Tweaking Bike Fit As Time Goes By: – 5 Millimeters = Sore No More

Regular readers may recall this item from the summary in my recent Santana Beyond review:

  • Rider Comfort: My neck and shoulders were noticeably less “tight” after riding the Santana vs. our Calfee. This may have also been a result of the shorter distances we rode with long breaks between ride segments. Hmmm. I may install a spare Reynolds Ouzo Pro fork with 55mm of rake on the Calfee for GTR to evaluate this a little bit further.

Well, I’m really pleased to report I was able to isolate the source of my discomfort over the past two weekends: it was my bar height.  When I set-up the Santana Beyond for our multi-day test ride, I wasn’t easily able to replicate the 3cm of drop that I typically use on my personal tandems, noting I’ve used about 3cm of drop since 1998.  I think I was able to get about 2cm of drop and while I felt noticeably more upright, it was off-set a bit by the Ultegra brake hoods which were a bit longer than my Campy Ergo brake hoods.  Again, as noted in my comments, I found that my shoulders and neck didn’t develop a slight tinge of discomfort that I’ve been experiencing when I rode our Calfee on all but the shortest rides, and that got me thinking about the differences in the two bikes.

My initial thought was the increased fork rake and reduced steering trail was providing me with the subtle relief I experienced on the Santana. However, the more I thought about it after writing my review the more I began to wonder if it wasn’t the change in bar drop that gave me a bit of relief.  So, rather than swapping my Alpha Q X2 fork with its 44mm of rake for my spare Reynolds Ouzo Pro fork with 55mm of rake, I decided to flip the Thomson X2 Road stem with +/- 10° rise.


 Thomson X2 Road Stem: -10° rise on left and flipped with +10° rise on right, but with one of three 1 cm spacers moved above the stem to off-set some of the rise.

As you can see in the before and after photos above, flipping the stem and repositioning one of the three spacers that were under the stem yielded a net increase in bar height of 5 mm (2.5 cm bar drop), which turned out to be just what I needed.  I arrived at the 5 mm change in bar drop by first flipping the stem without moving a spacer when we did our 62 mile Tour de Cure ride back on May 15th. This change (1.5cm bar drop) proved to be just a bit too high and created some saddle issues for me.  So, for the Georgia Tandem Rally, I initially put the stem back into the original -10° rise position (3 cm bar drop) for the Friday ride to get myself re-baselined with my original fit.  Sure enough, as we approached 25 miles my shoulders and neck were getting a bit sore.  When we stopped a short time later at the Wesley Church for a shade and water break, I pulled out my compact multi-tool and flipped the stem, but this time with only 2 cm of spacers under the stem and the third spacer moved above the stem.  The improvement was immediately noticeable, although there was still some residual discomfort from the 1st 1/2 of the ride.

On Saturday I started out with the same set-up and never had an ache or a pain at any point on the 60 mile ride, which had quite a bit of climbing… easily on par with the Santana Saturday ride and the Tour de Cure. Same story on Sunday: everything felt dialed-in and comfortable throughout the ride.

So, the lesson learned is not a new one.  As we get older and/or lose and gain fitness our bodies change, and changes in the bike fit are also required.  How often that bike fit needs to be revisited depends on how significant those changes in fitness are as well as other changes in your physique that may be tied to the aging process.  I’m not sure why I never bothered to adjust my bar height all these years (other than vanity and denial), as it turned out to be an easy adjustment to make and yielded immediate and noticeably positive results.  And, no… you don’t need to make dramatic adjustments: just a little tweak here and there:  5 millimeters was all I needed.

Yeah, flipping the stem kinda killed its nice horizontal orientation but at this point comfort trumps fashion, hands-down.



About TG

I've been around a bit and done a few things, have a couple kids and a few grandkids. I tend to be curmudgeonly, matter-of-fact and not predisposed to self-serving chit-chat. Thankfully, my wife's as nice as can be otherwise we'd have no friends. My interests are somewhat eclectic, but whose aren't?
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3 Responses to Tweaking Bike Fit As Time Goes By: – 5 Millimeters = Sore No More

  1. Ken says:

    Thanks for making me feel better. I flipped my stem a couple of years ago and what a difference. At first it felt like I was riding a beach cruiser, but soon got used to the “upright” style. What a difference it has made. Enjoy all of your posts. Keep it up!

  2. Pingback: 2011 Santana Beyond Review – Beyond Sublime « The TandemGeek's Blog

  3. Yuri says:

    “As we get older and/or lose and gain fitness our bodies change, and changes in the bike fit are also required. How often that bike fit needs to be revisited depends on how significant those changes in fitness are…”

    I believe it can be only a few months. My road bike always feels long when we start training in January, and fits nearly perfectly by the time Summer arrives. That correlates well with a significant increase in fitness, as we usually train for a good number of 6-8 hour MTB events between January and May.

    The custom Co-Motion tandem we will be getting this week has a captain’s geometry pretty close to my road bike. It was based on body metrics and my existing bikes. I guess Dwan presumes I will continue training and stay in shape, so the fit stays good. That’s a bit of a bummer, as I had fully intended to get fatter and lazier this Winter… and as I get older, in general.

    No rest for the wicked. 😦

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