Sunday, November 27, 2016
Of all the aspects of cycling I have come to conclude that nothing, not frame materials, components, what some racer won some race on, nothing is as important as fit.
I became interested in the cycling activity known as Randoneuring. It is a french word roughly meaning to wander. After World War II in France people often had to search for food outside the big cities. Because there was no fuel for cars they rode bicycles. It was a way to escape the bombed out cities and enjoy the countryside. But it required them to ride long distances. Up to 300 miles a day.
Modern Randoneurs are a hearty bunch who try to duplicate the long rides of the French. I was impressed that reading about what Randoneurs use for equipment is not the who's who of lightweight equipment. They are focused primarily on fit. Every little thing that is an irritant on your 40 mile ride is going to be a big problem on your 200 mile ride. So it is more important to them to have a heavier bike that fits perfectly than a modern plastic rocket.
Modern manufacturers working in carbon and aluminium make even fewer sizes than the age of steel. It was not uncommon to have every size from 50 to 62cm in half sizes during the steel age but now customers are lucky to get a choice of small medium and large. If you happen to land in the exact size of the "average customer" then you might luck out. But many people don't.
There are three places we touch the bike while riding. The handlebars, seat and pedals. Each point of contact can be adjusted to accommodate fit. The stem can be replaced with a shorter or longer offering, fairly inexpensively. The seat can slide back and forth on it's rails and the seatpost can move up and down. The cranks come in varous lengths for a very small change in leg reach.
But when these options are not enough to adapt the small medium or large frame offerings to you a custom frame is in order. There is a surprisingly vibrant steel handmade bike business in the US with many young framebuilders joining the ranks of the skilled craftman and artisan builders. But custom steel frames, although many times are beautiful works of art, are expensive. Most custom steel frames start at $2500 and many more start at $4000 on up. There is also a long wait time, with some popular builders having wait lists for years.
I spent a lifetime trying to get a good fit following the advise of so called experts. After I started to get numb hands quickly after the start of any ride I started to get serious about figuring out what my problem was. I first realised that frame designers have stretched the top tube, or the reach between the seat and handlebars, over the years making typical bikes longer and longer. In doing research I found that frames made in the 1970's had much shorter top tubes. I finally bought a number of old steel road frames off Ebay and built them up and rode them until I found my perfect fit. It made a huge difference for me.
I have had the same problem with mountain bikes and now that I know what the right fit is for me I decided to get a mountain bike made to order. I could not afford the price of a custom steel frame so I went searching for an alternative.
I found Davis Carver in Woolwich Maine. Davis has a bike shop and online webstore called bikeman.com. He also developed a relationship with a frame shop in Asia that works in titanium. He offers stock frames for many different purposes from Road to Mountain but also will do custom work. For a simple change in standard geometry, like I needed, he charged a $200 up charge from the standard $1400 cost. He also claimed he could get the frame finished in 8-12 weeks.
I have had a number of custom frames made over the years and never had a frame builder meet their stated delivery time. With some builders it was off by months. Even so the shortest time I have gotten delivery was 6 months. I simply did not believe Carver could deliver in 3 months.
But he did.
I ordered a 29+ frame he calls the Gnarvester. I had him shorten the top tube considerably from stock. It is a beautiful frame with sliding adjustable rear drop-outs, great welding quality and a nice brushed finish. Davis was really responsive to deal with and was a big help. The built-up bike fits great and really feels so much better than my old MTB bikes.
If you find yourself needing a custom fit you might give Davis a call and see what he can do for you.