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Cycling and the Finer Points of Cockpit Setup (and I Do Mean the Finer Points)


December 2022

Originally, I was going to start this post out by pointing to my Trek 5200’s setup as the pinnacle of my achievement in terms of bike setup that took almost ten years to perfect, but that isn’t the case anymore. My greatest achievement was setting up my wife’s new (to her) Assenmacher so that when she climbed aboard for the first time after all of the changes she said, “This feels great, let’s go with this.” My wife is exceptionally finicky about her bike setup so that was a massive compliment.

Setting up my own bike was easy. My wife, being tougher about her setup than I am, I also had to learn how to adjust her setup based on conversation rather than feel. As a true, “please let me fix this” guy, nothing was more satisfying than putting even more than I put into my own bikes into my wife’s bikes and having it work out to her satisfaction.

Our tandem would have to be next for at least a couple of reasons. I’ve got a ton of time into setting up our tandem, between the two of us. Again, setting up my wife’s half of the bike was even tougher because that was the first time I put my full effort into working setting a bike up for my wife. Normally, I’d always left my wife’s setup to the pro at the local shop. I figured he was way better than me, so it made sense. While there’s no doubt he’s more knowledgeable, he can’t possibly take the time I could to work with my wife. The best he could do was move a few things and say, “Try that”. I took my tools and rode with my wife, stopping every now and again to adjust things little by little until we hit pay dirt. The front half was a little easier as the shop had the cockpit setup done to match my Trek before I ever brought the bike home.

Finally, we get to the Trek. At this point, all of the bikes in my stable are set to my approximation of “correctly”, but the Trek is the one that blazed the way. Here are the little details in setting up the cockpit so it works with the bike’s geometry and my reach:

  1. The hoods are tilted up about 5°. This was a new revelation watching a setup video on YouTube a couple of years ago.
  2. There’s a 5mm spacer below the stem – without the spacer, the handlebar sits just a touch too low for comfort.
  3. The stem, with a classic frame and rake, is 17°, flipped to give it that parallel to the ground look.
  4. On a compact frame (with a sloped top tube), the rake changes and 17° is too steep, you’d need a 12°.
  5. The reach is standard, for the handlebar, but the drop is a little shallower than normal.
  6. I went with a 42cm wide handlebar and am quite happy with it.
  7. In order for me to ride comfortably in the drops, I’ve got the saddle nose down 2°.

For my wife’s bike(s), she’s more flexible than I am, but not by much. She doesn’t like tolerating the steep drop from the saddle to the handlebar that I do/can, so I had to learn a few tricks. Second, as can be seen in our tandem photo below, Jess’s saddle is almost exactly as high as mine. Her legs are actually a little longer than mine even though I’m a couple of inches taller. She’s also got a leg longer than the other, but that imbalance wasn’t fixed with the bike. We shimmed the insole of her shoe.

  1. This isn’t technically a cockpit thing, but it absolutely is; I had to drop the nose of my wife’s saddle quite a bit to get the front of the bike to work properly. So, it isn’t a cockpit issue, but the front of the bike can’t work unless the back of the bike is in order first. My saddles are set between 1 and 2° down. My wife is 5°.
  2. My wife needed a shorter stem, I think that’s a 60 with a 12° rise, so I could keep her from stretching too far.
  3. I didn’t change the spacer stack from the way it came when we brought the bike home, I just relied on the rise in the stem to bring the handlebar up to where my wife needed it.
  4. Notice the handlebar isn’t rotated back to raise the hoods… I had to loosen and adjust them after I set the handlebar to get that 5° rise from parallel to the ground. Try to avoid over-rotating the handlebar to move the hoods as this leads to poor placement of the hands in the drops. You’re not going to be as comfortable in the drops, as a rule, but you should be comfortable enough you can ride in them without feeling like a fish out of water for ten to thirty minutes.
  5. The final trick I used for my wife’s cockpit setup was the short reach handlebar. This brought the hoods in closer to where she needed them. The original bar, a nice carbon fiber deal, had a massive 7″ reach. The reach had the hoods so far away, she preferred to ride with her hands behind the hoods. A normal handlebar has a reach between 4″ & 5″. She needed something short of standard, so I picked up the bar on her Assenmacher for $40 at the local shop. She’ll have a short reach carbon handlebar as a birthday or holiday present in the near future.

There are so many opportunities for jokes in Number 5, I can’t refrain from acknowledging them. I know.


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