Monday, September 3, 2012

Re-Learning What I Thought I Knew: I CAN Ride Drop Bars!

In the summer of 2009, my darling Sam picked up a road bike for me from a Craigslist ad. At the time, I had been riding upright/city style bikes and enjoying my slow pace around town. When I started daydreaming about long rides for exercise, touring, and so on, Sam decided to take matters into his own hands and found me a mid-70s Raleigh Super Course to try out, rather than spending hundreds or even thousands on something that, potentially, I may not have ever touched. When he brought it home my initial reaction was split: I was thrilled at the opportunity to ride a road bike (I hadn't been on one since childhood), but I was terrified of the position on the bike and the handlebars. Surprisingly, things went pretty well... except, that is, for the drop bars.

The bike was large for me, so we chucked it up to sizing issues and moved on down the road to the next choice. Even though the bike that followed was sized properly for me, I just couldn't seem to make any kind of drop bar work. I tried a variety of them, but every time I would be in so much pain, that I'd end up not riding for a week or more. I had tried classic style (code: old) drop bars, noodle bars, randonneur bars, but nothing seemed to help me find a position that worked. Ultimately, I gave up on the idea and just started looking for an alternative. The one that worked best for me was the albatross handlebar, and so, for the last couple of years, that has been my go-to choice for any bicycle - even road bikes. I've done just fine with them and travelled well enough that I came to the realization that every bike I'd ever own would have these bars. I even have a "spare" set -"just in case." Sick, I know.
The "usual" bicycle for long or organized rides
Still, I couldn't help but have some drop bar envy when I'd see folks pedaling by. In reality, there are simply more hand positions on this type of handlebar, and knowing that I do have hand/wrist issues to contend with, I stubbornly kept trying to make some kind of drop bar work for me. After each attempt and subsequent failure, I would return the set up to the albatross bar and let out a huge sigh. "I guess this is just what I'm destined to ride," I'd constantly try to reassure myself. I had switched out the handlebars on the newer Homer bicycle at least half a dozen times, convinced that I could make the drop bars happen. With my last attempt I told Sam, "Let's just put them on and leave them for an extended period of time and see what happens. I'll start riding them on short trips and just see if it's all in my head, or if there's some possible way to make these work." And so, we did. We set up the Homer with the randonneur bars, and I figured I'd slowly allow myself to try them out without the pressure of having to do a long distance ride.
Ah, but fate had other plans. The evening before my recent Venus de Miles ride, we had an incident with the Hillborne which left me without a saddle/seatpost. As we desperately tried to figure out how to resolve the problem so late on the eve prior to the ride, Sam and I looked at each other already knowing what this meant: I'd be riding the dreaded drop bars on an unfamiliar bike for the 51 mile ride the following morning.

"I'm a big girl," I said, trying to reassure the slightly-flustered Sam that I would manage this on a bike I wasn't completely used to riding. "It will all be okay, I promise." After having joked just days prior that this would happen, I honestly didn't expect it to actually be coming about (talk about speaking things into existence). Frankly, I was terrified that I would get 10-15 miles in to the ride and not be able to finish because of hand pain, but I wasn't about to worry Sam with such thoughts. We took a few minutes and did our best to get the Homer set up in a manner that would keep me as comfortable as possible, and while doing so, the handlebar stem was dropped significantly lower than it had been. I took it for a quick ride down the street and said, "Well, I think it's as good as it's going to get with the time we have."
In the morning, we agreed that Sam would come out and meet me at or near the first refill station/rest stop in case there were any problems.  When he arrived to meet up about 11 miles into the ride, I was doing great. "My hands don't hurt at all," I proclaimed with glee. "We'll see what happens as time wears on, but I'm really doing fine." We were both in a bit of shock knowing my history with this type of handlebar, but I wasn't going to fight it. We decided to meet up again close to the half way point, and off I went to continue the ride.

To make a long story short(er), I made it to the end of the ride (including the ride to and from the starting/ending point) and I wasn't dying or in extreme pain. There was a bit of fatigue, though that was to be expected as it was a longer distance than I typically ride, but I survived and even rode again the following day and rest of the week.
Perplexed by all of this, we attempted to figure out what had changed about the set up, but the only item we could definitively point to was the act of lowering the handlebar stem. While this had always seemed counter-intuitive to me (to lower the stem, thus putting greater pressure on my hands), it actually had the opposite effect. Rather than making the ride more painful, it actually made it easier and more pleasant. When I rode, I used my core muscles more frequently, which kept a great deal of the weight off of my hands. The stem is still high by roadie standards (it currently sits just a tad higher than the saddle), but lowering it seems to have solved the problems I was experiencing with drop bars in the past. The lesson? I'm not entirely sure, but I believe continuing to experiment and try different ways of setting up a bike is important. I may have driven poor Sam absolutely batty with my constant requests to change handlebars, stems, etc, but in the end, I think we've managed to find a way to make this set up work.

9 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you posted this. I was wondering when I saw pictures of the bike during Venus how the drop bars worked. I was worried they would be more painful. Not only am I thrilled that you were comfortable during the ride, I'm fascinated with the results. Who woulda thought that a minor adjustment would make such a difference. :o) I have bikes with both types of handlebars and prefer the drop bars as well because of the adjustments I can make during longer rides to give different body parts such as back, shoulder and arms a rest by adjusting to different positions on the bars.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joey, I was surprised by this too - completely! But, I am so happy that they seem to be working. I rode that bike all of last week (still didn't have the proper part for the other one until yesterday) and did well. I am still a bit confused about the adjustment making so much of a difference, but I will take it and run (well, ride) with it. :O)

      Delete
  2. I haven't had the greatest success with the road bike I bought from a friend last year. The bars are too low and they feel too narrow. I'm glad to know that it's been trial and error for you, and even happier to know that you seem to have resolved the issue.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder if the bars are too wide or too narrow - or, as in my case, the height of the stem would help out? I know that my Nitto Noodles are too wide and I seem to have issues when I try to use those. The trial and error can be such a pain in the rear, but I still hold out hope for you, Cecily! You're going to find one that works for you. :O) How's the obsessive day dreaming coming along? I'm anxious to see what you decide to move forward and pursue down the line.

      Delete
  3. The lesson night be to have a bike shop size check the geometry of your bike. Obviously there are lots of exceptions to this, and if you're happy, it probably doesn't need adjusting. Reasonable starting place, though.

    ReplyDelete
  4. When I rode, I used my core muscles more frequently, which kept a great deal of the weight off of my hands.

    This jumped out at me. Was this the first time you've tried drop bars since you kicked your workouts into high gear? I assume that the kickboxing is increasing your core strength and stamina.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's not the first time since starting kickboxing, but I'm certain that increasing my core strength in those classes is definitely helping. When I can use the core muscles more so than leaning on my hands, it's certainly beneficial. It could very well be playing a huge role in this though, Melanie.

      Delete
  5. Great to read that the drop bars finally worked out for you!

    As to what happened to finally enable you to use them... It could just have been that you were ready, plain and simple. Looking forward to following up to se how the bars work out for you in the long run. And congratulations on completing the ride!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You might be right, Velouria. Either way, I was thrilled that it seemed to work, and like you, I hope they work out in the long run as well. :O)

      Delete

Word verification is on, but I've turned off the moderation portion in an attempt to make it easier for you to know that your comment has indeed made it through. We'll see how this goes, but I'm hopeful that this will help out and I'll try my best to weed through and remove spammers comments. Additionally, I recommend copying comments before hitting publish as the "blogger comment eater" seems to continue his snacking.