I own a colossally expensive custom road bike, my dream machine, my cyclist version of the guy who finally gets his Porsche 911. I refused to tell my wife exactly how much it cost.
But I had to drawn a financial line somewhere. So when it came time to get a full suspension mountain bike, I accepted a whole raft of fit compromises. I bought a 23″ Trek Fuel 8 EX 29er. I didn’t dare take it to my fit guy because he would shake his head at the sub-optimal life I’d chosen. He’s a perfectionist and I respect that.
But most of us don’t have a trust fund or a million dollar salary to pay for four custom machines. There are limitations. It’s just, how do I decide on the meaning of the restrictions? How do I look at a list of geometry specs, in particular reach and stack, and evaluate just how painful and ill-fitting that bike might be.
A week ago, I began the dispiriting task of looking of an XXL gravel bike. They don’t exist. I wrote down some measurements for the biggest ones and sent them off to my fit expert for an opinion. Here’s his exact reply:
“Quite frankly, you are a 100% custom bike cyclist. I know that’s not what you wanted to hear, but no production bike can be made to fit you. The only way to fit you on a bike is to create it from scratch. I’m sorry to be the bearer of that bad news.”
Read those nine awful words again because there are a hundred beautiful and cool bikes I would love to own. “No production bike can be made to fit you.” It’s a geometry-based death sentence.
I appreciate his expertise and candor. But part of me simply refuses to believe it will be that bad. That I’ll pay a good chunk of money — say, $2000 — and come away with a useless machine that’s not remotely my size.
After all, anecdotal evidence — I’m more than happy with my 23″ Trek Fuel 8 29er. It’s not perfect but then most things in life generally aren’t. I can bemoan the fact that I have to bend too far over to reach the bars but there are far worse things, right?
What I’m wrestling with is that ugly and difficult gray area of fit. I’m willing to make compromises for a bike that’s less than ideal, that’s okay, acceptable, workable — that my body would potentially tolerate with more stretching exercises or more core strength or simply a higher threshold of discomfort.
But even those compromises and variables are not something I can test. Most bike shops don’t have their XXL model on the floor or they only sell the frame so there’s no built bike to throw a leg over.
I’m continually shocked that at a time of incredible advances in bike design and production, a custom bike still costs a fortune. I’m like a whiney 8 year old boy, yelling “That’s not fair!”
Well, I will just keep praying that a miracle occurs. In the meantime, here’s a great list of XXL bikes the Riding Gravel Forum put together.