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Dear Frank: Judgement day

Frank Strack
31 Mar 2016

Frank Strack explains how you should assess the machinery of your fellow riders and ensure your opinions are wholly justified

Dear Frank, 

I admit to judging other riders by the bike they ride, but now I’m in the market for a new bike of my own I’m worried about being judged in return. Is there a Rule I can follow to ensure I get the right bike for me? 

Chris, via email

Dear Chris,

There is no Rule here, other than Rule #43: Don’t Be A Jackass. We are Cyclists. We are not savages. And while savages set about beating each other with blunt objects, Cyclists set about judging one another with our opinions. This is normal. We weigh this word judgement with such leaden meaning, but in reality it is a natural part of our being. I can hardly look at a grain of rice without judging whether it is too cooked for me to eat it; why should a stranger’s bicycle be any different?

When I judge another Cyclist, it is based more on their fit on their bicycle and the care they’ve taken to maintain it, than the brand name on the frame. To me, the most disgraceful things in Cycling are a neglected machine and a poorly fitted rider to machine. After all, regardless of your budget, you can take care of your bike, and you can take care to ride your bike in a good position.

Beyond these factors, I have opinions of what brands appeal to me and what brands don’t. To be honest, these change with the seasons, depending on their current designs and which riders are riding and winning on what. What remains constant, however, is the rider’s position on the machine, and how they ride it. This, I would argue, is on what we might judge one another. 

A good position is one of balance between opposing forces; a rider should exhibit grace, power and ease upon their bicycle. They can reach the bars without stretching out too much, yet they are not hunched over. The legs turn the cranks easily, with the saddle height adjusted such that their rump sits solidly in the saddle and the leg is gracefully extended as it sweeps through the bottom of the stroke. Finally, the bars are at such a height that they are neither sitting upright nor are they bent forward like a swimmer on the starting block.

These three factors – saddle height, bar reach and bar height – are those by which your bicycle should be chosen. Your crank length should be a principle decision when it comes to deciding your frame size, which is something I’ve never heard any frame fitter tell me. What size crank arm can you comfortably turn? The longer the crank, the more leverage; the shorter, the more power. Pick one that doesn’t make your knees hurt and that matches your riding style. The crank length will factor into the distance from pedal to your saddle’s top. 

And don’t be afraid to experiment with counter-intuitive solutions to physiological problems. For most of my life, I suffered from lower back pain when riding. All recommendations involved raising the bars to cure the condition, but to no avail. Finally, I dropped them all the way down and the pain went away. Similarly, my partner suffered from shoulder pain for many years before we stretched her out beyond what any frame fitter suggested and her pain went away. We sometimes need to challenge convention when finding the position that best fits us. 

Don’t judge a rider for the bike they ride, judge them for how they ride it. And, if you have input, always remember Rule #43; we are all brothers and sisters on the road.

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