This picture has nothing to do with anything, really, but I quite like it. Andrew Borges took it, obviously. Thanks, Andrew! Also, thanks Half Fast Velo, for putting on another fun Gresham Crit!
Stephen Covey, of various Franklin Covey life organizational systems, died yesterday. My state of mind was such that, when somebody mentioned that fact at work, my first and only thought was ‘does this mean I can stop using my fucking day planner now?’ Despite being a mean and uncaring thought to have, it also doesn’t really make any sense. Stephen never personally pressured me into using his planners. He didn’t get down like that. Mr. Covey was cool dude, probably. My boss makes me use the planner, and he’s still very much alive, so I really had no reason to hope I was off the hook.
Anyway, the point is that I’m a brain dead idiot. For about 3 months now I’ve been struggling at my job to design parts I don’t understand for a wicked unpleasant client who works in an incredibly specialized industry of which I have very little useful knowledge (I can’t really type the project details on the internet, but I’ll just say that it’s airplanes, and it’s not going well. Happy flying!) and I’m just totally mentally bonked. Thank goodness for bikes, eh? I don’t really know anything at all about brains, but I’m picturing just a little stump of that shrimpy part at the bottom being all you’d need to work some pedals, brakes, and shifters, and I’ve still totally got that part, so riding I’ve been!
I chipped the shell of mud off my cross bike and put some miles into it for kicks, and I’ve done some most excellent MTB riding with that king of men, The Butterscotch Stallion, but the vast majority of my time rolling has been spent on my ‘vagen. Now, with my miles on that bike piling pretty high, and with a proper handful of races under my belt, I wanted to revisit the geometry topic.
I know I’ve gone on quite a bit about small bike fit already, so I’m not going to head in that direction. The saddle, bars, and pedals on my rig all fall exactly where I want them to be, and that’s pretty much exactly where they’ve been on my last number of race bikes. There are no real differences to speak of in that area. The geometry of the frame connecting those points, however, is quite unlike any of the bikes I’ve had, and it’s been a real blast taking in and getting used to the new style.
A little background: Everything I’ve had until now you’d probably consider a crit bike. High bottom brackets (65mm of BB drop or less), steep front ends (73+ degrees), wicked tight wheelbases, and front-center measurements that gave me not just toe overlap, but almost pedal overlap. My speedvagen is the anti- those bikes. Long wheelbase, slightly slack front end, low BB. The feel is very… different. Different and wonderful.
I’m not sure where my idea that I needed a really quick handling, nervous, twitchy bike came from. Looking back, I think the appeal was maybe because it seemed tough? Like, “I’m sweet enough at bike riding to tame this wily machine,” or something? Hard to say. Maybe it’s because my first real bike – my first adult one that wasn’t a BMX bike or a crappy bar bike – was a track bike, and I liked it, and I thought all my other bikes should be steep and aggressive like that? Could be. Whatever the case, I’d just always picked out or had custom-made these high-sitting, quick-to-turn-in, pay-lots-of-attention-if-you-ride-with-no-hands kind of rigs, with little thought as to why.
I can say now, though, that there’s a lot of value in a little extra stability. I’ve learned other things from this frame too, and I shall present them in bullet point style!
- The long wheelbase is dope. It feels like it takes a little less physical and mental effort to get my bike to maintain a steady radius in a turn. I also worry a bit less about coming across bad surfaces or a little bit of sand mid-turn. I can’t say with 100% certainty that these things come from having a long wheelbase (I can’t say with 100% certainty much of anything, since there are so many variables), but it’s my best guess
- The slack seat tube angle is dope. It’s something I probably would never have thought of before, but the combination of a slack seat tube and a minimal-offset seatpost, instead of a steep seat tube and a big-offset seatpost, puts my lower water bottle farther back, and for the first time I have a bike where my legs don’t rub on the lid if I stick a tall bottle in that spot. The long wheelbase is partially to thank for this; if the frame was designed around super short chainstays, the seat tube might have to be steeper to clear the rear tire.
- The slack(er) head tube is dope. This one really comes down to the fact that Sacha can get the ENVE forks in so many different offsets, and one of them is 50mm. If you’re designing a front end geometry around a target trail value, you really want/need a fork with more than 43mm or 45mm of offset if you’re going to get into the 72 degree area, unless your target trail is “a lot of trail.” Anyway, without digging back through old emails, I believe we shot for 57mm of trail, but with a head tube angle that gave a pretty substantially longer front-center with the same top-tube length I was used to. Putting the wheel out in front of me more gives me the impression that I descend a bit more confidently, and it also makes it so that a tired, sloppy sprint is less likely to leave me skipping my rear wheel all over the place.
- The extra tire clearance is dope. I don’t use anything bigger than 24mm, but I really like that I can. Freedom to choose. American as shit.
- Lastly, the low bottom bracket is dope. The sensation I get is slightly like that of going from my 26″ MTB to a 29″, in that I feel a little more in the bike than on the bike. It might be my favorite feature, so it’s interesting that this was the thing I was most nervous about. I was pretty easily talked out of requesting yet another straight-up crit bike, but the bottom bracket drop (and subsequent loss of pedal clearance) was the one spot where I remember really hesitating. I mean, it may not be a crit bike, but let’s face it, race-wise it’s mostly going to see crits. Would it give me fits not pedaling through corners? Would I feel blind riding low in a pack of bikes and riders all towering over me? The answer to the second question is an obvious “yes,” though no BB height in the world could fix my visibility issues (that’s what riding at the edges is for). The first question, though… Well, now with some legitimate crits checked off, I can say it’s just a non-issue. I can pedal through corners if I like, and I don’t touch the ground unless the speeds are super high, and if the speeds are super high, it means I’m likely not the dude on the front, so I’m probably not pedaling through the corners anyway! Granted, I’m on 170mm cranks and Speedplays with the extra short spindles, so I’ve got that working for me when it comes to max lean angle, but I don’t see the 75mm of BB drop being a probable issue even with different equipment. Maybe I’ll sketch it out some day and put some numbers to that statement.
And so, by casting off my urges for crit bikes, I have gained so much! I realize that I’m likely preaching to the converted here on this blog, but picture this: maybe there’s somebody out there right now, legs neatly shorn, tan lines crisp and even, face glued to a computer screen, with their itchy trigger finger on the “buy it now” button for some Cannondale criterium cannon*, and maybe they’ll stumble upon this site at the very last second, and maybe, just maybe, that person will see something they agreed with, or have a question answered that they’d been wondering about, and if there’s even the slightest possibility that we can help that person end up on a fresh steel road bike instead, then every word was worth it.
*”ebay” and “crit” together just scream “Cannondale” to me. I promise I’m not being mean. They make some bodacious rigs, and I’m stoked that they keep Aluminum representing. Hooray for metal bikes!
OK, that’s all I got. Enjoy your Tuesday!
The Tiniest Sprinter
PS: Have you ever stopped to think, I mean really think, about how sweet Weird Al is?