I’ve written about every single little item I’ve tinkered with since I picked it up from the bike shop. Some things I did on my own, others I checked with the bike shop first (mechanic for tips on proper sequence, owner for ramifications) and still others (the technical stuff) I had done at the shop.
When I bought my Trek, the first thing that the shop checked was the cockpit length to make sure I wasn’t too stretched out. They ended up swapping the stem that came on the bike with the stem from my Cannondale which shortened the cockpit by at least an inch and a half.
Then I tinkered with my saddle height (and fore/aft as well) quite a bit to get it to what I feel is a perfect spot. I can ride any way I want – in the drops stretched out and low, head high with my hands on the bar tops, and I’ve got two positions when I’m riding hands on the hoods – one where my head is in the middle between at bar top/drops position (with arms slightly bent) and one lower where my head is between the first drop position and the natural hood position (arms bent just shy of 90 degrees). Now, one very important thing to remember when tinkering with the fore and aft position of the saddle (other than the fact that if you move it forward you have to raise it and if you move it back you have to lower it just a bit) is that the important angle is the knee bone over the spindle of the pedal – the easiest way to check this is to take a 4′ level, set it on the ground/floor, against the spindle and the front of your knee – the top bubble should show level (best to check this on a trainer – you want to warm up for a couple of minutes so you get the right position on the saddle, if you’re a little forward or back on the saddle it will affect the position of your knee).
I messed with stem height a few times and as I’ve become more flexible and comfortable on the bike and eventually just slammed it as low as I could without altering the stem.
Also, when I bought the bike the hoods weren’t quite level. The right hood was just a touch higher on the bar than the left. Over time this created some serious problems with my neck and right shoulder so I adjusted the hood height (I raised the left and lowered the right, splitting the distance so I wouldn’t have to replace the bar tape). Within two weeks my right shoulder and neck were on the mend.
My last bit of tinkering had to do with my cleat angle for my left shoe. I had them professionally set up but my left foot seemed to end up with my left heel toeing out just a bit so I adjusted my cleat to get rid of that… Now everything lines up.
Last season I had to get my neck and back adjusted every month or two to line things back up properly.
Well all of the tinkering has paid off. I just had a doctor’s appointment last week and everything has stayed perfectly lined up since my last adjustment at the end of last season. No neck problems, no shoulder problems and no back problems. Of course, this is what happens when my position is perfect on my bike (or as close to it as I can see at this point).
Now, I’ve heard and seen a lot of questions as to which type of bike is best if you have back pain. I am not a doctor, but being a long time sufferer of back pain, I spend far more time on my road bike. It may seem counter-intuitive but I find the road bike position much more comfortable than the mountain bike. I am not a flexible person either. I cannot, to this day, bend over and touch the floor without bending my knees slightly (this is obviously my own fault – I don’t stretch enough) but the point is that you don’t have to be incredibly flexible to enjoy a road bike (even one set up aggressively, which mine is – see My Bikes). My lower back pain has since all but faded away. I used to pop between two and six Aleve a week on “bad back days”. Now I’m down to maybe one every other week (if at all) – and that’s all good, baby.