Night and Day – Made to Fit vs. Built to Fit

Both these bikes belong to Kate. The top one was purchased second hand and made to fit through a series of what we might term “compromises.” You can see that extra spacers have been added under the stem, and the stem itself rises at a steep angle to achieve a handlebar position that works for Kate.

dsc_0001After riding the bike above for a few years, Kate decided to see what we could do for her with a new bike design. We took body measurements. We interviewed her to find out what she liked/didn’t like about her existing bike. We designed a frame that would support her ideal riding position while retaining proportionality, flexibility for future changes to her position AND delivering spot on handling.

Some of this is visible in the photo below of her new bike.

dsc_0002What you can’t see here is the tube set selection we made and how it differs from her original bike, which was stiffer in front and plusher in the rear than she wanted it to be. We reversed that combination by giving her increased drivetrain stiffness and a more comfortable front end. Because we can both select tube diameters and wall thicknesses, and then butt the tubing to give an even more specific comfort profile, we have a massive advantage over every other framebuilder working today.

The other thing you can’t see is the way this bike will handle. When we design a bike we aim to balance the rider evenly over the two wheels. This balance leads to greater comfort, but also to better handling. By designing the frame, via headtube angle and fork rake, to give a very specific relation between rider and ground, we can be sure that every bike we build handles exactly like the rider wants it to, which might be super stable or more twitchy and aggressive, but most of the time in the sweet spot right in between.

Kate’s original bike was a Seven, but it was second hand, i.e. not built for, so in almost every regard it was like any stock bike a rider might get. Those bikes can usually be made to fit by moving the saddle or the stem length, but not without compromising comfort, handling, and ultimately performance. That is why so many of our riders report a night-and-day difference between what they were riding and their new Seven.

By taking control of the frame’s geometry and materials, we are able to build a bike that fits, handles well, and feels good to ride all day. The secret is working forward from the rider, not backward from the bike.


The Big Ideas – The 5 Elements of Customization

The Big Ideas, as a series, is about this whole bike building project we embarked on in 1997 and the foundational ideas that make what we do possible. The first installment was about Single-Piece Flow (SPF). The second installment was about Just-in-Time manufacturing (JIT).

This week we explore the 5 Elements of Customization.

It is all well and good to tell someone you can build their ultimate bike, but if they don’t have the vocabulary to tell you what that bike should look like, you’re no closer to that bike existing than you were before you met them. The 5 Elements give riders a useful way to think about customization.

The 5 Elements are the language of Single-Piece Flow on the bike shop floor.

RyanDrafting1) Fit & Geometry – Think of the upper half of the bike, the points where you touch the bike, saddle height, set back, reach, bar height. These are the angles and centimeters that address different riders’ size, proportions, age, style and health (injuries). We address these, at the shop, through a bike fitting, and then follow up with body measurements that allow us to consider that fit in terms of your new frame’s geometry.

2) Handling and Performance – Think of the lower half of the bike. This is where we fine tune for rider weight, comfort, handling and riding conditions. Bottom bracket drop, fork rake, chainstay length, all these things affect how the bike feels. If you tell us you want your bike to be stable or quick handling, we can produce those characteristics through fine tuning of handling and performance features.

Gatson43) Tubing & Materials – We work in steel, titanium, and Ti/carbon mix. We start from the beginning when designing a bike for you, choosing a material that speaks to the kind of riding you do, then we go further, picking a tube set, in that material(s), that matches your specific preferences for stiffness and/or comfort, then we go further still, refining your rider-specific tube set through tube butting processes to accomplish the most personalized on-bike experience available from any custom builder, anywhere.

4) Options – Brake types, rack and fender mounts, decal colors and placement, paint, cable-routing, couplers, chain or belt drive component optimization, the configurations and permutations are close to infinite. This is how you dial the bike in. This is how you meet ALL your goals for your new bike, without compromise.


5)┬áThe Future – This is how we make our design as durable as our materials. We plan for the rider’s aspirations. Racing? Touring? Commuting? How does the bike age with the rider’s body? Is it adaptable? How do we keep the bike useful for the rest of the rider’s life?

You don’t have to be a bike designer to collaborate with us on the design of your new bike. You just need to be able to express your preferences in simple terms and let us map them onto the 5 Elements of Customization.