When I brought my Trek 5200 home for the first time, the setup was nondescript from most any other road bike you’ll see coming out of a shop. Handlebar a couple inches below the saddle, an ergonomically correct setup for a decent run at speedy, though lacking in aerodynamics which creates extra work in the wind.
I set to changing it almost immediately after getting home. I dropped the stem, put a decent saddle on the bike, and have gone through several upgrades since, but the handlebar has remained as low as I could get it since.
Fast forward just shy of a decade and 73,000-ish miles and I’m still learning about what I like and can tolerate with the setup of my bikes. Where this gets fun and interesting for me is not only in the differences in our tandem, gravel and road bike setups, but in the differences between my road bikes as well.
I’ve got the tandem set up so that my posture is a little more upright than that of the road bikes. Same for the gravel bike, though that’s slightly more aggressive. Next is my rain bike, the Trek 5200, with my Specialized Venge taking the top honors, slightly, as my most aggressive setup. This is as it should be, of course.
Now, it’s worth noting that I’ve got four slightly different setups on four very different bikes and I don’t experience any of discomfort while riding any of them. Even going from one bike to another – say from the Trek to the Venge or the tandem to the Venge (I’ve done both). The main reason for this, though there are slight variations in drop and reach, is that I’ve got the saddle height and fore/aft positioning almost (if not) identical for each bike. The key, then, has been suiting the setup to the manner in which I’ll ride the bike. For the tandem, I want the most control possible. Captaining a tandem feels like driving a semi-truck so I’ve got more of an upright posture. Also, with two people providing the power, cutting through the wind isn’t quite the same worry it would be on a single bike – you’re basically two people punching through the wind of one because we’re stacked so close together. For the gravel bike, I went with a 10mm shorter stem (it should be a 120, I’ve got a 110 on it) so I’d be able to see obstacles coming a little sooner. I tend to feel a little crammed into the cockpit, but not enough I don’t forget about after a few minutes.
On the road bikes, I want those to be as aggressive as possible. I ride with fast groups and the better I can cut into the wind, the more manageable the ride. I have to be careful, of course, because going too far will mean an uncomfortable ride and the only thing worse than bad aerodynamics is trying to ride uncomfortably for the sake of aerodynamics. We amateurs should never sacrifice comfort for an aggressive posture. So, the Venge is almost identical to the Trek, except that the handlebar is a quarter-inch lower (6 mm). Amazingly, due to advantages in the geometry between a compact and classic frameset, the Venge is actually more comfortable to ride than the Trek, as far as looking up the road goes. The Trek requires me to crane my neck just a little more than the Venge, even though the Venge is a little lower in the front end.
To wrap this post up and put a bow on it, it’s fairly simple to set your bike up taking into account how you’ll use it. The important numbers are the saddle height and fore/aft position of the saddle. After that, you can change things around in the cockpit to suit your needs, to an extent. Just keep watch for any pains that pop up. If the setup on one bike is causing pain you’re not experiencing on other bikes, you’ll have to change something to rectify that. Or, heaven forbid, if you’ve only got one bike, you’ll have to be very keen on diagnosing little issues so they can be fixed.