Today I took the first step towards a custom made bike. I was contacted by Predator Cycling via this very blog, who wisely assessed that if I was looking for a tri bike it was worth my time to come in for a frame fit session. I biked over to get myself warmed up and began a conversation and process that would lead to just a little heartbreak over my love affair with the Orbea Ordu.
Aram, owner of Predator Cycling, could talk bikes all day. He lives, breathes, and eats bike geometry, build, mechanics, and above all – data. It all boils down to the numbers. If the data doesn’t support a rider’s assumptions it’s time to change assumptions. He’s seen this in his testing lab in the rear of the shop with pro cyclists blasting their own preconceived notions of power output after fine tuning their rides beyond their initial demands. In fact, sometimes it’s good to hide or alter the live data from the rider because it plays into what they think they can do. Psychologically, I felt this happen in Malibu. I told myself not to look at my watch or data output and instead go at maximum intensity. I knew it was a short course, and probably my last of the season, so I took away the mental brakes. This yielded a tremendous gain in speed and afterwards, a fundamental shift in what I believed possible. I had to ignore the live data because it would have limited my effort. For example, if I was wearing a GPS and looked down during the run and thought, “Whoa, I can’t sustain a 7:30 pace, I better dial it back.” I would have slowed down to conserve resources. Instead, I told myself to run at threshold, just below blowing up. Sure enough I ran faster and stronger without having to slow down. I can let data guide and shape my training, but I’ve got to learn how to break past those guidelines to move to the next level, and the next, and the next. For a data junkie like myself this is going to be a difficult process – and it’s why the best experiments are triple blinded. Blind the subjects from the placebo and actual, blind the testers from the subjects and the testing samples, and then blind the people who are collating and processing the final data. It is as clinical and unbiased as you can get. That is, unfortunately, impossible with athletics.
We began the custom fit process with measuring tape. Aram took a set of my body measurements including inseam length, kneeling inseam length, arm reach, and shoulder width. Then I got on the Calfee Sizer and started pedaling, at which point he started making adjustments until my pedal stroke was dialed in, my reach on the aero bars was comfortable, aerodynamic with my arms at proper angles and level to my seat. My back was properly flattened and I felt like I could pedal forever in that position. That set of measurements is my perfect ride in a perfect environment. No road, fluid resistance, zero wobble, and no race number flapping on my back.
Aram came up with some quick and dirty calculations of my “perfect ride” frame geometry so we could make an assessment against the bikes I’ve been testing. When we pulled up the specs on the Orbea Ordu, he wasn’t smiling. I tested a 54 frame size Ordu, and according to my actual numbers I was a hybrid of the measurements of both the 51 and the 54 frames. According to Aram the biggest issue was in the top tube length. Even if we replaced the stem (which connects the aero bars to the bike frame), it could yield some steering issues. At worst it would feel like the bike was steering me, rather than being an extension of my will and power.
Which means now I am in a dilemma. I spent several hours with Aram talking about bikes and he’s going to spec out two custom build options for me from Predator. One will be as best inside my price range as possible which means entry level components and no fancy hidden rear brakes. Likely an SRAM Rival group, carbon front fork, and carbon aero bars. The frame will be aluminum (not scandium) and some design elements will dampen as much vibration as possible. Even as such this will come in at the very top end of my budget. It’s a custom bike, and his prices are incredibly reasonable for a custom build, but it is still at the top end of my budget. Lastly, and he knows this about me, I’m trying to wrap my mind around aluminum. I really dig carbon fiber because I’m a trendy nerd. It feels different! And after 50 or more miles it could be a make or break comfort issue.
More importantly is that the Orbea may be the wrong bike for me. My test ride yesterday was fantastic and I left feeling like I had found my ride. But that was for a 1/2 hour test ride. What happens at hour 2? Mile 100? Will I ever be able to compensate for potential dead spots in my pedal stroke? Dead spots, as Aram pointed out, due to an inability to adjust seat position past the physical limitations of the bike.
Part of the scientific process is not having a preconceived notion of the results before running an experiment. Being open to whatever the data reveals, and then forming a theory based on the results. A critical component of this process is peer review, so my next step once I have Aram’s numbers in hand is to get an outside, unbiased set of opinions. I have a few resources I can access (and pay) to give me answers. At no point did Aram hard sell me on his bikes – in fact, he was incredibly honest and open in his process and I wholeheartedly recommend him and his shop to anyone interested in custom rides. But before I spend several thousand dollars on a bike – regardless of the maker – I want a second opinion. Maybe even a third.
I know I’m overthinking this whole process. But this decision is a lot like getting married. I’m going to spend a huge amount of time with this bike, thousands of hours and miles over the next several years. I will change because of the union. It’s got to be a lasting relationship that doesn’t cause me long term physical or emotional harm – in fact, it should make me a better, stronger, superior version of myself.
That’s worth getting a few experts to weigh in with their opinion. Right?