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  1. #1
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    Countering long-reach handlebars with a short stem?

    I've just finished a road bike build for my wife, and helping her find the proper fit is a bit difficult - she has never ridden a road bike before, so she can't give me any real feedback how the bike fits her.

    We got the saddle position about right (some fine tuning will be needed still, but anyway). Now the handlebar reach is the problem. We can see clearly that the reach is too much by some margin right now.

    I have used Competitivecyclist's web app for a ballpark base line, but the problem is on this vintage steel-framed bike comes a classically styled handlebar, and as I've compared it to modern handlebars, I can see that the classic bar places the brifters about 3 cm further forward than is the norm on today's bars.

    We have been guestimating we need to shorten the stem by 3 to 4 cm to counter for the long reach of the bars. The current stem is a 100 mm one (quill type as fits the old frame).
    Now, if I replace it with a 60 mm stem, that will solve the reach problem, but will that cause handling problems for the bike? Also, would you assume the highest hand position (on the upper flat of the bars)
    might become unusable with a 40mm shorter stem - becoming too cramped etc ?

    I also have a bit of the same problem myself on my road bike build. Me and my wife share a common problem; we have long legs, and especially long thighs - this forces us to fit the saddle as far back as it goes in order to achieve knee-painless riding, and results in too long a reach to the brake hoods. I would NOT like to get new handlebars as the ones we have now have otherwise great shape and suit the bikes' vintage style as well.
    So, is there any problem in just using shorter stems to counter the long reach?

  2. #2
    Senior Member Road Fan's Avatar
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    Isn't there a parameter for "handlebar reach" on the Competitve Cyclist modeling page?

    Anyway, I agree with your logic. If the bar you have feels good on her hands, has the right drop and width, then there's nothing wrong in my opinion with shortening the stem to bring th contact points closer to her.

    However, there's a lot of distance in terms of positioning covered by those 3 or 4 cm. I'd suggest moving it by one cm at a time.

    Lennard Zinn and Peter White talk about beign able to balance the body over the pedals, as a target condition for good fitting. A cyclist often thinks of leaning over to the bars. If you were to do this while standing, you'd fall forward. On the bike, I think this means pressing on the handlebars to hold yourself up. If you were to lean like a ski racer, tucking to maintain balance over your feet, suddenly the effort to hold up your upper body pretty much disappears. Good core strength affects this, too. One thing this means is that as the torso leans forward and the arms reach out, the butt needs to move back to maintain balance. In this context fitting means to position the saddle and the handlebars to place the arms their natural position when the butt is supported in its balance position. Read Peter White's website (www.peterwhitecycles.com) article about fitting a bicycle, and in Zinn's Cycling Primer, his chapter on "Haney's Way," kind of the yogi's approach to cycle fitting.

    Since she's starting out fresh, you don't have a baseline fit to modify for her, and hence can take a totally fresh start. If these ideas help you two think about a "vision" of what her positioning could be when correct, that's my goal. It's really hard to decide on reach and bar height even from measurements.

    My wife and I worked through the Haney stuff when setting up her first road bike, and it worked out well. She really liked the wholistic approach, and actually the analytical approach was not working. It helped that the bike was red (Oooo, RED!) and made for a woman (a Georgena Terry), though not custom for her.
    Last edited by Road Fan; 07-20-13 at 07:43 AM.

  3. #3
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    Hi,

    Compact handlebars exist because of the extra size of brifters,
    and they place the drops versus the hoods more ergonomically.

    rgds, sreten.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Mr. Hairy Legs's Avatar
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    I've got a similar problem, and I wanted to get some of your thoughts on a resolution:

    After switching back and forth between two bikes for the last couple of months, I've come to realize that one has the perfect reach to the hoods, while the other's reach is around 20mm too far for me.

    The stem lengths are the same (90 mm), but the handlebars are compact style on the "right fit" bike and quite a bit larger on the "wrong fit" bike. This difference is what makes most of that 20mm gap to the hoods.

    Obviously, a 70mm stem is an easier and cheaper solution than replacing the bars with compact ones, but is there any reason why swapping the bars would be a better way to go? Is there any difference in handling and feel, so long as the hoods end up in the same place? I know if I mention "70mm stem" in the road forum I will get all kinds of negative comments. :-)

    Thanks

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    Hi,

    The difference will be the placement of the drops relative to the hoods.

    rgds, sreten.

  6. #6
    Ding! Bandera's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TurboJ View Post
    I have used Competitivecyclist's web app for a ballpark base line, but the problem is on this vintage steel-framed bike comes a classically styled handlebar, and as I've compared it to modern handlebars, I can see that the classic bar places the brifters about 3 cm further forward than is the norm on today's bars.

    We have been guestimating we need to shorten the stem by 3 to 4 cm to counter for the long reach of the bars. The current stem is a 100 mm one (quill type as fits the old frame).
    Now, if I replace it with a 60 mm stem, that will solve the reach problem, but will that cause handling problems for the bike?
    A very thorough build analysis.

    You may have to replace both bars & stem for an optimal fit, you might not be able to "get there" w/ classic bars/brifters.

    Classic bars will indeed place brifters in an awkward position for many riders, hence a "compact" bar w/ 120mm drop X 70mm reach can address that issue. Find one w/ a 26.0 center to fit quill stems for your frame w/ the proper width, they are becoming less common but they are still available.

    Most female riders have a relatively shorter torso/height factor than males so a shorter stem is "normal" for their fit. I'd get the new bars installed on the original stem w/ brifters in "test" mode to calc the stem length, order the replacement stem and proceed. With compact bars vs. classic measuring reach to the hoods vs. the stem center may give you all a more accurate calc.

    -Bandera
    '74 Raleigh International - '77 Trek TX900FG - '92 Vitus 979 - '10 Merckx EMX-3- '11 Soma Stanyan

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    Ding! Bandera's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Hairy Legs View Post
    After switching back and forth between two bikes for the last couple of months, I've come to realize that one has the perfect reach to the hoods, while the other's reach is around 20mm too far for me.

    The stem lengths are the same (90 mm), but the handlebars are compact style on the "right fit" bike and quite a bit larger on the "wrong fit" bike. This difference is what makes most of that 20mm gap to the hoods.

    Obviously, a 70mm stem is an easier and cheaper solution than replacing the bars with compact ones, but is there any reason why swapping the bars would be a better way to go? Is there any difference in handling and feel, so long as the hoods end up in the same place?
    If your stem length, and total reach, are the same on both machines but the compact bars are "right" replace the bars on the bike #2 w/ the same pattern and size of bars as bike #1 . Replacing the stem is barking up the wrong tree, you already have the solution well "in hand".

    It's SOP for riders w/ several road bike to have all contact points: bars, pedals and saddles of identical models fitted to exactly the same spec.

    -Bandera
    Last edited by Bandera; 07-27-13 at 08:06 AM.
    '74 Raleigh International - '77 Trek TX900FG - '92 Vitus 979 - '10 Merckx EMX-3- '11 Soma Stanyan

  8. #8
    Senior Member Dfrost's Avatar
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    To the OP: Have you tried raising the brakes on the bars (which does require retaping the bars, unfortunately)? Doing so changes the reach quickly for relatively small movements up the bars. My gauge for height of the brakes is that there's about a finger's width between the bottom of the levers and a straight edge placed under the drops. And to answer the original question, I doubt that you would experience handling problems switching to a stem that's a few cm shorter.

    My wife, who is a very experienced cyclist, said that her hands and wrists finally stopped hurting on long rides when I did this for her bike.

    I've settled on bars with shorter reach for some of our bikes, based on the top tube lengths. The latest thing I've started doing is also rotating the bars upward slightly so the top bend is very slightly above horizontal, but that may be more about dealing with our age and reduced flexibility, and doesn't change the reach noticeably. It does seem to spread out pressure along the hands when on or just behind the hoods.

    BTW, I'm definitely in the same "long legs, shorter torso, saddle needs to be shoved way back" anatomical group.
    Last edited by Dfrost; 07-27-13 at 02:12 PM.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Mr. Hairy Legs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bandera View Post
    If your stem length, and total reach, are the same on both machines but the compact bars are "right" replace the bars on the bike #2 w/ the same pattern and size of bars as bike #1 . Replacing the stem is barking up the wrong tree, you already have the solution well "in hand".

    It's SOP for riders w/ several road bike to have all contact points: bars, pedals and saddles of identical models fitted to exactly the same spec.

    -Bandera
    Thanks, I've gone ahead and ordered new bars with shorter reach (73 mm compared to 85) and will see how that goes. After that, if I still need a stem length adjustment then I think switching from 90 to 80 will be adequate.

  10. #10
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    Thanks for all your helpful tips!

    In the end we did some more measuring and analyzing both of our riding positions, and ended up ordering 60mm stems instead of the 100mm ones we had originally.

    It is mighty strange we had to do that short in order to find the right riding position (on my wife's bike I also moved the brifters up a bit).
    I don't usually see this short stems on older steel framed road bikes, and I'm surprised the Competitivecyclist's app didn't get the measurements closer.
    I guess it's partially because of out long-reach handlebars and partially because maybe we have different bone structure in our hip area than the average joe.

    On my wife's bike, we had to move the brifters about 5 cm further back before she could ride it. I'm very surprised by this. And about the same amount was required on my bike as well..
    It's strange, because we're both young and my wife is even quite athletic - I don't know how the original measurements could have been so far off.
    Anyway, in the end I think it's always trial and error. Trouble is, there are no fitting services at all where I live - not even if I'm willing to travel a long way to find one.
    Last edited by TurboJ; 08-03-13 at 08:33 AM.

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