The Curse of Four Millimeters
I don’t know how a guy who shows off the better part of a half meter of seat post comes to the conclusion that his saddle is too low, but that precise thought occupies an enormous amount of time. Ever closer looms the minimum insertion point on my seat pin, yet I am irrevocably bound to explore its limits.
I actually wish my legs were shorter; long legs are only useful for the anorexic models who distort our youth’s self-image and for skipping steps on staircases. At the same time, I’ve spent the majority of my life wondering if my seat post was slipping; has my saddle always felt this low? In previous years, I have known better; the question will claw its way into my mind, usually when I’m struggling on a climb, and I will look at the strip of tape I’ve stuck around my seat pin just above the clamp and note that it has not curled up due to the pin sliding through. The saddle is at the right height.
These days, I’m riding a fizik seat post and fizik seat posts come with this cool little sleeve to mark the height. It works perfectly, apart from the fact that it doesn’t curl up like the lowly electrical tape does; were the seat pin to slide, the sleeve would simply side with it. Which means I have to judge the distance between height demarcations on the post to decide if it’s slipped or not. It used to be higher; I’m climbing this badly because the saddle slipped down a bit.
These are easy lies we tell ourselves; that the lack of performance is borne of a problem in our setup – our position or our equipment. Merckx was famously obsessive about seat height, why shouldn’t I be? I just make a casually deliberate stop at the roadside, swiftly raise the saddle a bit, and stage a Cyclocross Remount – the only way a Cyclist should ever board their bicycle once the ride has begun.
But then I got better at judging the marks on the fizik post, and was sure it wasn’t sliding. But still my power was waning and surely it wasn’t my form because I’ve been riding like a thing that’s been riding a lot. Perhaps my position on the bike is evolving, perhaps I should reconsider my stem length and slide my saddle forward to get more over the bottom bracket. Except that I’ve ridden happily in roughly this position for years – and in roughly the same form.
Then came the rains; they had been lacking this Spring, almost to a fault. It had been several weeks or even a few months since I’d been astride my Nine Bike. I set off, and was struck instantly by how comfortable I was, how fluidly the pedals were spinning, and how easily I gobbled up the climbs. Was I peaking today instead of in the usual Two Months, or was there something more sinister going on? There was no question of longer stems and saddles sliding forward; I had the usual sensation that I was in my element, that I was born to be in this position on two wheels and that walking was a locomotion I was leaving behind in my short-lived evolution as a human being.
Knowing the geometries of the two bikes – #1 and The Nine Bike – are virtually identical, I decided to revisit the measurements on #1. I measured the Nine and checked them against #1; the only difference was that the saddle on the #1 had crept up a whopping 4mm. Four millimeters over a saddle height of of 830. I climbed aboard her and set off, amazed at how good she felt. Immediately the power was back, the inherent comfort of riding a bike returned.
All over a lousy 4mm.
Fellow Velominati: we are all students of La Vie Velominatus. We must look to the future and seek to evolve; to experiment with new positions, new techniques, and with new technology. But we must also look to the past and recognize what worked well, when did change affect how well we ride our bikes or how much we loved it? To recognize the boundary between the evolution within us as athletes and to adapt to what feels good over time and those that erode our capacity as riders can be difficult. Sometimes we need a Sensei to help us recognize the difference, other times it will come to us through solitary meditation.
Embrace change, but also keep it at a distance. We should always be ready to return to the past and rediscover what worked before and apply it to the chance we face in the future. Vive la Vie Velomiantus.