When this handlebar switching started years ago, I started to think that there was only one type of handlebar that would work for me, but as I quickly learned, the bicycle itself was a huge factor in what actually worked and more importantly what did not. I was never really able to determine what factors led to a better position for me without changing the way the bicycle rode, but I continued to experiment with handlebars.
As handlebar queen, one would think I'd be an expert by now on what works and what doesn't for me personally, but I still struggle with finding the right fit any time a new bike arrives. So, it shouldn't be surprising that after riding the Rodriguez for a bit, it was time to experiment with these handlebars as well. I have to say, playing with handlebars on this bike was more than just an effort to get my hands in a proper position to eliminate pain, but I'll get into that as we go along.
When the Rodriguez arrived, it came equipped with a fairly standard drop bar. The builder had recommended a compact FSA K-wing bar, but I couldn't bring myself to drop the $300 USD that it would cost. That's a lot of money to spend on a handlebar, I thought, and I just couldn't justify the expenditure at the time.
|*Image from FSA|
FSA K-wing Compact
After riding on the standard drop bars for a number of rides, I was still experiencing hand pain and I wanted to attempt to figure out a way to alleviate this as much as possible. Perhaps I needed to pursue the FSA bar that had been recommended. So, I started a second-hand search to find a set that wouldn't cost so much.
As luck would have it, a set turned up on eBay for less than 1/6 the price of new, so I figured it was worth a shot. Everything was set up on the new handlebars and I set off to test these, believing that they were the answer to my pain.
I very quickly discovered that I really did not like these handlebars. After several rides of trying to get used to them, I was beyond annoyed and decided that they needed to come off. Even with the pain I was experiencing with the regular drops, it was not nearly what was happening with these new handlebars.
So, back we went to the original drops.
Then, one day as I was out on a ride, I made the realization that perhaps another recommendation that had been made by the builder was one I should pursue. It had been suggested that I outfit the bike with bar-end shifters, but I had fought this as I am not fond of using them with drop bars. Instead, I pushed for brifters, but was now coming to the realization that having bar-end shifters would likely help my hands as it would force me to move them regularly for shifting purposes. With brifters, I tend to sit in the hoods the majority of the time, but when using bar-ends, I am forced to regularly change position.
This meant another purchase of Campagnolo-compatible bar-end shifters as the bar ends we have would not work - at least not without a lot of experimentation. While the bike's drivetrain is a mix, the rear derailleur is Campagnolo and thus the shifters would have to work with this set up (unless, of course, I wanted to replace the back end of the drivetrain - which I did not).
|*Image from Velo-Orange|
Then, a new problem arose. Being short and wide is not really a good combination for road bicycles. With a shorter top tube needed for proper riding it creates a situation in which I am crammed into a space that feels too small when standing at a stop over the bike. This isn't specific to this bike, but really any bike with a shorter top tube. Since a lot of my weight is carried in my lower body, I was struggling to mount and dismount the bike without jamming my thigh into the bar-ends.
While I can endure the pain of such happenings (after all, bruises will heal), being a less-than-coordinated individual does not combine well with abrupt shifts that were taking place while stopped. As I'd start to pedal off at signals and stop signs, the chain would suddenly shift and throw me off balance. This really started to unnerve me. I began worrying every time I had to start or stop and that's certainly no way to encourage a person to ride.
|*Image from Bike Touring News|
Nitto Grand Randonneur
Something just felt off about these handlebars and after a quick spin around the neighborhood on the Rodriguez, I decided to remove them. After this brief trial, another standard drop bar that was much wider overall than the originals was put on the bike. This, we assumed, would provide the thigh clearance I need but still offer the hand positions to move around.
With this alteration, the bike felt a bit twitchy on the front end, which is something I hadn't expected at all. Additionally, I felt as though my hands were too far apart and I started thinking that perhaps I needed to go to my standby or default handlebar: the Albatross bar.
|Nitto Albatross bars set up on the Hillborne|
All of the changes were beginning to send me into a tailspin. It was all too familiar as I've gone through this multiple times with bikes while attempting to find the right set up. Maybe I'm just not meant to ride a road bike, I thought. It is very difficult to maintain positivity when everything seems to go awry.
|*Image from On One|
On One Midge
The problem was finding them in the US. The few places I could locate them were in the UK and the shipping costs alone were not worth the effort to try them. But, I soon learned that there is a somewhat close facsimile available with more ease here in the US: Origin8's Gary bar.
|*Image from Origin8|
Origin8 Gary 2
I was giving up now. I couldn't believe that handlebars and shifters were going to be the demise of the Rodriguez in my life. I began to think that this just wasn't going to work. I love my pedaling position on the Rodriguez, but if I couldn't find something to work for the upper half of my body, we were going to have to part ways.
I started lamenting the decision to sell the A. Homer Hilsen, upset that I let it go and wondering why I had to be so concerned with the weight when it actually seemed to serve me well. Really, it had met my needs splendidly, but I had been wrapped up in the idea that I needed to travel faster and because we were in a tough spot with an unexpected and expensive ER visit, I let it go. In retrospect, it was a horrible idea.
As I sat contemplating my decisions, Sam was off thinking up another idea. When he came in holding two bar end extensions like these, I must've looked a little perplexed. His plan was to attach these to the drop bars, kind of like a mini-aero bar set up. He explained that he'd attach the extensions and put the bar end shifters at the end, keeping them away from my legs and hopefully this would make them easier to reach and eliminate the twitch that develops with wide handlebars.
|This poor handlebar tape has been wrapped and unwrapped so many times.|
With all of the switching taking place, nothing was feeling right any longer. Even things that sort of worked initially felt strange now - and how could they not? I wasn't giving myself very long to adjust to anything and instead continued to do changes pretty quickly looking for the solution.
I decided that I had to pick something and just stick with it for awhile in order to make a true evaluation, but which one? Since I hadn't really given the Randonneur bars a fair shot, and they'd worked well in the past, these were the pick.
Now, the Randonneur's haven't been on the bike long at this point (a couple of weeks), and I've been riding other bikes because of current Seattle-like weather, so it's not really fair to make a judgment call as to whether or not these will be the answer.
However, I've realized that nothing is going to work if I don't allow time and riding to take place. Although some of the handlebars had several rides to determine whether or not they would work, I realize that there were also a number that were just quick switches without really allowing an opportunity for true testing. With some, there was good reason, but with others, perhaps they just needed a few more rides to see if I would or could adjust.
I also understand that there are other factors that could be affecting my hands (tires are one of these possibilities), and while the pedal position is great on this bike, I need to get my hands settled in order to get everything dialed in properly. Things are coming along, so hopefully the set up is on its way to being great. I'm looking forward to a summer full of long rides that are (at least relatively) pain free.