Planning to do a Sportive?
Or a ‘Sportif’?
Or a ‘Gran Fondo’?
Something with closed roads perhaps like Ride London or The Tour of Cambridgeshire?
Maybe even the Etape du Tour?
Put another way, are you planing to ride in close proximity to a lot of other cyclists? Does that thought fill you with excitement, trepidation or sheer terror? Will you be trying to ride as close to the people in front as you can, trying to keep your distance or trying to get past?
I’d expect anyone new to cycling to feel pretty apprehensive, but for a long time I was surprised by the number of experienced, long-time cyclists who came to me for fittings and told me that they actually felt pretty nervous with other riders close round. They didn’t tell me in the sense that they though it was a problem – far from it. Typically it cropped up once we started to talk about the way they had their bikes set up.
“Do you find that your hands go numb after a while?”
“Do your shoulders and neck start to ache at all?”
“Do you use the drops much? Can you reach the brakes OK on the drops?”
“Do your quads burn when you’re riding uphill?”
“Do you find yourself sliding towards the front of the saddle?”
“Do you find that your bike veers to the side when you take one hand off the bars? – maybe when you reach for your bottle, or your pockets…”
I started to realise that the concept of ‘experience’ having any relationship to ‘knowledge’ and ‘understanding’ was often non-existent. People tend to ride their bikes how they came or how they always have. Many people, for example, position new cleats precisely where the previous cleats were, meticulously preserving a setup that was pretty much random in the first place.
One problem with a poorly set up bike is that its handling is likely to be twitchy. And twitchiness is particularly evident when there are other riders or traffic around, especially at speed. The difference that being ‘experienced’ makes is, perversely, that experienced riders seem more likely to assume that twitchy is normal and be less phased by it than inexperienced riders. Instead of thinking ‘this can’t be right’ they think ‘this is what a thoroughbred racing bike is like’.
I’ve ranted before about the steep geometry and limited adjustability of modern bikes. I’m not really sure where the blame lies, if indeed any single party is to blame. Manufacturers certainly seem to want their bikes to rocket forwards as soon as you press on the pedals – and then they’ll claim that the handling is ‘fast’ and ‘direct’ – (and point out that if the ride seems a little harsh you could upgrade to a model with vibration damping features). Sure, I want my bike to respond quickly when I ask it to change direction, but I don’t want it to change direction otherwise – especially if I’m trying to get at my lunch!
Steering geometry does have an impact on handling but not nearly as much impact as saddle position. Likewise frame material has an impact on the amount of road vibration that you feel – but not nearly as much as how your weight is distributed and upon which parts of your anatomy.
I think that the answers to the questions above should be “no”, “no”, “yes & yes”, “no”, “no” and “no”, whatever material your frame is made of.
If your experience is different drop me a line.