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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.
Over the last 30 years we've performed a lot of bicycle fitting. In fact, looking over our computer database of clients I see that we've done over 12,000 fits (since 1983). This is one of the largest data collections of its kind, and represents more than just data. It represents personal relationships with our customers, and immediate feedback from those customers. Since we worked with each client, and in many cases built their bicycle for them, we are the place they come to for answers if something isn't comfortable. It is through this continuing relationship and immediate feedback with these customers that we are able to hone our bicycle sizing methods, and make adjustments to our software as necessary.

In 1973 we started out as a custom bike manufacturer. Accurate measurements are obviously something that was crucial for us to build just the right size. This was well before the computer era, and it was a long experimental process to get the right numbers.

In the 1980's, we were one of the first bicycle manufacturers to use a computer program to help us determine the measurements to build our custom Rodriguez frames. The software we used was originally developed for coaches who were training serious athletes. The opinion in the industry was that only a serious athlete would need to have this type of accuracy. We would take a customer's measurements, enter them into a computer program, and then build a custom Rodriguez frame to those numbers. It was a big improvement over guess work.

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.

Times...they were a changin'. By the early 1990's we made it our policy for every salesperson on our staff (usually 6 to 10 at a time) to be trained to perform the 'basic four' (as I referred to them) body measurements for a customer buying ANY bicycle. These were inseam, torso, arm, and foot. This way we could get a recommended seat height, and a recommended reach to the bars. The 'old fashioned' methods became a thing of the past at R+E Cycles, and a standardized method of fitting bicycles began.

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.
Well, we asked for it I guess. After the initial gripes and groans, the sales staff learned the system and started using it. A better educated staff, who focused on making the rider more comfortable through a proper fit is a great thing...right? In most ways the answer is yes, but there were a few 'learning curve' draw backs.

It didn't take long for us to discover that most mass produced bicycles didn't fit most 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?
Now, when I said limited production, I meant that we rarely even had a Rodriguez Stellar built up for the women to try out. When we sold one of these production bicycles, we would use the adjustable fitting bike just like they were buying a custom. This technique not only ensured accurate information for that particular customer, it also gave us immediate feedback for the development of future production bicycles. Most manufacturers don't sell directly to the end user, so immediate feedback isn't so 'immediate'.

By the year 2000 we only had about 4-6 sales people at a time. After crawling out of our Y2K bunkers, we began incorporating not only the 'basic four', but all seven crutial measurements as well as a session on the adjustable fit bike for just about every high end bike we sold. Because of the immediate feedback that we recieved, this method led to many more models of Rodriguez production bikes. When we would set someone up on the adjustable bike we would usually find that they were'nt comfortable on any mass produced bike....this went for men and women. It became increasingly difficult to sell brands of bicycles that we knew weren't made for most people. On the other hand, it became easier and easier to design and manufacture a line of bicycles that most people DID find comfortable. Fit = Comfort = Better Performance. We had immediate feedback! We were in the unique position of seeing the problem, and being able to do something about it. We tooled up for more models and more sizes, and dropped more and more mass produced brands of bicycles.

By the year 2000, we were making 7 models of production Rodriguez bicycles in about 10 sizes per style.

2005 - The Software evolves!
By 2005, we had 3 professional fitters on staff (the same 3 that are here now). The one with the least experience has 16 years in the bicycle industry. Our 10 years of experience with the adjustable bike has taught us that even the software's 'basic starting point' numbers needed some work.

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!
To see photos from a full fit session click here.
Another one bikes the dust -
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 Rare Birds!"
At R+E Cycles, we have some rare birds. One of them is Dennis Bushnell, who, aside his many accomplishments as a master bicycle frame builder, is also an extremely talented and creative machinist. His knowledge and talent for machining is something you won't find in other bicycle companies (you won't find a CNC machine at R+E Cycles). The results of these talents, as well as his 30+ years in the bicycle industry, are reflected in all aspects of the fit bike and measuring devices for the NEXT-fit™ system.

2007 - The Cycle is Complete!
Our 2007 NEXT-fit™ bike is designed for accuracy, ease of operation, and extreme durability. It is designed for the professional who will use it several times per day and cannot afford to have it break down. It incooperates methods of adjustment that you would see on a heavy duty milling machine instead of a bicycle. It's made from heavy duty stainless steel, and uses all industrial grade parts. All fit adjustments are made with the turn of a handle while the rider is pedalling the bike. Now, reproducing the 'previous' position is as easy as turning a handle and can be done while your client is still riding and warmed up.

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.

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