Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Little fixes, big changes

Riding my Mercier mixte, Blaise, often left me feeling slightly unfulfilled and a little crazy. Here's why:

I've been struggling to achieve a more upright position on all of my bikes, convinced that this was the secret to riding comfort and fun -- and to recapturing the joy I felt at riding bikes in Flanders a year ago this month.  Blaise, then, should have been my favorite bike to ride.  It afforded an almost fully upright riding position, allowing me to move through streets in the same profile as a pedestrian.  No need to elevate my chin even an inch to see the road before me.  My hands were in a comfortable, palms-in position on the north road handlebars.

And yet, it wasn't perfect.  There was a tiny voice whispering in one ear, saying the ride was "too upright."  In the other ear, there was a voice telling the first one to shut up and stop finding problems where none existed.

But there was no denying the idiosyncrasies of a bike on which all of the rider's weight rested on the saddle.  Even the smallest pavement bump would shake the fillings in your teeth.  And steering the bike sometimes felt more like a suggestion than a command.

Finally, I took the plunge and adjusted the stem a bit.  But it was clear this was not solution.  On a whim, I made one more change and adjusted the bars to point just a touch downward.

What a difference!  I moved the bars maybe a half-inch in all.  But the new angle means my weight is distributed differently, with a just bit more on my hands. Still, my hands remain in a palms-in, natural position and there hasn't been a comfort price. 

But ordinary road imperfections are no longer kidney-jarring events.  Better still, I feel much more in synch with the bike's responsive handling... I just have to think left and it goes left, it seems.  This subtle change seems to have brought my bike into line with how it was built to be ridden.

I'll keep you posted as I learn whether there are long-term tradeoffs to be identified.  In the meantime, Blaise has gone from seldom-ridden sentimental favorite to the most fun bike in the stable.


  1. So you got the bike back and THEN fixed the stem?



  2. Mike,
    Just came across this post. Are you still experimenting with your bike fit? Your body contacts the bike at three body parts (or five or six depending on how you count) hands, feet, behind. If you get too upright you'll have all the weight on your keister. Too far forward, too much weight on your hands. It could even involve a slight adjustment of the seat. Discuss it with the guys at your bike shop if you have not done so already.

  3. @Don,
    The experimenting never really stops. I fiddled with the bars yet again over the weekend. I'm always looking for the right balance of the contact points you describe. Too much weight on the hands equals numbness after just a few miles... too much on the saddle doesn't work either... The search for the perfect ride continues!

  4. @Mike,
    Is the Mercier meant to be ridden long distances?

  5. @Don,
    You know, I'm not really sure and often wonder that myself. I'm new to the design/geometry thing and seldom feel I have a solid understanding of exactly the question you ask. I'm riding a longish distance tomorrow (maybe 40 miles total) and am struggling with the question of which bike to take. I'm leaning to the Nishiki Citisport. While it's not too speedy, it does seem to be set up for leisurely touring.

  6. @Mike,
    Some bikes aren't set up for longer rides. I will be interested in hearing how your 40-miler turned out.

  7. Hi Don,
    Well, the 40 miles turned out to be just 20... I met my girls in Davis and after an afternoon of fun and an increasingly warm day, I accepted the offer of a ride home. Lazy me. But, while the Nishiki Citisport was not speedy, it was comfortable. I wonder where the line is between the comfort of an upright position and the increased speed that seems to come from a more aggressive position...

  8. @Mike,
    I think finding that is just a matter of trial and error. I'm planning on going in for a bike fit of my road bike in the next week or so to do some fine tuning.