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  1. #1
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    Bike building: angled stem or more spacers?

    I'm redoing my touring bike with a Surly Cross check frame. I'm in Japan and do not have access to a place to get fitted to the bike, so I guess I'll have to figure things out as I go.

    I'm 5'7", the frame is 54cm. In order to get the handlebar on the same level as the seat (relax touring geometry) I'll have to either use a bunch of spacers, or a stem with quite an angle.

    Is there a practical difference between one approach vs. the other?

  2. #2
    I'm Carbon Curious 531phile's Avatar
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    The spacers and extra steer tube length will add a little more weight, but the cross check is already a boat anchor anyways. I've seen set ups where the steerer tube is long enough to fit two stems for adding additional acessories. That could be an advantage. I'd go the extra spacers route, if you don't like it you can always cut it down.

    Quote Originally Posted by avner View Post
    I loled. Twice. Then I cried. Then I rubbed one out and cried again, but thanks for sharing.

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    If you're figuring out things as you go, do not cut the steerer tube until you DO have the fit figured out.

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    For the moment, leave the steerer overly long and use spacers above or below the stem to dial in the height.

    I'm not a fan of lots of spacers between the headset and stem which extends the unsupported steerer beyond an inch. Ideally I prefer to keep that distance and use an angled stem to set the proper bar height. This is both lighter and more rigid, but not doable unless you know where you want the handlebars.

    I'd buy a high angle stem, though maybe not one to get the bars to their full height, then leave the steerer long enough to have room for adjustment. Once you dial it in you might find you want a different stem with more or less extension, and then can maybe also opt for more angle. Remember, spacers are cheap, and you can always cut the steerer shorter later on, but there's no way to cut one longer.
    Last edited by FBinNY; 09-08-10 at 09:01 AM.
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  5. #5
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    Why not both? To get the bars level with the saddle you will probably need a big stack of spacers or a very up-angled stem so why not use a moderate spacer stack and a +6 or +8 degree stem?

    The Cross Check's fork has a 1-1/8" Cr-Mo steerer so a large spacer stack isn't a mechanical problem the way it would be with a carbon steerer but you don't want to go to an absurd stack either.

    I fully agree with leaving the steerer longer than you think you will ever need and place spacers above the stem as a temporary measure until you determine where the bars should be. It's the old measure twice (or more), cut once approach.

    I further recommend that when you do cut the steerer, you leave it long enough to require a 10 mm spacer above the stem. That will give you both firm support of the steerer and the opportunity to raise the bars a bit if you want to later.

    My 56 cm Cross Check has the bars set about 1" below the saddle and it requires 40 mm of spacers (30 mm of actual spacers and 10 mm for the front brake housing hanger bracket) and a +6 degree stem. I also have a 10 mm spacer above the stem as recommended above.

  6. #6
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    I've adopted a retrofit to make up for too short a steerer tube.. Parts list includes Cane Creek interloc spacers,
    a Plastic spacer set, that snaps together, to function like a single piece ,
    I got several packs to make up a fairly tall spacer.

    A 'locking spacer' pinch bolt keeps the fork in the frame, when everything else is loose.
    an Ahrens 'Wise *******', to open a non screw cap cool one,

    a short stem which holds my handle bar bag QR bracket, And an adjustable angle stem, that is the original one.

    The adaption to a too short a steerer tube is the BBB stem riser , It is a Quill inside the steerer tube & keyed shims.
    so it functions largely like it would have if the assembler did not cut the steerer off at all..
    Quill tightening bolt is threaded at the top for the top cap bolt, to adjust the headset pre-load.. the clever bit.

  7. #7
    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    Functionally it really doesn't matter. The bending load on the steer tube will be the same, or close enough to the same, either way for the portion of the steer tube between the headset bearings. And that portion is the only part that counts. Although with a bit of extra steer tube and all the joints between all those spacers there may well be a case to be made that things will feel more flexible at the bars. But while that may be so again my metal working background combined with the riding different bikes I've had over the years suggests that few, if any, folks would feel the difference.

    My mechanical and metal working background tells me that the less parts and less joints the better. So this has become my aesthetic goal as well. So for me it's a high angle extra long stem and few spacers. But as the guys say do NOT cut anything until you're sure. Stack the spacers up top and work the stem up and down and try different length stems to dial in your comfort and an effective riding position.

    High angle stems are not all that common for road bike bars but they are worth finding for your Surly if you feel the same as I do. Or for a more solid feel due to less flex in the bars go for the newer 31.8 bar setup.

    Oh, there IS one other seemingly minor advantage. If you should ever crash and have your nether regions fly forward into the stem would you rather have a low steertube and angled stem or a honkin' big stack of spacers and a low angle stem that simulates the old "7" stems and meet up with the big knuckle that results?
    Model airplanes are cool too!.....

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    I can't imagine having the bars level with the saddle. A 7cm drop would be a touring setup for me. An 11cm drop is a racing setup. I'm not a large rider either, I ride a 51cm frame.

    If you must have the bars high, the high rise stem is the stronger setup.

  9. #9
    Senior Member skilsaw's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveSSS View Post
    I can't imagine having the bars level with the saddle. A 7cm drop would be a touring setup for me. An 11cm drop is a racing setup..
    DaveSSS
    You must be young and flexible, have high core strength or have both. Good man.
    My steer tube was cut short when I bought the bike so I put in a short steep stem to make things comfortable. After a good summer riding, I think my core is strong enough to make me comfortable riding with the stock stem. I would make less wind resistance with my head and shoulders lower.

  10. #10
    Senior Member BCRider's Avatar
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    After finding my own "sweet spot" I mysteriously found that all my bars ended up about 2 to 3 cm below the saddle. So yeah, I'd have to say that DaveSSS is a tad more young and flexible than me.... Or he's worked at it more than the rest of us old farts
    Model airplanes are cool too!.....

  11. #11
    Senior Member KDC1956's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by abdon View Post
    I'm redoing my touring bike with a Surly Cross check frame. I'm in Japan and do not have access to a place to get fitted to the bike, so I guess I'll have to figure things out as I go.

    I'm 5'7", the frame is 54cm. In order to get the handlebar on the same level as the seat (relax touring geometry) I'll have to either use a bunch of spacers, or a stem with quite an angle.

    Is there a practical difference between one approach vs. the other?
    Hate to say this but that frame is to big for you.You would be better off with a 50cm or a 52cm.

  12. #12
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    You're in Japan? ... why not get a bike made there ? Excellent frame builders there.. many .. they like touring too..

    Surly made under contract for QBP , and the contractor is one of the big Taiwan bike frame assembly companies.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by KDC1956 View Post
    Hate to say this but that frame is to big for you.You would be better off with a 50cm or a 52cm.
    That's not at all certain. It depends on the OP's proportions. If he has long legs and a short torso or vice versa. If he wants the bars up close to saddle height, a smaller frame will make that even more difficult.

    I'm 5'9" and ride a 56 cm Surly Cross check and it's not at all too big for me.

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    5'8" with a 56cm frame here, although I've recently had to go with a short steep stem to fit better. My issue is with disproportionately long femurs, which make a 54cm frame feel all cramped up, but a 56 stretches me out. Ultimately, I will go custom when I can afford it, but until then, I will have to kludge something together to work as best as can be expected.

  15. #15
    John Wayne Toilet Paper nhluhr's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BCRider View Post
    After finding my own "sweet spot" I mysteriously found that all my bars ended up about 2 to 3 cm below the saddle. So yeah, I'd have to say that DaveSSS is a tad more young and flexible than me.... Or he's worked at it more than the rest of us old farts
    You know, a lot of this difference could be age/flexibility but I bet another huge factor is the relative length of your torso and arms. My arms are a proportional to my height but my torso is somewhat shorter than average so my arms can accomodate a much deeper drop on the bars.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KDC1956 View Post
    Hate to say this but that frame is to big for you.You would be better off with a 50cm or a 52cm.
    Not really. He'd have an even bigger issue with even taller stack of washers and a vertical stem on a smaller bike. The three contact points and the distance between them are more important than seat-tube length: handlebars to seat to cranks. The "best" fitting bike is one where he doesn't need extremes in terms of seatposts and stems in order to fit comfortably.

  17. #17
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    I'm in the "more spacers and stem parallel to the ground" camp. Used to be they were all that way... [/retrogrouch]


  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by KDC1956 View Post
    Hate to say this but that frame is to big for you.You would be better off with a 50cm or a 52cm.
    Nah, I have been on smaller ones and I hate the cramped feeling. Not only that, but I pedal with my feet pointing down a bit; my seat is usually way up, which makes it harder to get the handlebars high enough. For a tourer I also like the extra elbow room.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    You're in Japan? ... why not get a bike made there ? Excellent frame builders there.. many .. they like touring too..

    Surly made under contract for QBP , and the contractor is one of the big Taiwan bike frame assembly companies.
    I'm waaaaay up in the deep north; not that many options up here. This is probably a good thing, I'm already way past my discretionary allowances for this year and part of the next

  20. #20
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    So far this is what the bike is coming around:

    photo..jpg

    How does it look?

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by abdon View Post
    So far this is what the bike is coming around:

    photo..jpg

    How does it look?
    Looks sharp. If your saddle is at the correct height, so that you still have some bend in your knee at the bottom of the stroke and your hips level (let the other leg hang) than I would say your frame is the right (vertical) size. Others need to remember that "frame size" measured by the seat tube length is misleading, now that so many bikes have slanting top tubes. In addition some bikes are still measured to the top of the seat tube, some center to center. The OP's bike has a fairly level top tube. A frame with the same dimensions but with a slanting top tube could easily measure 2cm smaller.

    There is a lot of interplay when it comes to fit, and more variables than one might imagine. It's very difficult to advise as to fit without knowledge of all those factors, let alone remotely. That being said, here are my observations, which may not all apply to your situation but may be helpful to others.

    Tilting the saddle back that far can be a compensation for the saddle being too far forward, which tends to push you toward the bars. Of course if that's true then moving it back puts you even farther from the bars. May not be the case for you, merely your preference. That being said, it's critical to get fore-aft saddle position correct for anyone trying to decide on stem/bar solutions.

    The handlebars also have a much greater tilt back than normal. That may be an indication of difficulty reaching the bars. The top tube may be too long even though the vertical frame size seems appropriate. The handlebars also seem to have quite a long throw (horizontal reach). Different bars might make the reach easier and then allow less tilt so the lower bar position is usable, especially with the ergonomic style that has the additional curve built in the drop.

    If the OP's saddle had been quite low I indeed would have advised a smaller frame. Going to a larger frame than what is the proper fit just to achieve equal saddle/bar height is the wrong way to go, as you end up stretching out the rider more with a longer top tube and sometimes more relaxed seat tube angle. Raising the bars when a person is already stretched out may accomplish nothing but putting more weight on the saddle. The first fix is the correct stem length, then height.

    p.s. Just looked at my Novara Randonee, another touring frame, and I have my seat proportionally farther up than the OP, so a 1-2 cm smaller frame may have worked, but the OP has rational reasons for the size he chose and it's not way out of line. Also a fairly short adjustable stem can be used to accommodate a desire for higher handlebar height, as it can give quite a rise while moving the bars back slightly at the same time.

    Finally, as regards fore-aft saddle position, I found that the knee-over-pedal-axle method does not work best for me. My position is forward of that. Great discussion of this here: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/kops.html
    Last edited by cny-bikeman; 09-15-10 at 10:24 AM.

  22. #22
    Senior Member DannoXYZ's Avatar
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    I would tilt the nose of saddle down a little so that it's level. You'll find reaching the bars will be much easier. Your knees may feel better as well.

  23. #23
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    Thanks, most appreciated.

    As you guys know everything in life is a compromise. My pedaling style puts the seat quite a bit higher that what somebody with my dimensions would expect; I pedal on the ball of my feet with the ankles stretched. Even if this sounds weird, proof is in the pudding as in I have done a double metric century like this without complaints from my lower body.

    Then there's the problem that I like to climb, a lot. My seat is usually as far back as possible to improve the ass-to-pedal angle. This works extremely well for leverage, but puts me far away from the bars, which then makes me set the seat nose high to keep me from sliding, which made me "imperialize" my brooks saddle (cut a slot in the middle) to keep the boys happy on long runs. All this pushes the bars up and the angles the funny way they are.

    i'm not defending what i'm doing, just explaining it so you can see where I'm coming from. Ideally I would get a custom frame that is tall and shorter but that not being an option (nor having the option to stop by a store to get fitted to my bike) I have to bug the living **** out of you guys and keep on trying until I get it right

    Thanks again, most appreciated. You guys are the greatest.

  24. #24
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    My Eye says there isn't much steerer left , so a stem raiser will move the existing stem up.
    Have to fit longer cables on the controls too , I expect. even if you fit a 40 degree up angled stem.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by fietsbob View Post
    My Eye says there isn't much steerer left , so a stem raiser will move the existing stem up.
    Have to fit longer cables on the controls too , I expect. even if you fit a 40 degree up angled stem.
    I already cut the steerer. The photo is what it looks like _after_ I got it to the height I wanted. I still have over an inch, which so far is way more than I care to raise things.

    I guess the next thing to do is to take it on a 75-mile ride this weekend over mixed terrain and see how bad it feels.

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