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Road Cycling: Setting Your Saddle Properly

There is nothing more important in road cycling than getting one’s saddle set to the proper height and position on the seat post.  Nothing.  Just a few millimeters off and your power is affected by as much as a mile per hour off of your average.  A half a millimeter and you can be looking at as much as 3 mph.  Folks, I’m trying to stress here, this is a really big deal.

It’s also a perplexing issue for noobs and some seasoned vets alike when it really doesn’t have to be, setting the saddle properly is quite simple, actually.  This should take a total of maybe ten minutes.

Saddle height is the simplest and the place to begin.  Now, I always do this with my bike set on my trainer in my office because I don’t have to worry about balance and I can get myself set perfectly on the saddle.  One can also hold oneself up in a doorway or have a friend hold the bike up.  For starters, with the saddle height, it makes sense to do this in your cycling shorts because the padding will have an effect on the height.  I won’t be adjusting my height as it’s already right so in the photos, I’ll be in my jeans.

All you do is get on your bike, place your heels over the spindles on the pedals and pedal backwards.  Your saddle is at the right height, within a millimeter or two, when your leg straightens out at the bottom of the pedal stroke.  Make certain your hips stay perfectly still through this, if your hips rock side to side it’s too high.  If your leg doesn’t straighten it’s too low…
IMG_5283Once you get it to the place where your leg perfectly straightens without rocking, lower it 1 millimeter (this gives you a little more power on the bottom part of the stroke).  Now, 1 millimeter is not a lot so don’t go too far.  A problem to watch out for (one that I have to be careful of myself) is that your legs may not be the same length.  I only have to worry about a millimeter so I settle it with a slight adjustment (1 more mm lower) to the saddle but the proper way is to actually have your cleat on the short side shimmed.  If you straighten out without rocking on one side but rock on the other, guess what…

Now, you may have noticed I’m in my street shoes in that first photo…  My cycling shoes have a bit of a heel to them.  If I were to try this with my cycling shoes on, it would skew the result.
IMG_5289Now, for the trickier of the two, setting your saddle to the proper fore/aft position.  The reason that I’m checking mine today is that I had a new handlebar put on my bike and that could change my orientation on the bike just a little bit.  Knowing that a millimeter matters, it’s best to be certain.  For this one, you’ll need a plumb bob* or a 4′ level.  I use the 4′ level because I have several and it’s just a little less time-consuming and a touch more exact.  For this one you’ll need your cycling shoes on.  First, level the bike.  Check by using a 4′ level, placing it under the quick release skewers of each wheel:
IMG_5293Get on the bike, preferably on a trainer, and warm up for a minute or two.  The goal is to get your butt in the proper spot on the saddle – and this is the specific reason I like to do this in jeans.  Without cycling shorts my saddle is like sitting on, well something hard and not comfortable.  I’ll be able to find my happy spot a lot easier without the padding from my cycling shorts.  Once you’re in the right spot, stop pedaling making sure the pedal cranks are parallel to the ground.  Then take the level and place the bottom inside edge on the end of the crank arm and the top on the outside of your knee:
IMG_5290That should be plumb:
IMG_5292Now, here’s the important tip:  If you have to move your saddle forward, you have to raise the saddle.  If you had to move it back you have to lower it.  Usually just a millimeter or two but check yourself with the pedal backward trick above just to make sure you’re right.  Also, don’t get cocky and try to save time by reversing the steps so you won’t have to adjust your saddle height twice.  Why?  I have no idea, but our local pro setup artist has checked me three or four times and my wife at least twice and this is the order he goes in every time.  So I do what he does.

Now, as a last step, check the level of your saddle, just to make sure you’re right on.
IMG_5294Then level out your saddle and Bob’s your uncle.

A few quick tips about saddle level:  The general thinking is that the saddle should be level.  There are occasions to deviate though.  First, I have heard that women generally prefer to nose their saddle down just a smidge.  Also, if you tend to ride in a more upright position, nosing the saddle up a millimeter or three will offer you a little more support for your hips.  I’ve tried that one myself and it surprised how comfortable I was riding on the bar top (it felt horrible in the drops on the hoods though, I ride too low).

*Setting the saddle fore/aft position with a plumb bob:  Instead of going from the outside of your knee, directly under your kneecap is a small bone protrusion.  Place the string directly on the outer edge of that protrusion and allow the bob to rest just above the pedal axle (inside is easiest when you’re alone).  It should be hovering directly in the center of the pedal spindle.

UPDATE:  A friend posted a comment warning about those who have large feet using care with this method, he had a tough time getting his position right the first several times.  I’ll dig into this a little bit to see if I can’t come up with a reason (we’re both stumped).

How Bad Do You Want It?

Last night’s club ride showed all of the signs of being one of those sucky, slog-of-a-ride sufferfests. Cold, only 45 degrees (F), cloudy with no threat of rain, and a gnarly wind, dead nuts out of the north and a sparse turnout to boot.

My buddy Mike, even though he said he’d be there when I called, was a no-show. There were four heavy hitters, my friend Phil and a doctor and his wife on a tandem. Against that brutal wind.

My other Mike friend, the age group Sprint Triathlon (and Duathlon) National Champ, headed out for a quick-six warmup… I had on leg warmers, shorts, light tights, wool socks, arm warmers, short-sleeved jersey, long-sleeved jersey, a vest and a headsweats cap…and was perfectly dressed for the ride – exceedingly comfortable, not too hot and not too cold. I couldn’t believe it, I’d spun the Wheel of Fashion and hit the jackpot.

We started the ride at a fair 19 mph pace with the crosswind but that was short-lived. Once we turned north, the pace was ramped up to 21.5-22 and it stayed there for an eternity. There weren’t enough guys to choose from so I wound up behind a horse… Dave. Dammit. The man pulled like I was whipping him for God’s sake, a mile and a half to two miles every turn. I stuck to his wheel like my life depended on it – in fact, and this is one of the great things about riding in a ridiculously fast group, I was able to stay in the drops the whole time… Gotta love riding with competent cyclists.

We finally hit the sharp left to head southwest for a bit of help from that wind, maybe ten miles in. I worked up to the front for my pull at 25 mph, made it maybe three-quarters of a mile, fell back and worked my way back up again… The next time up I tried for a full mile and did fine, falling out with enough juice too latch back on. Unfortunately, I had missed the fact that Phil and the tandem dropped. My count was off and I hesitated to check over my shoulder and a gap formed. When I looked back, I could have made it back. It would have taken some work but I could have done it. Instead I opted to wait for the tandem and my friend.

That was the single, best cycling decision I made all year.

It took them a bit to catch me, in fact I got to take a nature break and spend a mile or two spinning easy but I knew I’d have my work cut out for me once we formed out. The entire rest of the ride was a blur of awesomeness. I took long, fast turns up front, often eliciting a verbal pat on the back after I gave the arm flick… We were in my wheelhouse, 21-22 mph (19 into the wind), that speed where you’re working but it’s fun work, not suffering. We finished in the dark, lights a blazing and smiles and fist-bumps all around.

In the parking lot, after the ride, was the first time since I’d gotten on my bike that I realized just how cold it was. One of the best rides of the year on a night that should have sucked. Funny how that works, eh?

Now I’m not going to kid anyone, seven of ten times that ride would have been brutal but I’d have done it and liked it.  Another two I’d have had a fine time but been bummed about the conditions.  Another nine-tenths would have been fun, but what happened last night is one in a hundred.

Either way, I’d have missed it all if I’d have chosen to polish the couch with my butt.  I had an awesome time because I showed up.  I wanted it bad enough to brave some pretty sucky conditions.




How Much Does A Road Bike Weigh? A Noob’s Guide to Putting a Bike on a Diet.

My old Cannondale weighs around 21 pounds (aluminum and upgraded with new wheels).  My Trek, about 19 pounds (cf) and my Venge, 16 (cf – after $1,000 in upgrades – and I still have $600 to go which will drop it down to the upper 15 pound range).  I’ll cop to getting into the weight game a little bit because it’s fun (if expensive) and I do ride in the mountains at least once a year, but is the money spent necessary?  In terms of happy cycling, it’s worth every penny.  In terms of performance, the weight game is pretty much a waste unless you’re talking about some serious poundage.  For instance, after training for two months (a bit over 1,200 miles) on the set of wheels that came with my Venge, I upgraded to a set almost a full pound lighter.  I absolutely felt the difference.  Did the upgrade make me faster?  Marginally, if at all but my bike looks really awesome.

First, the weight game will largely depend on the size of your wallet, let’s just get that cleared up right away.  There are few cheap tricks to making a bike lighter but mostly they’re ridiculously expensive…  The simple thing to do, if you want a light bike, is go to a Trek store and buy and Emonda, the nicest one you can afford ($1,650-$15,750) and call it good.  You will have the lightest production bike sold in whatever price-point you choose.  It’s that simple and a whole lot cheaper (and easier) than buying a heavy bike and trying to upgrade the weight out of it. The low-end Emonda weighs 19-1/2 pounds and the top of the line weighs 10-1/2.  You can get the SL 8 for $4,520 (roughly what I will have into my Venge when I’m done) and end up with a bike 1/2 pound lighter (15.5 pounds) – and with a better group set.

With that out of the way, does it matter?

Yes and no.  Nine pounds will make a difference no matter what the cyclist weighs, there’s no doubt about that but there’s a price to riding lightweight equipment:  Durability.  On the other hand, and let’s use me as the example, a recreational cyclist husband and father of two small children, who makes a decent living, taking into account the terrain that I ride on (mainly flat with no “rated” climbs within a 100 mile radius) and I can think of no scenario in which I would need a ten pound bike.  Now, a 16 pound bike?  That fits my situation a lot better, both monetarily and terrain wise.  I can make up any disadvantages with “want to” at that point.  In fact, I think the lightest bike on our Tuesday night club ride (the ride that draws all of the high-priced carbon) is 14 pounds, an S-Works Tarmac.  Most are around 15-18 pounds.

The title of this post is What Does a Road Bike Weigh though and before we get into this there are a few things that we should get straight.  First, weight matters most in the mountains.  Second, “want to” will trump a fifteen pound bike six days a week and twice on Sunday.  Legend has it that Peter Sagan once won a race on his sister’s bike.  So when you hear people tell you “It’s not the bike, it’s the engine”, they’re not kidding.  Finally, unless you’re in the mountains, aero trumps weight.

That said, here’s the approximate breakdown by cost/class:

Big-box road bike ($200-$400), twist-grip shifters, steel frame or maybe aluminum frame:  25-30+ pounds.  If you have serious road cycling plans, these are to be avoided at all costs.  I know, you think $200 is a lot to spend on a bike but if you want to ride with the big dogs, $200 is a lot of money for a pair of shorts.  On the other hand, if this is the best you can do, have at it.  Just know those twist shifters alone will put you at an exceptional disadvantage…  And to upgrade away from them later, you’ll have to change the crank, the rear derailleur, the cassette, the front derailleur, the wheels (probably) and the shifters.  Total cost?  More than you would pay for a decent entry-level bike.

Entry Level ($600-$900), integrated brake/shifters (Shimano Sora or Claris), aluminum frame, carbon fork: 20-23 pounds.

allezTrek 1.1

Mid Grade Entry Level ($900-$1500), integrated brake/shifters, aluminum frame, carbon fork, leisure components (Shim. Tiagra or 105):  19-22 pounds.

Trek 1.5 Secteur Elite Double

Entry Level Race Ready ($1500-$2500), entry level racing components (Shimano 105, SRAM Rival) aluminum or carbon fiber frame, carbon fork:  17.5-19 pounds.

Race Ready mid range ($2500-$4000), entry level racing or 2nd tier racing components (Shim. 105 or Ultegra, SRAM Force, Campagnolo Chorus), carbon fiber frame and fork:  16-18.5 pounds.

Tarmac Expert Emonda SL 6

High End Race ($4000-$7000), 2nd and Top Tier Components (Ultegra, Dura Ace, SRAM Red, Campagnolo Record), carbon fiber frame and fork, aluminum or carbon wheels depending on price point:  14-17 pounds

Emonda SLR 6 Venge Pro Race

Dream Bikes:  ($6000-$20000) Top Tier and Electronic Shifting (Ui2, Di2, SRAM Red, Campagnolo Super Record) carbon fiber frame and fork, carbon fiber wheels:  10-15 pounds

Emonda SLR 10 Venge Di2

Weights are approximations and do not including pedals and cages.  Frame sizes do effect weight.  Classes and Components are an estimation, the combinations available on the market are too broad to properly classify.  The basis for group set types is here.  Bikes shown are property of Specialized and Trek bikes, they are used as examples only and are not meant to be a full representation of all available – I stuck with what I know, love and ride myself.

There is a simple rule for buying a bike that works no matter how much or how little a person makes: Buy the best bike you can afford and don’t test ride anything out of your price-range… Best not to know what you’re missing.

The One Time Going the Extra Mile ISN’T Required…

In my short write-up on yesterday’s 49 mile ride, a woman who has been reading my blog for years commented that her “OCD would have kicked in” forcing her to ride that last mile to make it an even 50.  I like how she thinks, I considered it as well.  However, once I reached my driveway, on fumes, I knew the extra mile wasn’t in the cards.

What I failed to mention in that post was that I’d pulled for most of the ride, probably upwards of  70%, including an epic eight mile stint into the wind that was so strong I had to slow down so my riding partner could catch up – twice.

Yesterday was one of those rare occasions when going that last, extra mile isn’t necessary.  I already had, for 49 of them.


Too Cold to Ride?!

My buddy Mike likes to ride early, just after sunup. We didn’t have plans to ride but I figured I’d head over to his place to see if he was heading out or not. It was cold, below freezing. Two miles after pulling out of my driveway I wasn’t exactly cursing my decision to suit up in the first place but I was glad that I didn’t run into Mike at the same time. I turned around and headed home having gotten a text from Phil that he’d be riding later after it warmed up a bit.

I rode to meet Phil at the bike shop at 11:15 and we were off. With the wind out of the southwest we were suffering right out of the gate… It was still cold but 45 is a whole bunch better than 31 and the temp was on the rise with abundant sunshine.

We hit mile 18 or so and finally got a little help from the wind which had been steadily picking up in force and that’s exactly when this ride got fun.

I had been pulling for the last eight miles and I was cooked. I tucked in behind Phil to regroup for a couple of miles and we cruised toward home at an easy 20-23 mph.

It was a 49 mile day when it was all over, Michigan fall cycling at it’s best.



Money Can’t Buy Happiness…

From Gerry at the Vicious Cycle:


Yup, that’s about right.

Upgrading a Road Bike: Preserving the Setup is the Most Important Aspect of the Upgrade

This is my Trek 5200 as of Thursday evening:
This is my 5200 as of yesterday evening:

When I decided to upgrade my Venge’s handlebar from the aluminum Tarmac drop that came on it to the Specialized carbon Aerofly bar I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the old bar from the Venge was going on the Trek, one way or another.  In fact, I’ve been anticipating this change for quite some time.  I’ve hated the drop bar that came on the 5200 since the day I bought it.  Folks, I’m using the word hate here.  First, the original bar was 44 cm wide.  I’m a 42 and the old Venge bar is a 42.  Now many people will think, “my God, it’s less than an inch, how could that possibly matter!”  If you aren’t already aware, the setup of a road bike is a matter of millimeters so centimeters are huge and everything matters.  I wasn’t, of course, aware of this important little tidbit about the bar until I brought my Venge home and rode it the first time.  The difference, after logging upwards of 5,000 miles on the 5200, was stunning.  I went from my arms being just a little too spread out to perfect, instantly.  It was a nice change.

Also, and equally important, was the style of drop on the original Trek bar.  It was a deep drop ergo hybrid with a flat run under the shifters that is supposed to be more comfortable for your hands when riding in the drops.  Looking back, the bar always bugged me but not enough to go through the process of trying to figure out what I did like.  Instead, it took a little bit of luck with buying the Venge.  Once I rode in the drops on the new bike, I knew what I wanted on the Trek.

I did all of the work and ordering for this little upgrade and there was a lot to it.  There were several problems that had to be worked around before I ordered anything.  Here are the particulars.  The clamp circumference of the new and old bars is different.  The new oversized 31.8 mm on the Tarmac bend and standard (26 mm) for the old 5200 bar.  This meant the quill stem that I had on the Trek was not going to work.  In fact, I don’t know if they even make a proper quill stem for the oversized drop bars anymore, but I was never going that route anyway – finding the proper quill stem for the original bar was difficult enough.

Now, the proper workaround for this is to run out and pick up an Enve fork ($400) and have the threaded headset system swapped out for a threadless headset ($150-$200), then buy a new stem ($65) and I’m good right?  For my backup bike?  I don’t think so.  Instead, I hit Nashbar and picked up their quill stem adapter ($13) that allows one to use a modern threadless stem on a threaded headset (old style) fork ($20).  So, $650 or $35 for the rain bike…  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out for a husband with a family of four to think about.

That said, there were still a lot of logistical gymnastics to work through.  First, and easiest was the quill stem adapter.  All I had to do was measure the diameter of my current quill stem on the 5200 and order the proper adapter (1″).  Simple enough.  Next up, the stem…  I needed the newer oversized 31.8 mm for the bar but it also had to be short (70 mm).  The old stem off of my Venge, which was upgraded three weeks ago, is a 110 mm stem so that couldn’t be used.  Had I tried to install that on the Trek (a larger frame – 58 cm opposed to a 56 for the Venge) I’d have had to reach almost a full 2 inches further to grasp the bars.  Unfortunately, I can’t make my arms longer.  To get the length right, you measure the current stem from the center of the bar to the center of the post (the end that goes into the bike’s steerer assembly).  Fortunately Nashbar had a great stem for less than $20 that fit my requirements and only weighed 10 grams more than the $165 carbon wrapped stem that went on the Venge just a few weeks ago (don’t tell my wife, please).  Add to that, $22 for some new black Bontrager bar tape and I was good to go.

So I ordered the stem and stem adapter from Nashbar and picked up the bar tape from my local shop…  Incidentally, I did try the shop for the quill stem adapter first but the one they had in stock weighed about a full pound by feel so that wasn’t going to work.  The aluminum Nashbar equivalent was less than half that.  The stem and adapter showed up yesterday afternoon so I took to putting everything together.  Start to finish, including getting the shifters leveled out and aligned properly and wrapping the bar took about 30 minutes give or take (I didn’t pay attention really, but it didn’t take long at all).

Bob’s your uncle:
I’m not quite done yet, there will be some tinkering to do I’m sure…  Whether it’s adjusting the bar up or down or adjusting the hoods a little bit, a little tweak is almost inevitable once I get a chance to put some miles in on the Trek (the Venge is perfect, so I want to mimic that the best I can).

That said, here’s where I’m at, eyeballing the setup on the Trek:
IMG_5206 IMG_5207
As you can see, the saddles are dead nuts and the hoods are almost perfectly aligned.  I’ve got two bikes, different styles of frames, different geometries, different sizes even, different steering assemblies…  You know what, let’s keep this simple, the bikes are different in almost every conceivable way with the exception of wheel size, but I managed to get the same setup on each bike to suit how I best put power to the pedals.

If you’re just planning on riding a couple of miles into town at an average pace of 14 mph for a coffee and a muffin, going to this length isn’t entirely necessary.  If you’re going to be tearing it up for a couple of hundred miles a week at better than a 20 mph average, this attention to detail is an absolute must.

Assenmacher 100

100 MileAugust 17th, 2014

July 2013 Lake Burton, Tiger, GA

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