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Home » Cycling » How to Set Up a Bike’s Cockpit for Comfort AND Performance; Splitting the Hair Between Pain and Sane.

How to Set Up a Bike’s Cockpit for Comfort AND Performance; Splitting the Hair Between Pain and Sane.


December 2022

In my last post I covered the general setup of a bike. Originally, I started with this post but I realized I needed the previous first so I could get to this one… so I took about four days to write the last post before getting to this one.

So, assuming we get the crankarm length, saddle height, setback and tilt right, next we turn our attention to the cockpit. We want to concern ourselves with reach, handlebar drop, and the geometry of the handlebar itself, next.

Now, common sense says we’re going to take the setup we enjoy and just carbon copy it over however many bikes we have, right? Well, I had other ideas. This whole experiment started with our tandem. The bike started its life as a flat-bar hybrid but we swapped the 8-speed mountain bike drivetrain for a Shimano 105 10-speed road set. I required a 130mm stem to get the reach far enough out but we could have gone even further to match my Trek 5200’s reach. We opted instead to stick with the 130 and set me up in a less aggressive posture as we probably wouldn’t need the aerodynamics as much on that bike (two people pushing with the wind load cross-section of one). It worked so well, I opted for the same for my gravel bike. I should have used a 120mm stem but opted for a 110 so I could sit slightly more upright for pothole avoidance comfort. It’s as comfortable as my Trek, again.

For the Trek, I’m currently using a 90mm stem where I should have used an 80 (this was actually a mistake in ordering – I thought I needed a 90, but oops). To counter the extra centimeter I rotated the hoods up by about 5° from parallel to the ground. That was an interesting revelation itself. One of the mechanics from the shop, a young budding mountain biker trying to go pro, let me know in no uncertain terms that all of the cool kids set their hoods parallel to the ground, so that’s naturally what I did. I was a cool kid, even if I was old. It was only later, after my umpteenth YouTube video that a true pro setup artist came out and said the whole “hoods parallel to the ground” thing is ridiculous and bad for the wrists, that I changed and am much happier for it. In my case, it brought the hoods just close enough and relieved an unnatural bend in my wrists.

Then there’s my Specialized Venge. It still has all of the bad habits. Slammed AF stem, hoods parallel to the ground, 12° stem, flipped… 100mm reach (this is actually the proper length for a 56cm compact frame for me).

So, the point of all of this is quite simple; don’t think you’re stuck with one setup that has to be applied against all bikes to maintain comfort. That’s simply not how it works.

If I had to, I couldn’t pick which bike is the most comfortable. Each has its own attributes. I can say this, though; don’t be constrained by the notion that all of your bikes have to be as close as possible in their setup. The back half of the bike matters a lot. The front half, not as much.

Whatever you do, don’t think you have to set your bike up a certain way to match those of kids who are 30 years younger and paid to ride a bicycle in an uncomfortable position. I get close enough for government work, but I’ve come to find comfort most important.



  1. The Omil says:

    Hope you escape the storms (or at least the worst of them) that we are hearing about. Stay safe and have a very happy Christmas.

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