Friday, December 10, 2010

Homemade Guv'nor

On a quick ride to the post office today, I found that my newly overhauled Nishiki, while amazingly smooth and quiet, just felt slow.  The upright position was comfortable, but I had that feeling of pedaling forward, which often feels like I'm pushing the bike.  On a flat surface with little wind, I was in the third-lowest gear and felt no inclination to change that.

This got me thinking of how many upright, comfortable-but-not-so-nimble bikes a person needs.  The bike was nearly perfect for cruising to the post office or rolling through the neighborhood on a sunny day, but I have a half-dozen bikes that fit that description right now.

So, I decided to finally try an idea that had been floating around in my head for a while. Velouria at Lovey Bicycle wrote about it in April and I've seen references to it in other spots.  In fact, I read about it again just the other day, but I can't for the life of me remember where.

The idea is to turn the North Road handlebars upside down, creating a setup similar to the old path racers. You can see a modern version of the path racer in the Pashley Guv'nor.

The difference in the bicycle was dramatic.  My hands were, of course, much lower than before.  But, they were still in a very comfortable position, with my palms facing inward instead of down.  The locked-wrists, palm down position is not one I can use for long without discomfort in my hands.   This new position, while very low and seeming to invite hand issues, was surprisingly easy to maintain.

But it wasn't an instant love affair.  With my hands so far back, I felt like I was in constant danger of bashing my knees into my elbows. In fact, I did make significant contact a few times, delivering an unsettling wobble to the handlebars.  I soon learned to keep my knees in while pedaling, which I suspect is a more efficient position anyway. On slowish turns, it seemed necessary to extend whichever knee was on the side of the turn. 

The same bike that had seemed slow an hour before now felt like a racing bike.  I was zipping along on the same streets where I had been cruising earlier.  And, once I got the hang of the elbow-to-knee relationship, I felt a tremendous level of control over the bike.  That turned out to be a critical development, since I made the questionable choice to have my debut ride on some very busy streets. When I changed saddles and seat posts, it was a nice-looking bike as well.

Now, whether I could ride this way comfortably for a longer period of time remains to be seen.  I think  the next step is to make the 6 mile ride to work a day or two and see how I hold up.

1 comment:

  1. You should try a longer headstem if you find the riding position is too close to your knees. Your current stem is very short, by the look of it probably 60mm or less, so you have a lot of room to move. 100 or 120mm stems are not uncommon. You just have to trade off against the lengthened reach, which might start to be too far. One ay around this is to find a handlebar with less drop. b