Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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

One of the services offered at Vector Cycle Works is Match (formerly called RightBike).  Match is the service you want if you are looking to buy a new (or new to you) bike.  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 no longer adequate - you deserve better than that. You should be one with your bike.  This is what Match is all about.

Match is based on F.I.S.T. (Fit Institute Slowtwitch) principles.  This is bike "sizing" rather than "fitting."  Those two terms are often mixed up in the industry - "fitting" is often used to describe sizing, and that can be confusing to you as the consumer.  Sizing as the geometric 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.  Match is the pre-purchase sizing, which establishes a good foundation for a Core or Fusion fit.

So, how does Match work?  I thought it would be good to walk through the process and provide a couple of examples.  Here is the Match process, in 10 easy steps:
  1. You want a bike.
  2. You schedule your Match session here.
  3. You receive 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 us get a better understanding of your history and goals.
  4. When you arrive at Vector Cycle Works for your Match 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.  By default, we try to use towards saddles that are stock spec on the bikes you are interested in.
  8. We set up the crank length according to what you might typically find on bikes in your general size.  We can go with longer or shorter crankarms, but similar to our saddle selection defaults, we'll start with what is likely found on bikes in your approximate 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 makes Vector Cycle Works is independence with a good relationship with the local bike shops.  Vector Cycle Works is a dealer for several brands of bikes including Bombtrack, Ceepo, Chromag, Dimond, and Ventum 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 Match session is the list of bikes.  We have some reporting tools that allow us to track a lot of brands of bikes on the market.  Each person that comes in for a Match session gets a report that can be pretty comprehensive - some people may only have a handful of options, but others may have hundreds.  Because you deserve a quality list, it takes about a week or so to get the list to you.  The recommendations aren't taken lightly, and it takes time.  Match is not for the person looking to make a spontaneous purchase.

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

Example 1 - Male Triathlete

For this example, we 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, we shared opinions on what bike would be best.  That is because he asked me for my opinion and recommendation.  We typically 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 - 191 bikes from 13 manufacturers.  Now, some of those are the same bike from different years (the database includes 2015-current, with varying levels of data entry performed based on time.  Many of them are the same frame with different components.  Nonetheless, she has a nice list of options.

Her report also demonstrates "elegant solutions" for bikes.  Based on the person's general size and what we know about how bikes are going to generally be equipped, we select stem combinations that are practical, elegant, and hopefully what might come on the bike out of the box.  We don't put a 6' 4" male on a huge bike with a 60mm stem, nor do we want a 5' 1" male on a tiny 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 triathlon 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 we went pretty deep with our 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.  This necessitated a deep dive into 650 bike and wheel options.  With some research, we 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 the Continental GP 4000 S II, is available in a 650, too.  So, while not ideal, it's not as bad as it could be.  Our triathlete friend has some options.


Those are a couple of examples of the Match process.  Every person is different, so the reports can vary quite a bit.  It is a lot of fun doing this, living 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 will help you however you need help.  We've met up at shops or homes to look at the bike in more detail and adjust the bike for a test ride.  It's whatever you need.

This is the way to buy a new bike, so if you're in the market, schedule your Match session soon.  It's time to find the right bike for you!

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