Bikes at Cyclefit - Twelve Years in Twelve Lines
Back in 2002 we were the first and therefore only company viewing bikes through the tight prism of fit. This inevitably meant that 95% of the bikes that we built were full custom where the frame was designed by us in-house and then made in the USA generally by Serotta. The primary driver was that almost all big bike companies in the world utilised geometry platforms that compromised the performance, comfort or efficiency of a new generation recreational racers. How could they have got it so wrong?
Bikes Changed in the 1990's. People's Bodies Didn't!
In short geometry deflected and became more aggressive at almost the same time as a new wave of riders came into the sport during the 1990's.. Right up until early 1990's professional riders did not routinely run large drops from their saddle to their handlebars - normally 4-5cms where pro's by the end of the decade regularly ran 12-15cms of saddle to bar drop! The deflection in design arose at least in part because of the switch from quill stems (pictured) to Aheadset which took away at least 5cms of vertical stack height. Look at the picture of Andy Hampsten and Stephen Roche and you will see that the saddle and the bars are almost level. if they wanted a more aggressive position they learnt to bend their arms.
Corporate Epiphany and UCI Change
This situation prevailed for seven or eight years until the big bike companies had their own epiphany and began to run their own fitting initiatives which in turn informed their bike geometry and design. About this time pro riders stopped using custom frame builders to comply with new UCI regulations (see pic above with neither bike as described on the decals - possibly Serotta for Hampsen and Passoni for Roche?).
2015 - Stock or Custom? Shooting for The Middle of the Bullseye
Our case for custom has become more nuanced in the last few years. Having a bike conceived from the ground up around everything about you is still very special and by far the best way to achieve a perfect steel, titanium or titanium/carbon frame for a few reasons:
- Encompasses artisan companies like Seven and Passoni's philosophy and uses their key strengths to the best advantage
- Creates perfect individualised geometry. You can by definition shoot for the middle of the bulls-eye
- Tubing can be rider specific in terms of weight, stiffness and feel
- Custom frame design can encompass personal ride characteristic preferences - slow / fast handling, low/high CofG etc
What About Stock v's Custom Carbon?
This for us is where the dynamic has changed substantially. Five or six years ago we would have categorically stated that custom carbon was still better than stock carbon in terms of:
- Quality of construction
- Durability and safety
But over the last decade the big manufacturers have invested huge resources into composite research at the same time creating real world geometry platforms that work well for many riders. The huge investment into the concept of the monocoque carbon fuselage has also secured massive advances in both the consistency of manufacturing and in terms of sheer performance - i.e stiffness to weight.
Custom carbon builders by definition have to use either tube-tube construction or carbon lugs; both methods are great at building high quality and distinctive frames with tuneable geometry but can no longer compete either on weight or performance with highly evolved monocoques.
The World Moves On
In 2009/10 A Serotta Meivici custom carbon frame weighed about 1300 grams. It's ride and quality was and still is remarkable but in terms of sheer performance it is now dated in the light of a Trek Emonda Cervelo R5 to name a just couple of examples. To summarise - for us at Cyclefit the axis of balance of custom v's stock for carbon has changed because:
- Stock frame geometry platforms has evolved to fit most people most of the time well.
- Huge R&D budgets has taken the weight to stiffness relationship of a cutting edge monocoque fuselage beyond what artisan carbon builders can achieve.
Custom carbon arguably still has a place for people whose physiology struggles with stock or for those who want a niche but still carbon frame. But for the rest of us custom carbon can no longer compete in strict performance terms with stock carbon. and we never thought we would utter that sentence at Cyclefit!
"Weight is For Grocers" In this article we think about the performance implications of a lightweight carbon bike - Read