The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: Road Bike Setup, the Intersection of Comfort and Cool – and More Important, How to Have Both
When it came to my road bikes, one of the hardest things I had to learn to accept was that I wasn’t flexible enough to have my bike set up like a pro cyclist. I’m close, but I’m not quite there. I’ve tried everything short of yoga but I’m as low as I can comfortably go on my Venge. I’ve got one 5 mm spacer left, but I tried to drop the stem that little bit and absolutely couldn’t get comfortable. It’s amazing what 5 mm will do, too. I’m comfortable for as long as I want to go with my setup right now, lower the bar 5 mm and I might last 20 miles.
Now, this gets interesting when one starts looking at normal setups where the saddle is only a few centimeters higher than the handlebar:
Comfort is King.
On one hand, I am not comfortable riding a bike that sets me too upright but this is counter current industry thinking. Many who fit people onto bikes tend to default to the “upright is better” way of fitting because the common thinking is that this is most comfortable. I didn’t accept that. The owner of our local shop told me to tinker with my bikes, that I couldn’t break them bad enough he couldn’t fix them, so I did. I started lowering my stem within a week of getting my bike home. Over time I trained my body to ride low, originally so I could be “cool” and more aerodynamic (why ride a road bike if it’s set up like a flat-bar hybrid?!). Today, riding with the setup on that Trek would be just as uncomfortable as trying to ride lower than my current setup.
The idea is to take what the shop gives you and then lower the handlebar from there, one 5 or 10 mm spacer at a time, getting used to the lower position on a trainer through the winter or through the spring base miles. Eventually, like I did, you’ll simply get to a point where you can’t drop the stem any more and hope to get used to the position.
Interestingly, I only know two guys out of 25-30 currently riding with our advanced group who can ride with a true “pro” setup. One guy is 67 years-old, but he’s nationally renowned in sprint triathlons. The other works at the local shop. This is his bike next to mine:
Understanding the definition of “cool” when it comes to cycling
I won’t bother going to the dictionary for this one, we all know what “cool” means… Or do we? Often, when it comes to cycling, noobs (myself included at one time) misunderstand, thinking that “cool” has a lot to do with the type of bike one rides, or the clothing one wears on said bike, or even what the setup looks like on the bike.
The biggest key is missing though: How one rides the bike they’ve got. Look, I don’t know of one cyclist who harbors ill will of anyone who can’t afford a super-bike or a $3,300 Enve wheelset. What really matters, what really defines “cool” is how a person rides what they’ve got. If you’re sitting too far upright or too low, you’re going to have problems with how you ride and this is where comfort enters into the mix.
I can have a $15,000 super-steed but if I’m a lousy cyclist, there’s no chance of being “cool”. I’ll just have a cool bike that I ride crappy. On that same note, four years ago all I could afford was a beat up, 14 year-old Trek 5200 shown above (I had it painted last winter so it’s not beat up anymore) that I bought used from the bike shop because the owner took pity on me… It took a lot of work but I learned to ride that bike well (and fast) and was accepted into the group as one of the guys. It wasn’t until later that I could afford the Venge – but I know for a fact, the bike didn’t have anything to do with my being accepted.
All too often, as noobs, we can be drawn into “The Rules”. The Rules absolutely have their place – when followed, you do look like the real deal – this truth is inarguable. However, before worrying the rules, worry about what’s really important: The Ride.
Of course, if one actually reads The Rules, one would already know that’s what it’s all about anyway.