Sweetpea Journey #2: Bike Fitting!

If you didn’t know, I’m getting a custom-made bike from Sweetpea Bicycles. Natalie Ramsland builds these bikes specifically for women, one of just two women frame builders in the United States (the other is Luna Cycles). Many people I know are interested in hearing about the process, so I hope to be blogging about it each step of the way. Read the series here. And now the second installment. Awaaay we go!

This afternoon I had the first of two bike fitting appointments at Bicycle Fitting Services. During this the two hour session, we discussed my bicycling habits and goals; looked at my body’s motion-related quirks, measured my flexibility in various ways, and took a special bike used specifically for fitting, plugged in my bars and slapped on my saddle, and played around with the adjustments until everything was as snug as a bug in a rug.

Fortunately my dear friend Yeltie was willing to come with and be the official Bookish photographer for the day…or at least for the first half hour, which is why photos from the next hour and a half are sparse. He was willing to help a friend despite being a little stressed out lately. Thanks, Yeltie!

Stephanie was my fitter. Not only was I excited to work with her because I already knew her, but she is apparently quite good at working with pain issues, such as those I’ve had on my bikes of the past.

After pleasantries and paperwork, we talked about my experience as a cyclist and my expectations for my new bike. As it stands, I use my bike primarily for commuting, but I have one motherlode of a commute: it takes me about an hour to get into the heart of the city. Additionally, I have been known to participate in bike moves, bike camping, and other events that result in even more time on the bike than just a simple commute. I usually carry quite a load, including my own body. My approach to the bicycle is very utilitarian–the reason it works for me is that I incorporate it into my everyday life, rather than using my bike just for recreational activities.

After the discussion, we got up to start some floor work. Stephanie had me stand in a neutral position while she and Natalie stood in front of me and talked about the minute differences in the skeletal structure of my body. A pelvic injury I suffered eight years ago, which I still have to visit the chiropractor regularly for, could actually be seen by them standing a fair distance away, by looking at where my hands were when asked to place my hands on my hips. As someone who is pretty insecure about her body, it was a little odd to have two people looking at me and noticing that my knees stick outward, or that my right foot and leg stick outward at rest. They then stood a fair distance behind me, almost immediately noted “do you see her ankles?” and it felt a little awkward. As they drew dots on my Achilles tendon as a teaching tool, Yeltie distracted me by taking photos of my feet. Just call me John Merrick.

Next, they had me perform a series of easy range of motion exercises. I learned that I have a long cranial-sacral mobile (I think that was the term?), which is why I’ve always been able to easily touch the ground when flopped over at the waist. I got to practice my tree pose mental balance technique in another exercise, and as I moved I felt my ankle tremble just before another exclamation: “look what her ankle is doing!”

Finally, as I layed on a squishy yoga mat on the floor, Stephanie manipulated my legs to get some numbers related to my flexibility. Once again, my old injury was easy to spot, as the numbers were way large on the right leg, and equally small on the left, as they compensate for each other when my pelvis is out of whack (I just got adjusted on Monday…?!?!)

We then transitioned over to the large mirrors and cycle fit area, where they put my current bike on the stand, I rode, and they analyzed my current fit. Pretty good, except for my arms are still at too obtuse of an angle (see above photo). They even did a seat post adjustment that should alleviate my recent knee pain. Afterward, they switched to the special bike used for fittings, putting my Brooks saddle and the bars Natalie had ordered onto a bike where literally everything was adjustable.

I didn’t think much about my comfort as I was told to dismount, remount, and ride several times, as I was expecting Natalie and Stephanie would be making the decision on what was correct based on what they saw. They did start asking me about my comfort, and suddenly I realized my forearms felt really tense. Or my elbow was kinda sore, and they noticed I was locking my elbows. I suspected that much like smelling too many samples in a perfume shop, I wouldn’t be able to tell if something was right as I’d be on muscle memory overload.

But then it happened.

Immediately after starting to pedal, I had a moment where it just clicked, and I knew that was it. Natalie and Stephanie liked what they were seeing, and we were mostly done. They wrote down measurements from the adjustable bike while I snapped a few shots.

As I watched them work from across the room, I took in the visual of the saddle and bars, and realized that my bike is going to be pretty classy. Since last week I’ve been able to close my eyes and actually start to visualize my new bike for the first time, and seeing the saddle and bars together sharpens that image a little more. As Stephanie was so kind to put my Brooks saddle on my old bike, Natalie and I chatted about other things relating to the direction this bike is going to go in, including the goal of the bike, and discussing some interesting paint options. She surprised me immensely when she said she would likely have some design options ready within days, although it sounds that because the frame needs to get shipped to Colorado for powdercoating, it’s pretty likely that I won’t get my completed bike until November. I was hoping to get it in October, my favorite month. Oh well!

Next: designs! (Hopefully)

See more photos from the session here.

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3 Comments

Filed under bicycles, sweetpea

3 responses to “Sweetpea Journey #2: Bike Fitting!

  1. I’m so glad you’re blogging this! I think someday after my very lengthy job-hiatus ends, I just might get on Natalie’s waiting list. I love my Cross Check, but it’s just a little too long for me and I think a custom bike would round out my collection nicely.

    Very interested to see what your final paint job will be!

  2. jj

    Awesome! I wish I’d kept better track of the process when I was going through it. And it sounds like she’s been streamlining it a bit. My fitting was a *year* before I got my bike. Talk about torture, waiting after that. It was a year of knowing just HOW wrong my Trek felt after getting a glimpse of how good the Sweetpea would feel 🙂

  3. Aaron

    thanks for sharing this. What an interesting experience. I’ve seen the adjustable frame bike over at Vanilla Cycles shop and it’s amazing. But it’s a whole other world to have people analyzing your muscles and bones so carefully. It shows how much thought goes into these bikes. Kudos to Natalie and best of luck to you on a soon-to-be Super Sweet bike

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