How NEXT-fit came to be
NEXT-fit is a fitting system that has grown out of the ever-evolving fitting process of custom bicycle manufacturer, R+E Cycles based in Seattle. As a custom bicycle manufacturer, as well as a bicycle shop equipped with a computer programmer and a full machine shop, we have a unique approach to bicycle fitting. We've dedicated huge resources over the years to improve our methods of adjusting bicycles for our customers. We have immediate feedback from thousands of clients, and we can make adjustments to our tooling or software on the fly. I thought I would take a minute (or several) and just go over the history of how this system has evolved into our current fit system...The NEXT-fit system.
Read on to hear about the history of how it came to be, or, if you'd like to see a graphical overview of the numbers the software generates click here.
A 30 year history of fitting bicycles.
The computer fitting system was only used by a salesperson when selling a custom bike in the 1980's. When a mass produced bike was sold (we sold many different brands back then), the proper size was determined the old fashioned way. "What's the 'old fashioned' way?", you ask? Well, that depends on how old the salesperson was I guess (in the 1980's we had 15-20 salespeople at a time). I've seen many 'old fashioned' ways, although I've never used any of them. Some of them include standing over the top tube and lifting the bike up, checking to see if the view of the front hub was obscured by the stem, or the most amusing one, putting one's elbow on the nose of the saddle and checking to see if the middle finger reaches the stem.
Although not a perfect system, the customers who bought Rodriguez custom bikes with the 'computer recommended' numbers were more comfortable than most of the people who were fit the 'old fashioned' way.
We did professional fittings for people who already had a bicycle that they were uncomfortable on. I would measure both the customer and the bicycle. The computer would give me the suggested numbers. Then I would set them up on a stationary trainer and make adjustments until they were comfortable. Sometimes the smallest thing (like one brake lever mounted a few millimeters lower than the other) was the only thing between a care free century ride, and wrenching neck pain at 10 miles. I performed countless numbers of these 'full fitting services' and learned how critical comfort is for any cyclist, not just the pros.
The problem with the computer was that it assumed that every rider was a 25 year old professional athlete in top condition. It had no way of considering a rider's conditioning, flexibility, present or past injuries, age, etc... I always found myself making adjustments to the 'computer' recommendation. The computer generated numbers were really just a good 'starting point'. The cycling experience of the salesperson, his/her ability to listen to the rider, as well as their understanding of the mechanics of a bicycle were all the key factors in helping someone get comfortable on their bike. For instance, if a rider said "uhhhmmm....something is going numb when I ride" with kind of a blushing red face, I knew what that meant.
Rodriguez custom bike determinations and 'full fit services' were still reserved for just a few of us to do, but now a customer buying any bike could at least be assured of more proper fit than ever before.
Ignorance is bliss.
It didn't take long for us to discover that most mass produced bicycles didn't fit most people.....at least without some modification. Soon, the repair shop 'to do' file was stuffed full of work orders. These weren't really repairs though, they were all brand new bikes! By 1995, I don't think we sold a bike without switching the handlebar stem, handlebars, crank arms, seat, or something on the bike that had to do with comfort. We had to work out a system between the sales department and the repair department to get these bikes done quickly. The customers were much happier on their comfortable bikes, and that's what's important.
On the Rodriguez custom bike front, things were a changin' too. As I said before, we had determined that the computer recommendations were only good to use as a 'basic starting point'. When someone was going to invest in a custom bike, we had a 'basic starting point', but what about age, flexibility, injuries, riding style, etc. Guess work was still involved in these areas.
We realized that more development was needed to ensure even more comfortable custom bicycles. So, we built our first completely adjustable stationary bicycle (now in the R+E Cycles museum), and incorporated it into our process for building custom bicycles. Now a talented bicycle fitting expert could put his/her skills to work before we built the frame. Wow! Throughout the late 1990's, we made some great discoveries. With this new tool, we could really dial in on what our customers wanted, and it usually differed greatly from the fit that a professional bike racer in his 20's would prefer.
We also saw a need for much more accuracy than we were getting for inseam and torso measurements. In a training session, I would see numbers ranging a few centimeters for the same person. So, we came up with a more accurate measuring system (the fit stick) for inseam and torso lengths.
By the late 1990' we realized that what manufacturers were producing, and what our customers wanted was different. So we started producing one model of Rodriguez bicycle (the Stellar) in 4 sizes specifically made for women's geometry. We had thousands of women's comfort preferences on file from over several years. We took a step into the limited production market. It was a great success!
Can you hear that feedback?
By the year 2000, we were making 7 models of production Rodriguez bicycles in about 10 sizes per style.
2005 - The Software evolves!
In the winter of 2005, Scott and I sat down and looked over custom bike drawings and numbers that we've collected over the years and made a few another giant leaps in the NEXT-fit evolution.
Most of the software we use at R+E Cycles we wrote ourselves. The computer fitting program was one exception. Over the years, we had to develop 'adjustments' to the numbers it recommended (most of our customers aren't 25 year old pros). These 'adjustments' were the results of experience through performing thousands of sessions on the adjustable fit bike.
Other flaws existed in the old software as well. A lot of our female customers and our people over 6'7" tall would be 'out of range' for the computer data, and we would have to extrapolate to get a 'recommended starting fit number'. It was clear that this aspect of the bicycle industry needed some love.
Scott suggested that it was time for an update that reflected our customer's preferences. We had the data we needed, we had the ability to write our own software, and we carved out the time to make it so. Immediate feedback! We again were in the unique position of seeing the problem and having the ability, background, and dedication to address it head on.
The efforts produced the NEXT-fit Software that we use in our shop today. NEXT-fit is easier to use than other fit software, and works on both Macintosh and Windows computers. It never gives you an 'out of range' measurement for short or tall clients, and provides you with a much more accurate 'starting point' numbers.
2006 - The Cycle is Broken!
Our original NEXT-fit bike was made way back in the early 1990's. Like many others that you see on the market today, it was made from lightweight materials and was intended for occasional use (maybe 3 or 4 times per week). As we shifted into high gear and started fitting every client on our fit bike (4 - 6 per day), we found that it was difficult to make adjustments efficiently. It required many adjustments to attain the accuracy we wanted, and adjustments required the rider to get off the bike.
Once rider got off the bike, it would take the fitter a couple of minutes to wrench around on the lightweight bolts to make one adjustment (hopfully nothing broke in the process). By this time, the client was cooled down, and had to warm up after getting back on the bike before they could render an opinion on the new fit position. Their opinion usually sounded like "I can't remember what it felt like the other way, can I try the previous position again?" The process would have to start all over.
"Calling In The
2007 - The Cycle is Complete!
Although our new NEXT-fit adjustable bicycle is complete, the cycle of evolving and improving the NEXT-fit bicycle fitting system will roll on for years to come! As a NEXT-fit professional, you too can benefit from the talent and experience incorporated into every aspect of the NEXT-fit system.