Short stem leads to awkward position
Lee, I am 5′ 9″ guy working to dial in his fit on an 18″ El Mariachi frame. I began with a 75mm stem and low rise bars. Felt a bit too much forward weight bias, had trouble lofting the front end over curbs and logs, lacked room to move about on the bike. Decided to try 60mm, then 70mm, and settled for awhile on 50mm stem with higher rise bars. (All my bars are 690mm).
The 50mm stem leaves me plenty of room for forward and backward movement. Yet when I’m just pedaling cross-country, I feel too bolt-upright on the bike. I don’t like that feel. Last night I put on a 70mm stem and low-rise bars, and will give that combination a go.
Do I accept that a short stem for maneuvering will result in an awkward position when just pedaling along? Should I move up one frame size, to a large? Should I work on my flexibility so as to better move about with a longer stem?
I know I have to experiment to find what works. Am just curious if you have any wisdom to offer here.
Thanks for the note.
In general, a shorter cockpit improves range of motion and, thus, handling.
It also gives you a more upright seated position, especially if you insist on riding with straight arms. Based on the bike “fits” I see here in Boulder, there is apparently a rule that states all riding must be performed with straight arms.
Each of your arms has a hinge in it. It’s called an “elbow.” Bend it.
As you bend your arms, rotate your hips and torso forward until you find an agreeable position for seated pedaling power. You’ll find your upper body in the same position as with a classic “fit,” but your arms will be bent, and you’ll be able to rip.
Bend your elbows and rotate your torso forward? Crazy talk.
I’m working on an ebook about bike fit for people who actually Ride (capital R). Stay tuned.
Know more. Have more fun!
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Thanks Lee. That last para before the photo helps. I believe I can picture what you’re getting at. Will give it a go.
I may be guilty of doing some riding in the little-r sense. I capital-R Repent of my little-r riding. XD
I’ve been having a lot of fun this year on two rigid bikes. One is an old, Gary Fisher Tassajara 26er frame that I threw together with a Surly Instigator fork as a winter bike and then kept on riding into the summer. The configuration seems to encourage the attack position and discourages sitting. I have not yet been able to replicate that seem feel to the El Mar.
Put me first inline for your new book. Seriously.
Jonathan, sweet. I’m glad this was helpful.
A steep old 26 rigid bike will definitely encourage, how shall we put it, “active” riding. Rip or be punished!
Thinking more about this, it was a long ride with a friend on easy doubletrack (think fireroad riding) that led me to write with my question. That’s part of my dilemma here: Do I configure the El Mariachi (also rigid at the moment) for dirt roads, or for technical singletrack?
That’s really a question for me to answer, but I’ve been struggling w/it since I’ve built the bike. The question goes to what tires to use, what fork to run, stem length, etc.
Doubletrack in my county is about as non-technical as one can get, yet that is what I’m on quite a bit during the week because that’s what is essentially outside my door, and it is what my friend likes to ride.
Am I better off with a longer stem for fireroad riding? Is there merit to having one bike for dirt-road riding and a different bike (with short stem) for singletrack? If all I’m doing is pedaling down flat and smooth doubletrack is there any advantage to running a short stem?
May I suggest you have a study of dropper posts in your e-book on bike fit? I recently purchased a new bike that came with a dropper post. It took me a bit of research on bike fit and trial and error to find a maximum saddle height and fore-aft position of the saddle to not get pain behind the knee…
If I am just fire-road riding, which I often am, is there still an advantage to running a short stem? Or does it make sense to configure one bike for fire roads and another for singletrack?
I’ve been trying to use the same bike for two different types of riding. Maybe I should sort that out and go one way or the other with it.
If Bike A is only being ridden on mellow fire roads, you might as well set it up in a more traditional road/XC position.
Bike B can be set up for ripping.
Looking forward to your book Lee.
The ride that motivated me to write in was a fire road ride w/a friend. Lots more of that where I live than singletrack.
Yesterday evening’s ride was the anti-mellow: tight and twisty singletrack that strongly motivated the attack position.
I’m looking forward to the book!
Is there any chance it’ll be available in print?
You might also want to try to ‘flip’ a given stem length, so that it drops down a bit. To get the fit right on my 29er (a Kona Honzo), I have found that the regular rise of my stem puts the bar to high up in relation to your saddle (since the saddle is still -pretty much- the same height up from the BB, your legs didn’t grow when you got a 29’er).
When that worked good for me, a 720 millimeter wide and flat handlebar with no rise (but proper sweep and tilt) made the fit even better (meaning a little less higher up).
Always love your articles and photos, and constantly learning from you. I look forward to your bike fit book as well as we get lots of questions about bike fit, and would be good to have a thorough guide to refer to. Thanks for all you do for the sport!
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