I was starting to think I was crazy, and that I'd spread my insanity to Sam. Had he just fed into my thoughts of what had been happening? I know that if anything he is a very sound and reasonable person, so odds are he'd sway in favor of the bike being fine and just needing some adjustments, but he seemed to be just as frustrated with his findings as I'd been with riding the bike over the weeks prior.
Expecting that we would experience a ride similar to the Crown Jewel - at least generally speaking in reference to set-up, we went to a bike shop to test a version of my former carbon road bike (my bike would be a now nearly 4-year old version, so we'd have to find the closest match). I couldn't recall with any kind of great accuracy the sensations I had while riding that bike any longer, but I remembered feeling fast and not weighted. Now, I simply wanted to know if I had invented an experience that never existed, or if it really was that I am simply not in the shape I was last summer.
I took the test bike out first, and over some very rough terrain - rougher than anything I ride on the roads locally. The road had huge gaps, cracks and potholes and was covered with chipseal, so I knew it would be an equivalent, or even worse than the rough roads I ride. What I noticed almost immediately was that I didn't feel any of the roughness or rattling like I had on the Crown Jewel. The ride felt soft - not noodle-like or squishy - but it wasn't hurting, and I could actually climb to get up a hill without feeling as though I was going to wipe out and my energy was going toward something that propelled me forward. It was all very confusing and I thought that certainly I was inventing all of this in my head, so I went back to the starting point to let Sam have a try. I said nothing to him and let him set out to make his own evaluation.
When Sam returned he said, "It feels like your old bike - easy to ride and it doesn't cause pain. I can actually pick up speed when I'm on it." He shook his head and said, "Honestly, I really didn't expect to feel such a huge difference between them, but it is more than obvious that something isn't right with the IndyFab."
I had to try it again. I got back on and rode through a shorter version of my earlier test and came to the same conclusion. While this bike was in desperate need of a tuning (it was definitely not shifting well), and it wasn't set up quite properly for me, there was no denying it had a completely different feel than the Crown Jewel. We left, scratching our heads and still thinking that there must be something wrong about the setup on the CJ at home.
|An experimental ride with the IndyFab Crown Jewel during a stop off to see Sam at work.|
During the research, we also discovered the possibility that the wheels on the bike could be causing the heavy/dragging/weighted sensation. I questioned this possibility as the wheels had worked fine on the prior carbon bike without issue. Additionally, when spun freely, there didn't seem to be any kind of drag or stopping taking place. Would I have to replace the wheels in order to really find out?
The next day, I decided to do a direct, back-to-back experiment with the Crown Jewel and the Hillborne. I took the CJ on a 25 mile ride, followed by the exact same ride on the Hillborne. I intentionally took the CJ first because I knew I'd be fresher and ready to take on the ride. If anything, this would give the Crown Jewel an advantage, and since it was currently at a disadvantage, I wanted to give it all I could to stand a chance.
To put it bluntly, the CJ ride did not go well. I had to stop multiple times over the first 12 miles just to get the numbness in my hands to stop. While riding, other people passed me on bicycles as though I was standing still, and while that is often the case for me, I could feel the effort I was putting in, and yet, there was nothing I could do to prevent them from easily zipping by. I was tired by the time I rode the Hillborne, and definitely in pain from the Crown Jewel, but I somehow still managed to travel more easily - even being on a bicycle that outweighs the CJ by at least 15 pounds.
Sam had given up. He stated his opinion as simply as he could when he advised me to give up on this Crown Jewel and get something that would actually ride properly for me. Yes, it would be difficult to lose the money and mentally painful as I had picked out what I wanted, but it was insane in his mind to continue to try to adapt something that apparently wasn't resolvable. As difficult as it was, I was starting to swing to his side. In fact, as I'd been riding the Crown Jewel during my experiment, all I could think about was being done with the ride - the exact opposite of what I would hope for in a bicycle. I want to want to ride. I don't want to dread being on my bike or make excuses as to why I'm not out using it.
Looking over the information that had finally been e-mailed to me by the bike shop, I realized that the top tube had been made more than two centimeters shorter than I typically ride. I know they had concerns about my weak and damaged hand/wrist, but I had explicitly stated that what I'd been riding was working fairly well with some small exceptions. Why would they randomly change this - and particularly without telling me? It just seemed like a dramatic change and I couldn't help but wonder if this was playing a role in many of the issues I was experiencing.
One of the biggest issues with this custom build is that I wasn't speaking to Independent Fabrication myself. Instead, I was going through a mediator - the local bike shop - and who knows what information was given to whom, and how that information was being interpreted. In that moment, I wished more than anything that I'd selected a company I could speak to directly, rather than playing this game of telephone - for which I seemed to be using a tin can with no string attached. It's a horrible realization to suddenly comprehend that because the bike shop determined that I didn't need to know any of the actual measurements, I was now potentially left with a bike I couldn't use.
I felt all sorts of emotions. I was angry - both at the LBS and myself. I was frustrated - because it felt like there was nothing I could do to resolve any of this. I felt stupid - for having thought that a custom bike was the answer I'd been waiting for all this time. I was in pain - literally from all the weeks - and now months - of riding something that just wasn't right. I was feeling all sorts of craziness and it was difficult to put it into words that weren't laced with profanity.
E-bay searches were quite common for about a week or so. I wanted to know what prices others were getting for their IndyFab's. I had passed the stage of caring what happened with this bike and just needed to know how much money we were going to lose. My searches were a bit eye-opening. It was easy to see that I would be lucky to get half of the cost back I'd spent on the frame and fork. Selling the bike whole wouldn't provide much more return, and with that thought, I was left to ponder whether I was really prepared to give up on this bike.
As we discussed the issues taking place with the CJ and the potential loss, Sam reiterated that he was perfectly fine with losing some money, as long as I got a bike that would work for me. In my frustration, I agreed that the Crown Jewel was not working - however, in the back of my mind, I still couldn't stand the idea of giving up on it. I'm a bit hard-headed with certain things and this seemed to be my current fixation, but I agreed that I probably needed to look at something else.
People - friends, family, and even occasional passers-by would ask about the Crown Jewel. Those who knew me wanted to know how it was working and if I was still happy with my decision to get a custom bike. Honestly, I never knew how to respond. While I wasn't sorry about the actual act of working on a custom bike, and I wouldn't discourage anyone from moving forward with their own, I was really struggling many days to find the good in this new bike. My responses were always vague and non-committal. What else could I do at this point? I wasn't ready to bash the bike or its manufacturer because some small part of me still believed it was possible to get it to a place that worked. I know how finicky I am about bike set up and maybe this was just part of the process, even if it seemed like it should be going more smoothly.
The next decision was to try switching out the wheels on the bike. We had another set that were of supposed lower quality from a past build that had since been parted, but maybe it would make a difference. The wheels were supposed to be heavier, so I was doubtful it was going to improve the situation, but when trying to find solutions, it's better to give all avenues a try, rather than stubbornly avoid something.
|At least the summer wetness left us with beautiful greens that lasted much longer than is typical.|
Of course, the wheels didn't fix or lessen all of the problems, and the twitchiness still remained. I figured this was merely something I would have to make peace with because even the longer stem we'd switched to wasn't entirely helping. The extreme hand problems seemed to have slightly lessened, which was great, but they were still present to greater or lesser extent, depending on the day/ride/route. In part, some of the pain may have been caused by the wheels, but I think it was also the roads I chose to ride (which are often chipseal and/or full of large holes) and the fact that I wasn't giving my body a break between experiments/rides. I also believed some of this was due to the reach on the bike.
One day I decided to just go on a quick spin in every day clothing - no gloves or padded anything - just to see how I felt. I wanted to pay particular attention to anything that seemed odd or out of place. I didn't take a GPS because I didn't care how fast or far I was going. I just wanted to know if there was any possible resolution. The things that were almost immediately noticeable:
1) The pressure on my hands was greater than almost any other road bike I've owned. This would explain (at least in part) why my hands go numb quickly into rides.
2) I found myself wanting to move my hands back from the hoods about 2 inches. When they were sitting on the hoods, I had no bend in my elbow, which I know can create problems as well. This caused me to think that even though the top tube is shorter than other bikes I've had, the reach was somehow too far (I'm sure adding a longer stem hadn't helped matters).
3) When I'd scoot my rear end closer to the handlebars, I could avoid the "stretched" feeling, but then my knees felt as though they were going far too forward over the pedals. When I moved back to a proper pedaling position, the arm/hand issues began again.
Even though I traveled a fairly short distance on that ride, it was evident that there are flaws in this build for me that I wasn't sure could be resolved. We thought about a shorter stem (which we'd already done), but it had made the bike even more twitchy and it hadn't seemed to resolve the numbness either. The seatpost has a very small amount of setback, so we pondered putting a zero-set back seatpost on the bike, but I thought that would only result in the same pedaling issues I had during my experiment and would definitely affect power when riding.
|I was fairly convinced that the numbers on the areas with purple arrows were the major contributing factors to my problems|
At this point, it is more than safe to say I was disillusioned about the custom frame process. As of that moment, I couldn't state with certainty that it was worth the cost to have my own frame built. Many of the problems I had prior to the build persisted, and while I didn't fault IndyFab or the LBS for this entirely, I had serious doubts as to whether any custom frame would make enough of a difference to ever try this again. The problem is that the only way to really know would be to have another go-round, and I knew I was not prepared for that option (financially, physically, or emotionally).
I also had a couple of regrets as far as my decisions during the process of the build (again, these were my decisions, and not the fault of anyone but me). I wished that I had purchased a matching steel fork and that I'd had the frame built with eyelets for fenders and racks. As time progresses, who could know what I may want to do with the bike? While it's possible to attach racks by other add-on means, it would've been nice to have a bike with a top tube that isn't too long (eg: the Hillborne) for longer sorts of rides... but, at the time, my purposes for this bike were not focused in that regard. I'm not sure any of this would've mattered anyway, as the fit for my proportions just didn't seem to be working.
There are times when I really beat myself up (not literally, of course, because I'm not some crazy Jim Carrey wannabe), but it's hard not to think back on some of the things I do and wonder where it all went wrong and why I seem to make such bad decisions. IndyFab is not a poor choice for a custom build, and in fact they have a great company with lots and lots of very satisfied customers, but it was the wrong choice for me at that moment in time. As I wallowed a bit in my self-deprecating thoughts, I had to regroup and figure this out.
At this point, the IndyFab was being dismantled. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with it after my final attempt to see if I could make it work. I had gone on another short ride after my plain-clothes test and returned home with aching hands and other various problems. As I had headed out on that ride, I thought to myself that this was the Washington vs Arnold test and there would be no turning back. When I returned and uploaded the ride, I titled it Benedict Arnold it is then, and decided at that moment that as much as I didn't want to give up on the CJ, the bike had won and I wasn't willing to sacrifice feeling in my extremities because I was crippled from pain.
It was a tough day to watch as the bike was taken apart. I felt as though I had failed in this attempt to find something that really would work. I was upset because I knew I had talked Sam into letting me do this and now it was a gigantic failure. He was angry, and I was back and forth between tears one moment and anger the next. Suffice it to say, it was not a good time for us. I knew Sam didn't blame me for it, but it was hard not to take on the guilt from such an expense and feel completely responsible for its demise.
Sam was encouraging me to go and try out bikes again locally. We went one weekend and I rode a few different models that were similar to bikes I've owned in the past. I wanted a road bike again that was at least somewhat comfortable to ride because summer was screaming by and I knew I didn't have much time left to get in longer rides. However, I wasn't ready to make a decision based on what I'd tried in the local bike shops. Something inside me knew I had to go back to the start and take another look at my options.
One day as I sat pondering all of this mess I decided, with much trepidation, to type a couple of notes to bike builders. I honestly wasn't sure what I was doing or why I was even bothering to try to get answers from someone else, but I knew that it was important to figure this out. Bicycles are a huge part of my life and not having the one bike that allows me to put in more miles was causing a lot of anguish. Frankly, I don't know what I expected out of the e-mails. Perhaps I was looking for some validation, or maybe I just needed to believe that it was possible to find something that would work. Not really knowing what would come from it, I sent the notes off to builders who I thought might be able to offer some input.
This will be the stopping point for round two of this tale. I'm fairly certain I can get the rest of the thoughts up in the last of this series very soon.