Cycling, Aerodynamics, and Going to Any (Comfortable) Length to Slam the Stem; The Negative Rise Stem
I do not subscribe to the common notion that a road bike rides more comfortably if the set-up is more “upright”, where the saddle is only an inch or two above the handlebars. In fact, I find that idea to be utter poppycock. I have a bad back, and I ride an exceptionally aggressive set-up. Not only has it not hurt, I believe it’s helped…
Sometimes getting a bike right can take some time. This wasn’t the case for my Specialized… The Trek, though, well that was a different story.
The Venge (56cm frame) was easy, 6°, 100mm stem, flip it, upgrade parts to within an inch of its life… done:
The bike is one size smaller than a normal fitting would recommend so getting the saddle high and the bar low was easy, especially when adding the racing geometry of the bike to the equation.
My Trek, on the other hand, has always been trickier. The Trek is old-school technology from the late ’90’s and it’s the proper size (58cm frame). The quill stem severely limits the ability to drop the handlebars – you can’t just swap spacers from below the stem to above. I went with an adapter that allows me to use a threadless stem on the bike and that’s expanded my options considerably. This is a photo of the bike as it was last week, with a 90 mm, 10° rise stem:
That worked for a while but the bike felt off compared against my Venge. There was just a bit more drop to the Venge that made it a little more comfortable and faster to ride (I like an aggressive ride – not too aggressive, mind you, but aggressive nonetheless). To combat that a little bit, I rotated the handlebar down which increased the reach just a little bit and lowered the hoods… and that’s how I rode the bike for the last few years.
Then, two weeks ago I saw a photo of someone else’s 5200 while researching another post:
Now, that setup includes a new fork and steering assembly and I’m not going to that length on my 5200, but I really liked the look of that stem – and that got me thinking about what I could do to get the Trek a little closer to my Specialized…
I started kicking around options. I knew I wanted a negative rise (hefty rise to the stem, then flip it upside down so the handlebar is actually lowered) but I didn’t want to change the distance from the tip of the saddle to the center of the handlebar (currently 22-1/2″ or 54.6cm) which is the same on both road bikes. I knew I had a 90mm stem with a 10° rise, flipped (the info is normally stamped or painted somewhere on the stem), so I decided on a 17° 90mm. I considered, for a moment, going with a 25° stem but concluded that would simply be too much drop for comfort (and that it might look a little goofy – if you know me, you know that how it “looks” is almost important as how it feels).
Then it came down to whose stem to put on the bike. I knew I wanted to stick to the blacked out theme, and, well I’ll just skip to it – I went with “sanctity of the brand” and put a Bontrager stem on it. I took my first ride on it yesterday, on the trainer of course, we’re currently getting snow dumped on us… and… Awesome. I’d be willing to guess I’ve got at least an inch more drop and it feels a lot better. I had to adjust the saddle, of course, to drop the nose in order to balance out the saddle, but it only took seconds to get that done and feeling excellent… et voilà.
As a side note, no, my bike did not undergo a “pink” explosion. That’s the fault of the camera and flash. It’s still red.
Finally we get to the aerodynamics of the whole thing. Look, some people will try to convince you there’s no difference riding a couple inches lower on the front of the bike, that it’s all about the comfort, blah, blah, blah. There’s a lot of truth to that. When you hit, like 75*. In the mean time, dude, low and mean. Because it’s fast.
*Before you bother sharing your disdain for that remark in the comments, bro, it was a joke and everyone else gets it except you. Of course there are medical issues, and the most important thing is riding however we can, but that wouldn’t have been near as funny. So please, relax.
**Sorry, really. I was watching Scrubs and I get a little carried away when Perry gets cranked up. Seriously.