There's much debate over the array of bicycle fitting methods and philosophies currently available. Between Retül, Serotta, Wobble-naught, Specialized, Fit Kit and countless others, it's a veritable rat's nest to figure out what's best for your needs. One thing is crystal clear, though: once you do finally get things dialed in, you don't want to mess around with it afterwards.
But what about when it comes time for a new bike? What size will you need? Riders and shops alike have long relied on simple top tube measurements to make a guess. But modern non-standard frame geometries – not to mention the additional complications of time trial/triathlon bike fittings, what with their additional elbow pad, base bar and extension parameters – mean that more than ever before, it's just that: a guess. Retül's new Frame Finder software is designed to remove the guesswork from the equation.
What it is and how it works
Currently, baseline bike fit data is generally collected in the traditional fashion – with a tape measure and a piece of paper or spreadsheet. Retül's clever Zin system is much more descriptive and precise, capturing not just point-to-point distances and offsets but the location of entire surfaces in space. In essence, it captures a true 3-D representation of all of your bike's essential fit dimensions and then digitizes it. The advantage here is on tricky interfaces like saddles and lever hoods, where maps of their actual contours are recorded instead of just simple Cartesian co-ordinates.
Characterizing a bike's position information is remarkably quick and easy. The operator simply fires up the software, drags or places the tip of the Retül-exclusive Zin wand on a point or surface as directed, and it's all logged into the system using the same multi-sensor 3-D detector array Retül use for their dynamic fit protocol. From start to finish, a skilled technician can have a bike characterized in less than 10 minutes.
The beauty of Frame Finder is that it can then take that information and compare it to a similarly digitized database of stock bike makes and models. The prospective bike buyer or shop can pull up bikes of interest and then overlay current fit information to see what might work and what won't. More often than not, buyers can fit two different sizes of a bike and Retül's Frame Finder will be able to determine outright what will be required to get each one to work. In some cases, Frame Finder can also determine that a target bike simply won't work, potentially saving a lot of money and hassle.
Going one step further, the system can also customize the stock configuration with actual measurements from aftermarket components – like say, you wanted to swap to a different handlebar or saddle. Simply choose the item to change in the software, select its replacement from the drop-down menu, and the system will automatically update the fit information to reflect the change.
You can also add or remove headset spacers, flip the stem, rotate the bar in the stem clamp and change seatpost offsets – even adjust elbow pad height and extension length and angle – until the new profile matches the existing one. Once the technician and client are satisfied with the results, the software can generate an easy-to-follow report that clearly specifies the bike make and model plus whatever modifications will be necessary to match the desired fit profile.
How it can change the retail experience
From a shop's perspective, Frame Finder should – at least in theory – eliminate the possibility that an incorrect size will be ordered and should cut down on labor time for mechanics as any equipment swaps will already be concretely defined. Clients will be able to buy a new bike with the reassurance that what they've bought will work.
"Right now we're heavy in fitting – that's our bread and butter," said Retül head engineer Cliff Sims. "There are a lot of dealers who aren't going to be able to get their clients to pay $200-300 for a high-performance, dynamic 3-D bike fit. But they do do 10 times that much in merely helping people choose what size bike they buy. [Right now] they go into a store, they buy a bike, they go home and start riding it and they're maybe happy. I really do think that when presented the right way to clients, [Frame Finder] will be like crack – they won't be able to live without it."
Currently, Retül only have Felt bikes entered into their system along with a limited selection of components but that's set to change quickly. "Right now it's fully live with the Felt line," said Retül's head fitter, Todd Carver. "We plan to have Trek and Orbea in there by the end of February and will launch it then. From there, we'll be able to load about two lines per month until we run out of bike lines."
Sims told us that during the first calendar year post-launch the focus will be on adding as many bike and component makes and models into the Frame Finder system as possible. Afterwards, it'll be mostly a matter of maintenance and upgrades as companies introduce new models or revamp existing ones. He estimates this will only involve one-third as much work as in the initial year. For now, the plan also concentrates on road and time trial/triathlon bikes with a retail price over US$1,500 but other categories may be added later depending on resources and customer demand.
According to Sims, some companies have been wary of providing precise dimensional information to a third party but after explaining the limited risk and the potential benefits – namely increased sales – most bike and component manufacturers have been willing to co-operate. And if Frame Finder develops into what we think it potentially could, it would behove companies to get on board. Either way, Sims says he can work around the issue if need be. "We don't need to get engineering drawings from people," he said. "We can use a Retül to measure a bike and get it quite accurately in there."
For now, the Frame Finder system will be limited to certified Retül fitters and the company are still mulling over the rollout plan. It's anticipated that an annual login to access the web-based software and database cloud will cost fitters approximately US$1,000-1,200 – and from there it's up to them how to charge clients. We expect a full standalone Frame Finder consultation to run under $150, though, and many dealers may roll the service into the purchase of a new bike. Either way, if Frame Finder takes off in the way we anticipate it might, bike shop customers are in for a very different – and much more precise – buying experience.