Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Autumn Redwood-Wildcat/ Thoughts towards refining my road bike fit

Instead of just descriptions of bikes (which will probably be a focus, since I'm a gear head), I thought I'd write a ride report today, of the ride I did yesterday.  I do want to apologize for the lack of pictures, other than bike shots, on the blog so far.  Unlike a lot of the bike blogging world, taking pictures, especially ones that are pleasant to look at, is not second nature for me, and I almost never remember to take my camera with me.  Furthermore, my camera has some memory card issues at the moment, so I would have had to borrow the wife's.  In any case, what I lack in visuals I'll try to make up in description.

Mondays are usually a day off for me, and my wife also had the day off for Veteran's day, so we slept in and generally had a lazy morning.  Finally kitted up and headed out the door mid-morning or so.

Late fall/early winter has definitely descended on the Bay Area.  After many weeks alternating rains with days of warm Indian Summer weather, last week the cold weather stuck around even after the rain and feels like it's here to stay.  I headed out the door wearing heavy layers and knee warmers, both of which stayed on for the duration of the ride.  I may have even been more comfortable with an extra base layer on top and full leg warmers.  In any case, this was my first longer ride in such weather, and as usual around the transition of the seasons, it took a little extra effort for my body to adjust to exerting itself in the new climate.  The cold air made my lungs burn during the steep warm-up climbs leading to Tunnel Rd.

Aside from that, though, I thoroughly enjoyed being out on a beautifully clear Fall day.  The low angle of sunlight lent that "perpetual afternoon" feeling to the whole day, and meant that many of the canyons I was riding in were shaded even at midday.  Small patches of sunlight were a definite treat.  Furthermore, the roads were pretty quiet--despite being a Federal holiday, I think a lot of people were still at work--so the entire ride had a peaceful quality that I like to associate with the colder months.  It reminded me of the cold fall days in New England, where I grew up.  I rolled along just enjoying the sound of my breathing, the quietness the chain smoothly meshing with the gears, and the angle of the light on the road.

Heading up Tunnel Rd, my intention was to do the Redwood-Wildcat ride, something I hadn't done in a while, a good 4-ish hour ride with plenty of climbing and fun descents.  There were only a few other cyclists out as I pushed my way up Tunnel at a steady pace and then enjoyed the fast miles on Skyline Blvd along the top of the ridge.  Low traffic meant that I could take the turns at speed very easily, focusing on having a good line to maintain momentum, rather than maintaining good traffic spacing and letting cars pass.  As the road turned up again past the upper entrance to Redwood Regional Park, the air was filled with the pleasant odor of wood burning, and looking out over the park I noted a large amount of smoke rising from a stand of trees.  Not seeing any emergency vehicles, I assumed it was a controlled burn to clear out the underbrush.  A couple cyclists on carbon fiber racing rigs passed me as I went by the Chabot Center, but I caught up with them as the road pointed down again and we were all caught behind some automobile traffic.  It was interesting to ride behind them and compare the lines they took through the corners.  One of them was wearing a USPS jersey, which now seems funny in light of the scandal surrounding Lance Armstrong, the USPS/Discovery cycling team, and the UCI.  I wonder if more people will wear USPS jerseys as an ironic statement?

In any case, those riders turned back towards Oakland on Joaquin Miller Rd while I proceeded left towards Redwood Rd.  I remembered how great that stretch of road is for working on your aero tuck.  While I like to get aero on descents, I don't go to the extremes, like cantilevering my torso out over the bars to get minimum frontal area.  I prefer to keep my weight between the wheels and my hands near the brake levers in case manuevering is needed, and work to tuck my head down low to the bars and my knees in against the top tube.

Turning onto Redwood, I shifted up into my highest gear (48x13) so I could keep the cranks turning and the blood flowing down the long, gradual descent to the intersection with Pinehurst Rd, since it was cold in the shaded bottom of the canyon.  After turning onto Pinehurst, I attacked the climb, and felt surprisingly good to do so--I dispatched it relatively quickly.  Being heavily forested and right in the middle of protected watersheds and state land, this stretch of road feels quite remote, despite being only a few miles from Oakland and Berkeley.  I enjoyed this feeling while working my way up the climb.  My reward was the twisty, fun descent down to the intersection with Canyon Rd, which is great for the way it teaches you speed control while stringing together tight left- and right-handers in quick succession.  During all of these descents, the bike felt really good, very controllable with my hands in the drops, and my body was comfortable in the low-down position.

After Canyon Rd was the long, suburban drag north along Moraga Way through Moraga and Orinda to the base of climb back up Wildcat Canyon.  I took this opportunity to sit up a bit, enjoy the warmth of the sunlight, and eat the Clif Bar I keep stashed in my seat bag for mid-ride refueling, since I felt like I had burned plenty of calories already between the climbing and keeping myself warm.  That part of the ride is really nothing to write home about, and the best thing I can say is that is passed relatively quickly.

Turning up Wildcat, I still felt good, although I was definitely feeling the exertion of the long, cold ride so far.  The light was particularly beautiful on this stretch, just barely peeking over the ridge and down into the cold corners of the winding ascent.  Again, low traffic made climbing relatively stress-free, and I was just able to listen to my breathing and my tires beneath me.   I paused briefly at the top of the climb to check out the view north and east from Inspirtation Point, before pointing the bike for home.  The stretch of Wildcat back from Inspirtation Point to the top of Spruce St in Berkeley is always fun with it's down grade, rough pavement, and corners. 

The descent down Spruce into Berkeley and then back home down Virginia St was where I felt my most discomfort, and since this was the last stretch of the ride, this discomfort stuck with me a bit, despite being really happy with the rest of the ride.  My back felt stiff and my hands were numbing up a bit.  Why did this happen on this descent and not really on the others?  Of course, it was the last descent of the day, also the longest, and I had been riding without a real break for a couple of hours.  But I think there was something more.  Being the most trafficked (basically all on city streets) and with the most stop signs and lights, the descent down Spruce and Virginia requires the most braking of all of the descents I had done that day.  

Salsa Casseroll

As you can see from this picture from the last post, I have my handlebars and brake levers on this bike (the Casseroll) rotated up a bit.  This flattens out the ramps some and provides a nice, balanced position on top of the brake hoods, but its downside is that the grip angle in the drops, especially in the portion just below the brake levers, ends up canted downwards at quite an angle.  I feel okay when I'm rolling in the drops with my hands back towards the end of the bars, but in order to brake a lot I have to move my hands a bit further up the drop.  In an effect described by pro bike fitter Steve Hogg in his article on bar shapes, this pulls my torso lower than is comfortable for a long time when braking:

"A steep grip angle (30-50 degrees) causes the rider to have their closed hands much closer to vertical than a shallow grip angle.  In turn this means that a steep grip angle causes the elbows to be bent more and the upper body lowered more than would be the case for a bar with a shallower grip angle set at the same height."
This effect feels like exactly what was happening on the Spruce descent.  With all of the braking required for traffic and stop signs, I was spending more time in the most-angled portion of the drops, which it turn required a deeper bend in my elbows, shoulders, and back.  Hence the stiffness, etc.

This shortcoming is something I'd like to work on in refining my position on this bike, since descents--especially techy ones which require braking for sharp curves--are one of my favorite parts of riding.  The fact that I need to the brake levers rotated back for a balanced position on the hoods, as well as the fact that sometimes I find myself shifting forward under load, suggests that overall, my reach to the bars might be too long on this bike.  Empirically, this works out as well, since, with a 61cm effective top tube, the Casseroll is definitely my longest bike.  Add to this the added reach from the setback seatpost and a 100mm stem, and it makes sense that I find myself on the edge of being to stretched out.  So I think a shorter stem is in order, since my position feels nicely balanced with the current seat position (i.e. I don't want to reduce reach by moving the seat forward).

But how short a stem?  90mm? 80mm?  Shorter?  I think that before I invest in any more stems, it might be time to invest in something like the Salsa Size-O-Matic II adjustable fitting stem.  Not to mention the fact that it would help not only with this fit but any bike fit going forward, since it is compatible with pretty much every steerer and bar standard out there. 

I also think that while the generic Felt-branded bar on the Casseroll might be in the right ballpark dimension-wise, something with better angles, that allows both a flat ramp/hoods position while also maintaining a shallow grip angle might be best.  Something like the Soma Hwy One or the Salsa Pro Road Medium, although the Hwy One's silvery shiny goodness wins out everytime in my book.

What about you guys?  Anybody out there have particular fit issues that only crop up under certain riding conditions?