I’ve got eight days until my 25th sober anniversary and I’m starting to get excited. I can remember when having eight days sober was an awesome feat. I can remember listening to an open-talk about three weeks into treatment. The speaker had a year in and I can remember thinking, “One day that could be me”…
A lot has happened in the last quarter of a century, and I’ve enjoyed all of it – even the tough times, and there were plenty. The tough times just shaped me up for what was coming down the pike.
I can still remember how I used to drink, why I drank the way I did, and I can remember the pain I felt and caused others. It doesn’t hurt the same way anymore because I’ve repaired that and replaced who that loser was with someone else who has managed to do some good in the aftermath.
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, if I add just one sip of alcohol to my system, I’ll be off and
running stumbling again within days. I have no hang-up’s about that. I am a two-fisted drinker and my name is Jim. Only a fool would think they could mystically turn into a social drinker after some gained self-knowledge and time.
Once you’re a pickle, you never get to go back to being a cucumber – no matter how long you’ve been away from the pickling agent.
And for that little tidbit of self-knowledge, I am grateful.
Eight days to go…
Road Bikes and Stem Lengths – Short and Twitchy or Long and Stable? Slammed or Stacked? How I Found the Right Mix for Me.
I am going to start off with this simple little nugget of wisdom first, “What works for me may not work for you.. The answer will be based on your feel and what you like”.
While that sounds awesome and “all-inclusive” and such, to a noob those words are nonsense. Jibberish. How could a noob possibly know what they want? About all I could tell you, as a noob, was what I didn’t want: I didn’t want to be one of those who ride with their handlebar level with their saddle. I knew that right off the bat. Unfortunately, that’s about all I knew. It took a couple of years of evolution and understanding to work it all out – and while I’d love to slam all of the knowledge I have in my melon into yours, it doesn’t work that way.
I ride a long and stretched out bike. I slam my stems, peg the saddle and stretch ’em out – within reason, and there is method to the madness.
I’ve got a 110mm stem on my race bike, an 80mm* stem on my back-up bike and a whopping 130mm stem on our tandem. I also roll with a 110 on the gravel bike but the geometry is different enough on that bike I could have gone with a 120 or even a 130… Interestingly, the reaches on all four (race, back-up, tandem and gravel) are close. 22-1/2″ (57 cm) on my two road bikes and the tandem, 22″ on the gravel bike. I left the gravel bike 1/2″ short so I could sit more upright so I could see and hopefully avoid bumps on the dirt roads and it works as I expected.
With the background out of the way, I have a blog friend who is an engineer (or something – you ever notice how easy it is to spot an engineer?). The way he looks at a bicycle is vastly different from the way I do. I’m a seat of my pants “feel” rider. I like long, low and very fast. He, on the other hand, likes upright, nimble and a more relaxed ride.
So which is right? Well, that depends on what you want out of cycling, but what is incredibly important is going into the decision with your eyes open.
The GCN guys did a neat video on stem lengths, and that was the impetus for this post. Check it out, it’s interesting. See, my engineer buddy is big on wide/soft (38mm 50 psi) tires, short stems and riding on the hoods. I like skinny/hard (24 mm/100 psi or 26mm/90 psi) tires, long stems and riding in the drops. My bad back likes riding low and fast, so that’s how I roll. My buddy’s bad back keeps him upright and slower, so that’s how he rolls.
It’s not about short or long, when it comes to stems. Ahem. It’s about the position in the cockpit that really matters.
First, short stems typically mean twitchy, sharp handling. Twitchy and sharp are great on a trail at 15 mph, navigating trees, roots and rocks. Twitchy, sharp is, however, definitely bad at 55 mph, blasting down a hill. Long and stable is much more desirable in that case.
Now, here’s where the measurements come into play. Bikes are funny things. You do a general fitting, make a couple of simple tweaks, and train there. Your body adapts to the position and all is hunky-dory.
The trick is matching different bikes to the position you like or have grown accustomed to. That’s why I’ve got an 80mm stem on the Trek and a 110 on the Venge. The Trek is a standard 58 cm frame and the Venge is a compact 56. The Trek is long by design, the Specialized needs the longer stem to get there – the 110 is more than an inch longer. The way I see it, I’d rather have the set-ups on my bikes close so I don’t feel a big change between steeds.
This won’t be scientific, by any means, but have a look at my three normal “my bikes” photos, with some lines I added for context…
For the Diverge, the gravel bike, I don’t want the same low, stretched out ride so I’ve got the compact drop bar leveled out nicely but I’ve got the hoods angled up slightly. The Venge, in the middle, is perfection. I feel exactly how I think I should feel on the bike. The Trek was the trick – how do I make that bike feel like the Venge? There were several problems I had to address. First, the standard frame in the proper size meant I didn’t get the drop I would normally like. To help cheat that, I rolled the handlebar down a little bit to lower the hoods. I also have a perfectly matched stem – it’s not a negative drop but it’s flat.
You also may notice that the saddle looks a little higher on the Trek. It is, but there’s a reason… The saddle on the Specialized has just a couple of millimeters of padding on it. It’s a hard saddle. The Trek has triple that, so to compensate for the extra squish I had to raise the saddle a little bit. I found out, within the first hundred yards of riding that bike with the saddle set without taking the squish into account, that I’d bounce like kid in a bounce house if I didn’t raise the saddle to accommodate the squish.
With that explanation out of the way, even though the three bikes are quite close in terms of the set-up, they are each good examples of how to manipulate the set-up to accommodate what I like and what I want out of each bike.