The Bike Fit Manifesto

A few months ago, I found myself explaining to a few strangers what I do for a living – make bikes for women. One fella thought that I must build step-through bikes, you know, “girl bikes.” Not quite. I build bikes for women that are designed to fit them from the get-go, without the kind of heroic and graceless adaptations that make your boyfriend’s old mountain bike or even that new “women specific” bike almost, sort of, kind of, fit.

The two women in the group instantly got it – most bikes hadn’t really worked for them and in ways that they couldn’t quite explain. But you don’t need the scientific method to support the fact that your butt is sore or your neck aches fifteen minutes into a ride. What you really need is a change in your body’s relationship to your bike.

Bike fit can be approached in many ways. On one end of the spectrum is the popular method knows as the “stand over the bike and see if you can reach the brakes” approach. On the other is a highly theoretical set of geometric formulas based on male physiology and proportions.

The problem is that there is no formula for leg length imbalances, there is no formula for your old football injury, and there is no formula for muscle memory. Most bike fit methods just don’t do justice the relationship of a woman to her bike, and we aim to do better.

Every woman is different. Every bike should be too.

This is my starting point as a bike builder. For the last six months, I have been working with Michael Sylvester, former pro racer turned yoga teacher, and founder of the Serotta Fit Program. Each woman gets fit to a totally adjustable size cycle, which allows each rider to feel the perfect fit before the bike is even built. This process allows us to transform each woman’s unique body mechanics and alignment into a riding position that is comfortable and efficient; and then to build the bike around that.

What does this mean? You are closer to your best bike than you could imagine, because the design is as simple and elegant as the body you walk in with. Starting there, how could the bike be anything but beautiful?

From → Bikes, Blatant Marketing, Great Ideas

6 Comments

  1. Pingback: Sweetpea Bicycles: A Primer at Sweetpea Bicycles

  2. Chris

    One presumes that if I were not female, that you couls still make a bicycle for me, right?

    I ask because as a bike industry professional of more than 15 years, and specializing in fitting for 12 of those years, that I have many of the same fitting issues that my women customers have expressed concern with. For a man who is 6’4″, I have very narrow shoulders, very long legs, and very short upper body. I think this has helped me a great deal over the years when it comes to listening to my customers, and fitting them based on what they tell me, but it does nothing to help me find a bike that fits me well.

    Cheers!

  3. Ben Jeffries

    I read Chris’ response with interest because I can relate! I’m only 6′ but I share the narrow shoulders (which I’ve further narrowed with crashes), short torso and limbs that go on forever. My challenge has always been to get the handlebars far enough away.

    A while ago, I went to a local builder in my then hometown of Seattle to address that issue on what was my best yet fixie/commuter/winter bike. I drew up a 7? Stem that I thought should do the job. Went to meet the builder. (Matt Houle.) Was greeted by a guy fully a foot shorter and my heart fell. But we started talking and then the light bulb went off for both of us. We were similar distances from the “norm”, just very opposite directions!

    Natalie, I’ve been aware of bike fit a long time. Been a fan of the Terrys since I saw a fellow commuter switch from her ill fitting Motobecane to a Terry in the ‘80s. (Bigger fan since Terry came out with their Sella Italia made seat that works for me! They’re on my 3 dry rain bikes.) I have wanted to see woman on bikes getting the benefits I’ve known for decades. I didn’t know about you/Sweatpea until I went to the Portland frame show at that Forestry Center last fall, but I became a fan instantly.

    (Learned of that show from Dave Levy, who built first my second custom long stem, then the ti bike that has been a dream of mine since I rode a Merlin 15 years ago. Our relationship is probably different from your typical one. He knows I am very familiar with what fits me and will happily build exactly what I tell him. I love working with someone who isn’t going to tell me what some cherished rule says or use his judgment to fudge towards that number.

    Dave’s now building me a replacement for Matt Houle’ stem. The bike changed and that stem has seen too many crashes. I don’t like front end failures. I lost 7 years of my life to one. He’s also making me a large setback ti seatpost , partly for fun, but also to get a 2 bolt post with large setback so I can properly center those ti railed Terry seats with a 74 degree seat tube. (74 not because that is where my seat should be; a 73 would center the rails, but because that allows short enough chainstays and tire clearance to allow 25c tires and fenders. Short chainstays to get the rear wheel in a secure place. For hairy cornering, I tend to bend my arms and pull forward, unweighting the rear wheel. Gone down several times because of it. My ultimate bike shouldn’t be one I have to “nurse” around corners. Dave listened and built me the sweetest ride I’ve ever sat on.

    That Dave’s booth was 2 stalls over from yours was the best part of the show for me.)

    So, in short, I think what you are doing is way cool!

    Ben Jeffries

  4. I have gone to 3 different bike shops in LA and tried a few different brands of bikes and each time I explain to the bike dudes that I feel all hunched up when I ride and my shoulder blades instantly ache.

    Each time they look at me with a blank stare and tell me that I’ll get used to the bike because its all the right proportions for me.

    I explain that I have an IRO single speed that I love and I don’t have this problem and they tell me that road bikes are different and I will get used to it.

    I don’t want to “get used to it” I want to feel comfortable riding my bike from the moment I get on it.

    I have really felt like a dumb ass talking to these guys…and don’t get me wrong, they are all very nice and trying to be helpful but seem very narrow minded and don’t think a ton outside the box.

    Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it until I am proven otherwise.

  5. camille

    what can i say? canadian dollar be damned! i think i’ll forego the fancy pants outfits and the uberstratosphere frame makers (seven et al).

    how does this canuck get on your list? :00)

  6. camille

    p.s. Say Nathalie, where did you go to school–Nova Scotia?
    OCAD? Just wondering….

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