Letters from Abroad – Peter’s Bike Fitting

Editor’s Note: Peter Horn is an American racing with the Geox-Fuji Test Team, the amateur development team of Geox-TMC. As Geox-Fuji Test Team’s captain, he’s looking to lead the team to victories in Belgium and around Europe, and help break the team’s riders into the Professional ranks.

Before the last weekend’s races, I took my equipment to Frans Vanmarcke, our bike-fitter. Thanks to a few hours with him on Wednesday, my bikes fit perfectly and unless I need to replace some parts, I won’t touch a single bolt this season.

From Oostkamp it’s a 30-minute drive south to Ingelmunster. You go through town, over the tracks and just when you get into the farm country between Ingelmunster and Izegem, you reach Frans’s house. I go around back to his workshop (see photos): a small, organized room filled with parts and custom-made tools that he made himself. We greet each other and catch up a little bit, and then he gets straight to work on my Altamira while I go back to the car for my time trial bike, the D-6.

At this point his work on my bikes is straightforward and he simply applies the right measurements to my bikes. But when a rider first goes to him, he doesn’t look at your bike for about the first three hours – literally. He spends hours measuring every bone in your body and then doing a long series of calculations to determine the optimal bike fit for the rider. He doesn’t consider any particular frame or equipment – he simply has a sheet that he fills in with the ideal measurements of the top tube, seat stay, stem, shoe, saddle height etc. (See photo for my fitting sheet.)

Photo by Peter Horn

Then after hours of measuring and a half hour of silence as he comes up with each measurement on his old calculator, he looks at the bike you brought and makes it fit. Or if the frame doesn’t work, then you have to come back again with the right size. He does his job thoroughly and as perfectly as possible, and refuses to do any work that takes the fit away from those numbers on your paper. I can understand that this approach would be intolerable to some people; even if you do want to make every change he suggests, there can be tension with some riders as he explains the drawbacks of their bikes or insists, for example, on routing the shift cables in front of the handlebars instead of behind. Even with seemingly personal aspects of the bike that have nothing to do with the fit, for Frans there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. And when you see him, he does things his way, the right way. And you don’t touch a thing – the first time I went I thought I could at least help him and speed things up by taking off the bar tape. He gave me a hard look and Bernard insisted that I sit down and let Frans take care of it. When you’re seeing Frans, you don’t touch your bike. When it’s in his workshop, it’s his bike.

Photo by Peter Horn

Personally, I love it. I trust him absolutely and don’t touch my bike after he fits it. We get along well, and while I question him about certain things and at first was skeptical about changing things like my saddle and cleat position, at the end of the day I do what he says and don’t think twice about it.

Let me tell you a little more about being in his workshop. For me it’s a great place to learn and practice Flemish. He doesn’t speak a word of English, and once I started getting a grasp on Flemish last season I think I was about the first rider from the team to go see him without Bernard and his translations. By now Frans and I get along very well and when he’s not completely focused on your bike, we have good conversations, even though they may be on a small number of topics – normally racing, bikes, the weather and women. He always has a current Wurth calendar on the wall; some of you may be familiar with this calendar already, but if not, just imagine a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model for each month of the year. Every time I see him we joke about this calendar. He always happily says that they all look great on their bikes. They’re just some of the great athletes that he gets to fit in his workshop.

He has a small radio on the windowsill that looks like it’s 30 years old. It’s always on the same Belgian station, Nostalgie. The music is exactly what the name suggests: corny old tunes that are replayed every other day. But he likes it, and when he really gets focused on the bike he sometimes moves a little bit with the beat. Every couple hours his wife comes to say hello and kindly offers you something to drink or eat. Most of the time it’s coffee, and if you’re around until lunch, which is likely, she has soup and a sandwich for you. Last week she gave me orange juice for a change, and we had a nice conversation in French about the upcoming races and what I did over the winter. She and Frans exchanged a few words, but not as much as usual – normally they start talking and they nearly start yelling about something ordinary and banal. Like what time they would have dinner that evening, or whether to leave the dog inside or outside for the afternoon. Now that I can understand their accent a little better, these exchanges have become much more entertaining.

After four hours, he’s fit both my bikes and positioned my cleats on my new Diadoras. He gives me a hand-written bill that asks for 49 euros. Coming from the U.S., I am still shocked every time I see his invoices. Hours of work and some parts for less than 50 euros?! I ask him if he’s sure about the price – is that really enough? Yes it is, it’s plenty for him, and so I thank him and start packing my things into the car.

Like I said, I don’t touch the bike after I see him. It fits perfectly and I never have to go have him change anything. But he takes so much pride in his work that I’m sure the next time he talks to Bernard, he will ask about my fit. He’ll say that he changed the seat this many millimeters and did this or that to the hoods, and wants to make sure that all of it is perfect – if not, I should come see him again and he’ll fix it. Even after seeing me several times and making each bike fit the same, he still wants to check in and make sure he’s done a good job. And he has.

I think it’s about time to wrap things up. Next week I’ll let you know about training in the hills and next weekend’s races – the Top-Comp De Vlaamse Pijl (1.2) and Brussel-Zepperen (1.12).And finally, my Song of the Week: “Bang Bang Bang” by Mark Ronson and the Business International. It’s a catchy song and nice video, but I have to admit that I like Mark Ronson so much because we have two things in common – Vassar College and being vegetarian.

Tot straks,

Peter

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5 Responses to Letters from Abroad – Peter’s Bike Fitting

  1. Don says:

    Peter – thanks for sharing your experience with us. I see that you're a vegetarian. Perhaps in a future column you could comment on your diet? Due to a set of health circumstances my doctor recommended that I become a vegetarian. The change did in fact solve my health issue but my race results suffered. I'm not nearly a pro, but I ride 10 – 15 hrs a week and race eclectically in everything from the local 10 mile Wed night time trial up to grand fondo type events. Across all events my results suffered. I speculate that I didn't get enough protein, so I've increased foods such as nuts and beans to see if it will make a difference. I don't expect you to be able to answer my specific situation, but I would be interested in knowing what your diet looks like as a point of comparison.

  2. Scooter says:

    Hey Peter – great article! Also great fun to hear the details of the life of a racer in Belgium. Frans seems like he really knows his stuff and also very entertaining! Good for you for knowing Flemish and French.

  3. Peter says:

    Hi Don –

    Thanks for your comment. I will definitely write more about being vegetarian in a future column, but for now, let me give you some quick answers based on my experience not eating meat. I've been vegetarian for about 6 years, and at the beginning, I also had concerns about getting enough protein, iron, B vitamins and other nutrients. However taking meat and fish out my diet forced me to eat a wider variety of foods, and more fresh foods, than I ever did before. I have eaten much healthier than I did when I ate meat, and I don't have to take any particular supplements.

    Like the vast majority of racers, I take iron, a multivitamin and fish oil. Like everyone else, I have a recovery drink with protein after my workouts. And that's it – I really just eat a good variety of foods, make complete proteins at certain meals (rice and dal, an Indian lentil dish, is one of my favorite dinners), and try to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. Some doctors have different ideas, but the ones I've seen in Belgium have actually encouraged me stay vegetarian rather than suggest I start eating meat or having more protein in my diet. In their experiences, vegetarians are generally healthier, leaner (you eat fewer calories without meat), and as long as they eat a good variety of foods, don't need to worry about protein, vitamins or mineral deficiencies.

    I hope this helps, and I'll start working on an entry that talks about my diet in more detail. Thanks for reading!

    Peter

  4. Pingback: Bike fitting in Brussels (1/2) » Cycling Brussels

  5. cherie Moore says:

    Hi Peter- Do you have any suggestions for shopping or dining in Izegem for vegetarians?

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