credit: Cyclingnews

credit: Cyclingnews

Dialing in the Stable

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This was going to be an article about Rule #45.

It is amazing how much time is wasted and matches burned when professionals stop for that second bike change to get back on their #1. With all the jigs available to team mechanics it would seem they could set up five bikes exactly the same. And yet, when the whole body gets used to a position, if something is off, everything is off. It’s not as easy as it should be, even when dealing with the same frame model and size.

The Velominati never have two of the same frames so it really complicates duplicating position. I’ve been using L. Zinn’s approach on this problem. By using the bottom bracket as the point of reference, this stack and reach method is pretty nice. I use a “story pole” as the carpenters call them, a blank wooden stick where each dimension is marked and labeled. It removes the math mistakes, mostly, and is a permanent graphic record of each bike all on one piece of wood.

I never ride my #2 bike anymore. It was going to be my rain bike but I ride #1 all the time, rain or shine. It’s lighter, the 11 speed gruppo is so much newer and nicer that the worn 10 speed of #2. But I just rode #2 and finished the ride thinking that stem is too low, too bad I cut the steerer so low, damn you Rule #45. So I mess around with bathroom scales weighing how much more weight ends up on the front end of a bike if your bars are too low. Then dig out my stack and reach stick and discover the bars are exactly the same height almost to the millimeter. Oh, FFS, another story out the window. The difference was the saddle angle. My weird SMP saddles are very hard to eyeball without a level. The #2 was tipped forward a little thus more weight on the bars, different handling, same problem, different cause. How much is too much weight on the front end? That is a complicated question, too much for this post

Contador’s saddle is tipped forward, Qunitana’s level as could be. Mass confusion! We will leave that for another day but if you want to eliminate some error in duplicating your bike set up, you could do worse than the stack and reach and a story pole.

// Musings from the V-Bunker // The Bikes

  1. Off topic, but will there be a cogal on VVhidbey Island this October?

  2. Thanks for the insights, Gianni. I’ve had similar experiences. My #1 and #2 are both Giant Defy M/L’s with exactly the same geometry and set ups–including dead level seats. I ride #1 a little more than #2 (like you said: newer, nicer, 11 speed + a little lighter, better brakes, etc). When I lent out #2 to a friend for a week he needed to make adjustments to suit his size and position. When I got it back, it took me two weeks of subtle adjustments to dial it back to my “home” set up. I guessI need to get me one of those story poles!

  3. I’ve got three identical frames, but it was still a hell of a job to set them up the same.

  4. I’d swear my bikes are all set up differently and that is what I like about ’em. But, something tells me that if I had a story pole I’d find that they are all awfully darn close. We’ll see as I never thought to mark a stick like this but will one day soon. The only measurement I ever make is saddle distance from lower pedal spindle straight up the crank arm and seat tube. And somedays I like the saddle a little lower. Cheers

  5. @Randy C

    I’d swear my bikes are all set up differently and that is what I like about ’em. But, something tells me that if I had a story pole I’d find that they are all awfully darn close. We’ll see as I never thought to mark a stick like this but will one day soon. The only measurement I ever make is saddle distance from lower pedal spindle straight up the crank arm and seat tube. And somedays I like the saddle a little lower. Cheers

    Same here. The only true measurement that crosses over on all of my road bikes is the saddle height. I have one bike set up for racing, so the stem is slammed and I am a bit more stretched out and sit on a flat saddle. One is set up for endurance rides 5+ hours with a spacer below the stem and a curved tail saddle.. My gravel bike is much more upright with a very comfy stack/reach and a WTB saddle. The cycle-cross bike is uncomfortable for anything over an hour (very aggressive position).

  6. @Randy C

    I’d swear my bikes are all set up differently and that is what I like about ’em. But, something tells me that if I had a story pole I’d find that they are all awfully darn close. We’ll see as I never thought to mark a stick like this but will one day soon. The only measurement I ever make is saddle distance from lower pedal spindle straight up the crank arm and seat tube. And somedays I like the saddle a little lower. Cheers

    Yeah I’m the same and with the variety of vintage vs modern but as you, I suspect they are pretty close. I’m now motivated to actually check in more detail. I usually set pedal to saddle the same, and saddle to bar and road to bar top the same as a starter then ride and adjust to feel. I kinda feel that a small difference in setup may be beneficial to prevent RSI / Locked Position injuries – but that may be bollocks.

  7. Timely piece. It’s amazing how a few mm can throw things off. I have five road bikes and as best I can, I’ve set them up as close as possible. One thing that helps is having the same saddle on each one and the same length of crank and pedal type. I have a story pole a colleague made me – it’s a 4′ long aluminum spirit level with brackets to hold it vertical. With that, a tape measure and a wall, I can get things set up nicely.

    A Velominatus gave some good advice a few years ago vis-a-vis measuring saddle setback: place bike on a level floor with the back wheel against the wall. Measure from the wall to tip of saddle. Measure from wall to center of BB. The difference is your saddle setback. My big long level is good for checking bar/saddle differential too.

    Even though I’m pretty sure they’re all as close as possible, I still check them every one in a while!

  8. All different for me, although I try to keep saddle height same (do not bother with Knee over Spindle though). The bikes are like kids: you love them to pieces although/because they are all different.

  9. I have two Lemonds–A 2000 Zurich in reynolds 853 and a 2000 Chambery in aero aluminum. I once had them set up exactly the same, but something didn’t quite feel right. I went back to the catalogs and found that the Chambery has a 2mm shorter wheelbase and a 2mm lower bottom bracket. These minuscule differences make the Chambery corner like a dream while the Zurich tries to push me out the high side every time. They are still close enough to both be comfortable for several hours, but I have made a couple changes that make the Chambery a bit more comfortable and make the Zurich steer a little more precisely.

  10. @Randy C

    Yeah, I use a mark on a stick for pedal to saddle top too. It has to be more accurate than guessing where the middle of a Campy BB is. Reproducibility is what we are after. But like you said, maybe having them all a little different keeps it interesting.

    It’s fascinating that Cav really fucks with his position day to day, race to race. He changes stem length and seat height constantly, drives the mechanics a little nuts too I bet.

  11. @Fred

    I hear that. The same with my #1 and #2 and the difference in cornering is amazing and a little disconcerting in the first sharp corner when on the other, twitchier, bike. I would always err on the side of lower BB now. I’m not racing criteriums FFS.

  12. I set up my ’86 Trek 770 via LeMan’s written instructions with plumb bobs and all sorts of measurements way back when but adopted the approximate then ride/fiddle, ride/fiddle approach with my ’06 Soloist and S5 here in the new millennium. It is astounding how close/exact the position is between them (outside of the super deep drops on my Trek). My cross bike and mountain bike positions feel odd, but I’ve gotten over the feeling knowing the requirements of riding are different for both. Some of us are our own jigs. Any other analogies from the article (the one in quotes), run the risk of leaving PG territory.

  13. Greg LeMan once said (so I’ve heard) “Fit is everything”. Ya gotta git it right. Then ride it right. I agree that the BB is key to it all because your pelvis has to be set from that fixed point. Where’s the center of the BB? Not hard to get the diameter of the BB shell (you do have a good caliper, don’t you?), and calculate from there. A yardstick can measure from the top of the shell to wherever, add the radius, and you’ve got it.

  14. @TBONE

    Off topic, but will there be a cogal on VVhidbey Island this October?

    Yes of course! Rallying for it any moment. Any moment…starting…NOW! Rallying.

  15. The right tool for the right job. Bernard Hinault’s mechanic Alain Descroix gets it right in the mid-80s…

    Back then I used to angst about all this carry-on, until I realised that I was probably making seat height adjustments smaller than the difference between different brands of bib shorts. Or that I should incrementally raise seat height to offset for compression of the saddle over its life cycle. Beyond that, I’ve read more than once that humans lose up to a cm of height between waking up and the end of the day. Adjust position between an early morning road race and twilight criterium perhaps…?

  16. I have just two road bikes. My now 25+ year old custom Hollands 653 Reynolds steel is real race bike and my more recent (now 2 years old) carbon Felt FC. The geometry on the Felt is, surprisingly, nearly identical to my Hollands (one of the reasons I got the Felt). Most important, stack and reach are within a few mm’s of each other. I don’t have the benefit of a fancy measurement rig, but have done my best to set the bikes up identically. Saddle height and tilt were pretty easy as both have the same saddle (Fizik Aliante and fi'zi:k Kurve Bull which is the same shape as the Aliante). I’ve got different stem/bars on the bikes but the brake hoods are pretty much in the same position in terms of drop and reach. Butt in the saddle and hands on the hoods, the bikes feel/fit the same. No issues riding one or the other (although I admit I haven’t ridden my steelie in a while).

  17. @osbk67

    Rare outbreak of common sense and perspective on here…

  18. @Teocalli

    @Randy C

    I’d swear my bikes are all set up differently and that is what I like about ’em. But, something tells me that if I had a story pole I’d find that they are all awfully darn close. We’ll see as I never thought to mark a stick like this but will one day soon. The only measurement I ever make is saddle distance from lower pedal spindle straight up the crank arm and seat tube. And somedays I like the saddle a little lower. Cheers

    Yeah I’m the same and with the variety of vintage vs modern but as you, I suspect they are pretty close. I’m now motivated to actually check in more detail. I usually set pedal to saddle the same, and saddle to bar and road to bar top the same as a starter then ride and adjust to feel. I kinda feel that a small difference in setup may be beneficial to prevent RSI / Locked Position injuries – but that may be bollocks.

    Yup, I have a number of road bikes and I know they’re all close, but I don’t mind, and even sometimes like, the minor differences in them. Variety is okay with me.

  19. @frank

    @TBONE

    Off topic, but will there be a cogal on VVhidbey Island this October?

    Yes of course! Rallying for it any moment. Any moment…starting…NOW! Rallying.


    @frank

    OK, suite, I’ve been looking for an excuse to show off my matching bar tape and bottle cages south of the border. Speaking of the border, I can make a run for the border on VVhidbey, as there’s a Taco Bell there.

  20. @osbk67

    Awesome.

  21. Am I the only one that read mechanical doping into that first sentence?

  22. I’m one of these weirdos who still rides steel bikes (you only have two?!?!?!?) with horizontal top tubes. While I think I understand the concept of stack and reach, can you give a couple examples of how you use your stick (what is marked, and where)? Note that the link to Leonard Zinn’s essay works, but (at least for me) all the images are busted.

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