At this time of year, we plan our rides for the summer. There are so many places we want to explore! We pore over roads and look at event calendars. And we think about changes to our bikes. Some of the changes are intended to make our bikes better suited to our riding styles. Other changes take advantage of what we have learned. Some changes are the result of new products becoming available.
Now is the time to make those changes to our bikes. That way, we can fine-tune everything during the long winter “base mile” rides. Our bodies get used to the new setup, and when the season starts, our bikes will feel like extensions of our bodies, rather than foreign objects. We want the next riding season to be even more enjoyable than the last.
If you are thinking about changes to your bike, here are a few things to consider for the new season:
One of the most important factors influencing the comfort on long rides are your handlebars. Many modern bikes are equipped with “compact” bars that feature a very short reach and shallow drop. This allows a more upright position, while keeping the handlebars fashionably low. The drawback is that your hands are locked into three positions, all very similar as far as the angle of your back is concerned. On long rides, this can lead to numb hands, as well as shoulder and back pains.
Experienced long-distance riders generally prefer classic handlebar shapes from the 1940s and 1950s. Back then, even racers spent many hours in the saddle. The old-style bars feature more generous curves and give your hands more room to roam.
As you ride more and as your core and back muscles become stronger, you can use a more inclined position that allows you to put out more power. Switching to handlebars with more reach is an easy way to achieve that, while preserving the upright “on the tops” position for slower rides. Read more about handlebars here.
Did you find yourself shifting between front chainrings a lot last year? The reason usually is that your big chainring is too large; instead of shifting a few cogs on the rear for a minor hill, you need to change to the small ring and then compensate on the back cassette. These multiple shifts break your rhythm. A smart gearing choice starts with your base gear, which should be on the big ring and in the middle of your rear cassette. Read more about gearing in this post.
New gearing usually requires new chainrings, and in some cases, new cranks. If you still ride on old-style “racing” gearing (53/39), you will be surprised how much difference a “compact” crankset or, even better, custom-designed gearing will make to your riding enjoyment.
If you did not get a huge number of flats last year, consider changing to more supple tires that offer more comfort and speed. Nothing will transform your bike and increase your riding enjoyment as much as a great set of tires. If you have sufficient clearance, running wider tires will not only improve your comfort further, but also reduce the risk of flats. Read more about tires.
If you want to try a new saddle, now is the time to put one on your bike and “break it in” during the winter training rides. A good leather saddle needs a few hundred miles until it becomes truly comfortable. A modern plastic saddle also will conform better to your anatomy over time. Making the switch now will make sure that you have a comfortable saddle during your summer cycling adventures.
If you are considering a new pedal system, the long winter rides are a great opportunity to try it out and “learn” the different release. Then you will feel secure when you ride in events with unknown riders, where you may have to stop suddenly.
Are you still waiting for the rain to end so you can start your cycling season? Maybe this is the year to install nice fenders on your “go-fast” bike? That way, you won’t curse the afternoon thunderstorm during that great mountain ride in July! Read more about fenders here.
If you plan to ride long events (or simply are tired of replacing batteries), consider upgrading to a generator hub system. This requires a new front wheel, so it is a bit of an investment, but most people only regret not having made the switch sooner. Read more about lighting systems here.
Have you become hot during a ride, but were unable to remove layers because there was no place to put them? (Don’t sling a long-sleeve jersey or tights around your waist, as they are likely to get caught on the rear tire or in the spokes, causing you to crash.) Think about a new luggage system for your bike. Easiest is adding a large under-seat bag like a Carradice.
For convenience and excellent handling, it is hard to beat a good handlebar bag, mounted to a rack and attached to the stem with a decaleur – provided your bike’s front-end geometry is suitable for front-loading.
Handlebar bags aren’t just great for clothes. They keep your food, your camera, your wallet, and other things easily accessible without dismounting the bike. Having your route sheet on top of the bag, visible at all times, greatly reduces the difficulty of navigating during organized rides. Read more about racks and bags.
What other changes are you making to your bike this year?