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Headtube questions

Old 12-05-09, 07:24 PM
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Headtube questions

After a bit of research in looking for a first bike, I've noted that the length of the headtube has a good bit to do with whether a bike is more -or less- comfortable. I am trying to figure out exactly how the HT can be setup and look right.

A few easy questions:

1. How much can the stem/handlebars be raised using spacers?
2. Most of the performance comfort bikes (not race) seem to have HT around 160mm for a ~54cm bike. Do riders add spacers to this HT, or will it hold the stem/bars at a comfortable height already?
3. Does it look goofy to user too many spacers? How many is too many?
4. Is it a good idea to buy a bike with a shorter, race-style HT (~130mm) and raise to the level of the comfort performance bikes (~160mm)? What problems would this cause?
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Old 12-05-09, 08:08 PM
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1. Depends primarily on the steerer material, but does vary some by manufacturer as well.
2. Get a bike that fits you and your riding style
3. Limited by #1.
4. Not if it's not comfortable for you.
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Old 12-05-09, 08:15 PM
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What are you looking for in a bike? Your frame set will determine how many spacers will be needed. I've seen as much as 6 cm difference in head tube length between frames. Two spacers are common, can flip stem for a little more adjustability. A good fitting helps answer most of your questions.
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Old 12-05-09, 08:40 PM
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Your questions are hard to answer without more information on what you want to do, any physiological things holding you back, and your current condition.

Your position will change over time, especially at the beginning of your riding life. At first everything seems foreign - seat too low, bars too low, bars too far, cadence too high, etc. Then, as you get more cycling fit, you'll realize the lower (to a new rider) saddle height isn't bad. The bars aren't that low, and 90 rpm is not all that fast.

However, you seem to be thinking in the right direction. You're questioning whether or not you should leave yourself adjustment to go up or to go down.

I don't know how old you are or what you want to try to ultimately accomplish on the bike. Your answers to those two questions will play a huge role in determining fit.

cdr
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Old 12-05-09, 09:09 PM
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So something about me: age 41, in pretty decent shape from running several times per week and weights in the gym. I do have lower back issues to contend with, but I am usually able to mitigate those by staying in shape. Though, I fully expect an overly aggressive riding position may not last too long. I guess I'll have to see on that issue.

My goals are to become a fairly decent rider in speed and distance, ride several times a week and maybe even get in with some local groups. I'd like to have a bike that is as comfortable as can fit into those goals.

I have been eyeing bikes like the Felt Z5, Fuji SL1 Comp, Specialized Roubaix Elite compact, and Giant Defy Advanced 3. While these bikes are not too expensive, I want to buy something above the beginner level that I can easily grow into and stay with for a few years. Saving a few bucks is good, but what I have read is that Shimano 105 is about as low a component group as a serious rider may want to go. And to move up a level seems to cost a grand! These bikes all seem to be the mid-line of geometry within the brand's line of bikes.

I have also been eyeing the Kestrel Evoke SL since there are some great deals available on that bike. Though, the Evoke is more along race lines than comfort. Would probably be better to not get stuck with a short HT bike where I cannot relax the geometry with spacers (or, look goofy).
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Old 12-05-09, 09:14 PM
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I don't consider the looks of any part of the bike at all...well, I may, but if so, it's unconscious. I've been riding as an adult for more than 40 years, and though I've backed off from my former 6000-mile seasons, I still ride enough that I make sure the bike is comfortable. People used to rag on me because my handlebars were level with the seat, but I notice more and more people flipping their stems these days (with Rivendell's quill stems, I don't have to flip. I can put the bars anywhere I want in 8 second s with a 6mm allen). If it matters, the HTs on my Atlantis and Rambouillet are probably longer than fashion dictates, but I can stay in the saddle four or five hours at a stretch without grimacing. Buy a bike that fits, and don't worry about how long the head tube is.

Last edited by Velo Dog; 12-05-09 at 09:19 PM.
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Old 12-05-09, 09:24 PM
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Your fitness level affects your comfort on the bike a lot. More core strength allows you to maintain a lower body position with comfort. People with less fitness may need a higher handlebar position to be comfortable. However, higher handlebars usually means worse power output and worse aerodynamics.

The general rule of thumb is that you should not have more head tube spacers than the diameter of your fork steerer tube. That's usually 3 to 4cm. Some mechanics say you can use slightly more spacers with steel steerer tubes than with aluminum or carbon, but you should check with your fork and frame manufacturers to see if they have different recommendations. A taller head tube will be stronger and stiffer than more spacers, "all other things being equal".

Yes, lots of spacers looks really goofy. Riding slowly on an expensive bike looks goofy too. You may as well be comfortable if you're going to look goofy anyway.
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Old 12-06-09, 08:30 AM
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Originally Posted by RomeoTango
So something about me: age 41, in pretty decent shape from running several times per week and weights in the gym. I do have lower back issues to contend with, but I am usually able to mitigate those by staying in shape. Though, I fully expect an overly aggressive riding position may not last too long. I guess I'll have to see on that issue.

My goals are to become a fairly decent rider in speed and distance, ride several times a week and maybe even get in with some local groups. I'd like to have a bike that is as comfortable as can fit into those goals.

I have been eyeing bikes like the Felt Z5, Fuji SL1 Comp, Specialized Roubaix Elite compact, and Giant Defy Advanced 3. While these bikes are not too expensive, I want to buy something above the beginner level that I can easily grow into and stay with for a few years. Saving a few bucks is good, but what I have read is that Shimano 105 is about as low a component group as a serious rider may want to go. And to move up a level seems to cost a grand! These bikes all seem to be the mid-line of geometry within the brand's line of bikes.

I have also been eyeing the Kestrel Evoke SL since there are some great deals available on that bike. Though, the Evoke is more along race lines than comfort. Would probably be better to not get stuck with a short HT bike where I cannot relax the geometry with spacers (or, look goofy).
Your answer makes me think you're being modest, but that's a guess on my part. If you're in reasonable shape, you'll be okay with a more aggressive position in a relatively short time. Running and lifting means you probably have a decent core, and you understand the difference between workout pain and injury pain.

Is there any way you can get on a "racer's " bike? I say that in quotes but a bike in your size, maybe belongs to a shop employee/owner, set up kind of aggressively with a slammed long stem, and tool around a bit on it? You'll know right away if you can't breathe or if the bars are too low. If your neck twinges that's usually okay, mine does the first time I do a hard effort in the drops after a break, but it's good afterwards.

Anyway, try that "aggressive" position, and if it doesn't seem constricting, think about that as a potential position in 1-2 years. If you do have a strong core, the main thing that'll bother you are your hands, shoulders, neck, and the fact that you'll bend a lot at the waist (and that you'll typically rotate your pelvis on the saddle). I figure your shoulders should be fine. Hands too, as long as you unweight them every now and then, or move them to different positions (effectively unweighting different parts of your hand). It comes down to neck and waist.

You can start off with a less aggressive position on the same bike. I know that Cannondale recommends limiting your spacers to 4 cm, and you can use different angled stems to raise or lower your bars.

My take on fit:
https://sprinterdellacasa.blogspot.co...ive-thing.html
https://sprinterdellacasa.blogspot.co...y-and-age.html

A note on crank length. Based on my own experience with swapping cranks around, I'd keep the saddle -> pedal height consistent. So if you're testing bikes with different crank lengths, take that into account. When I go from 170 to 175 cranks, I drop my saddle 5 mm. When I go back to 170s, I raise the saddle 5 mm. I found the extra bend at the top of the pedal stroke (with 175s) was fine, but any difference in leg extension, forget it.

Finally, relative to "comfort". I recently ordered a custom (all aluminum) frame. The builder asked me what I rode now, and if I felt comfortable with it. I told him my current bike is a SystemSix and I'm good on it for 100+ miles, 8+ hours. The builder told me my new frame would feel extremely similar. I was thinking "How can he tell??" Then I realized - the SystemSix has an aluminum rear triangle. So will my new frame. They both have beefy chainstays, slimmer seatstays. Therefore they'll feel the same. The front end - I'll be using a carbon fork and the same stem/bars as normal, so that's all the same too.

So, when you define comfort, think about what you're looking for. There are maybe three types of comfort:
1. Hands - if the bars, stem, fork, front wheel, even your bar tape are too stiff, too unforgiving, your hands hurt. If your bars are too low or too far out you'll put too much weight on them. Less comfort.
2. Saddle - Given similar wheelbases, if your saddle, post, rear tire are too rigid, too unforgiving, you'll have saddle discomfort. I seriously think frames have little to do with overall comfort with the saddle, again within a certain wheelbase range (+/- 1 cm). Yes, my tandem is much more comfy, and yes my track bike is a bit less comfy. When you hit a bump, your frame isn't the only thing to flex - it's your tire and saddle first, your wheel next, and then your frame. If you're out of the saddle and rocking a flexy bike, the frame will flex too. But the key here is the saddle and tire - get firm but flexible ones and you'll be good. A super rigid tire is a bear to ride, even on an otherwise "flexy" frame. I tried out a friend's bike and felt a huge contrast in comfort and flex. My hands and butt were going numb due to road buzz, but when I jumped the bike felt totally mushy. I put my own wheels on the bike and suddenly the bike was comfortable and mushy. The discomfort didn't come from the flexy frame, it came from my friend's overly rigid tires.

btw I'm essentially the same age as you. I have, according to my doctor, "some ruptured and bulging disks" in my back, but that as long as I'm moving around fine, it's okay. I don't have any back pain on or off the bike, except when I neglect basic core exercises.

cdr
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Old 12-06-09, 02:00 PM
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If you at least had an accurate saddle height, it's easy to determine what combinations of head tube length (with the headset and spacers) and stem angle will produce a given amount of saddle to bar drop. Bikes with carbon steering tubes on the fork are often limited to 3cm of spacer and any more looks dorky. I would look for a head tube length that would permit at least a 10cm drop using the lowest setup - no spacers and a 73 degree stem. From there, you can place the bars 3cm higher with spacers, up to another 2-4cm using 84-96 degree stem angles.

As an example, with a 73cm saddle height, I could produce a lowest saddle to bar drop of 10cm with a 140mm head tube, a 15mm headset top and no spacers, using a 73 degree stem.
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Old 12-06-09, 03:36 PM
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"Most of the performance comfort bikes (not race) seem to have HT around 160mm for a ~54cm bike. Do riders add spacers to this HT, or will it hold the stem/bars at a comfortable height already?"

With the ability to flip the stem and move the spacers around, there is a lot of variability in positioning the stem. That variability is more than the difference between individual models of bikes.

For example, the head tube on the Roubaix is about .8 inches taller than on, say, a Tarmac. It's about .4 inches taller than a Langster. While the height of the bars on Roubaix won't reach the extreme low position of the Tarmac, and the Tarmac won't reach the extreme high position of the bars on the Roubaix, they can both be configured up or down more than .8 inches. Which means either bike - and most bikes - can be ridden in both an aggressive position or a relaxed position, depending on set-up.

Of course, it's not just the head tube that makes a difference - the geometry of wheelbase and the fork rake obviously come into play, too, even though slight those differences between bikes are slight, too.

"I fully expect an overly aggressive riding position may not last too long."

Ride enough, and this won't be an issue. There's no doubt, though, my Roubaix is my most comfortable road bike, no matter how I've set it up.
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Old 12-06-09, 03:59 PM
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Originally Posted by RomeoTango
My goals are to become a fairly decent rider in speed and distance, ride several times a week and maybe even get in with some local groups. I'd like to have a bike that is as comfortable as can fit into those goals.
There isn't a radical difference between the two styles. Neither one would get in the way of what you are saying here.

The purpose of the "aggressive" positioning is better aerodynamics (when in the drops), trading a bit less comfort for that. Anyway, most people use the hoods for most of the riding (ie, not many people spend a lot of time in the drops). It's possible that many people would use the drops more if the handlebars were positioned a bit higher.

The ranking (best to worse) of the aerodynamics would probably be the following:

1) in the drops on the racing frame.
2) in the drops on the "endurance" frame.
3) on the hoods on the racing frame.
4) on the hoods on the "endurance" frame.

I'd guess that 2 and 3 are close (and the order might be reversed!). And it would depend on how the bike is actually set up.

From what I have observed, very few people spend much time in the drops. It's possible that a more upright frame (the "endurance" frame style) might encourage more people to ride in the drops!

Last edited by njkayaker; 12-06-09 at 04:05 PM.
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Old 12-20-09, 12:33 PM
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Really great info from everyone! Helps me get my head wrapped around some of the variables. I went to the LBS that carries Cannondale for a fitting. While I did not get a print out, some of the measurements follow:

For a 54 cm frame:
TT - 54.4 cm
ST - 56 cm
Top of ST to pedal (?) - 93 cm (or was it top of seat to BB - shoot, now I don't recall)
Crank length - 170mm
Stem - 100mm (105-120 mm range)

As well, the fitter stated that I could be fit into a 56 cm, which only seemed to change the stem length to 85mm.

DaveSSS, can I fit these measurements into the formula that will give me the seat to handle bar drop for a given HT length? What is that formula?
CDR, Thanks for that write-up. Very helpful.

Last edited by RomeoTango; 12-20-09 at 01:11 PM. Reason: add'l info
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Old 12-20-09, 01:26 PM
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Just to pile on some more, I have been eyeing a 2009 Kestrel Evoke SL with Rival ($1695). 134mm HT. I expect that price is tough to beat and was quoted $3000 (sale) at one LBS that carries Fuji. Obviously, I want the best bike for the least money right now. Closeouts and sales are probably my best bet. Locally not too many closeouts, at least from what I was told.

The LBS that did my fitting mentioned that a Cannondale Six Carbon would be my best selection based on what I want out of a bike. The Super Six might be too much, and the Synapse a little too relaxed. I'm really trying to focus on the bike geometry and be agnostic to brand. The Six HT is about 150mm, the Super Six is 140mm, and the Synapse is 165mm. So is the Kestrel at 134mm going to be a bit too aggressive or can it be compensated for?

What of Kestrel anyway? Since they do not have a big line of bikes, and then mostly into Tri's do they not get a lot of attention? Usually when I bring up the Kestrel name folks agree they're good. But then nobody really touts them much.
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Old 12-20-09, 01:43 PM
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At Interbike the guy that did the newest/2010 graphics for Kestrel raced the P12 race on a borrowed Kestrel. Granted, he has an interest in promoting the brand, but he does a lot of work for Cannondale and signed a gig with Terry (as well as the bazillion other gigs he has). He's a forever Cannondale guy, been riding them since the Cipo days. He also knows what the heck he's talking about, at least as far as riding goes - Cat 1, strong, smooth, all-rounder.

He really liked the Kestrel, a bike that he borrowed during Interbike. He rode it a couple times then raced the Vegas crit, got caught behind two crashes, and finished in the second group (i.e. 3rd group on the course since there was a break). Granted, he was struggling, but against some of the horsepower in the field, wasn't a shabby ride.

Anyway, he was really happy with the bike. So take that for what it's worth. He was riding a "normal" looking frame, kind of like what Rock Racing used for a bit.

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Old 12-20-09, 01:52 PM
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I know that carbon Reynolds forks do have a spec about the amount of spacers that are allowed. Since they do I would think most, if not all, companies have specs but they would all be different. You'll just have to look your's up.
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