Sunday, February 14, 2016

When 54 Does Not Equal 54

As Spring approaches, some of us might be itching to get a new bike.  As the rule states, the number of bikes you need is N+1, where N = the number of bikes you currently have.  Before you rush into the local bike shop, I'd encourage you to consider getting sized up for your new bike by a reputable fitter.

Bicycle retail is undergoing a lot of change.  The days of walking into a bike shop, having somebody look you up and down and say, "yeah, you're about a 54" are over.  Well, they should be, anyway.  A 54 from Brand X is not going to be the same as a 54 from Brand Y.  With better tools like fit bikes at our disposal, finding the perfect bike for you based on comfort rather than a guesstimate is much easier to do now, and we should be doing this.  More retailers are taking a "fit first" approach to selling you a bike and this is a good thing.

Bike manufacturing is also evolving.  While bikes are often sized by the length of the seat tube (i.e. a 54 is a 54cm seat tube) starting at the center of the bottom bracket, that length varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer due to the style of the frame, etc.  Some are a virtual 54cm (aka "effective seat tube length") based on where the seat tube would end if it were essentially a horizontal line from the top of the top tube, while others will be actual measurement to where it stops (often referred to as "Center to Top" or "C-T").  For example, in my bike database, I have 9 brands of bikes that offer a size 54 (other brands might call it a "Medium" or something similar, while other brands might offer a 53 or 55).  The seat tube length on these range from 481 to 570 mm C-T.  That's quite a range for something called a 54.

I often have customers come in thinking about buying a new bike.  If they are happy with their bike, they think they need the same size.  If they are not happy, they think they need a different size.  They could be right and they could be wrong.  Sizing varies too much to be able to provide a definite answer to this question.  There are also road race geometries, endurance geometries and variations on those that make it even more confusing.

So, back in the early 2000's, Dan Empfield (pictured above) came up with a better way of describing bike sizes - stack and reach.  Stack refers to the vertical distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the top center of the head tube.  Reach refers to the horizontal distance from the center of the bottom bracket to the top center of the head tube.  If you want to get into more detail on this, the best place to learn about it is from Dan himself.

With stack and reach becoming the new standard by how bikes are measured, we now have a better way of finding what size bike works for you.  This is what I can do for you during a sizing session.  We start on the fit bike and run you through a few trials to find the position you like the best.  When you are free from the constraints of an existing bike (within reason), you might be surprised as to what works for you.  We have conventions that we can adhere to use body angles and other ways of confirming the fit, the fitter knows what to look for, and you know how you feel.  We can focus on your comfort and find the edge - once we go too far, we'll know it, and we can go back.

From this process, we derive a new pair of numbers: your handlebar X and Y coordinates.  With these, we can then reverse engineer a bike for you based on different stem solutions to find the stack and reach that works best for you.  We can make a lot of bikes "work" with the variety of stem lengths and angles available on the market today.  Of course, we can also put you on a screwed up setup that will handle poorly.  We need to take handling, balance, and aesthetics into account.  We are looking for elegant solutions.  Often, the bikes that come to me that haven't been pre-fit or sized up prior to purchase are not the most elegant solution, but we'll make it work.

After a proper bike sizing, you may be surprised what fits you.  A 56 with a -17 degree 90mm stem in one brand might work, while another brand's 51 with a -6 degree 110mm stem might work for you just as well.  You might think you want an endurance bike, but the most comfortable bike for you might not be an endurance bike.  Stack and reach, along with the stem dimensions, help us put all of this together.

Manufacturers have adjusted their sizes accordingly.  You can tell which bikes have been designed with stack and reach as inputs to the design process rather than outputs from the design process.  Many manufacturers will give more dimensional information on their websites, including the selected stem lengths, handlebar reach (we'll talk about handlebars in a future blog post soon), and crankarm lengths per size.  This helps in making a better decision as to which bikes will be the best out-of-the-box solution versus which ones might need a stem or bar swap right away.

The size variation is not limited to just manufacturer's differences.  Your morphology will also affect your bike size.  Using myself as an example, I might walk into a bike shop and be told I should be on a 56 or maybe a 58.  But, they might not notice I have short legs and long arms (I'm apparently more closely related to apes than most folks).  My long torso and arms makes it kind of hard for me to find a bike - I need a long and low bike with a -17 degree stem and no spacers under the stem.  That's just the way I'm built.  That might mean that I need a smaller bike (a 51 or 54 might work) to get low enough, but might have to have a longer stem (120mm or so) to make that bike long enough.  Bikes with "endurance" geometries don't work for me.  Long and low is my endurance geometry.  I'm an individual, just like everybody else.

So what size do you need?  It depends!  When doing a bike sizing at Vector Cycle Works, you'll leave with a list of bike solutions that will fit you so you can find a bike at one of the many bike shops here in the Indianapolis area.  Even though I can get you Dimond, Ceepo, Chromag, or Liteville bikes, I am not biased towards any brand and only want what works best for you.  Come on in and schedule your sizing session at Vector Cycle Works at soon!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Look Into the F.I.S.T. Workshop

One of the most sought after and respected certifications in the bike fitting industry is F.I.S.T. - Fit Institute Slowtwitch.  The F.I.S.T. certification is the result of many years of research by Dan Empfield, who - among many other things - is the inventor of the triathlon bike and current head of, one of my favorite place on the Internet.  I had been planning on attending F.I.S.T. for a few years now, and the opportunity finally came together.  It was a great experience.

F.I.S.T. is a 5-day workshop at Dan's home, Xantusia, in Valyermo, California.  Valyermo is located about an hour and a half northeast of Los Angeles, in the Mojave Desert.  I flew into Burbank and made the trip to Xantusia on Sunday, February 1, in what was not exactly stereotypical "sunny southern California" weather - it was cold, raining, and very windy.  There were cars spinning out on the highways leading up to Xantusia, and I learned that tumbleweeds can tumble in the rain if there is enough wind.  There was plenty.

Welcome to Xantusia

Arriving at Xantusia, there are two houses on the property.  One belongs to Dan, and the other belongs to Mark "Monty" Montgomery, who hosts all of the workshop guests at his bed and breakfast.  I was the first workshop guest to arrive, and Monty showed me around the house and to my room, which was in a cabin next to the pool.  Monty and I hung out and chatted by the fire until other guests started to trickle in during the rain, sleet, snow, and wind.  By Sunday evening, quite a few folks were at the house and we were getting to know each other.  Monty is a great cook and provided us with meals, drinks, and snacks for the week.  In addition to the F.I.S.T. workshops, Monty hosts training camps throughout the year, including some cycling teams or camps arranged by triathlon or endurance coaches.  It's a really neat area if you just want to get away and ride road or mountain bikes, run trails, or swim.  It might be something Vector Cycle Works could do at some point in the future.

Day 1 of F.I.S.T.
Dan Empfield explains the philosophy behind the F.I.S.T. protocol.
Ian Murray is in the background, waiting for his turn to present.
During the F.I.S.T. workshop, Monday and Tuesday are dedicated to road bike fitting, with a mixture of lecture and hands on fitting.  Dan has help with the training from respected fitters in the industry, and we had the pleasure of learning from Ian Murray and JT Lyons.  Monday was primarily lecture and demonstration, and I was lucky to be one of the demonstration subjects getting fit for a road bike by Ian.

On Tuesday, we had much more hands on, breaking into groups around one of the 3 fit bikes in the studio, and taking turns fitting each other.  It really was a fun way to learn the details of the F.I.S.T. protocol, and a great way to make some friends in the process.  Life at Xantusia is pretty laid back and casual, too.  We did a couple of rides during the week, with many of us grabbing one of the bikes on site, throwing on our pedals, and hammering out a few miles in the Mojave.  We took a nice ride on the "recovery loop" at lunch on Tuesday, which was about 22 miles, if I remember right.  The scenery is beautiful, the hills are definitely more challenging than anything in the central Indiana area, and there isn't much traffic on the roads.

Paul Swift of BikeFit demonstrates how we document our changes
according to BikeFit principles.
On Day 3 of the workshop (Wednesday), we changed gears a bit and switched to learning about one of my other certifications - BikeFit.  While F.I.S.T. is more of a geometric approach to bike fitting, BikeFit gets into the details of the touchpoints on the bike - the foot, pelvis, and hands.  For the BikeFit portion of the F.I.S.T. workshop, we focused on the foot/pedal interface.  Paul Swift asked me and one of the other workshop attendees, David Macleod, to help teach.  This was an honor and a lot of fun.  After about a one hour presentation, we split the 14 attendees into two groups and allowed everybody to get a chance to have their foot/pedal interface dialed in.  It was a pretty big group, and it made for a long day - I think we wrapped up around 8 PM.  Judging from the feedback from the others, learning the BikeFit protocol really enhanced the experience for the attendees, and I have a feeling we'll be seeing many of the attendees at a BikeFit certification course in the future.  I hope that I'll be teaching again soon, too.

F.I.S.T. and BikeFit make a really nice knowledge combination for bike fitting.  I feel the geometric aspect of F.I.S.T. makes for a really solid cake, and the attention to the muscular and neuromuscular details within the BikeFit protocol are the icing on that cake.

Dan dials in Ian's triathlon bike position.
For Day 4 and 5, we wrap up the F.I.S.T. workshop with a focus on triathlon bike fitting.  After a brief discussion on the theories and principles of the F.I.S.T. approach to triathlon bike fitting by Dan and Ian, Dan demonstrated the techniques by fitting Ian for a new triathlon bike.  Ian had wrecked his bike during a race last summer, so this was something that was very useful for him.  One of the fun things about the F.I.S.T. experience is that most of us spend our meals and downtime together at Monty's house, including Ian and JT.  So, we had some good conversation at lunch about which bikes would fit Ian best.  As we had out turns going through the process of being fit for road and triathlon bikes throughout the week, we were all doing a bit of shopping for the bikes that fit us best.

Tyler is dialing in David's position.
After another lunchtime ride on Thursday, we wrapped up the workshop with some more hands on application, taking turns fitting each other for triathlon bikes.  Friday was a bit of a shorter day, with some folks heading out in the early afternoon to catch flights home.  I was the last to leave on Saturday morning after hanging out with Monty, Dan, and the dogs for a bit before heading back towards Burbank to catch my early afternoon flight.

Overall, the F.I.S.T. Workshop experience was really a lot of fun - I can't thank Dan, Ian, JT, Paul, Monty and the other attendees enough for all the shared knowledge, camaraderie, and great conversation throughout the week.  I am pretty certain I will be back to Xantusia at some point or another.

How does this change things for me at Vector Cycle Works?  There are certainly a lot of aspects of the F.I.S.T. protocol that I had already been applying over the last couple of years of fitting.  The body geometry and how it relates to bike geometry in F.I.S.T. are the basis for most fitting systems out there - the genius behind F.I.S.T. is how Dan has taken so much information about bikes and the human body and distilled it down to a practical methodology that works well for most people.  There are a few details I think I will be better at, including bike selection for a customer looking at purchasing a new bike.  Bike choice and how it affects handling is also a key piece that was covered during the workshop.  A bike that fits well, handles well.

One aspect of the F.I.S.T. methodology I really like is the use of the fit bikes to create and document a series of "trials" for fitting, which is much easier and faster than doing it right on the customer's bike.  While I feel that we can often find a very comfortable place on a customer's bike, we don't necessarily know if it's the most comfortable position because it's too difficult to try variations and find the edge.  People can ride lower or more "aggressively" (and I use that term cautiously) than they think, but they won't realize it until they can try it.  I can do this with my poor man's fit bike, but it's not quite as fast or reliable as a real fit bike.  You will be seeing a new fit bike in the Vector Cycle Works studio soon.

If you are interested in purchasing a new bike or getting more comfortable on your current bike, come in and take advantage of my F.I.S.T. certification soon - sign up for your ForeverFit or sizing session at

The view from Xantusia.  Beautiful, isn't it?