Bike shopping

I finally found someone willing to accept a free, working 20″ TV set on the condition that I deliver it to them. (Freecycle didn’t want it unless it was high definition. Sheesh.) Because this required venturing into the 206 area code, near the region of terrible student drivers, I waited until I had another errands to justify the trip. That other errand was a visit to R&E cycles, where
I had an appointment at 3pm to get measured for a frame.


R&E prides themselves on having a bejillion years experience of fitting people, and with fifteen sizes, odds were good I could find something. Each time I’ve read up on fitting a bike, I come away thinking “this is a lot like women’s clothing:” every vendor has its own creative interpretation on how the human body is proportioned, yet none of these map to me.

The fitting process involved mostly a vertical stick measuring like inseam, thigh length, torso height, and foot size. When he wasn’t getting distracted by other customer questions, numbers were punched into their computer. Two conclusions were drawn from the numbers:

  • I have very long arms for my torso length. This confers a +5 advantage (d20) when rolling against my kids’ tickle attacks.
  • I take a size “6S.”

Smiley set up a 6S bike on the trainer. After a minute of pushing a gear range I only fantasize about, he adjusted the seat. The bike was surprisingly comfortable. He wanted me to keep the high RPMs up for a while while he serviced another customer. Riding a “trainer” indoors, in broad daylight, where no one else is doing it instills an urgency to pedal smoothly.

He made a couple of inquiries about quirks in my riding position. This is like asking a golfer if they breathe in or out during the swing. Apparently I toe my left foot in during the pedal stroke and I don’t bend my elbows enough. I didn’t follow his advice on choosing a very uncomfortable death grip on the brake hoods, except this was what the pros did. He gave some instructional hints on how to use the Campy (vs Shimano) shifting, then I got to take it out for a spin.

My first impression was “dang, this is a light bike.” Then I started pondering the gearing. Unlike the ridiculously low gearing on the ‘Friday that enables me to scale walls, sitting down in the saddle, this was a standard Campy triple, on big wheels. I later calculated its low gear is twice what I have on mine. Still, it didn’t feel as bad as I expected it to when climbing up Ravenna. The acid test would be biking home up the hills, but I’d have to buy the bike first.

Smiley was multitasking between me, another customer, and his 4:00 appointment. Not being able to get questions answered was annoying me. I excused myself, mentioning I needed to Escape from 206 to avoid the traffic. He gave me a price sheet for me to mull over. I have confidence in the fit, but would like to try the specific model. And address my concerns about having a lower gear range for the hills. If I put down a 50% deposit, the time to build would be about six weeks.

9 thoughts on “Bike shopping”

  1. I’d be interested in knowing what the gearing was that you tried. I’ve been eyeballing this bike for a couple of months, but getting up to “the core” is really “the chore”. I need to get going on making a decision, if I am going to have it in time for the bulk of my summer rides.

  2. Before buying my roadbike, I spent WAY too much time reading about bike fit and its different schools of thought. I started out quite mathematical, but ended up with a bit more zen in there, too.

    If you haven’t heard of the site yet, allow me to suggest you swing by wrenchscience.com if only for their free fit calculator. With the help of your lovely wife, take a few measurements and perform a couple of simple stretches. Punch all the info into their computer, and receive basic sizing for every aspect of your bike. From there, you can custom order your bike, or simply keep the measurements for the future.

    I wrote down all my recommended measurements, and kept that with me while bike shopping. As I upgrade things, I have frequently consulted the numbers, and have never been steered wrong. My new handlebars which I purchased last month are a perfect fit, and I never would have bought them so wide had I not been told the how and the why of doing so.

    Following STP, I had the usual ass-induced trauma, so I scheduled a personal bike fit at a local shop. I called around for that, too, asking different stores who did the test, and what their methods would be. I finally settled on the place which gave a private fit based on personal riding style for the best price. Once there, I was given her undivided attention (which you seem to have been robbed of entirely), and snapped into a trainer in the upstairs portion of the store, where we wouldn’t be disturbed.

    I was asked what led me to request a fit, what problems I had, how much I rode and in what style, what my goals were, and also what I enjoyed most about my bike. There was a little bit of measuring going on, but mostly she had me pedal in different gears, and watched me work. I’ll admit that it made me intensely uncomfortable at first, what with being watched intently while wearing spandex and all, but she was helpful and clearly knew what she was doing, so I eased up.

    Humorously, most of my settings were dead-on. I used wrenchscience’s base numbers, then tweaked them a bit more for my comfort. My fitter not only corrected the more confusing things which were irritating me, but she explained why she was doing so, and gave me a better understanding of body vs. machine.

    I could go on and on forever (sorry), but the idea I want to convey is this: I hope you didn’t pay too much for your fit, because you were robbed. Take your own measurements and keep them with you. Call around to other shops if you want a better fit. Most importantly, realize that there is no one way to ride a bike. If someone is telling you that you must do something a particular way, their advice may be valid, but it may not be for you. Above all, find someone who listens.

  3. R&E is a great shop. The location and hours are a bit of a hassle, but the same is true for any LBS.

    My wife and I own 2 of their single bikes and a tandem custom ordered (Huge size difference). My next bike will most likely come from them also. We have been more than happy with the fit, bike, etc. but also the way we are treated.

    I doubt you will go wrong with one of their bikes. You can always change out the cluster or chain rings.

  4. John: I’m pretty sure it was a 30-40-52 in front, 13/26 in the back. I sent you mail with more specifics about my wimpy gearing.

    Scout: You totally rule. The wrenchscience site has been pretty entertaining and its results are very close to what was measured.

    It would have been preferable if he had just said he was going to be too busy for an appointment. I don’t think he asked me much about my riding preferences. However, he did notice I was toeing my left foot in from a freak ankle injury a couple of weeks ago. I dropped (yes, dropped) an upright vacuum cleaner on my ankle.

    Patrick – thanks for the note. I like the bike and hope to try the specific model I’m interested in . Their hours and location aren’t ideal for me, but my current bike came from Eugene, Oregon, so it’s not a deal-breaker.

  5. It is really helpful to start by getting new-bike-fit advice from an objective expert, like one of the local PTs who specializes in cycling/bike fit. That’s what I did, and it was a huge help. I went in feeling sure that I knew what I needed in terms of fit, and could thus test ride several different bikes, all in the right size range, without having to respond to the pressures from retailers to buy the bikes they particularly wanted to sell. You might end up buying the first bike you considered anyway, but going in with objective knowledge about what size top tube, etc., you need, gives you more control over the whole process. That worked really well for me.

  6. I was just in R&E with the custom Orange Como –
    I told Smiley that I thought I needed a different stem – this would be my 3rd stem since buying the bike in 02. He set me up with a fairly short stem with a steep profile and I’ve gotten through my last 2 brevets with barely no neck pain – huge difference. On gearing – I recently changed to a 39 middle from a 42 and WOW – what a difference – much less presure on the knees.

  7. Jim,

    I definitely think it’s worth going to multiple shops and getting more than one opinion on fit. I got one fitting at R&E that seemed suspect to me. Then, another from a shop in Olympia. Then, I bought the bike from a third shop. That way I could try to filter out some of the opinions from the things that were consistent between fittings.

    Also, I found the most important thing was how the bike _feels_. If you have a negative impression of something when you ride it, the bike shop often tries to convice you that it something wrong with you or your position. Or that they can modify certain components, like the stem to make it work. Not always the case — the frame has to be right, and then one can make small adjustments with stem, saddle, etc.

    Interestingly, the guy who fit me in Olympia said that they have done efficiency testing and discovered that there is generally one “most efficient” position, but the second “most efficient” position is the one that the rider is accustomed to.

    Have fun looking for your new bike!

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