Stem length, handle bar width and the road bicycle.

For all the bluster about pro fits and laser sighted saddle adjustments there is a real lack of entirety to the compendium of knowledge on how to properly size and adjust a road bike.

I’ve been studying this subject pretty in-depth for a few years and have never seen a mention of using handlebar width to adjust the cockpit length. Yet, this is commonly known on mountain bikes. If you see a thread about going to wider flat bars over at MTBR the automatic advice is to shorten the stem.

Start the same topic in a road-focused forum and it’s a bunch of outdated nonsense about breathing, shoulder width and junk like that.

Of course an increase in MTB handlebar width is often 4-5 inches whereas most road changes are on the order of 1-3 inches. Even if the changes are smaller I still think there is an easily noticed effect from changing your road handlebar width.

This has been bouncing around in my head for a while. I had a State Warhawk a few years ago that I hated when I first rode with the 44cm bars. When I changed to a much narrower 38cm I found the bike a joy to ride, it climbed better and seemed to fit me better. These observations have slowly been working through my brain and today I swapped out the 43cm bars on my road bike for 38cm bars. This is a 5cm difference, almost exactly 2 inches. I didn’t change anything else, just the handlebars. Stem, shifter position and overall bar profile is exactly the same. How’d it go?

To really answer that I need to jump back to when I first purchased the frame. Soma sizing is ridiculous. Very long and very low, done that way to decrease the amount of tubing and save weight so the spec sheet looks good. It’s really frustrating, I most likely won’t ever purchase a Soma again. Especially since one of their interactionaries to the online cycling world is such a dumbass.

Anyway, I bought a Soma, regretted it and actually wanted to sell before my awesome Performance brand DX350 cracked it’s chainstay. So I reluctantly built the DCD up and have been riding it for about 5 months. It’s ok, fits like shit cause it’s a Soma but works and when it inevitably cracks at one of the welds I’ll order a new London Road from Planet-X so fast my modem will be smoking. Ok, so the DX350 fit perfectly and the Soma was too long. Too long by maybe 1.5-2cm and the handlebars are too low.

I accounted for this the best I could by flipping my stem and thinking about doing planks to build my core. This was early in the year so I’ve go about 3-4 months with the DCD fitting ok, most of my rides have been less than 3 hours so it’s nothing really that would expose a poor fit. Gearing up for adventure season, I go out on a 6 hour walkabout this past Friday and have some issues with my hands, feel like I’m riding on bone for the last 2 hours. Way too much weight on my hands, can’t get comfy even on the tops. This almost always signals the reach is too long. Often not by much but enough that once real fatigue sets in after the 4 hour mark things get uncomfortable fast.

Just to give you an idea of how much I loved the DX350 and how well it fit, the second week I started riding it I went on a 9 hour ride with no issues. It just worked for me. So hand issues are unusual for me. I’m irked but maybe think it’s due to the weather or my fitness or pretty much anything else.

As I’m laying around eating chips  yesterday a little voice in my head tells me to swap the handlebars. I originally installed the 43s as I was doing double duty with this bike as a gravel grinder and wider bars are significantly better on loose gravel and singletrack. However, now that I have a dedicated gravel racing bike there’s no reason to ride 43s on the road.


So I swapped the bars and went for a ride and the difference was very noticeable. The whole steering area (ugh…cockpit) is slightly closer and the bike just fits better. I am cautiously optimistic, have to wait until the next weekend to get in a 6+ hour dinger to really confirm but this stupid Soma just seems to fit now. Narrower bars also seem better for the 650b conversion, climbing feels more spritely and less see-saw back and forth. Cornering and such are about the same.

What’s really interesting is you can even test and see the effects of a small change by doing the following. If you have a laptop or computer monitor, sit in front of it. Push it far enough away that you can just reach the edge of each side of the screen with your arms out and index fingers extended. Concentrate on keeping your upper body still and slowly move your fingers to the center of the screen. Even just move your fingers in an inch or so and then lean forward and touch the screen. I was pretty blown away by how much reach changes over a small distance. Which explains why the Soma now fits.

So I’m pretty excited, I was ready to sell this bike for a loss and tell everyone I know not to buy a Soma cause their geo is so fucked. Now I don’t have to sell the bike for a loss!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s