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A Photographical How To; Setting Up a Fantastic Road Bike


February 2020

There are a few things you need to know up front if you’re going to set up a fantastic road bike.  First, anyone can by a $12,000 bike off the shelf and have it look pretty freaking awesome.  Sadly, it’ll lack panache – it’ll look exactly like every one of its siblings.  It takes some stones to buy a bike and transform it into a work of functioning, lightweight, carbon fiber and alloy art.  It’s the latter we’ll be playing with.

First things first.  Your bike, if you want to make it look spectacular, if you’re fairly svelte and flexible, should be ordered a size below your ideal size frame (consult someone at your local bike shop to confirm, so you don’t make a costly error).  There’s a chance you’ll have some toe overlap on your front wheel, but you’ll learn to deal with it… or you’ll crash.  Hard.  Your bike will also come with a bunch of spacers below your stem.  You will, eventually or sooner, learn they’re unnecessary.  Preferable is one 5mm spacer below the stem and one above.  This should be tested before one has the stem cut, first.  Simply switch the spacers from under the stem to atop the stem until you’re sure you can ride comfortably in that position.  If you can’t, add one spacer at a time under the stem till it’s comfortable.  Then, take the bike to the shop and have them trim the fork for you.  Next, for a fantastic road bike, you’re going to want need 38 or 50 mm carbon fiber wheels.  You won’t believe how much easier it is to maintain speeds that will baffle you with alloy wheels.  Finally, look into matching accessories like bottle cages, brakes, and in the example below, pedals.  Be careful not to go too far, though.  Gaudy happens real fast.

specialized venge_14794811148563167444..jpg

A Punisher decal, somewhere on the bike, is absolutely necessary – if not to let others know what’s up, at the very least you’ll want one on your top tube to remind you that you’re a badass.

The aero handlebar is pretty important as style watts go.  Do they make a noticeable difference in terms of pushing through the wind?  Well, yes, but nothing you couldn’t fix with a little extra “want to”, either.  A big plus is a Garmin Edge 520 Plus or better on a flush out front mount; no wires, no transmitters attached to your fork with zip ties, no magnets on your wheels.

You’ll want a carbon fiber crankset to drop weight.  They’re expensive, but worth the money.  My S-Works crank has been flawless since it was installed years ago.

For tires, you’ll want a minimum of 25 mm wide.  I’m rolling some Serfas prototype tires right now, but if I switch back to Specialized tires, I’ll put on some Turbo Pro 26’s on my 38 mm carbon fiber wheels.  I haven’t decided yet – those Serfas tires are freaking fantastic – they wear great.  We’ll see.

The rest is pretty basic:

My “aero” Venge, at six-years-old, is already getting to the obsolete side but it’s still a smashing bike.  Studies show, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that “aero” is more important than a bike’s weight and a rider’s weight is more important than both – because there’s nothing less “aero” than a gut and a big ass.  A big ass can be ridden on, but a big gut gets in the way of riding in an aerodynamic fashion.  The brake pad alignment is mildly important for stopping, but mainly having them aligned makes the bike look better.  Other than that, the last thing to look at will be the chainrings.  Suit yours to the way you ride and the terrain you’ll ride on.  52/36 is nice, but I’m partial to the 50/34 compact for when I’m climbing hills.

Look, if you don’t know any better, your chainring sizes won’t matter… Sooner or later, you’re going to run into a problem; either you struggle climbing a big-ass hill, or you’re going to have a tough time with gear gaps.  I’ve written extensively about the gear gap problems inherent with a 52/36 chainring combo when paired with an 11-28 tooth cassette (or anything bigger for that matter).

The problem is the jump in “teeth” in the lower (easier) gears.  Each “tooth” on the cassette represents 5 rpm in your cadence.  Well, in a 10 and 11 speed 11-28 cassette, you’ve got a three and a four tooth jump in the last three gears and that three tooth jump just happens to be from 18-1/2 to 22-mph, so you spend a lot of time feeling like you’re in the wrong gear unless you’re at 18-mph or above 22-mph – a horrible place for a cadence hole.  So unless you’re Speedy Gonzalez incarnate, you go with an 11-25 (Shimano) or an 11-26 (SRAM)… but that puts a crunch on climbing – that last 28 tooth gear is really nice when you’ve got a 36 tooth baby chainring.

Or you go with a compact 50/34 chainring combo which lowers the speed of the gap to a more reasonable 12 to 16-mph with the 11-28… then you can have everything, though you miss a couple of mph on the top end.

In terms of what’s important in life, the difference between a 52/36 and a 50/34 is pretty small and I muddled through just fine with the pro compact for years before discovering the benefits of the 50/34 standard compact chainset.  Sure, I had a bit of a tougher time climbing hills and I’m infinitely grateful for that 34 – 28 last gear, but I did just fine without it.

The keys to having your fantastic bike are as follows:

  • Keep it clean, always
  • Take your time and do it right
  • Don’t try to push bad accessories
  • Don’t overdo the colors or mix-match off colors
  • It’s not worth having a fantastic bike if you don’t ride it
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