Saturday, November 3, 2018

Perfecting the Craft

There is a lot going on in my life right now.  Last weekend was an intense and wonderful weekend of bike fitting with a handful of some of the many interesting people I've met over the years in the industry, during a time of year when things slow down a bit in the studio.  Wednesday was also significant, as it was the last day of my involvement on a IT project that I have been on for almost 2 1/2 years.  It was the absolute worst project I've ever been on, extremely stressful, and I was happy to start a new project on Thursday.  I am feeling a bit philosophical and introspective, so bear with me here - there is a point to this.  I don't like to make this about me, so I hope this doesn't come off that way.

For you, as a consumer potentially considering getting a bike fit, I feel it is essential to be transparent and as open as I can.  By trying to share as much as possible about bike fitting at Vector Cycle Works, I hope to earn your trust and help you feel confident that you made the right choice when you come in for your initial bike fit session.

I'm not sure how others might describe me, but I tend to think of myself as a pretty intense individual and an absolute perfectionist (and that's not necessarily a positive or healthy thing).  I'm pretty driven and dedicated to whatever I pursue, with a tendency to go "all in" when it comes to anything.  I have to be careful about that, because it can be detrimental.  I need to step back at times, like I am doing here, to revisit where I am and how I got here, and determine if the course needs to change at all.  I hope that when my time is up, others can look at what I've done and see some semblance of production, in a positive way.

When I first got into the computer industry, I wanted to use technology to help others.  Frankly, over 20 years into a computer career, that hasn't worked out as well as I'd like.  While I have learned a lot of useful skills by being in various roles as a Software Developer, Business Analyst, Team Lead, Development Supervisor, Quality Assurance Analyst, Consultant, and other less formal roles such as mentor or trainer, it seems that I've wandered from project to project over the years, never really being able to produce something that really makes everyone happy.  In the IT world, it seems there are low expectations - expectations that software is full of bugs, that it costs more than originally quoted, and it's never delivered on time.  The norm is pretty awful.  Nobody is ever satisfied, and rightfully so.  This is extremely frustrating to me.  Yet I still persist, thinking I can still change things for the good of someone.  Nonetheless, I have learned a lot over the years.

Bike fitting has a very different norm.  From a consumer perspective, it isn't especially well-defined.  It's a niche industry within a niche industry.  How many people ride bikes?  How many of them actually get a bike fit?  How many of them are happy with their bike fit?  Relative to the general population, the bike fit consumer community is tiny.  Yet, somehow, I threw my hat into the ring, and would say that ring is a pretty tough one - there are some very good bike fitters in the area.  What makes a person a good bike fitter?  What makes me a good bike fitter?

Bike fitting is something that I started in order to help myself - riding a bike was fun, but painful.  That is where bike fitting fills a void for me - people want to enjoy riding a bike, and I can be the person who can help.  For me, that can be very satisfying.  Bike fitting stimulates the analog side of me versus the digital side of information technology.

At the same time, it's not satisfying at all!  I lay up at night a lot, always thinking how I could have done better, even if the customer is satisfied.  I am, and probably never will be, satisfied with any of my work.  That's the unhealthy perfectionist coming out.  When someone comes in, I have a singular purpose: to help that person find happiness in cycling.  That's it.  The fun, and the challenge of it, is understanding that person's definition of happiness on their bike and applying my knowledge and skill set to help them get there.

There are many influences and limiters on how close we can get a rider to their happy place - my knowledge and skills, the amount of time we have together, how we prioritize the fit, how well we communicate, the environment in which we work, the options that present themselves when solving a particular problem, etc.  The software industry is all about problem-solving via good communication, so in a strange way, my experience in IT, particularly in the analytical roles that I've been in, has helped me be a better bike fitter.  Communication is key, and the ability to sit back and revisit the work with the intent to make it better ("refactoring the code" in the software world) is also a subtle skill I can apply.

I think, for the most part, I've been able to meet most of my customers' needs.  There certainly have been some misses, and I'd be lying if I didn't say there were.  I'd also be lying if I said it didn't bother me.  It does.  This is one of the things that motivates me to continue to improve.  Vector Cycle Works, which at this point, as a single-person service company, is really hard to separate from me as a person.  I plan to change that when the time is right.  For now, everything is up to me, and my desire to improve and evolve the service on all aspects has been a relentless pursuit.  It has gone fast and ramped up quickly.  I know there are some who have questioned how quickly that has happened - in the span of just shy of 6 years, I have gone from nothing to a guy who is trusted to perform bike fits at an advanced level and also teach bike fitting to already advanced and established fitters.  I can understand why there might be some doubt.  I'm OK with that - the perfectionist in me is always doubting and question everything.  That's how I learn.  Learn from what I do right, but more importantly, learn from what I do wrong.

With all that said, my best work is yet to come.  My best bike fit?  The next one.  The evolution continues, and those who were fit by me even a year or two ago would see a very different process today.  I can't forget where I came from.  Accordingly, the studio and the Vector Cycle Works services have changed significantly.  It's not perfect, but it's better.  I've learned new tricks and adopted new methodologies.  Some things have been tried and discontinued because they didn't offer the bang for the buck they promised.  I've done a significant amount of work to improve the deliverables - not only the fit itself, but the intake, reporting, and follow-up to go along with it.

Additionally, new tools are in place.  I've developed some new software tools to help finding a bike faster, as well as ensure we can work within orthodoxy - using software tools to help ensure we work within a reasonable window that reflects the products available on the market.  Another new tool is the Purely Custom fit bike I recently acquired.  The new (to me) fit bike has brought out a lot of potential, and it has been a learning experience thus far.  The most significant aspect of the fit bike is that it is a tool that allows us to explore more - we can try things that we may have hesitated to do before due to time constraints.  It's now really easy to try different points in space to find your ideal.

When it comes down to it, a bike fit session gives us a lot of choice - we often have several options for how we can approach a solution to your fit challenges.  The process is intense, and while I could spend 12 hours on every rider, we have to stay focused on the key elements specific to the rider.  I don't strive to be faster.  I strive to be more thorough.  No stone unturned.

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