You can never really educate the populace on a site like this one, because the populace keeps changing. Viewing the sport of triathlon is like viewing light: is it a bunch of particles? Or is it a wave? It's both. It's a bunch of particles (you and I are particles) but those particles bump into each other, energize each other, and some just fly off into space to do something else with their existences, while other particles arrive, ready to race their first sprint triathlons.
Even if there are always half or three-quarters of a million or so of you "particles" out there at any one time, the constituency changes and that's how you particles are also like a wave. So I write articles for the wave, knowing that some particles have - regrettably, redundantly - read something very much like this before.
I'm writing today about Guru's fit initiative, and the thing I'm writing that is redundant - for those who're paying attention - is that all of these fit systems (those by Shimano, Purely Custom, Trek, Retul, F.I.S.T., Guru) are converging. We are all doing things more and more like each other. In particular, there are two common elements: we all use X/Y adjusting fit bikes to execute dynamic protocols that arrive at a particular set of fit coordinates; and we all use pretty much the same math to get from that set of fit coordinates to complete bike solutions.
Because of this, the "tool" each of us use is less important than the skill of the fitter using the tool. The tool should not be the brand. The fitter should be the brand. I write this as a seller of tools and as the champion of my own fit "system." Still, the "brandness" of my system (F.I.S.T.) will recede, or at least it should recede, in importance as time goes on. Individual fitters should be the focus. My fit school should not recede in importance (and I hope it doesn't) but at some point I hope you will stop referring to a F.I.S.T. or Guru or Retul fit unless you're all going to go in for a Beckman MRI and some Penn State medicine. When you sing along, in person, to the fellow bellowing Born to Run and Born in the USA, are you attending a Fender concert? If you listen live to Strong Enough to Be My Man is it a Gibson concert you attended?
Still, Sheryl Crow and Bruce Springsteen would be less effective if they stood up there only with a microphone. If you bought a ticket to an Eric Clapton concert and he said, "It's the performer, not the tool," and produced an entire live performance A Capella I think you would find it interesting, but ultimately less entertaining. Clapton without his guitar would be a disappointing concert.
What's important about the tool (whether its a Fender Stratocaster or a Guru fit bike) is that it perform at least the basic necessary functions. What are those? Today, in today's world of professional bike fitting, that tool must adjust up and down, back and forth, at least in the front end, that is, the handlebars. You must then be able to read some X and Y output, whether to the head tube top (stack and reach) or to the handlebar clamp. I think we're quickly getting to the point where fit bikes like these must also be able to incline, and to produce a rider experience during that fit that includes ascending. These are the basic functions of a fit bike that conforms to today's modern dynamic fit protocols (dynamic as opposed to "static," which do not require fit bikes or fit coordinates established while a person is riding aboard a position simulator).
Last Fall I wrote about these "conforming" fit bikes: Shimano, Purely Custom, Exit Cycling, Retul and Guru. They each have their own system and some have multiple systems. For example, the Purely Custom fit bike is used by Paraic McGlynn at his Cyclologic school and studio, and it's also the fit bike licensed by Trek for its PrecisionFit system. It's also one of the fit bikes we use at our F.I.S.T. Workshops. So, which is it? What's the system for this bike? It's a tool, and it works with several systems.
So, then, what are these systems? In the main, a "system" in this context is a way to establish a set of fit coordinates. Bike fit, nowadays, is a 2-part process. The first part is the establishment of a set of fit coordinates. What is your proper seat height? Where should your saddle be fore/aft? How far in front of the saddle, or the bottom bracket, should your handlebars be? Where should your handlebars be in elevation versus the BB, or versus the saddle? These are fit coordinates. Part-1 of a fit process is to establish how it is you sit aboard your bike, and while your TT or tri position is going to be very different than your road bike position, this Part-1 of a fit process still has to be the preliminary step in your bike fit.
Some folks say, no, the preliminary step begins before this. It begins with some sort of biomechanical analysis. Range of motion. Stuff like that. Fine. Whatever. At some point, though, if it's a dynamic fit process you're undergoing, you execute this Part-1 of the fit process aboard a fit bike, while riding. In my opinion, that list of fit bikes that dovetail well with this sort of process is pretty short. It's that list above. Where does this leave other fit bikes, such as (for example) a Waterford Fitmaster? This is a fine fit bike. But it works another way. If a fitter adheres to a "static" protocol - limb lengths, knee over pedal spindle, saddle height based on your inseam or leg or trochanter height, and so on - you can achieve your fit coordinates that way, aboard this kind of fit bike, and the result will be a bike that, well, looks very much like an actual, rideable, bike. All the "old school" metrics you're used to - seat tube, top tube, head tube - you can read these right off this kind of fit bike.
A lot of people in the bike business just can't wrap their heads around stack and reach and never will, and this alternate kind of fit bike is fine for those who just want metrics that conform to the way we looked at bikes and bike fitting prior to 2003 or thereabouts.
But if you welcome these new fit protocols as a better way forward, and you want to position someone aboard a fit bike while he's riding, as if the act of riding informs the position, then you need a bike that adjusts in an X and Y plane because if you want to mess with, say, handlebar elevation, you want that front end to go up and down vertically, not along a 73 degree bias (a typical bicycle head angle).
As long as you have a bike that does this - say, in a $7000 or $8000 Retul or Exit Cycling, or a $9000 Shimano - why would you need a $12,000 or $13,000 Purely Custom or a Guru fit bike at twice or thrice the price of perfectly acceptable fit bikes? Good question. A lot of fitters don't need to spend that extra money, either because they are not convinced the extra money buys them or their customers a better fit, or because they don't do enough fits to justify that kind of tooling expense. To those fitters, I hear ya.
You might look at it like this: Why watch Avatar in 3D when you can watch it perfectly well in 2D? Same sorta thing. I, particle, can watch it in 2D and be very entertained. But, oh, in 3D, that's an experience.
And that's the Guru. In fact, when it was originally branded last year after Cannondale's parent company bought the name Guru and the tooling and intellectual property of the Guru fit bike it was called "The Guru Experience" and the more this system moves into the future the more the fit process becomes an experience.
Part-2 of the fit process is taking these fit coordinates you generated in Part-1 of the fit process and translating them to a set of complete bike solutions. This is where we all pretty much, as systems, converge. You get a fit report very much like the one above, which is Guru's fit report. This isn't a whole lot different than the fit reports spit out by some of these other systems.
Part-2 of the fit process is to take these fit coordinates and translate them into complete bike solutions. See in the upper right hand corner of that fit report above, the numbers 665 and 463? That's what we call "Handlebar X and Y" and it's from these numbers that we generate a list of complete bike solutions. Here again, our systems are all converging. There's only one way to do the math to achieve these solutions, and we all do math pretty much the same way. But let's go back and look at Part-1 of the fit process the way the Guru system operates.
Establishing fit coordinates aboard the Guru fit bike
This is where the bike shines. When it comes to part-2 of the process - complete bike solutions - I honestly don't think the Guru bike offers a process or technology that is a ton better than what everyone else is offering, "everyone else" meaning the other fit systems I list. Now, that doesn't mean fitters using the other fit systems know their fit systems well enough to provide complete bike solutions in an expert way, however, theoretically the systems themselves provide for the calling out of complete bike solutions that match fit coordinates.
The Guru is unique in one way, and almost unique in another way. The one thing it does that no other bike does is adjust via built-in motors. There are 6 motors on this bike, and they move the handlebars fore/aft and up/down (that's 2 motors), same with the saddle (that's 2 more motors), and then the bike ascends and descends (that's 2 motors). This is the only bike that simulates a descent. Is this an important feature? I don't know. I don't use it in my fit protocol. It might be important in, say, MTB fit, which I really have little experience in. Ascending, that's another story. But, it's a story for later.
Purely Custom's fit bike can adjust using a motor in its up/down axis (not fore/aft), both for saddle and handlebars. The Exit Cycling bike adjusts up/down, fore/aft and in its incline function, using a motor. But in the case of both these fit bikes, the "motor" is in the form of a handheld drill, with either a 6mm Allen key or a 5/8" hex stuck into the drill.
Guru's "system" or "protocol" for finding a set of fit coordinates is F.I.S.T. Bless their hearts. Of course I believe they chose the best protocol! Bear in mind, the protocol I'm talking about is what Guru is using in Part-1 of the fit, that is, during the finding of fit coordinates.
Because the movement in this bike is motorized, and all the positions digitized, the Guru bike positions itself prior to your hiking your leg over the saddle to commence a fit session. Bear in mind that every protocol, every system, that uses a fit bike requires that fit bike to have its saddle and handlebars positioned somewhere. The F.I.S.T. protocol tells you how to set the fit bike up prior commencing the fit. You do a few simple calcs and that tells you how to set up the fit bike prior to mounting it. On all other fit bikes you have to adjust the bike to match these calcs. The Guru bike does it automatically. Is that a big deal? No. If this was the sizzle of this bike I would say no dice to a tooling spend of this magnitude. The cool stuff it does comes later.
How does your morphology get determined, so that the bike can be set up for your fit session? You could just use a measuring tape. Or maybe Retul's Zin wand (I don't know that Retul uses it for that, but it seems to me as good a use for it as anything else). In Guru's case, it uses a Kinect sensor, and this sensor is Guru's own "camera" for determining your height, inseam and so on. This is a 3D sensor, just like Retul's infrared camera, and the question for the future is whether the Kinect can do everything a wireless Retul system can do, when it comes to accurately, precisely, determining points in space in X, Y and Z axes. Is the Next-Gen Kinect going to trump these infrared sensors used by Shimano and Retul? I just don't know. When I know I'll tell you. Guru's wager is that Microsoft will continue to throw development money at Kinect and that ongoing investment will swamp competitors' investments. The image below is a screenshot from Guru's system software, with the Kinect measuring your dimensions.
The other nice thing about the Kinect system is that, because it's 3D, you can orient the sensor anywhere. If you place it in front of the rider that frees up a lot of space in a fit studio.
So, the Kinect scans you, translates this "read" of your body to limb lengths, it borrows algorithms from the F.I.S.T. Protocol, the motors on the Guru fit bike start humming, yielding your starting saddle and handlebar positions.
The Kinect has been programmed by the Guru folks to be a 3D motion capture system. In essence, it replace a Guru motion capture system, or the similar infrared camera and software used in Shimano's system. Is the Kinect the equal of these other systems? I just don't know.
A palette for the artist
How do you control the motors of the Guru fit bike? It used to be with a keyboard, as in a wireless keyboard communicating with a Windows computer. Now it's tablet based. The fitters makes commands on a Samsung Galaxy tablet. What I like about this, from the fitter's perspective, is my ability to stand back and see the rider in profile as I'm "painting" the fit using the tablet as my palette. I can type in the coordinates of the point in space I want for the saddle or the aerobars (or road or MTB bars), tap on the tablet and the bike adjusts. Or I can set an increment I want the saddle or aerobars to move, and I can move with a tap of the finger on the tablet that saddle or handlebars back, forth, up or down in the increment I choose (3mm, 5mm, 10mm, whatever I select).
What the fitter sees on his tablet is pretty much what you see in the display in front of you as you're riding. If you look at these screenshots, these are examples of what the software shows both the fitter on his tablet and you on the large display. The image at the very bottom of this page shows the display you'll see as you ride.
All this is neat. But it's not what is, to me, the exciting part of this system from the fitter's perspective.
If you use Adobe® Photoshop, and you have used it for 15 or more years, you probably remember when the "history" function was added. Lo! The joy! The ability to "remember" waypoints and go back to a specific moment when you took a wrong turn in your designing. Imagine of a painter could "unpaint" his canvas back to a specific point in the history of his painting! This is the single best thing the Guru fit bike does. It works exceptionally well with the F.I.S.T. protocol because this methodology for establishing a set of fit coordinates requires the execution of a number of "trials." Each trial is a discrete optimizing at a fixed saddle fore/aft placement: your "best" position at 78° of seat angle; your best you at 79°; at 80°; and so forth.
Typically, these trials involve something not unlike rotating around the face of the clock where, if you move the saddle forward 10mm on your tri bike your saddle guys up 2mm or 3mm (to normalize for the forward saddle movement in the horizontal plane), the aerobars move forward about 10mm as well to maintain your cockpit position, and your armrest may also move down 5mm or so to maintain your chosen hip angle.
You make all these adjustments independently with these other fit bikes, that is, you move the saddle forward, move it up, move the cockpit out, and then move it down, to suit the rider's new trial at a steeper seat angle.
Let's say, however, that a subject is having a hard time deciding which trial he or she likes best. Maybe the athlete likes 79° of seat angle best, maybe 80°. With the Guru you can "save" a trial, that is, you can save all the spatial relationships of the saddle and handlebars, and when you move forward to optimize positions in a new, steeper trial, you can juxtapose that trial against a prior trial be using a feature like Photoshop's "history". With one click on the tablet the positions of the saddle and handlebars move back to that prior optimized trial, while the rider is aboard and pedaling. This makes it very easy for a rider to distinguish between two adjacent trials. The image just below shows what your fitter will do when he wants to "capture" and "save" a set of fit coordinates. He can at any point go back and access these coordinates if it turns out this was the best set of coordinates for you. Just with the click of a button. With you still aboard the bike. Just don't get bucked off while this mechanical bull is in action!
You can also use this feature to pit the end result of a fit session against the rider's existing position. Place the fit bike in that existing position - Capture Fit - save it as a trial. Then set the bike up to begin the fit process, and continue on until that process is finished. Then revert to the original saved set of fit coordinates that the rider had prior to his fit session, and he can see the difference between what he came in with and the new set of fit coordinates he paid for.
The seat angle app
If each discrete "trial" at each successively steeper seat angle is really an exercise in rotating the entire body forward around a fulcrum, why not just do that? That's apparently what the Guru people thought. Lets say you're a fitter positioning someone for a road bike. If the saddle is in, say, a 72.5° config, the fitter can type in 73° and the motors kick in, with the rider aboard, and the saddle fore/aft, saddle height, cockpit length, handlebar elevation, all adjust at once.
All of this places into the fitter's hands functionality that allows him to execute a fit much more quickly than sessions used to take, and sometimes that's disconcerting to the subject, who wonders why the entire fit process only took 30 or 40 minutes rather than the 2 hours his buddy's fit took at another fitter who did not have a tool that worked this quickly.
Injecting incline into the protocol
Guru's tooling got much more spare in the last few months. A new iteration of the fit bike got scaled down quite a bit - we wrote about the bike itself last year - and its new bike has incline and decline. One question is going to be whether and to what degree incline finds its way into fit protocols. Remember Part-1 of this fit process: finding fit coordinates. My prediction is that in tri fit it's not going to be a big deal, but within a year or two most fitters with these modern fit bikes will have an incliner in or underneath the bike and incline will be a part of the fit protocol routine.
Why? Because we climb. Because there are about a half-dozen postures or positions aboard a road bike, if you count in and out of the saddle, on the hoods, tops and drops, and you can't test them all until you have an incliner on your fit bike.
The problem: You have to increase the resistance on the fit bike's resistance unit when you incline the bike, especially if the idea is for the rider to move out of the saddle with hands on the hoods. The increase needs to be in the order of about a third more resistance than when seated. The Guru doesn't automatically do this. No bike does. But the Guru has the capacity to do this theoretically, since the incline, and the prompt to incline, is all done digitally. Basically, you just have to have the fit bike talk to the Computrainer (the resistance unit the Guru bike uses), through the computer that's part of the Guru system.
This is one of those cases when you look at a piece of hardware like this much like a college football scout looks at a high school linebacker that's 6'3, 225, and runs a 4.5 40. It's not just what he is now, but what he portends to be. This is one area where the Guru fit bike is as much of interest because of its capacity for improvement as for its current utility.
Projecting into the future
The above is one example of an improvement to the process that is just a matter of programming. Another has to do with something that only two bikes do: digitally capture handlebar X and Y real time. What, you say?
One problem fitters have is "where they are" during a fit. Me? I know where I am, because I have a kind of strange, Rainman encyclopedic knowledge of what all these numbers during a fit session mean. It's my own private autism. Your fitter? He probably doesn't have my private autism. So he has to have some sense for where he is. If you know where the handlebar is, or where an armrest sits, in space, at any point in time, you can theoretically know what bikes match that output. For example, if you tell me that your road bike handlebars, where those handlebars pass through the stem, are 595mm above the BB and 390mm in front if it - remember those Handlebar X and Y numbers in the fit report above - I'll form a pretty good guess as to what bike that is, with what stem, stem pitch, and so forth.
I don't have to have that knowledge. Most of these systems now have that capacity. But that is something we do at the end of the fit. Once we're all done, "Here are your bikes," and we give you that list of what fits you. It's all just a big math and database problem. All the good fit systems do this now. They're branded with words like Bikefinder or Framefinder.
Ah, but, here's the thing: you want to have that instantly, during the fit, if you're a fitter. Let's say that you, the fitter, are nearing the end of the fit, and you think you're pretty close. With this Guru tool you can press a button and see the bikes that match that position, as long as its a captured "saved" position.
I'd like to see the Guru system go one step further. I'd like to see a tab, you click the tab and it expands out over the tablet, the fitter sees exactly what bikes match that position at any point in time during the fit. Guru can do that. It hasn't yet, but it can. All the programming is there. It's just a case of building an interface. Which I suspect it'll do. The point is, this is what's available to Guru in the future because it's got handlebar X and Y digitized.
Now, to be honest, Shimano has this too for their soon to be released system. They don't know that they have the capacity to do this, but they do. Well, they know they have handlebar X and Y digitized. But I don't know that they yet understand the power of that feature. Shimano is fixated - not without good reason - on the very powerful metrics they derive from the crank in their fit bike. But the power is in the prescription. The power is not in the diagnosis, but in the solution prescribed. So many fit protocols or systems simply identify something about you, but they don't give you your action item.
Prescriptions are where the sizzle is. A prescription is: You need a Speed Concept, size L, 35mm pedestal. Or, a Felt F Series, size 56, 110mm stem, -6° pitch, 15mm spacers and top cap. You do not have the capacity yet, with Guru, to limit outputs. What you want is the ability to closely scribe the outputs. You want to tell the Guru system that you don't want to see a stem longer than 130mm or shorther than 110mm, or steeper than –6° in pitch, or with more than 25mm of spacers and top cap. That will limit the prescriptive output to a list of bikes you'd be willing to ride.
In my opinion, when Guru finishes this feature (and I'm certain it will) it must make these preferences available to the fitter before the fit commences. If so, then this feature I described above - the tab that shoots out telling you what bikes match a set of fit coordinates anytime during the fit - you've enabled that feature. Again, this is what the Shimano bike can, theoretically do. I wrote this same thing about the Shimano fit system back last October, when I overviewed its fit bike. We'll see if the software they develop morphs to include this feature.
Another drawback is not anything a consumer can feel, but it's something a fitter can experience. I have at present 5 different models of fit bike in my studio, including the Guru and the Purely Custom. Sometimes I'm faster on the Purely Custom. When I'm dailing in certain parameters a handwheel is faster than a motor and a tablet keyboard. This is not a big deal. But it is notable for those who're considering a purchase of a fit bike because, while the Guru bike is outstanding, sometimes the Purely Custom or the new handwheel-driven Exit Cycling bike hits a sweet spot with me during a fit session. In fact, when it comes to accurately measuring the saddle nose behind or in front of the bottom bracket the Exit Cycling bike is pretty much unsurpassed. Each of these bikes has its virtues.
Training and Service
What I'm writing about here, today, differs from my prior commentary on the Guru fit bike (and in my series on all these fit bikes) in that today I'm writing about the whole shebang. The Guru system, not just the tool. The system includes everything behind the tool: the protocol, the ongoing software development supporting the tool, the training in the software and hardware, and the service and ongoing training the fitters get. What you, the consumer, see and experience from Guru is the tool, the software, updated data in the dbase system that prescribes complete bike solutions, and a protocol designed to get you into a proper position.
What you don't see is the initial and ongoing training and the support these Guru dealers get. I have seen that, and continue to see that, and it's clear the Dorel, the $2.5 billion company behind this $1 billion bike division - Cannondale Sports Unlimited - is serious in its investment in bike fit. Yes, this is a profit-driven company with public shareholders and I'm never good at predicting what corporations existing in a world that lives quarter-to-quarter is likely to do. But all the body language of this company says that its fit initiative is an important, protected unit. I can't always say that about the fit initiatives of other companies - even large ones - if those initiatives are not really understood and driven by those at the VP level and above.
This is where I circle back to particles and waves. The wave of Slowtwitchers has heard this before, but some of you particles may not have, or, may have heard it but ignored it - and I don't blame you, for much of what I write can be ignored and no big loss. Still, here goes.
I'm writing about a "system" here and the Guru "system" is the totality of what you get when you walk into a store outfitted with a Guru fit bike and Guru-trained fitters. The heart of the Guru "system" is the tool - the fit bike - and the software that runs it and produces prescriptive solutions off the fit bike's resultant metrics. The "system" is how that fit bike is used - everything that stands behind the bike. The very best thing about that bike is not the bike. It's the promise of that bike - the people, the organization, the intellectual property. It's what that bike and the supporting system around it are going to be in 2 years and 3 and 4.
I feel the same way, by the way, about Retul. I don't think Specialized (who owns Retul) can dull Retul, anymore than I think Cannondale can dull this fit system I'm writing about here. Not that either company wants to dull its fit system. I don't think Tata Motors wants to dull that shiny hood ornament on Jaguar. Just, sometimes a brand is a shiny gem inoculated from the typical scale-up, scale-down, hire-and-fire, we're in, we're out paradigm typical of just about all corporations that try to be nimble. The Guru and Retul fit systems are those shiny gems, because when handled properly they are the keys that unlock the sales at the cash register, even when these fit divisions are not themselves as profitable as the rest of the company's divisions. You may as well ask the VP of marketing to run his silo at a profit. The CEOs of these companies will not let the shine dull off their prescriptive platforms anymore than Jeff Bezos would pull his investment in Amazon's prescriptive platform just because it's a cost and not a profit center.
But you just have to wait and see how things work out.
The important thing to me is this: I've been preaching about process-based transactions, and prescriptive selling, and tactile retailing, for about a decade now. Finally we have the major bike companies understanding this, or at least investing in it cautiously through defensive postures. Shimano, Trek, Cannondale and Specialized are all on board. Other companies are slowly becoming aware that this is the way to sell in the future, and it's the way to properly accommodate consumers in the future. Plus, it's the only ace that local retail stores have. If you simply offer a slat wall or a pegboard with products hanging, then why not just have Amazon deliver it to my door? Systems like the one Guru offers are the antidote to Amazon, if you're a specialty retailer.
Now that the big bike brands understand this, when will the consumer understand these processes? How long will it take before the consumer understands that these processes - like the process of a proper fit aboard a Guru fit bike described here - makes all the difference in your riding experience, and when it comes to choosing the right product in the first place. This assumes your fitter knows what he is doing with a tool like the Guru fit bike, and that's the big if. Excellence in bike fit, versus "hike your leg over the top tube, yeah, it's the right size for you," is a big ship to turn. We're getting there.