Monday, July 15, 2013

Bicycle "Micro Adjusters"

"It's just not right," I said to Sam as we were testing out the new build up of the recently returned to us Surly. "I can tell that there is too much pressure on my hands and that on a long ride, it's not going to work."  These sorts of conversations are quite typical, actually, in our household. We will make the smallest of changes and it's as though a whole new world opens up. Literally. We can move a saddle, handlebars, stem, millimeters (or smaller amounts) and I will experience such relief. I honestly have thought for many years that I am completely crazy and that none of the seemingly very small adjustments to my bikes were actually making a difference. That all changed on a bike shop visit a few months ago when I was informed that I am what the shop guys refer to as a "micro adjuster."
"So, basically, you're telling me that I'm a diva in regard to bicycles?" I questioned, as I jokingly threw my nose in the air and laughed. "Everything must be perfect for the queen." I was very quickly informed that this is a "real thing," and that people with these, well, let's call them sensitivities, are "paid good money" to work for bike companies to test out various aspects of a bicycle. Sweet, I thought; sign me up!  Finally, this annoying trait could bring about something good.

Although I haven't actually sought out employment with my newly discovered special "skill," it did help me understand that I am not crazy (well, at least not in that aspect of life), and that these very small shifts in seating, handlebars, brakes, and so on are actually doing something to help me find the best place for my body. In many ways though, I am still amazed that this is a reality for me.

For instance, in the conversation I started with for this post, we ended up lowering the saddle approximately 1 mm, and suddenly it was as though the pressure was fine on my hands. I was in such disbelief over it that I asked Sam to get on the bike and try it out. As he has said, we could move a lot of things on his bikes and he wouldn't even notice, and I think he had a very similar experience riding the Surly. It's difficult for me to explain how much of a difference that small change made, but I've decided that it doesn't really matter if it makes sense or not... what does matter is that finding the right fit is possible, but patience must be had (unfortunately, not always a trait I'm known for practicing). In addition, having someone with the tolerance to ride along and let me make these tiny adjustments can be challenging, but I am pretty lucky in that regard.

The biggest thing I have taken from this discovery is a lesson that I think runs across the spectrum of sensitivity: If you're not comfortable on your bike, take the time to make the adjustments (or find someone who can help you do so). After all, it's not fun to ride in pain.


  1. I've been experiencing pain in my left shoulder area when I ride my surly cross check. I LOVE that bike, so I'm not willing to give it up. I've tried a few things - seat and handle bar adjustment. I think that I want to try a smaller stem. I've heard that you don't want to go too small on a stem, but I'm not sure why. Any thoughts?

    1. I can understand not wanting to give up on your Surly...especially if it's comfortable (except for your shoulder). My problem is that my weakness is in my hand/wrist, but it can also spread into the shoulder area on longer rides if I'm not set up properly. As soon as I put a shorter stem on the bike, that seemed to resolve my issues. Of course, my experience may not be the same as yours, but it could be worth a try.

      I believe the theory about not having too short of a handlebar stem comes from the thought that if your stem needs to be that short, then the bike is too big. That said, all of my bikes have extremely short handlebar stems on them. In some cases there just wasn't a smaller size available, and for others it was to try and make a slightly large bike work.

      If you have a friend or partner who can watch you ride your bike, try riding with them and have them watch your posture and movements when you ride (or, if you can be aware of your own body as you ride, you can certainly do this alone). In my case I was subconsciously scooting my hands back toward my body as I was riding and wasn't even aware of it. This helped determine that I actually needed a shorter handlebar stem. Basically, see where your body naturally wants to be without thinking about it. That may help you decide whether or not you actually need the shorter stem... Or, you could go in for a professional fitting as well. Much as I tend to avoid such things, they really can be quite helpful and worth the time and possible cost involved.


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