Her report also demonstrates what I consider "elegant solutions" for bikes.  Based on the person's general size and what I know about how bikes are going to generally be equipped, I pick stem combinations that are practical, elegant, and hopefully what might come on the bike out of the box.  I'm not going to size a 6' 4" male on a bike with a 60mm stem, nor would I put a 5' 1" male on a bike with a 130mm stem.  There are some cases where that might be warranted (long torso/short legs/long arms), but if we end up there, we failed somewhere.

Example 3 - Female Triathlete

Of these three, this one was the toughest person because of their size.  They are a hair over 5', with a 71cm inseam.  That inseam means there are only a handful of bikes that she can stand over, and they are most likely 650c bikes, meaning they have a smaller wheel.  These have become rare, and good 650c wheels are even more rare.

Her rules are:
  1. Budget of $4000.
  2. Wants Ultegra mechanical shifting.
  3. Standover height is an issue with a 71cm inseam.

This was one where I went pretty deep with my discussion, as this report was a bit of bad news for this person.  The primary bad news was that she would most likely end up on a 650 bike.  Now this is where I have to admit I don't know every detail of every bike component on Earth.  I had not paid much attention to the 650 wheel and tire options on the market today.  In subsequent discussions, I did some research and found that while the 650 wheel/tire market isn't as robust as the 700 wheel/tire market, there are options out there.  Both Zipp and Enve make 650 wheels, and one of my favorite tire options, the Continental GP 4000 S II, is available in a 650, too.  So, while not ideal, it's not as bad as I thought it was.


Those are a couple of examples of the RightBike process.  Every person is different, so the reports can vary quite a bit.  I really enjoy doing this for people.  I guess I get to live vicariously through others as they get to purchase a shiny new bike!  After the report is generated, we're not done, either - ideally, you'll come back for a full fitting, but I will help you however you need help.  In the past I've made trips to shops with customers while they buy the bike, tools in hand, so we can adjust the bike for a test ride.  I've even helped with Craigslist deals on used bikes.  It's whatever you need.

I do feel this is the way to buy a new bike, so if you're in the market, schedule your RightBike session before the busy season really starts to hit.  This is a great time to get a good deal on a bike, as there are some 2016s that need to move out of the way for the 2017s, and the shops tend to be a bit slow right now.  It's time to find the right bike for you!