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Monthly Archives: February 2019

Know Your Road Bike Frame – Traditional vs. Compact; Which is Right for You?

Giant came out with the first mass produced compact road bike frame in 1995.  Ten years later, that bike went from alloy to carbon fiber and road bikes haven’t been the same since.

It is widely touted by those in the know that every compact frame design today owes its roots to the Giant TCR (Total Compact Road).


Then there’s the traditional, or standard, frame.  The traditional frame has a top tube that runs parallel to the ground (or close to it) and requires small increases in frame size to fit everyone on the proper rig 10+ sizes for each model and gender:


Interestingly, look at where the lines on the overhead door behind the bikes match up with the hoods and saddle.  Look close enough and you’ll see that the two bikes hoods and saddle are almost identical in height off the ground, though the Specialized’s compact frame looks like the saddle is pegged a little higher than the traditional Trek frame.  Nope.  I set the Trek up to get it as close to the Specialized as is possible.  The only difference is in reach.

To keep both bikes the same as geometry goes, I’d need a shorter stem than what is currently on the Trek – I chose a bit more reach that what should be necessary on the traditional frame.  I did this by feel – and this goes to the differences in geometry.  Even though there’s more reach to the Trek, the Specialized feels like it’s more stretched out.  It’s a paradox I can’t explain.

There are several benefits to the compact frame.  One is weight – less tubing means a lighter frame (the rear and main triangles are both smaller on a compact frame).  Also, and this is a plus for manufacturers, ten frame sizes, all with differences in geometry, are no longer needed – manufacturers can get away with just four to six sizes for each gender.  It’s much easier to fit a rider to a compact frame with a little tweak here and a stem change there.

For example, my Trek 5200 is a 58 cm frame – exactly as it should be for my 6’0″ height and my long legs.  The Venge, on the other hand, is a 56 – a size smaller, with a longer stem (110 mm opposed to a 90 mm on the Trek) was all I needed to get the bike to fit right… and the owner of the shop who sold me both bikes (and who built a custom frame for a world record holder) checked my work.  With the bona fides out of the way, I love the Trek.  It’s a fantastic, comfortable, fast bike.  It doesn’t hold a candle to the comfort of the compact Specialized Venge.

In conclusion, however, I would never claim that one is more comfortable or better than the other – comfort is entirely a personal choice.  For every person I know who loves the compact geometry, I know another who swears by the traditional frame.  In the end, you’ll have to make the decision for yourself.  Or accept this simple equation:  f x t = c Frame x Time equals Comfort.  Spend enough time on either frame and only the most notoriously picky will be able to tell the difference.


Guess what that makes me.

I’ve got about 39,000 miles on the Trek 5200 and a little more than 18,000 on the Specialized, so I know what I’m “feeling”.  The only trick, when trying to figure out whether you’re a traditional or compact frame person is getting time on each so you can make that significant decision.

The one enormous difference between the two styles that I can offer a decent contribution as to said “feel” is that if you’re a compact frame person, when you ride your first compact frame it’ll feel like your hips have been opened up, even though the setup is almost identical to your standard frame.  Everyone I know who is a convert from a standard to a compact frame describes something similar.

Ride hard, my friends.

The Home Stretch to Spring; It’s Time to Gear Out Your Bike

A couple of things for today…

With just four weeks left till March, we’re upon the home stretch to spring. Now is the time to hit that last gear on the trainer so by the time the weather breaks, we are ready to go.

For the uninitiated, this will be a tough gear to get around. Done correctly, your legs muscles should burn a bit. Don’t start out your ride in the 52/11 gear. Start out in 52/12 or 13. Upshift a gear every five minutes until you run out.

The next day will be an easy day. 52/13. The day after, an intermediate day, 52/12. The third day, hit it hard. Five minutes in 52/12, then upshift to your last gear. Stay in your last gear till you can’t take it anymore and downshift one gear. Once you’ve recovered, right back to the big dog.

By the end of the month, you’ll be ready to go, cruising in that hardest gear the whole ride. And you’ll be in your best spring shape ever.

If you can’t get to that last gear, don’t fret. Use the hardest gear you can get around once you’ve built up some pedal momentum.

Friends, it’s worth it. Being in great shape going into spring is wonderful to experience. The wind will still bite, and all of the cold weather gear will still slow you down, but you’ll know you did well over the winter when you throw your leg over the top tube.

Ride hard, my friends. We’re almost there!

How to Turn an Entry-level Road Bike into Lean, Mean Racing Machine on a Budget

For those of us who have contracted the cycling virus, almost across the board, we entered into the sport thinking $1,000 to $3,000 our first road bike was a helluva lot of money to throw at a bicycle.  Then reality punched us in the face.

Sadly, we usually find out, pretty quickly, that $3,000 is a good start, but that was about it.  Worse, we learned that $1,000 for a road bike was a drop in a bucket.

There are some things you can go without and some things you can’t if you really want a lightweight steed out of the deal.  Now, I went the long way around getting my bikes to a point where I can be satisfied and done with the upgrades and I’m writing this post to help those who have a family to think about before cycling.

First things first, unless you’re riding at the upper echelon of your cycling community, an entry-level bike, as is, right out of the bike shop, will do just fine unless you’re north of your 40’s starting out.  Most should be able to, with a little effort, “want to” and some discipline, become fit enough to crack out a 16 to 17-mph average on a decent entry-level bike – even on a hilly course.  The trick is when you’re north of 20-mph – that’s when the lightweight and aerodynamic gear make a big difference.

I can keep up with our 23-mph club group on an 18-1/2 pound Trek with a decent set of alloy wheels.  It’s a lot of work, but I can do it – and I even stuck in with a group for just shy of 60 miles at a 23.8-mph average pace on the same bike.  That speed is a lot more reasonable on my Specialized, though…  So, if you want to get to the next level, let’s get into the proper way to go about upgrading that bike to get you some free speed without killing the bank account or causing a divorce.


Okay, so going from newest to oldest in the photos, I started with the $3,000 entry-level race bike, so I was starting with a very light, aerodynamic, stiff, carbon fiber race frame to begin with – most won’t be so fortunate.  Still, this won’t matter for the post.

The very first thing to broom is the original wheelset.  I don’t care what gearing you have on the bike you bought, I don’t care about the shifters or anything else – entry-level wheels tend to suck.  They’re heavy and slow.  I tried going with less expensive alloy wheels but now that I’ve got a set of $400 carbon fiber wheels from Ican, if you’re under the weight restrictions, as I am, I’d recommend starting there.  I have more money into my lightweight alloy wheels that the Ican’s and the Ican set is noticeably superior in comfort and speed.  I’m very impressed with that wheelset for its cost.


With a good wheelset on your steed, it’s time to look at a few important things, and a plan will help avoid blowing your cash on things you don’t need.

Having to do it all over again, I would save the handlebar upgrade for last.  I chose the S-Works bar and it was almost as much as my wheelset.  The handlebar was only good for a pile of “style watts” and a handful of actual watts and it didn’t save any weight over the alloy bar that came on the bike.  It was unnecessary, if entirely awesome.


Moving on, we want to look at the drivetrain because a great crank will save a lot of weight and operate much better.  I went with the S-Works crank because it was light, almost three-quarters of a pound lighter than the FSA Gossamer crank that came on the bike, and it fixed a nagging issue (dirt getting into the bottom bracket).  The crank is going to be a big cash item, though, so this is why we come up with a plan.  If you’ve got a 9 or 8 speed transmission you’ll have to upgrade the drivetrain first (and we were getting to that next anyway) because they don’t make decent cranks for 8 or 9 speeds anymore.  You might get lucky on eBay or some other swap site, but don’t hold your breath.  If, on the other hand, you have a 10 or 11 speed rig, you should be able to upgrade easily (though 10 speed probably won’t be available much longer).  Also, if you don’t know all of the little nuances involved in picking a new crank, it might be a good idea to let a bike shop acquire it for you…. picking a crank with the proper chainrings, right arm length, for the correct bottom bracket can be a little daunting unless you know exactly what you’re doing.


So, if you’ve got Shimano 105 or better on your entry-level bike (I did), don’t worry about upgrading the drivetrain unless you want to.  With an 8 or 9 speed rear cassette, getting into an 11 speed would be a good idea and it’ll actually save you some weight over both the 8 and 9 speed transmission.  You’ll need new shifters, new derailleurs, a new cassette and enough know-how to put it all together… along with the aforementioned crank.  This upgrade is expensive.  I’d go with 105 for a budget and Ultegra if you’ve got some cash to spend.

That’s all of the big weight savings items.  Depending on your original equipment, you’ll be down about three or four pounds at this point.

Next in importance is the stem.  Most people just go with what comes on the bike, but you can save almost a quarter-pound with a decent stem upgrade.  I went with a FSA carbon fiber wrapped alloy stem and saved about 100 grams.  This upgrade own’t make a difference in performance so it’s not entirely necessary – especially considering a good stem will set you back almost $200.


Lastly, and this could be a big deal depending on how entry-level your bike was when you bought it, I bought a decent set of brakes for my Venge.  The 105 brake calipers that came on the bike were fantastic but I dropped a little weight picked up a lot of style points for the upgrade.  If you’ve got something like Axis brakes on your bike, the upgrade should save a little bit of weight and your brakes will likely work much better.


Last up, you’ve got the bottle cages.  Alloy cages are heavy.  Plastic cages are a little better, but decent carbon fiber cages can really add to an already nice bike’s looks.  They add nothing in terms of aerodynamics and only drop a handful of grams, so they’re unnecessary unless you’ve got the want to and about $60 to $80 for the pair.  Mine are from Blackburn:


In the end, you’re going to want to figure out what you need and what you want… and what you can live without.  The wheels are a must.  Decent brakes are wise.  The crank and drivetrain are nice if you’ve got some money to spend, and the brakes and stem are more in the luxury category.

Whatever you do, push those pedals hard and ride that ride with a smile.

The Best Non-Bike Shop Entry-Level Road Bikes…

I happened on an article listing the six best entry-level road and gravel bikes. Typically when I see an article like that, I know I’m going to write a post explaining why the author is mistaken – because they typically list crappy big-box road bikes with twist grip shifters and other nonsensical parts that usually come on cheap mountain bikes.

Those ultra-cheap bikes are quite literally $#!+. They’re worse than useless because you’re always fighting the bike to make it do what you want it to… especially if you try to ride that bike in a group setting.

Well, I was shocked to find I agreed with just about everything the author of this particular post wrote. Right down the the importance of STI shifters, and the fact that Shimano Claris is just one step above junk, Shimano Sora is legit kit, and 105 is the baseline for good equipment.

In other words, the author is an actual roadie, it’s clear.

So, if you’re interested, check out this article – it’s a nice read. And if you’re or someone you know is in the market for a good entry-level road bike, send them the link… and tell them to go for the 105 equipped steed if they can afford it. It’s likely going to be the best of the bunch… next would be the two Sora steeds.