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Home » Cycling » How to Rebuild a Road Bike From the Ground Up; Part Four. The Cockpit

How to Rebuild a Road Bike From the Ground Up; Part Four. The Cockpit

December 2019
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We’re well into the rebuild!  We’ve covered the frame, the saddle and the seat post.  That’s two-thirds of the foundation on which our new steed will be built.  The last piece of that puzzle is the cockpit.  As in my last post, this requires I jump around the time line a little bit, so please forgive me; you’ll be seeing photos of my Trek when it was red, compared against its blacked out look of today – we’ll get to painting the frame and the headset in the next post.

The cockpit, after getting the saddle in position, is the next most important thing on our list.  We’re going to deal with reach and drop, and the stem will fit in with this.  Way back in 2015, after I bought my race bike and upgraded the handlebar on that, I set to fixing some things I didn’t like on my Trek.  The handlebar and stem had to go.  I couldn’t adjust the old quill stem, so it had to go.  Also on the chopping was the godforsaken handlebar.  That thing was a monstrosity… it was also a 44 cm handlebar.  My new bike had a proper 42 cm handlebar, and once I rode on a properly sized drop handlebar, the 44 just wouldn’t do.  Riding a bike with a handlebar that’s too wide isn’t the end of the world, it just feels off.  Getting the drop part of the bars right, as drop and reach go, was a bigger deal for me:

I didn’t like the rise in the stem in that setup, but I was willing to live with it.  Rather than go with a whole new fork that I couldn’t afford, I opted for a quill stem adapter that allowed me to use a standard stem.  I had my ability to adjust the cockpit to my heart’s content; I could have any stem I wanted.  It’s the adjustability that we need.

This is the bike after the final pieces were added to the puzzle:

The old handlebar was a Specialized Tarmac bend 42 cm drop bar.  I changed that out for a Bontrager (Trek) brand alloy aero handlebar.  The reach and drop are similar to the Specialized bar – but this is a little tricky.  The reach is a little longer but the drop is shallower.  In the end, I’m even a little more stretched out than I am used to.

See, the cockpit is where the bike fit magic happens.  The saddle height and fore/aft position won’t change much, so what makes the bike comfortable on the hands, shoulders, and neck is the reach.  This means you’ll want the handlebar at the right height relative to the saddle, and with enough stretch, but not too much.  That stretch is called “reach”.

Too much reach and you’ll feel like you’re constantly being pulled to the nose of the saddle.  Too little and you’ll have a difficult time breathing because your diaphragm won’t work right.  In extreme cases, you’re back will be hunched enough that your lungs simply won’t fill all the way.

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The ability to adjust the cockpit, with the exception of a handlebar’s reach and drop, is all in the stem and the stem’s spacer stack.  We want the right stem for the bike.  In the photo above, with the bike on the trainer, the reach was a little shallow and the rise in the stem wasn’t quite aggressive enough, so I bought a 90 mm 17° stem and flipped it so the rise turned into a drop.  This added reach and a bit more drop:

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Above, the bike is almost in its final form – it doesn’t have the aero handlebar on it in this photo – the bar was just installed a few weeks ago and we got into snow so fast, I didn’t have a chance to get it outside to properly photograph it.  Now, I had my good bike to work off of, as far as fit went, so the idea was just “try to make the Trek feel like the other bike”.  If this is your first bike, the trick is to be able to honestly evaluate what it is you feel on the bike and compare that to what you want so you can pick parts that will get you into the position you like.  With the stem, the most important thing is the length.  The pitch can often be changed simply by changing the spacer stack.

I rode the Trek for DALMAC, our four-day, 380+ mile trip from Lansing to Mackinaw City, Michigan, and was perfectly comfortable.  That’s the goal.img_63929154288813876002187.jpg

Stay tuned… in Part Five, I’ll get into the drivetrain, following that, I’ll cover the paint and accessories.  It’ll be a nice little cherry on top that gets the bike prettied up to make it look like several thousand dollars.  I’ll cap it off with wheels.


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