Matching the Setups of Dissimilar Road Bikes; An Exercise in Patience, It Is Possible. And Worth the Effort.
One of my proudest achievements since I began tinkering on bikes was setting my 1999 Trek 5200, a 58 cm classic standard frame, to match my Specialized Venge, a compact 56cm aero frame. As they are today, I can get on either bike and I can’t feel much of a difference between the two.
With the bikes stood handlebar to handlebar and saddle to saddle, you can hardly tell the setups apart, as dissimalar as the frames are. The Trek, even though it was my first bike, was intentionally set up to match my Venge, but it wasn’t easy:
Now, for the picky amongst you, you’ll notice the the Trek’s handlebar is slightly higher than that of the Venge. This is by design – I’ve actually got a 5-mil spacer beneath the stem of the Trek. There are a couple of reasons for the lowered handlebar on the Venge. First, the Venge is the race bike (or at least my “fast” bike). Second, the compact geometry of the Venge makes riding lower more comfortable than I can on the Trek. I don’t necessarily know the how and why of this, I just know it’s so. I can’t ride that low, comfortably, on the Trek (I tried). Finally, my Trek is the rain bike (and also my long tour bike). I figured I’d rather be slightly more more upright and comfortable when I’m on a long tour or facing the prospect of getting wet. When I tested the Trek with the handlebar slammed, I stopped using the drops because the reach was a little too much. Or I’m possibly a little too… erm, old to bend like that.
Here’s what made it all work:
- Stems. I’ve got a 12 degree x 100 mm stem on the Venge and a 17 degree 90 mm stem on the Trek. This was how I got the bar in the right spot on both bikes – this took a lot of trial and error and more than a couple of stems that my wife
doesn’tdidn’t know about.
- I have the same saddle on each bike – Bontrager Montrose Pro Carbon. The saddle on the Trek is a 138 mm and the saddle on the Venge is a 128 mm. I rode 143s for years but I don’t imagine I’ll ever go back. 143 is just a little too wide for my liking.
- Saddle height and fore/aft location on the seatpost. The length I went to get the saddle height right was nothing short of epic. Half a decade and more changes than you can shake a stick at. And the best part is the height changed over the years.
Starting with the saddle height, because that should be easiest, I started out at 36-3/4″ from the top of the pedal to the top of the saddle following the center of the top tube. I had a Specialized Body Geometry fitting done and that was lowered by an eighth of an inch. Then I lowered it by another eighth going by “feel”. The reason I couldn’t quite get comfortable wasn’t the height of the saddle, it was the width. When I switched to the Montrose saddles, I was able to raise both up to their final resting place of 36-5/8″ (or exactly where the BG fitting had me in 2014). Sadly, the thinnest saddle Specialized makes is a 143 so I’ve got a Trek saddle on my Specialized (I’ll get into this most interesting conundrum in another post).
Getting the stems right was an exercise in futility on the Trek. I’ve been through… counting… five stems before finally settling on the flipped 90 mm, 17 degree beauty you see in the photo above. I’ve only ever had one other stem on the Venge, an ultra-light carbon-wrapped aluminum beauty from FSA. Sadly, that stem only came in 6 degrees, so flipped, it followed the line of the top tube and it was very light, but I never really loved the look. I went back to the heavier Specialized Stem that came on the bike, with a -4 degree insert, I got it to 12 degrees, flipped (eventually I’ll put a 100 mm x 12 degree S-Works stem on the Venge):
Now, before I get into anything else, because of the contortion of the handlebar with the 6 degree stem on the left, my hoods are at the same stack height from the ground in both photos.
The simplest measurement was the fore/aft position of the saddle – whichever saddle I had on either bike, whatever the saddle height was at the time, it didn’t matter: shoes on and clipped in, with the crank arms perfectly parallel to the ground, the outer edge of my knee is perfectly plumb with the leading edge of the crank arm. It’s the same on both bikes.
And that’s exactly why this is so tricky to get right; you have to match the stem and the drop of the handlebars to where the saddle goes on two entirely different frames. If you get the reach wrong by 10 millimeters, you’ll feel scrunched into the cockpit or too stretched out to comfortably reach the hoods/drop. Then you have to match the angle of the stem to where you want the handlebar. Now this is made easier with shims that you can use under the stem to raise it, but it’s a pretty intricate puzzle with one bike. It’s crazy trying to get two, with dissimilar frames, to match up.
It is possible, though. It just takes some patience (and money). And it’s absolutely worth the effort.