The Endless Tweak

When I bought my new Colnago I studiously got as much information as I could on its geometry (Colnago famously doesn’t give everything away) and stood it up against the Bianchi. What I thought I ended up with was a frame that was similar to the old bike in its main dimensions, with the top tube being .5 cm longer and the headset a tad shorter. Anyway, as close as I could get.

I set up the new bike as near as I could to replicate the old fit, but lo and behold, it wasn’t quite right. I remember going through this process with the Bianchi years ago, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise, but still, it’s a pain (normally in the back of the leg behind the knee).

What amazes me to no end are the near-infinite combinations of bits and pieces that all have to be just right to make my ride the joy I know it should be. Here are the big ones:

1. Saddle height. The most important measurement, I suppose, and one that you’d think would be simple to get. Think again because it’s not, at least for me, and is not an isolated measurement, but contingent on how you have #2 set up. If I get this off it’s either pain in the tendon under the patella or a burning sensation behind the knee. If you think there is a universally accepted measurement for this baby, try Googling ‘saddle height fit’, but make sure you’ve brewed a big coffee first. You’ve just entered a black hole you may not escape from soon.

2. Saddle set-back. This is the horizontal distance from the bottom bracket to the either the tip or the back of the saddle, measured by dropping a plum line down. This one is crucial for my knee and I find that just a few mm on the ‘wrong’ side, either way, will lead to unhappiness.


3. Saddle-Handlebars. This one is controversial, it seems. It is the distance between the tip (or back) of the saddle to the middle of your bars. It is not horizontal, but the actual distance, therefore not taking into consideration #3 below. If I get this wrong it can lead to wrist, arm, back and shoulder blade pain.

4. Saddle-Bars Drop. The vertical distance between the top of the saddle and the top of the bars. You determine this by measuring from the floor up to both of these places, then subtracting the difference. My bike shop doesn’t like this one, preferring a measurement from the hub of the front wheel to the middle of the bars, which should transfer from bike to bike, I guess. I’m not sure about the ‘right’ position here. It’s not like the saddle position, where my legs will hurt no matter what. This one, I can say from experience, can be brought down, spacer by spacer, and for me at least, the pain in the neck you get goes away after a few rides. I have no spacers on either bike.

I mentioned my amazement above. Now that I have written all this I’m even more freaked out that until 2010 I put more or less ZERO thought into any of this, even though I had cycled (slowly) extensively for years. I guess I was younger, more flexible and with better knees.

The tweaking continues…

27 thoughts on “The Endless Tweak

  1. Gerry, me thinks you are a very good candidate for a bike fitting with your bike (more money!). That said I have never had one myself preferring to tweek once I have the initial set up as per all my bikes.🚴 Are you over complicating the issue?

  2. I haven’t had a “professional”( with lasers and such hehe) but my bike shop did do what they called a “basic fit”(this may just be what they have coined this process for them).

    I mention this because all of the things you just went over were the things they concentrated on- they also covered angles of the knee at 3 o’clock and 6 clock- in relation to the center of the pedal. They also measured and adjusted the show cleats to “get them to the right area”.

    I am researching and learning more and more. But basically we ended up swapping out no less than 3 different pieces of the bike for other parts with different measurements.
    Mathis process took about an hour, as they made me ride for several minutes after each adjustment.

    I think this has contributed to my “comfy rides” so far haha.

    You may want to check with your shop and see if they will help you out with this. 🙂 cheers.

    • It’s good advice, ‘new guy’. I have done extensive research into fit in the past, though, and to be honest, I have not had great experiences with other people telling me what I need to do on the bike. I just don’t think anyone knows your body like you do. But I could be wrong. It’s happened before!

      • Agreed. My experiences(and they are very limited with my newb-ness lol) have mostly shown me to listen to what my body tells me. I do think that there can be some good science or goals when using a “fit” method. Things like ensuring a position where you aren’t stretched out or compressed into a smaller area than you need.

        I have heard all sorts of horror stories about how someone got a fit and they were worse off than before they got it. Although it depends on the rider and bike and the fitter, I think it also has something to do with how “you” like to feel on the bike.

        Whether that is the same as others or your own personal style is the key I guess.

        I haven’t paid for a fit specifically, but I do plan on it sometime in the future, as i accumulate more miles.

        In then end, as long as I can ride when I want to ride, however long I want to ride, I think I will be happy.

  3. Gerry..I know you and I have chatted about this…I feel that a proper bike fitting might make your life much easier…There’s a method called Retül that I understand is quite good. I have been fortunate to be fitted by a an ex-pro, but I know folks that have had this done and are happier for it. It will certainly furnish you with a position that may be perfect or at least a great neutral starting point for minor tweaks. Thats just my opinion..I could be wrong.

    • You must be right because everyone’s suggesting the same thing! I might do a fit someday, maybe sooner than later if I can’t get the bike dialed in.

  4. I was fortunate and pretty much got my bike off the rack. I did all the measurements that Canyon offered and they came up with their small bike size(shortish legs with longer upper body). My pride was having a little problem with the small size so when I tried it I was a bit squished on the bike. The medium fit was much better for my upper body and lowering the seat still left a couple lines showing on the seatpost 🙂 (do they make cleat lifts) All I’ve needed thus far has been slight adjusting on the seatpost,but I’ve only got a few hundred km on it. I know you’ve talked about your knee problems in the past so I would have to agree with the others and get a pro assessment. Then it should only be a matter of tweaking it a little bit. However, now that I’ve mentioned cleats, I did have issues with positioning my new cleats with them giving me some knee problem. So it is not always all about the bike.

    • When you had the small frame (the same one they put me on when I did their sizing, btw) what length of stem did you have on the bike? I deliberated over getting a slightly larger frame, too (also with the Bianchi), but went with longer stem instead (120 mm) to stretch out the ‘scrunch’.

  5. Hello Gerry,when i saw the picture of your new bike my first thought was that it looked like a long stretch between the saddle and the hoods and from the action photos i’ve seen of you the hoods seem to be where you hold on most of the time so perhaps the the measurement to the top of the bars is not relevant , the curve shape of the bars can also add distance even if stems are the same. Maybe you could swap these with those on the Bianchi and see how that feels.

    • You’re definitely onto something here, Andrew! I’m not sure if it’d solve my fit issues, but the handlebar I bought is not what I should have, i.e. a carbon version of what I have on the Bianchi. There’s a lot I don’t like about it, so I’ll have to see about a replacement. Thanks for the insightful comment.

  6. Hey Gerry… I’m laughing at our shared misery… I had the full Specialized fitting done – video, lasers, hell he even checked my flexibility to make sure he could make my bike fit the way I wanted to ride… It took 3 hours. In the end, he lowered my saddle two millimeters. Now, I went from a 5200 standard frame to a Venge compact frame so the two geometries make it impossible to set both bikes up with where everything ends up in the same place (saddle, hoods, etc) AND get the 5200 to “feel” like the Venge. It’s like trying to get a jaguar to feel like a Porsche. Wheelbase may be the same length, but everything else is too different.

    In the end, my Venge is my ‘A’ bike, the bike I ride the most so I got that one fitted and ride it almost all of the time. For the 5200, I just messed with that until it was bearable to ride. It’ll never be as good as the Venge but it’s good enough for Government work.

    Long story long, as you put more miles on your Colnago, that will become the setup you’re used to… The Bianchi will end up feeling odd in the long run.

    Getting a pro fitting done never hurts though.

    • Your Jaguar point is well taken. I guess if I’d wanted my Colnago to feel like my Bianchi I could have saved myself a bunch of money! I’m already feeling like it’s getting dialed in, slowly but surely, and yes, it’s beginning to feel like my main ride. The process is both frustrating and hugely educational, I have to say.

  7. What fun you keen cyclists have. But I know to my cost what a very small difference can make to agonising pain in my knees so I hope that you settle in to the correct position before too long.

  8. Yep, a black hole, it is… 🙂 I’ll send you an email about this later, but if you don’t hear from me in the next couple of days, remind me.

  9. I think bike fitting in general can be over rated Gerry. There is SO much on the subject that some of it can actually be counter-intuitive. The main thing to keep in mind is that every single individual is completely different. Most bike fitters tend to use a text-book setup methodology that only really works for a small amount of riders.

    And then there is the ‘racer’ mentality versus the club rider versus the long distance rider, etc. A one-size fits all type of fit no longer applies across the board. Along with the standard setup recommendations, Browns, k.O.P.S. and other methods, you want to take a look at Steve Hogg’s methods. Very interesting indeed.

    After years of tinkering, (and settings will always change as we age. I.E.- less mobility as we get older, perhaps injuries, etc. Bike setup will always be in flux as our bodies are. I also find that my cold weather settings aren’t as comfortable as my warm and hot weather settings. I think because my body is more limber and my muscles can adapt easier in the warmth. I just don’t feel as comfortable in the cold. I tend to move the saddle forward about 1cm-2cm and lower by about 1cm in the cold weather months. It makes it just that bit easier on the neck and shoulders for me.

    I found that using the ‘triangle’ of the bike to get a baseline works best for me (bars to saddle nose, saddle to bb, bb up to bars) to initially dial in the settings. Then it is a matter of COMPROMISE, plain and simple. You get measurements as close as you can, but you have be comfortable on the bike and not risk injury due to overextending a part of your body. Comfort and safety first, optimal power/speed second…


    • I agree with you Geo and I know this is why I haven’t gone in for a pro fit…yet. That said, the ‘heretic’ in Sydney looks like a guy I’d like to visit if I could afford him!

      • I’m with ya Gerry. But following some of his tips might be helpful. I did move my cleats all the way back on my shoes, so more of my foot is over the pedal. I have absolutely noticed a difference in efficiency. I can apply more power with the same perceived effort. Over the years, I have always made adjustments that were almost the opposite of the so-called experts recommendations. When my neck hurt, I raised up the bars. Shoulders and-or wrists, I closed the saddle nose to bar gap slightly. After years of fiddling with the adjustments, I have found the sweet spot for my physiology. You will to, following the basic premise of of if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right- for you. 😉

  10. I was off the bike for almost a month just looking for the perfect saddle and seat post. Clearly when I switched to a new frame the old ones don’t mix. It was very uncomfortable and took me a while to find the right one. These things can’t be overlooked at. But it’s like getting to know you’re bicycle more in a different way.

    • I’m now onto bars, which you’d think would be pretty simple things. Not a chance! I didn’t put enough thought into the new ones I got for the Colnago and I’m suffering the circumstances. Is all good with your fit now, Chyrel?

  11. Gerry, I love your desire to do it yourself. I’m a big believer in that (plus it can save a lot of money). But, (and its a big booty butt) there are some things that are beyond the average mortal cyclist and benefit from a pro who’s done something hundreds and hundreds of times. My experience (and the health of your knees) suggests a professional bike fitting can be worth every penny. The key is finding the right fitter. If you can find someone you can believe in, I’d encourage you to get professionally fit. To your health(y knees). Steve

    • I appreciate the comment, Steve. I will keep fiddling with it myself and if nothing works i have some ideas on who I’d like to have a fit done by now (thanks to commenters like you).

      I just got onto your site again and have it bookmarked now. You’ve done a lot of work on it. Looks like a great resource.

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