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


October 2014

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.


  1. dagowop says:

    Funny you should mention this.

    The bike I ride now is one that I won in a competition in 2002. After that victory, I rode it once or twice. The 2 bikes that I had before were about the same geometry with top tubes just slightly longer (subsequent geometry changes as well). The overall feel of the bikes I remember quite well as being very similar. But, since I liked my old, geared-to-the-teeth Fuji Roubaix, I didn’t ride it and therefore didn’t notice the big differences.

    My current stem is about 3 cm taller, 2-4 cm longer and sloped up instead of parallel to the ground. That’s about the only big difference. And it makes a huge difference. Not a bad one – trust me, if I was flat on my bike at this weight, I’d be hurting. But I can definitely notice the difference with just a small change in equipment, even over 8 years.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I can’t remember what they call the sloped top tube but my experience is the same, there is something about the geometry if those bikes!

      • dagowop says:

        Sorry, I meant to insert some words to make this a bit more clear.

        fork steerer is 3 cm taller
        stem is 2-4 cm longer and sloped up

        The overall geometry of the 2 bikes is quite similar, with my Roubaix having a longer top tube. This is why they felt so similar so long ago was because of this. I still feel the appropriate reach, I’m just more upright on my Fastback.

        I am aiming to upgrade to a geometry that you’re talking about – that sloped top tube. Those things just look mean.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Gotcha… I’ve talked with a few friends and it’s just one of those kooky things with the geometry on that Venge… The setups for both of my bikes are darn near identical but they feel so different. It’s crazy man.

  2. isaac976 says:

    are you one that needs to align all brand on a bike ? or you just get what ever that fits? just curious …

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