I've mentioned this before, but I think it bears repeating: when you come from a "tribe of midgets" as my mother once described our immediate family to a much-taller cousin, it's hard to find a bike that fits.
Being a smidge over 5'2", I'm too tall for the 43cm bikes that come with 650cc wheels but too small for anything on 700cc wheels with a horizontal top tube. In that gray, in-between area, I'm placed in the unfortunate position of choosing between the two. Add to that the fact that I'm a woman, new to road cycling, and Japanese, and the decisions to be made when purchasing that just-right road bike can get more frustrating than fun.
Sure, a lot of bike manufacturers now have entire lines of women's specific bikes, in sizes starting from 44 to 49cm, usually designed with slighter shorter top tubes and seat tubes than their unisex counterparts. The woman that these bikes are generally designed for is one with longer legs and a shorter torso than her male counterparts; valid considerations for your typical non-Asian cyclist. But if you have shorter legs and a longer torso like I do [think E.T. but with normal length arms], going for a unisex, smaller frame could provide the better fit.
The problem then becomes finding a bike that's small enough, made from the material you want it to be made from, and, if you're as unreasonable as I am, in colors that you can tolerate [personally, this tolerance is inversely and exponentially related to the cost of the frame or bicycle]. The first two considerations are obviously the more important ones, and ones that required the most leg work because while I'd ridden steel and aluminum, neither bike had gears, nor involved rides longer than 40 miles. I didn't know what carbon felt like, what aluminum with a carbon back triangle felt like, or how smooth high-end steel can be. I called a dozen bike shops about road bikes they might have in my size, I rode a bunch around the block, rode a few a little longer than that, asked an endless train of questions, tried Sram, re-tried Campy, and ended up trusting my countrymen in deciding that I liked the ubiquitous yet reliable Shimano, best.
Now that I got the shifting down, I just needed a bike.
You'd think finding a smaller road bike with Shimano wouldn't be so hard. You'd think that, wouldn't you? Especially with all the women's options out there?
Except for...well, a lot of things. Back in May, Andrew had measured my height [this is when I discovered I was more 5'2 than 5'3], had me wedge this wooden L-shaped ruler between my legs to measure standover height, and hold the end of the tape measure where my collarbones meet. I stood around the small stage at the back of NYC Velo in my socks [we had to measure my height without shoes on, which is more accurate and close to reality but which I also think is fundamentally unfair], and was asked questions about my weight, the kind of riding I do, and the kind of riding I would want to do with a road bike. Andrew sent the deets to IF a few days later, and a few days after that I got to see a custom frame spec'd to my measurements, and about two weeks after that, I balked.
I'll admit that it wasn't just the impending bar exam that got in the way. There was sticker shock, too. The realization that I was going to put down kind of a lot of money for a custom frame and fork scared me. I had never ridden an IF at that point, and the chances of me finding one close enough to my size were slim to none. In the face of the unknown, [at least I could ride, say, a Felt ZW5] I couldn't commit.
But a few months post-bar, there was a sparkly green demo 47cm Independent Fabrication Steel Crown Jewel built up with Dura Ace hanging from the ceiling of the shop. Offered for a test ride, I took it up River Road and back and, unfortunately, fell in love. I tried to tell myself it was the Dura Ace that made the ride so smooth, that it was entirely in my head that the steel bike felt light, and that I should seriously consider carbon. But there was something about the way everything worked together, how the frame complemented its parts and the entire thing seemed to want to roll out and keep on going. As a complete derailleur novice, the versatility of the Crown Jewel appealed to me as well: it could be raced, ridden for hours on end, or taken out for quick spins. There was a lot of potential in that frame, but most importantly, despite the fact that it was too big for me, it felt really good.
The toe I dipped in the welcoming warmth of the IF pool was the end of my deliberating. I didn't admit it to myself for another few weeks, but once I had ridden that IF, the bikes I test-rode seemed...not that great in comparison. Still, I wanted to be 100% sure. I emailed Kevin at IF too many times, asking too many really long-winded questions, and every single time, he seemed more than happy to explain things and even offered to take a look at my current bike fit via photos. He said something like, "I understand this is big decision," and I wanted to hug him. I gave the okay a few weeks later.
And now here we are. It's been about 4 weeks, and with an approximate turn around time of 6-8 weeks, my bike is on the horizon. Actually, it's already been "born," so to speak, and the sheer thought of having an IF all to myself has me giggling like a 13 year old with a crush. I can't wait. It's going to be awesome.
More updates coming [very, very] soon!