Posted by: Ian | August 14, 2010


After deciding to buy a Van Nicholas Zephyr, a pressing question for me has been how and where to get it. The idea with VN’s is that you buy them online. They have a procedure on the web site for transforming a few home measurements into a target bike geometry. From this, you can either choose a stock frame size and stem length or ask VN to build you up a custom frame. I used this two or three years ago when I bought my Amazon Rohloff but I’m not a fan of the methodology. Even if I was confident in the sizing algorithm, I simply don’t trust myself (or anyone else) to take the body measurements with the required precision. I placed the order for the Amazon through a local bike shop in Taunton so that they could pick up whatever dealer discount VN offered them, but they didn’t add anything to the purchase. Although they’ve been useful on many other matters before and since, they didn’t help me with the frame choice, they didn’t notice when VN accidentally shipped a 54 cm instead of a 58 cm and when the Amazon arrived they cabled up the Rohloff gears backwards.

Most cycle shops in my experience do an inadequate job of fitting the customer/the bike. More pertinently, there are no bike shops within striking distance of central London, Taunton or Hill Farm House that carry any VN stock. I found the closest, somewhere in outer South London, but in a preliminary phone call they went out of their way to provide me with strong and bizarre reasons not to make the highly inconvenient journey to see them: their shop was too hot for a fitting; they only opened well inside office hours; they charged significantly more than the VN online price; and in any case they didn’t want to sell the bikes they had because they’re more valuable to them as demonstrators.

Faced with all of this, when Stu mailed me a link to Bespoke Cycles it was a godsend. Here, I could pay someone to determine, through the application of credible science, my ideal bike geometry. I love the lack of conflict of interest: by paying them a decent amount of money to do this well they don’t need to be recompensed through the sale of whatever products they have distributor arrangements with. Also they were reasonably flexible on meeting me at a sensible time for the fitting session. The way that it worked was that I turned up with one of my bikes – the Felt – and Barry, who does the fitting, dropped it into a power trainer and velcroed a number of pads to me so that I could be tracked by computer as I cycled. After a couple of minutes the computer produced a stick-man depiction of my cycling action together with a bunch of metrics such as how open my hips were and the angle of orientation of my feet. Reading these gave Barry cues to adjust the set-up of the Felt and then we’d try again. Iteratively we arrived at an optimal bike geometry specified succinctly as offsets between the contact points. While we did this we chatted relevantly about my experience of cycling and finally we looked at the geometry of the VN’s online to assess how to best match my target. All in all, it took up a very pleasant couple of hours spent in a cool bikey room.

Half a dozen similar snaps are available here.

If it works it’s the perfect way to buy a VN, or any bike that you can’t get in an exceptionally good cycle shop. It was such a positive experience that Emily has done the same. I’ve passed on the information to Van Nicholas, who are very accommodating, and await with keen interest their final quote and delivery estimate.

If I were VN I’d be forming a marketing partnership with Bespoke and anyone else who offers an equivalent service. From a consumer point of view it’s perfect: you get a bike direct from the bike co over the internet with no distributor mark-up and you get a much more tailored fit than you’re likely to get from a shop. The fitting is quite expensive but at least you know what it’s for. My final bill from Bespoke broke down as follows:

1) £175 for the fitting service. Judged againts the overall cost of buying a new bike I think this is reasonable, plus I can use the same info to improve the ride on my existing and any future bikes.

2) I paid them £160 to supply me with the 3T ErgoSum handlebars that Barry recommended for the Felt. This is £10 less than list and maybe £10 more than my best internet price – very ok, it seems to me, especially as Barry was more than happy for me to get the bars myself if I preferred.  And they got them quickly.

3) Because I was short of time and knew he’d do a better job, I paid Jean, Barry’s tech guy, £30 to fit the bars. This sounds a lot but he also spotted and resolved some issues with the headset and swapped me in some new brake and gear cables, all of which took about an hour and half, which was again enjoyable for me, so more than fair.

4) They charged me £20 for Easton bar tape and cables. This was surprisingly sharp but I’ll let them off, given that I’m very content with all of the important and expensive stuff.

The acid test, of course, is whether the new bike config works on the road. I was a little worried at first that the slightly lower saddle position was making my knees sore but today I went on a 70 mile ride, with 1.9 km of undulations, around Somerset and Dorset. It’ was the first time in ages that I’ve been out on any extended circuit and not developed an excruciating pain in my back around an old injury. This is a tremendous boost to my cycling enjoyment and I couldn’t be more delighted. Whatever happens with the VN, the money I spent on Bespoke will pay for itself in savings on sports massage.



  1. […] significantly, I’d sized the Zephyr after a great session with BespokeCycling. When the Astraeus arrived, with an FSA headset that offered less height than the Chris King […]

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