James Thomas is a very shouty bicycle fitter often featured on Francis Cade’s YouTube channel. In a recent video he suggested a couple of things that might help improve my ride comfort. (I’m sure he would be the first to say — quite loudly — that he’s not advising me of anything without a proper fitting, and I am not claiming he’s made these suggestions with me in mind.)
The first point that struck home was about riders with their handlebars cocked upwards, or who regularly ride with their hands pulled back a couple of centimeters from the hoods. Both of those describe me, ever since I accidentally set Kuroko’s handlebars on an upward slant and discovered it reduced my saddle soreness.
James’s diagnosis: Try a shorter handlebar stem.
The second point was that I may have my cleats too far forward. I’ve got them so the balls of my feet are centered over the pedal spindles. “1975 called,” James said, “and they want their pedal position back.” Well, it’s true that I learned about the balls-of-the-feet position back in the ’70s. So anyway I decided to try riding with my cleats a bit farther back.
I’ve been riding with a Deda Zero100 stem for more than three years, since I decided I wanted my bars a bit higher. The stem mounts at an angle, for riders to reduce their handlebar height and achieve a better aerodynamic crouch. By mounting it upside-down I got the opposite effect.
So I looked for a similar stem, but a bit shorter. The Deda is 100mm, and after a bit of searching I found a Shimano Pro model with a similar angle but only 70mm long.
As soon as I started the swap, I realized I’d have to remove the Di2 junction box from the old stem and move it to the new. I poked and prodded at it for a bit and then went back inside and looked up the dealers service manual. The junction box pulls off to the side, and then the strap can be removed.
Then before I continued I’d need something to prevent the fork falling out of the frame once I removed the stem. After a moment’s thought I dug through the toolbox for an old-school toe strap (I literally only have some because they’re good for tasks like this). And then I decided I’d be better off working with the front wheel on the ground anyway, so I took the bike out of the stand. (In the end I may have been better off keeping it in the stand but lowering it enough that the wheel was touching the floor.)
I expected the new stem to be a few grams lighter than the old as it’s smaller, but it turned out to be a few grams heavier. Nothing of course that will be noticeable. The difference amounts to a couple of stem bolts.
As I noted when I installed the Deda, “I could have used three or four hands to get the handlebar into the new stem and get the bolts in and tightened up … ” I worked it out by myself in the end and spent some extra time eyeballing the alignment before tightening everything to spec. Getting the junction box back in place also took some thought. It’s quite crowded with the shorter stem, and the front brake line gets in the way as well. But we got there in the end.
Before calling it a day I put the bike back in the stand one last time and ran through the gears, just to make sure I hadn’t messed up anything with the Di2 shifting.
If the shoe fits
James said moving the cleats back can reduce numbness. It will also make the saddle effectively higher (maybe a couple of millimeters?). I don’t have much of an issue with numbness, but I decided to have a go. I thought this would take 30 seconds per shoe, but I was fumble-fingered the whole time. As with the handlebars and stem, I got there in the end.
I have an issue with toe overlap, where my toes can rub against the front wheel during low-speed turns, and this will make the situation worse. So I’ll have to be on my toes …
Not comfort, but wear
I had one more goal since I had Kuroko out in the Workshop in the Sky. While I’m riding I see a lot of the front tire, and it’s been showing no sign of wear. But on my last ride, I sat down for lunch with Kuroko propped against a nearby tree with the rear tire facing me. And I immediately noticed that the rear tire tread has been wearing. Not enough to consider replacing yet, but I decided to swap the front and rear tires and get the most life out of the pair that way.
I actually did the tire swap before any of the other work, but it was a minor addendum to the changes intended to improve my bicycle fit. And in terms of struggling with the junction box and the handlebar mounting — to say nothing of the cleat bolts — it was a very straightforward affair.
The forecast for tomorrow is sunny and warmer. I’m planning a ride to see if these changes add up to more comfort in the saddle.