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Tinkering On The Road Bike Pays Off

May 2013

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.

Happy riding.


  1. Paige says:

    Just read about half of this before having the conscious thought…”Geez! I don’t even have a bike”

  2. I am going for a proper bike fit next week. I am hoping that will help with my back/leg issue.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Awesome!… Be prepared you may need to buy a new component or two (stem, maybe a saddle if you didn’t have that fitted [they actually have 3 widths depending on riding style and sit bone width] etc.)

      If they make a few adjustments it should make a huge difference. Good luck.

  3. Cherry says:

    When I got my bike, my frame is a touch too large and the bike shop guys suggested for me to buy a new stem …. vanity got in my way, the stem matched the bike and to this day, I’m still using it …

    • bgddyjim says:

      You can’t get a new stem the same color as the current one? It’ll make a big difference that you’re not reaching too far. If they can’t get one to match your bike, my local shop offers paint services… It would be a little crazy for a stem but I can’t fight vanity either. 😉

  4. Sandra says:

    Professional bike fits are the ONLY way. Do you have a personalized stem cap?

  5. Lorrie Cote says:

    You’ll probably feel a bit awkward having zero standover clearance. You may also smack the nephews on the top tube at some point. It’s nice to have a bit of standover, even if it’s only a centimeter. In essence, your friend is right in that you can tilt the bike when stopped. It’s not really ideal though. Otherwise how does it fit you? There’s a good chance the top tube may be too long for you. How do you feel when riding it? Are you too stretched out? Would a shorter stem make a significant difference. There have been several occasions where I’ve seen someone riding a road bike that was definitely too large for them. In all cases, the saddle was slammed down to the toptube, and the rider lacked good control due to the overly stretched riding position. I would say that lacking good control would be equivalent to dangerous when riding on the roads.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Everything is perfect on my bike. It was professionally fitted to me and everything from the stem length to the length of the crank arms is right on. This post was about the few items that have “float” or adjustability built into them – stem height, cleats, etc.

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