Occasionally, Sportive Cyclist readers will write in requesting advice. Sometimes it is bike-related.
Kevin is one such reader. He sent me a nice email containing the query below. I thought I’d have a go at answering it publicly (with Kevin’s permission) and thereby supplement my own pearls of ‘wisdom’ with the contents of the Sportive Cyclist hive mind*.
(*The ‘hive mind’ being you, good readers, so add your own thoughts in the comments section below).
Enough guff. On with the question.
- Kevin (43) lives in Mumbai (a mix of cobbles / cement / tarmac road; rainy season for 4 months in the year).
- He began cycling regularly 6 months ago – averages 25km, 6 evenings a week
- He currently rides a mountain bike [collective sharp intake of breath]
Would Like To Have
enlightenment a bike that has (or is):
- Higher gearing
- Greater aero dynamics
- No rear suspension
- Thinner tyres
- Lighter (in the weight sense, rather than paint job).
“I am considering an upgrade, and though I’m keen on a road bike, …[I’m] also concerned about the impact on my wrists and shoulders given my age and road conditions. What would you suggest?”
Kevin also noted that import duty is very high on bikes coming into India, so only wants to buy once. No pressure then people….
What Type Of Bike?
I know Kevin has specified ‘road bike’ but it’s worth mentioning that he could consider a hybrid or a cyclocross bike.
I’ve talked about the difference between a road bike and a hybrid in a previous post (this one in fact).
As to cyclocross bikes, to be honest I’ve never ridden one. But I did seriously consider buying one for commuting in London. I reckoned that the thicker tyres and sturdier construction would deal better with potholes than my trusty Dawes racer.
For a time I had to carry my bike up and down the stairs of the Greenwich foot tunnel. Cyclocross bikes have their gear and brake cables run along the top of the top tube (as opposed to underneath), making them marginally more comfortable to carry.
I digress. I never bought a cyclocross bike (I stopped working instead, which solved the commuting issue).
Road Bike Considerations
Let’s assume Kevin is set on buying a road bike (and there are worse things to set your mind on). A road bike (chosen well) will certainly tick all of his five requirements (higher gearing; aero-dynamism; no suspension; thinner tyres; less weight).
My strong suggestion would be to get a ‘sportive’ road bike. Some manufacturers describe these as endurance road bikes, or as having endurance geometry.
(For more on the difference between sportive and road bikes, I wrote an article ’bout dat.)
Essentially, these are bikes that are designed to provide a little more comfort versus a race-targeted road bike.
The angles of the various tubes that form the frame are set such that the rider has a slightly more upright position than your common-or-garden Tour de France rider.
Putting numbers on it, a road racer might have a back angle of 40-43 degrees – the angle formed between the horizontal and the line of the rider’s back. My bike (a Trek Domane, very much a sportive bike) has been set up to give me a 48 degree angle.
The more upright position of an endurance-focused road bike will be much more forgiving on Kevin’s wrists and shoulders (as well as lower back).
I wrote an extensive post trying to identify the endurance (or sportive) bikes made by each of the major bike manufacturers. This should give Kevin (and you) a feel for what’s out there and bring the list of potential buying options down to a manageable number.
A Brief Word In Favour Of The Domane…
This is not a sponsored message (if only it were…).
Given Kevin’s particular circumstances (the road conditions in India), the Trek Domane is worth considering.
As I’ve talked about before on the blog, the Domane, as well as being Trek’s endurance/sportive model, is the bike used by its pro team to ride the Spring Classics, a series of long, bone-shaking races around the cobbles of Belgium and northern France.
(Fabien Cancellara, three-times winner of both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders (the two big Spring Classics) rides a Domane, albeit a rather expensive one…)
The Domane has a feature called an ‘Isospeed Decoupler’, aimed at providing a little bit of suspension (and therefore comfort) over rough terrain. The top tube and seat stays are not firmly attached to the seat post. This isn’t (quite) as alarming as it sounds – the
Isokinetic Cannon Isospeed Decoupler is a brackety-type thing that allows the whole arrangement to flex a little over bumps.
It’s a robustly-built bike that doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart over rough terrain.
…And (Whisper It) The Specialized Roubaix
I should also mention that Specialized has a similar Spring Classics-flavoured bike.
The Roubaix series of bikes (with the clue planted firmly in the name), as well as being set up with ‘endurance geometry’ (for the less bendy gent), features little rubbery inserts (or ‘Zertz’) in the front forks, the seat stays and in the dog-legged fandango (technical term) at the top of the seat post (so just below the saddle). These Zertz, according to Specialized, reduce vibration over rough surfaces.
And Specialized see Trek’s Cancellara and raise them a Boonen*.
(*Four times winner of the Paris Roubaix; 3x Tour of Flanders)
It’s All About The Bike (Fit)
Supporting too much weight through the arms and hands can also be a symptom of an ill-fitting bike putting too much strain on your lower back and core.
Given the more challenging road conditions he deals with, Kevin really doesn’t want to be absorbing road vibrations via the wrists and shoulders. I’d therefore strongly recommend that some of Kevin’s bike budget be applied to getting a professional bike fit.
The ideal scenario would be to find a shop that can measure Kevin for size on an adjustable rig, order him the right sized bike and then set up and fit the bike when it arrives.
I did something similar, but the place where I went for a bike fit didn’t supply Trek bikes. Instead, they sized me up on the jig, and I paid them a small fee for the measurements and some advice on which of the main brand frame sizes would fit me. Then, when I returned with my newly-bought bike, they knocked the sizing fee off the cost of the full bike fit.
Does Anyone Have Any Further Advice?
Do you have any further advice you’d like to add? Or perhaps you disagree with my own incoherent ramblings?
Either way, let me / us / Kevin know in the comments under this post.