80s-era Cilo bicycle headtube

Part 1: Is my Bike Good Enough to Race?

You think your bike is too heavy to race? Too old? Think again.

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  • Fit. Smooth. Durable. That’s all that counts to get you goin’.
  • If you are fitted to your bike perfectly, you’re more than half way there
  • Every bearing must roll or turn smooth
  • Racing is hard on a bike. Durability is clutch.

Yes, carbon is light. And yes, electric shifting is — effortless.

But you need neither to not only start racing, but to be genuinely competitive.

What is needed? A bike that fits you very, very well, regardless of it’s age of material construction. By “material construction,” I mean steel, aluminum, carbon, or any combination thereof. You also need bearings that roll, turn, and pivot perfectly. We’re talking about your wheel hubs, your headset (where your handlebar’s stem meets the frame), and your bottom bracket (where your crank rotates.) Finally, you need to know that your equipment is durable.

What defines a great fitting bike for you?

This is a subject of IMMENSE proportions! Entire books and courses of study, heck, even full-on philosophies have been dedicated to the subject of bike fit. Like training, bike fit is one of those “religion and politics” subjects in the world of cycling.

We’re planning a series of bike fit posts here at StartConfident, including a video with a qualified expert in the art of science of bike fit. But, to get you started with some VERY general tips:

  • If you are serious about getting started in racing, make the investment in a professional bike fit. I know…you’re thinking, “But a bike fit is just a way for a shop to sell me a new bike.” In some cases, I won’t lie — you’ll run into that. And when you don’t know what you don’t know, it can be hard to know when you’re being taken advantage of. Let your gut be your guide when talking with the fitter. Talk to more than one. And take note of the following specific points.
  • It’s all about the frame. Yes, your handlebar stem and seatpost will allow for some imperfections in frame size, but only to a point. Learn if your frame is the right size, or not. Keep reading…
  • The length of the bike’s top tube is of more importance than the length of the seat tube. In other words, reach will be more important than height. Many bike designs have shifted away from precise centimeter by centimeter sizing and adopted a “small, medium, large” approach. That way, the bike shop, fitter, and bike owner can “dial in” their own fit — to a point — with seat posts, stems, and bars. A VERY general guideline here is that your bike’s top tube should allow a proper fit with handlebar stems that range from 90mm to 120mm. With your saddle height set appropriately, you should be able to have a slight bend in the elbow when your hands are resting on the brake hoods. If you’re too stretched out, or too cramped within this range, your bike’s frame probably won’t work for you.
  • Regardless of how much or how little seatpost is sticking up out of the frame (that is, without exceeding it’s maximum indicated length for safety) your knees should also have a very slight bend when your foot is extended to the 6 o’clock position in the crank.
  • When seated on the bike, your knees should generally be positioned vertically over the pedal spindle. Your fore or aft position on the bike, as far as the saddle’s ability to travel on its rails is concerned, shouldn’t have to be at it’s maximum position, either way.
  • “Contact points,” that is, saddles, pedals, bars, and brake hoods, are very individualized, as well. Comfort is key. Ideally, your position on the bike allows you to get maximum leverage on the pedals by positioning your center of gravity nearly equally between the wheels.
  • Want to spend some geek time with a friend and a measuring tape? Check out Competitive Cyclist’s fit calculator. You’ll begin to get a feeling about your bike’s current frame appropriateness, and the ranges of saddle height and stem adjustment you may need to make. But again: GET A PROFESSIONAL FIT.


NEXT POST: Slippin’ and slidin’ — smooth bearings.

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”]Question: Most of us have experienced living with a less-than-perfect fit. Tell us your war stories. What fit issues are you struggling with. And if you HAVE every had a professional fit, tell us about that experience![/icon_box]

Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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