Some questions from a new (road) cyclist...

by sergius   April 29, 2014  

Hi Folks,

I've recently caught the road cycling bug since picking up a road bike back in November. I've been riding MTBs for years (downhill and x-country), albeit with a 12+ year gap since I left university. I got myself a new MTB a couple of years ago which was great, I found myself doing a 35 mile commute with knobbly tyres which was a lot of work - it didn't take long for me to move onto slicks and then fall to the dark side completely by buying a road bike.

A change of job has meant that I can't commute on the bike anymore (80 miles a day through London isn't practical for me), but I find myself riding more and more on the weekends. I've been increasing distances from a quick 30 mile loop of Box Hill a couple of months ago to 60-80 mile rides more recently, with a couple of Sportives thrown in for good measure.

I've a couple of questions if I may:

1) Lower back and Trapesius pain. I'm not sure if this is just a "ride more" thing or my bike adjustment; essentially once I go over 3-4 hours on the bike I start to get very sore shoulders (trapesius specifically) and lesser soreness in the lower back. It disappears immediately once I finish, but can feel quite debilitating after 5-6 hours. The lower back has been a little better since I've been focusing more on core and back exercises in the gym, but the shoulder pain isn't really getting much better with additional gym training. I'm rather loathe to drop £200+ on a professional bike fitting at my LBS without any guarantee that it will fix things - though it could be an option. My bike is a 2013 Cube Agree GTC, it says "race geometry" on it, but none of the reviews I saw mentioned anything particular about aggressive geometry or anything like that (though there were some mentions of the reviewer finding the Easton EA30 bars uncomfortable). Is this just a more-miles thing that will get better over time, or is this something I should play around with tweaking the configuration of the bike over? Does anyone have any thoughts over professional bike fitting versus trial and error along with internet research?

2) Braking. Road bike brakes really aren't great are they?? As someone who is used to hydraulic disk brakes, I'm finding the poor braking performance quick disconcerting. I already upgraded the base Tiagra pads to some after-market Koolstop ones (salmon-black), which improved things a bit in the dry, but made no difference in the wet. I did the Wiggle Up and Downs Sportive last weekend and it was very wet, I was quite horrified at how bad my brakes were coming down some of the descents. Is this just the way it is without disk brakes? Would upgrading the calipers make an appreciable difference? Sanding the rims slightly (do people do that anymore, I used to 20 years ago..).

Cheers for any help,

7 user comments

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Get a bike fit done. Can recommend the Specialized BG one, we paid £80 as an intro price, RRP at our LBS is £120. Spend it once, enjoy ever after. You might get lucky and never have an injury or strain, but I doubt it.

Road brakes are indeed crap c/w MTB. This is why many are eagerly awaiting their descent into the budgets of mere mortals. They are already appearing on £1k bikes.

Pads make a difference. Keep them and your rims clean - Green Scotchbrite pads are good for removing crap. Different calipers might make a difference. As might new brake cables (less friction = more power to the rim).

Other opinions, possibly complete contradictions are available and will appear below Smile

I was told there would be Cake. Luckily there's http://TestValleyCC.org.uk

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posted by KiwiMike [434 posts]
29th April 2014 - 18:15

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get a good bike fit, I'd highly recommend the Specialized Body Geometry FIT as I've had 2 now - one for my 56cm Allez which was slightly too large, and one for my 54cm Tarmac which is a much better size for me at 5'10".

My next bike will be a 54cm Roubaix SL4 as I don't race, and like doing lots of long distance miles on bad UK roads where my Tarmac is quick but punishing!

pain is pain, if you still suffer after a good bike fitting session, then perhaps look at changing your bike, as there is only so much the bike fitter can do in terms of sizing your existing bike to meet your needs.

Often, the length of the head tube and available fork steerer limit can limit the reach/stack unless you start running short / higher rise stem which tend to mess up the bike handling. Race bikes are often optimized for performance rather than comfort which means you feel every bump and crease in the road, which does not help...

Some people don't get on with "race" geometry bikes and would benefit from the more relaxed geometry of a sportive bike with a taller head tube and shorter reach.

I find myself in this category having had several shoulder dislocations from extreme sports (including lots of DH / FR) and would prefer a slightly shorter reach bike than my current Tarmac. If I do a century I tend to get shoulder pain after about 50 miles, which can often cause a head ache by the 100 mile mark.

I have dabbled with running shorter stems than my current 90mm but the handling was terrible. I've borrowed a 54cm Roubaix SL4 and found the ride much better without the shoulder pain developing.

In terms of braking, I have not had any issues with my road bike.

I use good quality brakes (Shimano Ultegra) with genuine Shimano Dura Ace brake pads on Mavic Open Pro rims which are cleaned every week with degreaser and once a month with a Mavic rim rubber.

The brake pads are also regularly faced with grit paper and then cleaned with Iso Alcohol and replaced as they wear. Have ridden in pissing rain on steep hills and never any issues with stopping power.

My other bike is a mountain bike with Avid Elixir 7 disc brakes as a comparison Wink

posted by hampstead_bandit [117 posts]
29th April 2014 - 18:51

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Recently upgraded to full on ultegra (everything is ultegra... even the wheels!!)

brakes are 1000% better than my old shimano brakes

posted by Harryb2996 [20 posts]
29th April 2014 - 20:36

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Know you don't want to hear this but +1 for a full bike fit. I had probs with upper back and trapezius/neck pain with my old bike (very aggressive cockpit as it was an aero triathlon bike) and getting fitted help by adjusting the stack and reach. It could be that your reach and/or stack are just a little off (reach too long or stack too low) so over time/on long rides you feel the strain of pushing your torso too far forward for comfort/your personal level of flexibility. A few spacers or even switching to a slightly shorter stem could be all you need but it's much easier to do with someone that knows what they're doing and can see you in position on the bike. Worst case scenario is that your top tube is too long but your fitter can sometimes find ways around that Low back pain could be a bunch of different things, saddle position, how upright or pushed back you are, .... IMO, the extra money on a proper bike fit so that you can ride your bike for the joy of it instead of things getting to the point where you start curtailing your rides or even dreading going out because you're anticipating paying the price with a knotted up back and shoulders is worth it.

Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. ~James E. Starrs

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posted by movingtarget [127 posts]
29th April 2014 - 23:44

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When you say you ride for 5-6 hours... you do know there's no shame in getting off and having a good old stretch of the back and legs every hour or two? That always helped me immensely in the days of back pain. Life isn't a TT.

posted by chokofingrz [247 posts]
30th April 2014 - 2:01

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You have gone from a more upright position on the MTB to a more aero position on a road bike. So your body is in a period of adjustment.

Getting a bike fit is a very good idea. If you get you position wrong now it is likely that you will cause strains that could take a long time to ease.

The resolution will probably be a combination of bike fit and body conditioning. When you look at the road bike position it can stretch out the upper back a great deal in comparison to MTB.

So you could probably benefit from some upper back exercises, particularly around the scapula (shoulder blades). You state that you have already been working on your core which is excellent. Make sure you are not just doing sit ups, there are many core exercises that work different zones in the core. Normal exercises with a core element will really work your core, example; dumbbell chest press on a swiss ball.

posted by Martyn_K [26 posts]
30th April 2014 - 9:29

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Many thanks for the responses folks,

It sounds like the BG Fit is a worthwhile investment. There's a Specialized Concept Store down the road in Kingston, and the £120 they charge is a bit more reasonable than the £200+ my LBS charge.

I've heard a few times that braking performance improves as you move up the range with the calipers (i.e. Ultegra is way better than Tiagra). I'm trying to avoid upgrading my new bike piecemeal, I'm far more likely to buy myself a higher end machine in a year or two once I've worn my wife down (or persuaded her that she should start riding and give her my current bike). I'll take onboard some of the brake maintenance tips and do some work on them this weekend, I'd not come across the rim-rubber stuff before - sounds interesting.

Another completely left-field question: My bike has a double chainset, I recall a colleague telling me that his LBS told him that "you'll never be able to use every gear on the rear cassette without rubbing". Essentially telling him that you are limited to gears 1-7 while in the small ring at the front, and 3-10 while in the large ring. I read that DI2 adjusts the front derailleur to prevent rubbing which again points to this.

I was fine with this until last weekend, when I noticed a number of riders using the large ring at the front and the low gears on the rear cassette with no rubbing that I could hear. Is this hearsay and I can adjust my gears better, or is this just the way it works?

Cheers,

posted by sergius [25 posts]
30th April 2014 - 9:52

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