bicycle frames used to consist of lots of tubes and lugs brazed together with loving care, satisfying our every need for practicality and aesthetics whether we realised it or not. in some quarters, that's still how it's done; form follows function and forward motion emerges on the other side of the equals sign. every majority has to be balanced by a minority, and that's currently where the above method(s) reside, though no less effective for being the underdog.
more likely in this world of technological innovation and adoration, the frame under the seatpost consists of two halves of burnt plastic, joined together in a far eastern factory, where aesthetics are more the province of cad and marketing than an artistic eye. these monocoques are no less effective for all their lack of intrinsic fettling, but being born from pre-ordained moulds, they perhaps take less account of the one size doesn't fit all human physiognomy than the tubes, lugs, solder and brass adjudged by the human eye.
so where does this place the innocent cyclist who has acquired his/her beloved velocipede from the colour and size chart proffered on a website, or perchance the archetypal local bike shop? much relies on informed and uninformed guesswork on the part of the customer and sales staff, allied with a modicum of inveterate tinkering back at the bikeshed. the question we should all be asking ourselves here is, "what questions should i be asking myself here?".
many a bicycle arrives at washingmachinepost cottage with size determined by whatever the distributor has available for review. it would be irrational to expect a full range of frame sizes to be at my beck and call, on the basis that the uk media and press representatives are hardly of uniform stature or opinion. the smart money would be on noting down the dimensions arrived at from years of riding one's own colnago c40, dimensions that have singularly failed to twist me into the prototype for some neolithic cgi. when each bicycle arrives, it's this sort of honours degree in hindsight that comes to mind as i raise/lower the saddle for the fourth time along an obscure islay singletrack road.
but even if this were a particularly adept thing to do, how do i know that these long-suffered measurements have their basis in ergonomic or anatomic science? in fact, put this way, it becomes readily apparent that they are anything but. what's a honed athlete to do?
the world of cycling is big enough and strong enough to support any and all ends of the ideas spectrum, and floating through the strains and strata of such variation is a well-known but almost obscure bike shop in macklin street, central london. cyclefit. the two gentlemen eager to welcome you to their particularly high class emporium (at the time of my visit, there was a £20,000+ factor 001 bike sitting on the wall inside the front door), are phil and jules, gentlemen well versed in the art of making sure that you fit your bicycle and that any bicycle they sell (colnago, serotta, glider, mercian) fits you. in fact, phil was rather keen to point out that not only can you not purchase any bicycle from cyclefit without first being fitted, but they will not supply review bikes to press, such as myself, without first having gone through the measurement process.
if this is all going to work the way it's supposed to, it's necessary for the the fitter to know a bit more about the fittee, so before the object of torture could be approached, phil asked me a range of questions about what sort of riding i favoured, how many hours a week feet were clipped into pedals, any injuries, health problems; in fact generally everything pertaining to the art of personal bike riding. the more information imparted at this point, the better, so even if something seems of little significance to you, it may have greater bearing on bike position than you could imagine. let's not mess about here; these guys know a lot more about this than you do: tell all.
although i had taken my set of mavic pedals along in a carrier bag, cyclefit is in fact, equipped with a pair of most, if not all, of the current makes available, so i clicked into a pristine pair aboard the multi-adjustable bicycle verisimilitude in the corner. also clipped onto the wall between the two fitting rooms, are various widths of bars fitted with shimano, campagnolo or sram levers. i'll confess to having been somewhat fearful that phil was about to tell me that my bar width, stem length and crank preferences were all so wrong, that taking up golf may be a simpler solution. but the process isn't in any way dogmatic, nor could it be considered remotely threatening (unlike the dentist); the whole point here is to improve your position and flexibility on the bike, so it makes greater sense for both to work in conjunction with each other.
the adjustabike is of neutral disposition, eagerly awaiting phil to tinker with lengths, heights and other slidey things. but in order so to do, it was necessary to check inside leg, shoulder width, foot size and enough information to build a spare twmp, should the first one get damaged in the process. this is why it's necessary to take along regular cycle wear: a three piece suit or jeans and sweatshirt will not only prove a trifle uncomfortable, but perchance skew some of the measurement data. unless of course you sprint in a suit.
many of our daily aches and pains do not derive from cycling preferences or bike fit, but likely just as many do, depending on how often you find yourself in the drops. in my case, there's a streak of discomfort down my left side, leading from the neck to the foot, mostly brought about by poor position in front of adobe photoshop. it's not a recent revelation, and it's definitely not brought about by cycling, but it does affect my performance (such as it is) and comfort on the bike. i freely imparted this information prior to climbing aboard the now suitably setup adjustabike.
not only is this the opportunity to impress with that oh so smooth pedalling action, but also the chance to become a movie star. pointing directly at the adjustabike is a digital video camera linked to a computer, broadcasting a plethora of statistics and graphs onto a monitor sited in front of the rider. thus, apart from the horror of having to watch yourself pedalling (fortunately, i think they caught my best side), the output from each crank is separately displayed in bar graph format, along with the percentage of effort from each leg, a pitifully low number of watts and a myriad of other data that meant nothing to me, but presumably a great deal more to phil or jules. during my first stint on the adjustabike, it was painfully obvious that my right leg was doing substantially more work than my left. pushing a bit harder with the offending leg balanced the numbers, but that's sort of cheating, don't you think? in order more to replicate an islay headwind, phil switched on the atlantic westerly fan on the floor. luxury.
having been informed of my left-side discomfort, phil was able to see the effect this was having on my pedalling, through simple observation; i have as much knowledge about human anatomy as i have about london's roads, so i'd be lying if i said i could relate what i was told, but let's just say that the left was doing something that the right wasn't, and it shouldn't have been. let's just leave it at that. i also happened to mention that i had an unnerving tendency (pun intended) to curl the toes in my left foot; for why, i have no idea. as stated above, you should tell your bike fitter everything: this revelation immediately led to examination of the footbeds in my dromarti leathers, and another machine being fired up to alleviate the problem.
sitting in the corner of the bicycle display area, is a machine that looks ready for a brass band conductor. two foot sized pads, when stood on by a barefoot cyclist, readily emulate silly putty at the touch of a button. this allowed phil to place two red insoles in the impressions to construct a pair of custom footbeds. cut to size and placed in my shoes it was back onto the adjustabike for more pedalling; obviously my on the bike style was more rivetting than i had thought. combine this with the placement of two angled shims between cleats and sole, and i could see detailed adjustment starting to make itself felt.
the result of this seemingly innocuous step had to be witnessed to be believed. whereas my right leg had been hitting 55% and the left ten percent less, both were now producing almost exactly the same numbers, and the curling toes weren't curling anymore. of course, none of this means a whole lot of ball bearings unless it's recorded for future use, either by cyclefit to ensure that your purchase is clickety-click, or in this case, for me to make sure that the cielo, the c40, and eventually my master x-light all match the same numbers. and from my point of view, it means that it's a tad easier to make sure every test bike matches those in thewashingmachinepost bikeshed.
such expertise doesn't come cheap: if you walk in off the street (having made an appointment, and waited perhaps several weeks), gaining the benefit of phil's and jules' years of experience will cost £350. if you're purchasing a suitably priced bicycle from cyclefit, the cost will be absorbed in the transaction. if we accept that i could talk for britain at the 2012 olympics, and extract about an hour of ruminations as to the effectlessness of bb-30, integrated headsets, and a sea of carbon fibre, the whole process took around three hours (though it felt a lot less). i was also shown a couple of very effective exercises to undertake daily, stretching the lower left back muscles that have been a source of perennial discomfort for a number of years
there's a whole lot of trinkets and gizmos that could be had for that number of pound notes, many of which you could garner from cyclefit, and many of which are likely on your wishlist, but please believe me when i tell you that i can think of no better way to spend your money. i have been home for only a few days, but have implemented as much of the advice, and as many of the measurements and observations provided as i could, and while i think fab would still have got away from me on the kemmelberg, the improvement in posture, comfort and performance have been a revelation.
if you live in or near the capital, an appointment should be mandatory. if visits are occasional, think about it well in advance and book accordingly.
and their rouleur ads are somewhat unique too.
subsequent to my visit, i was informed that the rather fine looking matt black colnago eps (see pic) that greeted the hearty traveller on entry to the cyclefit showroom had been stolen. it is one of only ten of that colour code (mtbk) in the country. the frame is a 52cm sloping with the frame number x3d 479. if anyone offers you just such a machine, please inform your local police.
posted thursday 15 april 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................