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 Overlooked Awesome, Part I

Custom is a bad word, not like the ones that get a ten-year-old sent to the principle’s office, but one that can mean too many things, or not enough. The common perception is that a custom bike has custom tube lengths and angles, that a good fit is the primary benefit. But we do so much more to personalize a bike for a Seven rider. Maybe the most important custom element in a Seven is the rider-specific tubeset.

We have riders who are 6 feet tall and weigh 150lbs, and we have riders who are the same height and weigh 250lbs. Each of them wants a comfortable ride that performs well.  To achieve similar ride characteristics for each rider we pick a tubeset that accounts for their differences. This seems obvious to us. A custom bike should fit perfectly, of course, but it should also feel perfect, and that means selecting the right tubes for wall thickness and diameter.

With our double and ultra-butted frames, we can go even further in personalizing ride feel for the individual, refining the tubes to make them more compliant and lighter. This is three steps of refinement beyond geometry, and we feel these steps are integral to delivering a real custom bike. Rider-specific is core to our philosophy, an extension of what we wrote about last week regarding women’s specific bikes.

The Specific Woman

Who is the specific woman? We see a lot of “women’s specific” bikes out in the world, but we have yet to meet any specific women. In all the fittings and all the designs we have done, what is resoundingly clear is that women’s bodies are pretty non-specific. In fact, women’s bodies vary more than men’s do, in proportion, so it’s a hard task to design something that will fit most women, even of the same height, in any more than a cursory way. Making a man’s bike smaller doesn’t get at the half of it.

So we consider what makes women different than men. For example, women generally (but not always) have a wider pelvic arch than men, greater pelvic tilt also. These things affect saddle position and saddle height. Generally speaking (but not always) women have longer legs relative to their height than men do. Their weight is lower and farther back, which affects the center of gravity, handling and reach. Their shoulders are usually (but not always) narrower, and they have smaller hands (sometimes), all of which impacts front-end geometry and handling.

The generalized differences are informative, but really, when it comes right down to it, every rider, male or female, is an individual, with specific geometric needs, with a tubeset that matches their riding preferences, with their own aesthetic sense and ideas for their bike. That’s why we make rider-specific bikes.

As far as we can tell, there is no specific woman, but there might be a specific bike for every woman (or man), who wants one.