by Robert Seaberg
Whenever anyone has asked me why Specialized is better than other brands I quickly pointed out that Specialized puts a lot of emphasis on the rider. With trademarked terms like “Rider-First Engineered” and “Body Geometry,” Specialized has made it clear that they have not overlooked the most important part of every bike: the rider. On a recent trip to Specialized headquarters, I was able to attend a class at their Specialized Bicycle Component University. There I witnessed first hand the latest data-driven techniques that they have developed to make the bike fit the rider.
The class was oriented around implementing their new Retül digitally enhanced sizing and fitting system. Retül was a Colorado company that focused on sports-oriented motion capture technology. Specialized recognized the potential with this technology and acquired the company. They have since refined the system to measure real time data regarding the key points along the body, and they can measure precise angles and distances as the rider moves.
The instructors began the class by making the clear and important distinction between the industry terms “sizing” and "fitting.”
Sizing is the basic two minute process that every customer should experience when purchasing, or simply test-riding, a bike. At a minimum it involves determining the correct size of bike frame and appropriate saddle height. Specialized’s Retül system allows us to take a “magic wand” and measure key points along the rider’s body to make this determination. Additionally, the Retül system allows us to take other measurements to quickly determine appropriate shoe size and saddle width. And don’t worry, saddle width is measured with a digital pressure plate, not the “magic wand.”
The fitting process, our instructors explained, is much more involved, time intensive, and a special service that most retailers offer at a premium price. It typically begins with an assessment of the rider’s body regarding asymmetries, range of motion, and other biomechanics. After the assessment, the fitter places motion sensors to eight points along each side of the rider’s body, and the rider mounts the bike. The rider will pedal and the Retül system will capture dynamic data points regarding the position and movement of the sensors.
This is the part that makes Retül the superior fitting system, the dynamic data. The traditional fitting process measures angles and distances at static points, while the rider holds still. However, most riders tend to be in constant motion while on the bike. While pedaling, riders move not only their legs, but may also make subtle shifts with their hand placement on the grips or position on the saddle, or even shifts in posture. With Retül, the rider moves and the sensors can capture the most subtle of movements, some that may otherwise go undetected. The fitter can use this information to make informed adjustments, and it is remarkable what difference even a millimeter adjustment can make.
After covering the theory and mechanics of the fit process each morning, the class would take a break around lunch time. To help the students digest the new information they had just been handed, the instructors took the class on a bike ride.
But of course, this wasn’t just any ride. Each member of the class got their pick of Specialized’s S-Works bikes equipped with Shimano Dura-Ace components. In other words, we got to ride the nicest bikes in the world along the rolling hills of the lush California countryside.
The views were spectacular, the routes were thrilling, and the bikes were phenomenal. What could make things any better? The fresh tacos and abundant craft beer that we all enjoyed on our last night, for one thing.
More pertinently, after the rides we spent time in the fit studio applying the concepts we discussed in the classroom each morning.
The class was divided into pairs, and we took turns guiding each other through the fit process. We each experienced first hand the magic that occurs when a bike fit is professional, and it is amazing how adjustments like a slightly wider saddle or a subtle rotation of the handle bars can transform the feeling of a bike.
On the last day of the class, we took our newly adjusted bikes out one more time. If the bikes were anything less than the best the first time around, they had been transformed into machines of pure wonder. Everything lined up. Our legs became perfectly tuned pistons and hands gracefully eased over the bars. We climbed the winding hills to the west of the valley and paused at the top to enjoy a view of the sprawling valley floor below. The class then began its final descent together, and we navigated the downhill curves with comfort and ease.
The experience was a treat from the beginning. Specialized boasts a beautiful world class campus. Our instructors Aaron Post, Garrett Getter, and special instructor Robert Driskell were personal, patient and gracious with their knowledge. And I feel like I made instant lifelong friends with all my classmates: Bri, Trixie, Kyle, Jake, Josh, Ron, Tamara, Karen, and Butch. We all learned a lot and are ready to deliver the future of bike fitting.