Compact (Sloped) or Traditional (Horizontal) Top Tube? It’s Up To The Rider… A Not So Traditional Take.
Up until I bought my Venge I’ve ridden a road bike with a traditional (level, horizontal) top tube. My Trek 5200 is a fantastic bike and I still thoroughly enjoy riding it and I have both bikes set up identically (same saddle height, same distance from the nose of the saddle to the handlebar) though the drop from the saddle to the bar is 1/2″ greater on the Venge. That explained, even though the Venge has an extra 1/2″ of drop, the Venge is exceptionally more comfortable to ride over a long haul and because of that reality I’ve become an instant fan of the compact frame with a sloped top tube.
To be certain, checking out the forums, many people prefer the traditional top tube but my experience has had me thinking about why I feel such a difference between the two for some time. Now, before I go any further I want to stress that the difference I feel has nothing to do with the fact that the compact frame is newer and I find it vastly sexier – I’ll delve into the sexy aspect later. I’m also going to stay away from silly “corporate profit” conspiracies as well. He who would expect a corporation to run without making a profit is surely dumber than my left butt cheek.
First, there is one difference that makes the Venge a better fit that has nothing to do with the frame: The handlebars on the Venge are of the shallow drop variety where the 5200 has the deeper ergonomic drops. The shallow drops are simply easier to ride in because while the bar is 1/2″ lower, the drop bar is 1/2″ higher. The Venge’s bar also isn’t quite as wide - it matches my shoulder width a lot better. On the other hand, the shifter hoods, Shimano Ultegra, on the 5200 are vastly more ergonomic and comfortable and the wheels on the 5200, while much older, are higher quality and more aerodynamic (deeper “V”) though they’re heavier (about a pound heavier for the set).
Much of what I’ve read of the compact (sloped top tube) frame says that the design, because if different seat stay lengths, is more responsive as far as handling goes. While I still consider myself too much a noob to understand the full ramifications of responsive handling and what that feels like, I can say for certain that contrasting the Venge and the 5200 – and I’ve written about this before, the Venge is so much more responsive in tight cornering contrasting the two simply isn’t fair. The difference is stark, we’re talking about, on a straight up right hand turn (no stop sign), I’m at least 2-3 mph faster on the Venge and I can stick to the right lane all the way through the turn instead of starting from the left lane, hitting the apex, and drifting back into the left lane on the 5200. In fact, I still haven’t been able to found the max speed that will have me drifting into the left lane [Side Note: A cyclist, on this particular corner, can see oncoming traffic so drifting into the oncoming lane can be avoided if traffic is present by simply tapping the brakes].
Now, and this is where the rubber meets the road, as they say: Part of the corning difference is due to the fact that I could buy a smaller frame because of the way the frame is put together. With a traditional frame I need a 58 or 59 cm frame (6″ tall, 34″ inseam). With the compact design I was able to pick up a smaller frame (a 56 cm). This allows for better handling and I can feel it on the road. Now, I could have had a 56 cm traditional frame fit to me, it just would have taken a little bit of effort (and money) to do it. The compact frame, however, had everything I needed out of the box.
There’s another excellent advantage to a bike with a smaller frame: The drop from the saddle to the bar top is a bit greater which allows for a more aggressive (and thereby aerodynamic) riding position on the bike (1/2″ or 1.27 cm in my case and I don’t have the stem on the Venge slammed [as low as possible], I can still swap a spacer or two to increase the drop even more – I’m working on getting comfortable with that right now).
Now, one final note on the sloped top tube that I wanted to look at comes down to vanity. While I wouldn’t categorize my self as old or older, at 43 I’m no spring chicken. My flexibility, for my age, I’d have to guess is average to fair. Most avid cyclists (myself included), whether they’d admit it or not, want to be able to ride a bike with that classic “pro” saddle several inches above the handlebar look… Riding a compact frame makes the saddle height look more pronounced (or awesome). Take a look at two of my road bikes:
Even though the actual drop is 4-3/4″ on the Venge and 4-1/4″ on the 5200, a difference of a half-inch, it’s looks like the post is half a foot higher. Humorously enough, if I take those two bikes and stand them up next to each other the difference would be a lot less stark… The difference is mostly an optical illusion because of the compact frame. So, for vanity’s sake, we can see that the compact frame is the way to go. I don’t think we’re supposed to admit to vanity though so let’s just keep that between us.
In the end, choosing the style of frame that you want to ride is highly personal. Do you want the new compact frame with the sloped top tube or the traditional horizontal top tube? After having ridden both, and taking everything into account, I like the compact frame a little bit more but honestly, it simply comes down to personal preference: Which do you prefer?
I surpassed my 2012 overall total mileage yesterday, riding on the training wheel (turbo trainer). When I set my goal at the beginning of January I just knew I wouldn’t be able to put in as much time on the bike but I wanted 2013 to be a challenge so I set a goal of 5,000 miles, just 364 less than 2012. In the overall scheme of things, to be truthful, while it is cool that I could have ridden from my house to San Diego and back again (and still have 700 miles left over to head down to Cincinnati and back), I set that goal in the first place just to fall in line and have a goal in the first place. If I spent five minutes worth of actual time thinking about attaining this goal all year-long I’d be surprised.
The other goals I set were simply completing specific rides – no time limits, no “mph” goals, no speed increase goals… To be truthful, I doubted I’d be able to get any faster. I was mistaken. All of my previous personal best times on the bike occurred this year. So that leaves a lot open for next year when I’ll be riding a vastly superior and more comfortable bike. That said, unless I’m stricken with some kind of “bug” to go put a label on how much I want to increase, the plan is to do the same thing all over again. No goals, no limits, no expectations, just a lot of time on my bike. The only real goal will be to stay fit and trim whilst still enjoying being able to eat a relative shit-ton of fast food (I use the word “relative” on purpose – my idea of “shit-ton” and someone else’s are probably very, very different).
My mileage, or time on the bike more accurately stated, has fallen off precipitously in the last month or so and so has my diet. I imagine I’ve gained a few pounds over the thanksgiving weekend but it’s nothing to worry about yet.
For the rest of the winter, rather than taking two days a week off, I decided to bring the turbo home from the office so I can still ride with the wife over the weekend. This will, no doubt, also help with recovery after my Saturday run (nothing better than a 30 minute spin after a run to keep an after-run recovery down to 16 hours) but squeezing in a day off will become interesting. Ah, to have the problems I have.
You need no further information than this quote, from President Obama, to understand several things: 1) Just how over his head this guy really is 2) Why Obamacare is such a mess 3) Why government was strictly limited in Our Constitution and 4) Why he should stick to the TelePrompTer…
“If you’re a bartender, have a happy hour” [to push Obamacare (AKA the ACA) according to White House talking points].
Bartenders don’t set happy hours, bar owners or managers do.
Who is John Gault?
Ah, what to do, what to do… When I first got into cycling, I was big into buying cheaper bikes and upgrading them – new handlebar (custom cut to length of course), new stem, clip-on aero-bars, tires…and that was just for my Trek mountain bike! Then came the road bike(s) – saddles, shoes, pedals, tires, stem. Then I finally bought a bike that didn’t need any upgrades – or so I thought. Within a few weeks I realized that the wheels that came on the bike were, umm, very hard to like (relatively speaking, they were heavy and felt cheap) so I pulled the trigger on new wheels. Future upgrades could include a carbon stem and handlebar and a carbon crank and a set of carbon clincher wheels… Those last few are “if I ever have some extra cash lying around” upgrades unlike the new wheels which were somewhat a necessity.
In other words, right or wrong, I’ve spent a lot of cash on upgrading bikes.
For the noob the question that needs an answer is this: Does it make sense to buy an inferior bike and upgrade it?
First let’s look at the extremes, then we’ll have a go at the gray areas. If you have $10,000-$15,000 to spend on a bicycle, don’t bother reading any further – you’ve got enough to buy a bike that will have the best of everything on it anyway or darn close to it.
That covers the expensive side of the ledger. For the inexpensive side it’s relatively simple: You can’t upgrade an aluminum road bike to carbon road bike awesomeness (and comfort) for less than the cost of the carbon road bike – unless you buy the parts on a discount and install them yourself (something that most noobs would have a tough time with anyway). Having ridden extensively on both (carbon and aluminum), there’s no way I’d settle for aluminum again. The benefits of carbon far outweigh the cost effectiveness of aluminum. There’s a reason they put carbon forks on the higher grade aluminum bikes. Is it worth that effort though? Absolutely, under the right circumstances.
I bought my wife a nice, brilliantly maintained two year-old Specialized Secteur (the upgraded model with the carbon fork) for half of the original sticker. It’s already decked out with Shimano’s 105 10 speed line so the important components are solid. Throw on a decent set of aluminum rims and it’s a great bike for an enthusiast. However, if I hoped to make the Secteur mimic the comfort of my Venge, I’d have to go much further to get around the stiffness of the aluminum frame… I’d go with carbon clincher wheels (Chinese knock-offs $400), carbon stem ($90-$150), maybe a carbon handlebar ($200), carbon seat post ($100). Install the components myself and I’m looking at a nice, light, relatively comfortable bike for about $1,500-$1,700. I’ve got about $3,600 into my Venge. Do the math, it can make sense.
On the other hand, if you were to buy an old school bike (something with, say, downtube shifter levers) and upgrade that to something a little more modern, well you’re talking about an entirely different scenario then. I’ve got a nice Cannondale that I thought about upgrading until I found out what I would have to do to get it done right … I was looking at another $400 to upgrade the shifters, then another several hundred for a new fork and to have it painted to match the bike, then I’d have to spread the frame, buy new wheels, a cassette, chain - and I’d have ruined (again, in my opinion) a great old-school bike. I’d have been into that bike for a couple of grand by the time I was done – and I’d still have been on a relatively heavy bike. It is important to keep in mind, for those in the know, I made the distinction “get it done right” – I am fully aware of the many workarounds when it comes to using odd shifters for old bikes. These workarounds, while often quite good, are not infallible and often very finicky. I don’t do finicky. When I say “right”, I mean right.
Now, there is real benefit to upgrading an old bike, however you want to go about it, because it can be done one part at a time in most cases. If the budget is tight, then it can absolutely make sense to get a less expensive bike and upgrade the undesirable parts as you can afford them over time. This can be tricky, depending on the age of the bike and the new parts you’re upgrading to so a plan of attack should be made and well thought out in advance. For instance, say you’re swapping out an older aluminum stem for a new carbon one. You have to make sure the new stem matches the old one so it goes together with your existing handlebar. Then when you can upgrade the bar, you have to make sure you get the right diameter to match your stem. If you want to go from an old 7 speed cassette to a newer 10 speed setup, the back-end of the bike will have to be spread and you’ll need new wheels. There are too many combinations to list here but it’s handy to know that getting the right equipment isn’t always easy. For this reason most shops will simply steer you towards a new bike that has everything you want.
As I see it, one of the many enjoyable aspects of cycling is that road bikes are simply a more affordable version sports car. I own a drool-worthy race bike that cost about ten percent of what it would cost for a Ferrari tune-up…and my bike runs on fat, not gas. Whether you can afford a nicer bike or not, the important part is to ride a bike you can enjoy and that fits you. If you happen to be new to cycling, pay attention: A nice bike will garner you a minimal amount of respect in a group, but this doesn’t work how you might think… A well maintained old-school bike can often be as praise-worthy as a newer high-dollar carbon steed. Far more important to anyone who knows anything about bikes, as has been my experience across the board, is how you ride the bike that you’re on. I get plenty of ”cool bike” comments on my $400 aluminum Cannondale. Don’t get sucked into the notion that having the best bike that you can afford somehow means that you’re “less than” someone else on a high-priced stallion. A nice bike, in the end, only looks cool if it’s maintained properly and being ridden competently. You get the same from an older bike when well maintained and ridden the same way. The important thing is that you’re riding.
Having devoted most of my adult life to remaining at least somewhat fit, I can say that in the last few years, where I took it to the next level, provided a few happy surprises. Chief among them, the fact that I can live a relatively pain-free life. When I was younger, 18 years-old and fairly lazy, I had a lot of back pain. I was a thin kid, so it wasn’t weight. If I had to guess at a “cause”, it would be two things: I suffered a trauma or three to my back and I had an incredibly weak core.
I am a big believer in simplicity. While we are complex beings, our care and maintenance, it seems to me, is quite simple. For the vast majority of us, if we eat well and stay active our bodies will treat us well in return. I am also a firm believer in the body’s ability to adapt to the stress caused by getting fit as well. The question is, when you’re not fit just what should we expect as far as pain goes?
I won’t be blowing smoke when I say that getting fit hurts. Building muscles and burning fat does cause pain but I think what gets lost is the fact that it won’t always hurt like that. I believe that contributing factor to the myth that maintaining fitness hurts is professional sports. You see pro athletes retiring in their mid to late thirties siting the pain of maintaining the level of fitness required to perform at that level more times than not as a reason for retirement – so most normal folks mistakenly believe that performing at any level as they age becomes too painful. The problem here is leaving out the “to perform at that level” part. When maintaining a fit lifestyle, we’re not talking about anything near a professional level and as we age, who’s to say we can’t slow down a little bit? The idea is to keep moving.
My personal experience has been that once I got fit, my level of day-to-day pain decreased exponentially. Last year was a fantastic year for me in terms of pain management… It was also my most active. This year was almost identical that of last year and it was, up until last week, even better. Now, choice of activity will no doubt cause a variation in results – more impact will lead to longer adjustment periods before the body responds or grows accustomed to the activity so choose wisely but make sure to include at least some impact in there.
I’ve found, without a doubt, that maintaining a decent level of fitness leads to as pain-free an existence as possible. The trick was sticking with the activity long enough for my body to adapt and grow into it. Now that I’ve got an excellent base under my belt, with very few exceptions, I’m living a pain-free life that I always dreamt about. In fact, if I ever want to remember how much pain I was in before I was fit, all I have to do is take a week off. Of course, consult your doctor first (so on and so forth).
This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I have a lot of friends and family members who use pain (or the fear of it) as an excuse to become more sedentary when the answer is to become more active. I’ve seen this all too often – nobody is immune to aging but staying active is the only fountain of youth that I’ve ever seen work consistently.
I have a friend who is wealthy. Not “Let’s take a couple of weeks to tootle off to the Bahamas” money, I’m talking, “Let’s not ever work again and live off the interest” money.
He’s been to just about every high-priced celebrity rehab in the US and has managed to, one way or another, relapse within six months of sobering up since 1997-ish.
You see, I always thought that those with money had it easy. That life was tougher for us little people. I was also guilty of the mistaken belief that everyone with money was a trust-fund baby – that they’ve all had their wealth handed to them (or stole it through “greed”). This is what we are taught as babies, all the way through grade school and college… Mainly by jilted parents, tenured teachers and professors who fail, almost to a man, to put a value on that fat pension and free health insurance for life that they’ll get.
Of course, life has a funny way of showing one their ignorance unless they’re blinded by jealousy and their own greed… In that case, they pretty much just stay ignorant. I’ve seen many of these people cling to my friend. They hit him up for loans, gifts and invite him to dinner with the hope (or worse, expectation) that he’ll pick up the tab. I despise these people more than the trust-fund snobs. At least the snobs have a good excuse for being assholes.
In several instances, the greedy money grubbers have even sunken to prompting my friend to relapse just so he’d pick up the dealer’s tab – I’m not kidding. Sure, he’s the dumbass who gave in, but given that kind of pressure to use, I don’t know if I could have made it. More interestingly, we drunks and addicts make use of losing streaks to get sober. With many of the well-to-do, as with my friend, they can afford their habit… The losing streak for them usually means death or prison – and because they can afford good lawyers, that pretty much leaves death.
And therein lies the rub.
I came from decent means but when I finally gave up I had nothing. I couldn’t see living any lower so I chose to sober up. Twenty years later and I’m somebody and everything is great. My ridiculously wealthy friend, for all of his connections, for all of the doctors and medication and money, struggled for almost fifteen years before finally finding a way to stay quit.
So, the lesson that I take away from this is that while money would be nice (so would the guts to do something that would net that money), it doesn’t buy what I need to live a good and happy life. Only living right does that…
And my wife and I are heading out to dinner this evening to celebrate my friend’s 1,000th day sober. He made it, finally.
My wife and I used to ski quite a bit, in fact I still have a our skis up in the attic awaiting the day when we can hit the slope once again – kids (and bicycles) have changed the equation. When my last winter coat, a bright yellow American Eagle ski jacket that had lasted more than a decade, got on my wife’s last nerve, “we” decided to go shopping for a new one. God bless my wife, she likes me dressed, well let’s say in a more businesslike manner. I, on the other hand, prefer to be warm in the winter. We ended up in the ski jacket section of the store and I settled on a Columbia Sportswear Omni-Tech Lhotse 3-in-1 jacket. The shell is waterproof yet “breathable” and comes with zip up underarm vents and an adjustable powder skirt. Truthfully, as far shells go, it’s like most very nice ski jackets.
The best part of the jacket is the inner liner… Built with “Omni-Heat” technology, it’s a reflective, fluffy (almost feels like downed) layer that is supposed to reflect and retain body heat, the claim is that it offers 20% more warmth. That last bit is from the website… Now for the real-life practical what’s it really like story: It’s like cheating winter. The jacket is warmer with just a tee-shirt on than with a long sleeve shirt. The reflective inner layer works. Ah, the wonder of technology…and cash.
I lucked out though. I picked mine up on the clearance rack because it was missing a button on the collar – I saved $50. The beautiful thing is the button was stuck inside the flap of the jacket so I just pulled it out, pressed it back into the hole with a pair of extra-long needle nosed pliers and voila… Good as new.
After all is said and done, if you’re a fan of winter but can’t stand being cold, I cannot recommend this jacket highly enough. It is a perfect winter coat.