Dialing It In

Whenever you ride a new bicycle, there is a period during which you make adjustments. You figure out which adjustments to make by reading the pain in your body. The simplest adjustment is seat height. If your seat is too low, the backs of your knees will hurt. If it is too high, the front of your knee (or more likely just below the knee) will hurt. I measured the distance between the crank axles and the saddle on The Mule and set the Corss Check’s saddle at the same height.

Other adjustments to the back end (so to speak) are the fore/aft position of the saddle and the tilt of the saddle. I use the identical tilt on my other bikes so I can use a level to ensure that the tilt on the Cross Check’s saddle is correct. I also know that my Brooks saddles are always shoved as far back as possible. This is partly because the rails on Brooks saddles narrow toward the front of the saddle making extreme rearward positioning pretty much impossible. (You can force the issue but the saddle rails almost surely will break. This happened to me when riding down a big hill in the Catskills. It was an interesting experience.)

The front end of the bike can be adjusted as well. You can raise or lower your handlebars and rotate them up or down. Finally, you can swap out the stem (the horizontal piece that connects the steering tube to the handlebars) for a longer or shorter one.

After 160 or so miles, my knees were happy. My buttocks were happy. My hands were happy. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that my neck and shoulders were decidedly not happy. And my lower back was aching 30 miles into every ride.

I measured the distance between my handlebar’s brake hoods (the tops of the brake levers where I usually rest my hands) and the saddle (using the center hole in my Brooks saddles which are identical on all three bikes). I compared the measurements on the Cross Check and The Mule. The Cross Check was a couple of centimeters longer than The Mule. So I tilted the handlebars up and to the rear, just a bit. The distance was still longer but I had cut it by two-thirds. Then I went for a ride.

This helped quite a lot. My lower back seemed happier. I was no longer reaching (and extending my back) to get to the brake hoods. My neck and shoulders were still not thrilled.

So I raised the handlebars a bit. This is really easy. You take the spacer on the top of the stem and move it beneath the stem.

I took this configuration for a 12 mile ride. No problems. So I think I have made some progress.

Past experience tells me that the adjustments are not over. It took me 7,000 miles of fiddling to dial in Little Nellie. Similarly, The Mule once had a lower rise stem. Time made my back less flexible so I put a higher rise stem on it.

So I suspect I may need to try a shorter stem. I did this on Little Nelle only to eventually return to a longer stem. Sometimes your body adapts, I suppose.

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