Ride Your Stock Bike

With every new bike I want to try a new riding position, not just replicate my old one. I always want to reduce fatigue, get more aero, generate more power. If you just got a new bike, ride it—or better yet race it—straight outta the box. It’s a way to quickly test a number of variables in the hopes of having an ‘a-ha!’—or at least a ‘hmmm’—moment with one of them.

A new bike is your chance to be a new rider.

After two races and two big rides on my new team bike I’ve already moulded much of myself to the new cockpit. So far it feels great. But I’m curious as to what, exactly, has changed that I haven’t noticed, or that I attribute to something unrelated. Is the frame really 2cm smaller or does it just feel that way because of the shorter stem? Do I feel faster because of the new paint job or because my back is flatter?

You can figure a lot of this stuff out by simply looking up the frame measurements online, or at yourself in a mirror. But another way I’m learning about my position is by a visual hardware comparison with last year’s bike using photography and Photoshop. I want to see what, exactly, has changed in my set-up.

Animation showing this year's Venge overlayed on last year's Gennix R1. Major contact and measurable points in blue are aligned on the Venge and remain fixed when the R1 appears, for better comparison. Click for larger version.

Animation showing this year’s Venge overlayed on last year’s Gennix R1. Major contact and measurable points in blue are aligned on the Venge and remain fixed when the R1 appears, for better comparison. Click for larger version.

Notice in the images above where some of the blue dots for the Venge line up on the R1; I’m surprised how different some of them are and how some are pretty bang on—in particular look at:

  • saddle position
  • wheelbase
  • BB centre
  • headtube stack
  • bar centre vs. bar drops
  • brake lever throw

It’s also kind of trippy to watch the wheels grow big and black, then shrink, then grow again, the rear one all taking a bite out of the Venge’s seat tube…

Anyways, at the least it’s visually interesting to overlay photos of the two bikes and see where they differ aesthetically, and in basic frame sculpting. The more I turn the layers on and off, though, the more I’m starting to learn about the subtle differences. At the same time I’m cross-referencing and reinforcing the visuals by checking the manufacturer’s specs and my own tape measurements. The hope is I’ll start thinking about bike design and my position on them in new ways.

This spreadsheet compiles a few of my own measurements between the cockpits of the two bikes as well as their respective manufacturer frame specs (retrieved April 14, 2013). Some things I just can’t compare by number, though.

For example, it’s not that useful for me to keep a fixed number for my saddle angle and height. Where do you measure saddle height between the Specialized Toupe (last year’s saddle) and Romin (my new saddle)? The latter has such a pronounced curve: do you measure to the ‘saddle’ part of the saddle, or the nose, or an average between the two? Will I be spending most of my time in breakaways this year, trying to get as low as possible and still maintain power, i.e. riding on the tip, so do I measure from there?

And what about this year’s cranks? They’re 170mm compared to the usual 172.5. It’s too much of a hassle to swap them out, and maybe at 5’9″ I should be riding 170s anways. Do I just add 2.5mm to my usual saddle height? But then how does that affect my leg on the upstroke as it nears my chest?

In the end I go by feel first and can generally detect a two-or-more millimetre difference in my saddle height. But then…maybe my saddle’s always been too low? Maybe I should spin a bit more with a bit less bend in my knee? And the team shorts have a thinner chamois in some areas this year. Do I even like the Romin?

Arriving at the best position across all these factors is in some ways a fixed, and completed, goal: find what works for you and stick with it. For my type of racing there’s currently an ever evolving goal: find a faster one. Some of the standard position tips—get your back flat, head low, arms bent—can sometimes distract me from a particular measurement I didn’t realize could even be better, until I try it.

I’ll know more in the coming weeks and races.

Some notes about the overlay images:

  • Comparing a 2013 Specialized Venge Pro Force 52cm with a 2012 Garneau Gennix R1 size medium
  • Both bikes are fairly “stock” though the saddle on the R1 was changed last year, and I recently swapped out the 90mm stem for a 110 on the Venge
  • I tried to keep the camera in a fixed spot in my dining room and lined up the bike’s front hubs / valve to a marker on the floor
  • In Photoshop I then aligned the images more accurately, using the front skewer as the main alignment points (you can see the slight shift in the carpet between the two images)
  • There’s like, a whole bunch of variables in camera lens distortion, viewing angle, etc. you could call this out on
  • The Venge has 25mm tires on it, while the R1 has 23mm