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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:

  1. 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’t didn’t know about.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Just Like That, My Classic Trek Is Ready for DALMAC… And a Great Test Run with My Buddy, Chucker

I’ve always tried to get my Trek 5200, my first race bike, to be as good as my Specialized Venge. I’ve done everything I could to make it as light and fast as I could afford. It is, today, as close as I’ve ever had it to that ideal… it’s been a labor of love, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it (as difficult as it’s been at times).

This last mess really pressed what mechanical skills and knowledge I’ve got. This one even got me to expand on that base… it’s been a while since I dug into the files to do some serious research.

When it was all done, I addressed a lot of issues that needed attention, though. Things I couldn’t see when I built the Trek from the ground up.

Even installing new chain rings can have on affect on chain line, shifting, derailleur setting (front), and overall performance (I went from aftermarket to Shimano 105 chainrings).

And so last night I made some final checks to make sure everything was operating properly before rolling out to meet my buddy, Chuck for our normal Monday evening ride.

I know the front derailleur is probably adjusted a little tight, relying on a lot of tension on the cable from the barrel adjuster, but it operates perfectly. That reality makes it a little tough to tinker with anymore. Every gear, minimal trim…

So with calling that good enough, I rolled out. I had my eyes set on really giving it some power to make sure my skipping problem really was solved.

I was on the gas in a hurry. Today’s weather is going to be a $#!+show so I knew I wouldn’t have to preserve my legs… I’ll ride the couch tonight. The Trek responded well and I immediately jumped to 20-mph. The legs were feeling some of their pre-DALMAC glory so much that being on the gas actually felt good.

I was right on time, pulling into Chuck’s subdivision. He was rounding the corner to the exit street as I was turning onto it from the main road. I did an about face and we rolled it to the first intersection where we had to wait a few seconds for traffic to clear.

We had a rare and slight tailwind heading west and I was feeling really good, so I put the hammer down a little bit, raising our normal 16-17-mph, easygoing pace to 22. I held the front for two miles and gave it to Chuck who held the pace. We had us a little ride going. Chuck took the next two miles, leaving me a half-mile on Morrish road coming out of a quick one-mile subdivision… and that’s when I saw him, flashing light, just about to turn on Hill road – the same way we’d turn. He was riding pretty upright… I was betting eBike.

We were already up to 22 when he turned and I instituted full-on hunter/killer chase down mode. I hopped the pace up to 24 as we approached the intersection, waited for the four-way stop intersection to clear and making our turn. I’d made up some distance but I wanted to pick that bike off within the next mile. Down in the drops and with a slight tailwind, I dropped the hammer and had it up to 26-mph on the pool table-smooth pavement. I could feel the lactic acid building in my legs as we flirted with 27 (43-km/h). We were closing the gap fast. At a quarter-mile I could tell he was on an eBike for sure, and he was going down.

It was a fairly cool bike, too. Relaxed, upright geometry, large battery pack, fat tires (looked like 26″ as we were going by)… he saw us coming in his mirror and moved to the gravel shoulder, unnecessarily. We blew by him at 25-mph as if he were riding a beach cruiser. I dropped the speed back to a more reasonable 22-mph to the next intersection. Chuck took over next and we stayed on the gas for another mile before turning into our two-loop subdivision. I offered that, if Chuck wanted to dial it back to normal, I’d be good with that – or we could keep it up.

I was hoping for “dial it back”. And that’s what he chose.

The next four miles, two laps around the subdivision was fun and easy. We had flashes of fast, though. Entering the subdivision for the second loop, we’ve got a slight hill about 75 yards up the road and I wanted to give the little ring a good run to see if it skipped. I still have the yips over the skipping and I’ve got to dispel this heinous $#!+ and put it in the past. I dropped seamlessly to the small ring and two up on the cassette to keep the same cadence and got, hesitantly, out of the saddle. As the hill started, I increased the wattage till I knew it should be skipping… then gave it more on the next pedal stroke, and more… and I just went up the hill. On the last stroke to the crest, I really gave it some juice – measured at first, then increasingly dropped the hammer. Nothing. No skip, not even a hesitation or change in pitch at the chain/chainring. I was pretty sure that was it. I sat down and shifted to the big ring again, then down two in the back, a smile on my face. I’m glad that freaking saga is over.

Three miles later, we were into another subdivision with a bigger hill in front of us and I decided to hit that one with a little more gusto – not quite normal “let’s sprint up this sucker”, but I didn’t worry about being ginger with it, either. Down to the little ring, up one in the back as the hill started up… out of the saddle… power down, side to side with a little sway… and nothing. Just straight up the hill. With that, I knew she was ready for DALMAC. I can take The Wall, no problem.

The next five miles were a weight off my shoulders. I love my 5200.

We had smoked chicken nachos for dinner and afterward, as Monday Night Football was firing up (and how about Gladys Knight?! She’s amazing by any normal standards, but at 77? Wow. The National Anthem was a little too much “pop/blues” for my liking [I’m a traditional fellow as the Anthem goes], but she did a fine job of it and definitely put her stamp on the rendition), I was looking for something to work on as I didn’t have anything left to do on the Trek… so I turned my attention to my wife’s gravel bike… I had a new Sora medium cage derailleur waiting to go on the bike. And so I went at it. More on that later. It went perfectly.

Decisions, Decisions; Preparing for A Weekend Road Trip… Which Bike to Bring?

I’m at a moral dilemma that every person who rides a bike should be so fortunate to have; which bike to take on the first weekend road trip with the cycling buddies in something like two years?

On the one hand I’ve got my old but trusty Trek 5200 that was built for this kind of trip. Long, comfortable classic frame with modern components and a stretched cockpit. It plays well with a Garmin Varia taillight and carries a saddle bag well, mechanically sound, not terribly heavy at 18-1/2 pounds… etc., etc., etc. The main downside is there’s going to be some “up” on this trip, but we’ll get into that in a second. The Trek is also noticeably harder to get down the road than my other choice…

On the other, I’ve got the Venge. With a sleek, low front-end race setup, it’s not exactly built for a long day in the saddle, and there are going to be three of those in a row on this trip. It’s not all that bad on a long day, either. I don’t have a saddle bag for the bike (mainly because a saddle bag looks ugly on a Venge). The gearing is right for a lot of climbing, though (50/34 and 11/28 – it’ll get me up anything where we’re going), and it’s a little tighter mechanically than the Trek – it’s literally perfect as mechanics go. The Venge is also considerably faster and will be slightly easier on me over the weekend, in terms of wattage.

Both bikes have great wheels shod with Specialized Turbo Pro tires, though the Venge’s wheels are a little better, more aero and deeper. With decently warm temps and light single-digit winds all weekend, there’s no question the Venge wins that round unanimously.

It’s not all open and shut, though. In terms of practicality, the Trek wins without a fight. The saddle bag is going to be useful and will mean I’ll have a spare pocket for extra clothing I may need to find a place for once the temps warm up after the chilly morning. However, I’m anticipating an average of about 65 to 70 miles a day over the three-day trip – I think I might just want all the help I can get from the bike I choose. And that’s really where the choice becomes elementary. I’m in really good shape this year, but I’m not quite there yet. When I walked out the door this morning the Venge made the most sense. I was certain I should take all the help I can get and save the Trek for DALMAC later this year.

Then, by the time I got to the office this morning I couldn’t help but remember the Trek is the perfect bike for a trip like this… this is what I built it for, after all.

Does Rim to Tire Width Matter In Terms of Tire Wear?

We can all remember the good old days of the 23 mm tire on the 19.5 mm wide rim… they weren’t all that long ago (most still run this or a 19.5/25 mm combo). A few years ago, they started making rims wider because tire widths were on the increase as evidence made it clear that a plusher ride was more important to speed than a skinny, rock-hard tire. I’ve been running 25 mm tires on 23 mm wide rims on my Trek 5200 for the better part of two seasons. At the same time, I’ve been running 26 mm tires on 25 mm wide rims on my Specialized Venge. The 25s develop a flat track on the center of the tire while the 26s (on the 25 mm rims) aren’t nearly as pronounced.

Now, what I’m about to get into could very well be simply be a difference in tires (Michelin Pro IV 25s vs. Spec. Turbo Pro 26s), but the 26s aren’t developing a flat track in the center of the tire like the 25s are. That got me to thinking, I wonder what would happen if I put 24s on the 23 mm rims? The thinking, of course, is that with less of a “lightbulb effect” from the tire to the rim, the wear of the tire might improve.

I’m about to find out.


The Trek with Michelin 25s on the left, Specialized Turbo Pro 24s in the middle and Specialized Turbo Pro 26s on the Venge at right. It’s quite plain to see how much more clearance just that one millimeter gives between the 24s and 25s on the Trek. I haven’t quite decided which is a better ride, but I’m liking the 24 Turbo Pros at 90 psi a little more than the Pro IV 25s. It’s not a huge improvement, of course, but the ride seems a little more supple.

Anyway, if the two photos above don’t illustrate enough how much better the profile is between the tire and rim, as the “lightbulb effect” goes, have a look at this one:

Now, an important question would be, do the aerodynamic characteristics of the tires even matter on a Trek 5200? Not at all. A 5200 is only slightly more aerodynamic, as bicycles go, than a brick. But, if there’s an improvement in tire wear (and a small advantage in feel), plus a little aero gain that wasn’t there with 25s? Well that will absolutely make this little experiment worth the exercise.

I’ll have more on this at a later date. So far I like it. A lot.

CRAP! I’ve Finally Done It. My Backup Bike Is Too Utterly Fantastic… (P.S. I don’t mean to virtue signal, but I will, this is above even a First World problem… Not quite a Bill Gates problem, but let’s not split hairs)

In my quest to make my classic 1999 Trek 5200 everything it can be with modern parts and tech, I may have gone one step too far…


For only the second time (the first was fleeting and gone too quickly), my Trek is just a shade more comfortable than my 14-year-newer aero race bike.  The Trek is so good, I’m actually picking it for windy rides and active recovery rides just so it can have its day in the sun… and I can put some enjoyable outdoor miles on it.

I’ve been trying to get the Trek close to the Venge in terms of comfort for so long I can’t believe I’m actually here.  And that I’ve gone too far!

Thankfully for the Venge, it’s a paragon of aerodynamic awesomeness, seductive speed and svelte weight wienieness.  Its Ultegra drivetrain also shifts a lot better than my 5200’s 105 drivetrain.  If not for those four formidable points… well, not much would change.  Because that Venge is supremely fun to ride.

The main changes that brought the Trek up a few notches centered around the 17° flipped stem that helped to get the setup a little closer to my Specialized. The “best find” piece of the puzzle was the Bontrager Montrose Team Issue carbon fiber saddle.  On a fluke I found the saddle on Trek’s website for just $120 and jumped on it.  I should have bought two.  That is one amazing saddle. The final piece of the puzzle was the upgrade to carbon fiber Ican 38 mm wheels shod with 25 mm tires.  Dropping the alloy wheels and the 23/24 mm tires improved the Trek’s ride characteristics immensely.  Interestingly, because of a clearance issue at the rear chainstays, I couldn’t use 25 mm tires with 19.5 mm wide wheels (alloy wheels are typically 19.5 mm wide – or they were).  With the light bulb effect, the tires would rub the chainstays just behind the bottom bracket when I would climb a hill out of the saddle.  The Ican carbon fiber wheels are 23 mm wide so the 25 mm tires now fit perfectly, no rubbing.

Anyway, point being, it’s a good day for the 5200.