Fit – get it right or pay the price

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In October 2014, a friend and I decided we were going to challenge ourselves. We signed up to join a UK group on an 8-day, 1,400 km bike rally from London, UK to Monaco. This event, in June 2015, would require 120 – 150 km of biking every day, including through the French Alps. The most we had done beforehand was about 100km – once!

I decided that I needed a proper bike – one worthy of such an adventure. I went to the bike show in Toronto and found a really good “deal”. I thought I knew my bike size from the bike that I currently had. The deal was for a larger bike – last one in stock. I asked the sales guy – who looked and talked like a pro cyclist – wasn’t this bike too big for me? He went through the motions of measuring me, put me on the bike, etc. And then promptly pronounced that no it was fine. I am relatively tall and had long legs, so this larger bike was actually fine for me. Or so he said.

I was convinced or let myself be convinced. After all, it was a great deal, right? I bought the bike, went to pick it up at the store a couple of weeks later, where they made some minor adjustments to the bike. By this time, it was early November, so I spent the rest of the winter season with the bike hooked up to an indoor trainer. My friend and I trained all winter.

In late April and May, my friend and I got the bikes out for some outdoor training. All seemed well. June came and we were on a plane to London. We got there, reassembled our bikes (with the help of trained mechanics) and met the rest of the group. We had our welcome dinner – and found ourselves talking to 13 other Brits. All of them seemed to have ridden for years – it is almost a national sport in the UK – and were typically riding about 200 – 300 km a week. Yikes!

We set off the next day, biking through London (along with the support vehicles) on our way to the coast for the overnight ferry across to France. From the Normandy coast, we wound our way through the French countryside to the Alps. In the middle of the trip, just as I was getting used to saddle sores and being on the bike for 7 – 8 hours a day, I had a couple of falls. Nothing exciting, just couldn’t control the bike – and ended up with bangs and bruises on shoulder and hip. Painful, embarrassing but nothing to write home about.

I finished the ride in Monaco where my family had joined me, and we had a nice celebration dinner. I flew back home. For the first month back, I couldn’t even put my left arm into my suit jacket without pain. I went to the first of many physiotherapists. The shoulder got better. Then, I started to notice problems with my right hip. In my falls, I had landed on both my left shoulder and my right hip.

I took my bike to my own bike mechanic – an independent – and he was gobsmacked. He told me that my bike was at least 2 sizes too big for me, that the geometry of the bike was such that it would be very hard to control, and that the shop I had bought it from was notorious for this kind of “mis-selling”. Three years later – after numerous MRIs, cortisone shots, and rehab – my shoulder and hip still bother me, and I am not back to 100%.

What was the lesson for me? That a deal is not always a deal. That the wrong “fit” can have serious consequences. But this is not just true for biking. I have seen too many investors convince themselves, or let themselves be convinced, that they should take more risk or less risk or invest in “exotic” investments. This is not the right fit for the investor – and they will get hurt, not physically but certainly financially.

I have seen this in companies as well. Too many leaders convince themselves that they can fit into a company culture or that the new hire can be “made to fit” the existing culture.

Good fit means that it doesn’t take a lot of work – whether in bikes, investment strategies or working environments. If it does, that may just be the first sign that the fit is wrong. In that case, save yourself a lot of pain and just walk away.

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