Earlier this year someone introduced me to this great strip:
I'll give you a small tip - Yehuda is a guy's name (Moon is his last name) and he works in a bike shop named The Kickstand.
It just got started a little while ago so it'll be all of 20 minutes for you to read all the archives, 40 minutes if you have a lagging connection.
Seriously, go read them. Skip a few if you like, but you'll get the general idea of the whole thing.
(Note: I wrote this a few months ago and now there is much more to the archives, so I'll forgive you if you read the strip later.)
So now I'll rehash some of my favorites without revealing them:
Gotta love the rain cape. Head wind. The newsletter. Running out of paint. Snowman. Saving money by commuting to work on a bike. The racer geeks. Durability versus speed.
The Yehuda Moon introducer is a new cyclist (1 or 2 years), a college student, and probably a typical representation of an up and coming racer.
In this era.
I say that because I didn't realize some of the implications of getting into a new sport in this age of the internet, of virtual (social) networking, of being able to draw on the expertise of thousands of people within minutes (or 0.25 seconds according to Google) for all your question needs.
You can also find really cool bike things online, like Yehuda Moon.
I hate to state the obvious but the internet flattens social and physical barriers. Perhaps the one thing it doesn't do is eliminate the need for some "schoolin' skills" like reading/writing, typing (I separate the two since I learned them separately - maybe nowadays they're one and the same), maybe some math, some rudimentary grasp of "how to research", and finally some proficiency in using a web browser. Without reading/writing and typing you're pretty much up the creek.
Since I can't write this for people who can't read, if you know of such people, encourage them to learn. I might sound facetious but I know a few adults who are or were illiterate and I'm sure there are more.
Anyway, once you have those relatively straightforward skills, you're free.
In this case a younger rider (or YR or college student - you know, someone who could literally be my kid) asked me for some innocuous advice on bike fit. He'd been posting prolifically on Bike Forums (or "BF" as the regulars call it) about fit, racing, even traveling.
The thing about the YR is that geographically he was pretty close to me, not like some of the other regulars - Texas, Australia, Europe. I'm talking YR is within 40 or 50 miles, at a nearby school.
I don't know that there are other racers on campus, but there is a local shop. YR has enough sense to maintain a relationship with one local bike shop (LBS), one that happens to be elsewhere. It's pretty far away, perhaps where his parents live, and in fact I actually have no idea where his LBS sits.
Shop relationships are good as far as I'm concerned, though, so it's good. He's working through his fit issues, trying to get his bike in racing order, and getting out there to race. This process got me thinking about the internet.
When I had been in his situation at his age, I was in what might be considered close to an informational vacuum.
My annual resources would have been the following: 19 issues of VeloNews a year, most of them in the April-August time period. 12 (?) issues of a rapidly deteriorating Winning Magazine. And sometimes, when such magazines existed, Road Bike Action or Bicycle Guide. My LBS would pass on some tidbits. My uncle sent me an Italian book on road racing. Yes, it was all in Italian, and no, I don't know a stitch of Italian.
When I first started out I had a 3 or 4 page newsletter I got from a shop that was really, really far away. It had some racing terms on it, club dues and jersey costs, and a couple ride tips. And that was it.
Of course there were the "senior" riders. They taught me a lot of what I know. In fact there were a few of them.
One was a TT god at school - his time trialing advice amounted to "Well, spin a 53x12 for 40k, you should be able to break an hour".
Another was a retired ex-pro (former domestique to Coppi apparently) whose advice I pooh-poohed as being too old and not applicable - I wish I could ride with him now.
There was an outspoken guy at my shop that pretty much said things go his way or the highway.
And, finally, after a few years, my most trusted advisor who ended up being my first ever leadout man. He gave me a lot of great advice but also inclined to withdraw if my questions didn't relate to his current situation. So if I asked him about sprinting and he had focused his whole season on climbing, I usually didn't get much. But in his role as leadout man he had a lot of great stories, advice, and helped me understand the fragile ballet performed by a cycling team in a field sprint.
That was my world.
At least I could see each person (or listen to them on the phone). I wasn't inundated with advice from strangers, nor did I have a dozen recommendations from "experts" (bike companies online etc), and finally I never felt like I was lacking in my choice of advice - a computer plotted $5k fit session wasn't in my books, but if I wanted to ask the "authorities", I felt like I had access to them (i.e. the shop guys). Now that there are such things as a $5k fit session, I imagine it'd be hard to feel a knee twinge and think, "You know, if I had this $5k fit, I probably wouldn't have this twinge."
The problem with the internet is that there are no checks and balances. On the internet everyone is an expert, no one knows what they're talking about, and inevitably someone else knows what you need to learn.
You need to go to the source at some point. In the bike shop days we fit by first taking measurements of the rider. We then checked the FitKit for general recommendations (make sure we weren't too far off). We used the pedal thing for fitting cleats. And we made our own recommendations for stem and top tube length (usually).
Ultimately it came down to fitting by eye, by rider feedback, and not much else.
So, coming from this school of thought, I volunteered to check out YR's position first hand. The first time I went to YR's dorm and watched him sit on his bike, I thought about how to put it gently. His frame seemed painfully small, but he'd been fit somehow and this is what the shop came up with. After a couple minutes of what was probably unnerving silence to him, I finally blurted out, "You need to raise your saddle like 5 centimeters."
So much for being subtle.
5 cm, it ended up, was way too much - 2 cm was more like it. But you get the point. In fit sessions millimeters dominate the discussion, not centimeters.
So, with his seat height literally 9 or 10 cm higher than mine, and a frame only 2 cm (one size) larger, a larger frame seemed in order.
We performed some checks (measuring both him and his bike, checking what going up a frame size would do) and decided, as a pair, that a larger frame (2 cm) would be beneficial.
Without this sanity check, his quest for a more comfortable, better fitting ride would have gotten stalled. A real life fit, in a couple hours, did more than days of internet researching (and smart internet researching at that - he knows of fit sites I've never seen).
I guess it comes down to this: for virtual problems (software), virtual solutions pretty much always work. But for real life problems (say a leaking pipe in under the kitchen sink), although you might get virtual solutions, ultimately you'll need to get out a real life wrench and turn some real life nut or bolt.
With bike fit it's the same thing.
At some point you'll need to get someone to eyeball you on the bike. Preferably it'll be someone with less interest in selling you a new frame and more interest in seeing you set up correctly. Such reality checks are critical when dealing with bike fit.
I'm glad that I could help out YR. We plan on going riding one day soon and maybe he'll ask me more questions. But for now, getting him to get a new frame size, I feel like I've accomplished something in this internet age.
Epilogue: Unfortunately YR had a somewhat serious spill ("It's better now, kids don't cry when they see me") shortly after I wrote this and before he got his frame. We never got our ride in, but if/when he gets back on the saddle, I'll be up for that ride.