Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Is Fashion hurting us on the bike? (pt1)

Always time for a Gene Wilder meme

We're all at the very least swayed by fashion, whether we like to admit it or not. This can be especially true of cyclists and triathletes. Our sport is so gear driven that oftentimes we upgrade simply to be upgrading. At least for the majority of us, we are heavily swayed by the pro's when it comes to our equipment selection and even our setups. But do the pro's know it all? And even if they do, is that in any way applicable to us individually? I'm going to look at some things the next week or two that I think we may need to look at a bit closer... this week mainly road bikes, next week TT/tri bikes. Certainly these posts aren't intended to say "WRONG" about any of this, the point is just to start thinking about it, possibly in a different way than we have been.

On our road bikes the trend has moved us (the last 10 years or so) all to riding smaller frames with much more seatpost and stem than has generally been the norm historically. Also, saddle to bar drop has increased a considerable amount as well.

I'm not picking on Gilbert, but it was the picture that suited my needs

I do some aero testing... generally that's on my time trial bike, but not exclusively. Sometimes I like to test things on my road bike as well, as I usually entertain the thought of doing a lot of criterium racing early in the season. (right up until the racing starts, at which point I become much less enthusiastic about it.) One of the things I tested a lot was where I was at my most aerodynamic on the road bike. Spoiler... it's when you are "virtual time trialling" as I call it... with your forearms resting near the stem like you are riding aerobars. Of course, this isn't a realistic road cycling position both for safety reasons and logistics (shifting/steering in a group) so the next fastest option down the line needs to be considered. As it turns out, that seems to be the "Sphinx" position, made popular in track cycling by Cameron Meyer (and the 3T bars of the same name) where the rider rests the forearms on the top of the bars at the hoods (or wrapping the hands around the outside on a track bike) pretty much forming an "L" shape with the arms.  I found it interesting that myself and all of my test subjects friends were at our most aerodynamic in this position.

But there was more... another interesting thing we had in common was that going from riding on the hoods to riding in the drops was not all that impressive a change. In one case (I won't name names) it was almost pointless for the rider to ever move to his drops. (From an aerodynamic standpoint at least) Things like that start making you question...why?

This is a pretty old picture (2011ish?) but it does a fair job of illustrating some things. Look at the guys riding in their drops (rear two riders) and how locked out their arms are. That's how most of us ride in the drops. Realistically, the HTC rider on his hoods looks just as slick on his hoods.

What about the old timers?

Sure, it was a different era, but look at that... much closer to that same "L" shape we were talking about for the sphinx position. If you are still following me, you are either nodding along or think I'm crazy... and while that's possible, it might be worth considering another guy people thought was crazy was trying to take this to the extreme (how could he do it any other way) for an attempt on the Merckx hour record a few years ago.

Obree never made that attempt. I believe he decided that the G forces put on the body on the track made it unbearable to ride like that for an hour. Still, it's obvious he was trying to make the "sphinx" position work 100% of the time in the drops. I wonder, if he had succeeded with this attempt, would the way we look at something like this be totally different?

Personally, I look much closer to the top pictures than that of the bottom three. Why? Good question... one I asked myself and really had to think to find the answer. Whereas a lot of my time the last few years has gone into my time trial fit... I can't think of any time I've dedicated to changing my road bike fit since my very first one many years ago. Sure I've messed with saddle height a little bit, maybe added or subtracted 10mm to my stem... but certainly no overhauls like I've done on my TT bike. So, when I was set up on my road bike year's ago, it was set up with one position in mind as being where everything felt "good." That was on the hoods. So everything we set up revolved around me being in my "optimal" position while riding the hoods. While that's probably the right way for most club riders (and almost certainly for a beginner cyclist) it doesn't quite make as much sense for someone who would be focusing on racing, especially if it were fast paced racing like criteriums where you usually want to be in the drops.

Unfortunately, as I've also always been a "slam that stem" type of guy... I don't have much room to adjust my own setup outside of a very funky looking upward angled stem. I may keep my eye out for a cheap 1 1/8" fork with more steerer tube and see what I can discover.

Next week, we're going to talk about aero bikes.

Until next time, thanks for reading, I really appreciate it!

- Christopher Morelock

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