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Home » Cycling » The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: Road Bike Setup, the Intersection of Comfort and Cool – and More Important, How to Have Both

The Noob’s Guide to Cycling: Road Bike Setup, the Intersection of Comfort and Cool – and More Important, How to Have Both


December 2016

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:

Trek 1.5

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.


  1. I’m even more of a noob than you, and I’m in the process of finding my first adventure road bike. Now I feel equipped to train myself to be cool when I finally get it!

  2. fitnessgrad says:

    I probably would be no good at riding cyclist bikes, I am too used to the mountain bike, and “trick” bikes, I would definitely be out of place.


    • bgddyjim says:

      You should have seen my brother! He hopped on my Venge, like all “I got this”…. he was so shaky it was comical. He dismounted and handed my the bike and said, “You paid how much for that thing?! How do you even ride it?!”

      It does take a little getting used to. Once you do, it’s wonderful though.

      • fitnessgrad says:

        He is a smart man, I would be riding it very, very slowly.. so slow it would hardly be moving. I feel like it would be so awkward at first – I watch cyclist and wonder how they manage to go so fast with no worries with wheels let alone the seat difference. The wheels are odd.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Everything on a race bike works with the cyclist to allow him/her to go as fast as possible, as comfortably as possible. The wheels operate excellently inside of physics. You forget they’re so skinny after a bit. The key is not to go slow, speed is your friend. 😎

      • fitnessgrad says:

        Yes, the fact the wheels are so skinny is the problem! lol I like the thick rugged wheels that allow me to take on the terrain and go insane. I will hand it to you though, I have never seen a cyclist going slow. lol

      • fitnessgrad says:

        Also the wheels remind me of a snack body! lmao because they are so skinny, which gives me the creeps xD

  3. My Dad tried to ride my TT bike once…. Haha!

    I’ve slowly refined my setup on that over time to the point that I now have no spacers under the stem and it’s still not quite low enough. I think I need to source a stem with a steeper angle (more research needed).

    My road bike has 10mm underneath and a very noobtastic 20mm of spacers on top of the stem, eeek! Time to get the hacksaw out!

    • bgddyjim says:

      I rode with 15 on top of my Venge for a year, just so I could be sure I liked it….. It’s real easy to take stem off. Not so easy to put it back on.

      That must have been a sight, your dad on the TT rig! Too cool, and points to your pops for trying it out!

      • He’s a machine for his age, just not cycling fit. Was never totally out of shape or overweight, but totally turned health and fitness nut after his heart attack (family history of heart disease).

      • bgddyjim says:

        I’m sure you already know this but I just want to make sure because if anyone knows how bad it sucks to lose their dad, it’s me…. My buddy Mike has been an athlete his whole life and he ended up needing a triple bypass. His genes and his diet messed him up. With a family history, diet is just as important as exercise.

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