Sunday, October 14, 2012

Saddles And Other Sore Subjects

Welcome to Flashblog.  Today I want to tell you of some simple tweaks and changes to my primary road bike that have made significant improvements in comfort and enjoyment to the point that I can say it is as finely tuned as it can be for my body and performance overall.  That is to say it is nearly perfect.

In my last Lemond V update you will recall I made some preliminary changes early on---I put on a drilled-out Prolight racing saddle which gave me moderate (25-30 miles) distance comfort, and 44cm wide handlebars.  I found the performance of the bike to be very good, but over time felt it was not all it could or should be.  My neck would ache after long rides, I was prone to sore butt as well, and I was having some hand numbness.  Mechanically, it was losing its tune on the front derailleur, so almost every ride I would have to tighten the barrel adjuster so the chain would not rub the cage in my highest gears.  No one thing a big deal, but added up something of a vibe harsher.  Here are my solutions to these issues.

Here's a better image in better light

1. Saddle: This Avatar Gel unit is flat top style as opposed to traditional rounded.  It feels firm yet does not produce hot spots.  It features a soft tissue cut out channel down the middle.  Oh, so nice!  It disappears beneath me.  Interestingly, two months ago I bought a Specialized Romin Expert which is a similar but more expensive saddle but it was too unyielding and hurt so I returned it.  In my quest to find a perfect saddle in recent years I've installed these saddles on my road bikes with mixed results:

Selle Italia Flite:  too firm, would hurt after 25 miles
Bontrager Select:  dense foam, good for medium ranges, although I did ride 120 miles on it in the Death Ride. Pressure points on soft tissues.
Prolight: too firm, too rounded, too slippery.  Pretty much same as the Flight, fixed the firmness by drilling it out.
Bontrager RaceX:  very similar to Select, this is the saddle on my Lemond R.
Bontrager Race Lite:  a flat style saddle, but too firm.
Specialized Romin Expert:  too firm, after two hours produced sitbone aches
And others I don't recall.

2. I flipped the stem up for a handlebar rise of about an inch.  This makes all the difference for my neck on longer rides.  So easy, so effective.

3. I double wrapped the upper part of the bar with black foam tape and this cured some recurring finger tingling and numbness.  I left the drops below the brakes single wrap as I am only in the drops on downhills, for the most part.

4.  I swapped wheels and tires from Lemond-R, my steep climbing bike.  The PSL-1 wheels are a bit lighter, a bit wider, and newer tech.  I'm also a fan of Michelin Lithion 2 tires.  They ride like Pro Race but cost half as much for only a few grams weight penalty.  I swapped cassettes as well to get them onto their proper bikes.  The PSL's, while only a quarter pound lighter than the OEM Bontragers, have a much livelier feel.  This may be due to the wider rim or subsequent contact patch of the tire, or the tires themselves.  Not sure, but I do know that I can feel the difference, and the difference Rocks!  This combo brings out the full suppleness of the carbon/steel frame, the effect is rather intoxicating.  It's like the bike is singing.

5.  I solved my front derailleur problem by spending an intense half hour taking it apart, reassembling, and shifting it about 500 times.  Through trial and error I discovered that the cable slip was caused by, I think, a not fully tight bolt AND inaccurate cable routing.  I rerouted the cable over the arm the capture nut lives on which changed the angle of pull on the mechanism, and this allowed things to work perfectly, including two trim selections, one on the small and one on the middle chainrings.  I only had trim on the smallest ring before.  It shifts perfectly now with no chain rub in any gear.  Voila!

Click pic for larger view

So there are my fixes that took my bike from 85% to 100%, and there is much pleasure in that last 15%.  Aside from the derailleur tuning these are changes you can make yourself by changing parts.  I guess the trick is knowing which parts to change and why, and having the time and know-how to do it.  But working on bikes is pretty simple and I encourage people to start with little things like flat repair or brake adjustment, and slowly add to their bag of tricks.  For me a large part of the enjoyment of this sport is the machine and working on it.  Thanks for reading.

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