Best alternative to road bikes for long distance rides?
May 26, 2007 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Best alternative to road bikes for long distance rides?

I very much want to do a century bike ride in August. I've been riding a Trek 7200 hybrid for several years and can comfortably do 50 miles at a time on it. However, it is too heavy and inefficient to think about using for a a 100 miler -- so I obtained a Specialized Roubaix. However, I cannot get used to the road riding position and suffer intensely after only 20-30 miles. I'm ready to abandon the road bike and explore high end hybrids or other alternatives.
Just to provide other relevant info, I'm 6'3" and 205 lbs.
Anyone else out there who experienced severe issues trying to transition to a road bike? Is there a more comfortable style for long distances other than road bikes?
posted by queue_strategy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Why are you intent on that one bike if it doesn't fit? Go find a good shop and have them figure out a better road bike for you. You could certainly nerd-out on a recumbent, and that's not out of the question for a century.

I honestly feel most options are going to have you working too hard and wasting energy due to inefficiency. Part of the challenge is to find the right bike for you, and then get it fit correctly.
posted by kcm at 11:31 AM on May 26, 2007

Consider a touring bicycle.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:31 AM on May 26, 2007

get yourself to a bike shop that can do a professional fitting, it's amazing what a difference the angle of the seat and level/position of the handlebars, etc. can do for your comfort on the bike.
posted by garethspor at 11:37 AM on May 26, 2007

What kind of pain did you have riding?
I had a lot of backache riding my second hand road bike. I'm 6'6".
I bought a new bike with a 64 cm (sorry, don't know the inches) frame after doing the measurements and calculations to find the right size. And that worked much better for me.

Another option would be to take a road bike of proper proportions and fit it with a steering column with customizable height. The kind that you find on comfort/touring bikes. This would enable you to customize how far upright you want to ride during the ride itself.
posted by jouke at 11:41 AM on May 26, 2007

I did a century+ on a road bike with straight bars, the LeMond Wayzata. (Here are some reviews of the Wayzata.) I don't like what dropbars do to my shoulders and wrists. While the geometry of a road bike and the dropped bars can help with long rides, there's no reason you have to use them if they're uncomfortable, especially if you're not aiming to win a race or improve your times.

What is important about a road bike is the weight and rigidity. For materials, I happen to like steel because I ride on city streets casually and for benefit rides. Aluminum would be lighter, but stiffer.

Also, make sure your fit on the bike is excellent in other areas, too (seat height, seat position back-to-front, clips/pedals, etc), not just comfortable in the handlebars. After 50mi everything that could bother you, will. And at your height/weight a bike probably won't fit you 'off the shelf'.
posted by cocoagirl at 11:45 AM on May 26, 2007

There's nothing inherently wrong with the Roubaix for distance rides if it fits. Many cyclists make the same fitting mistakes when they start riding bigger distances, so here's a wild guess, but based on years of experience: Your bars are too low and your seat is too far forward. There's a tendency in current bike fashion to sell people frames that err on the side of too small. Works fine for shorter rides and racing, but the best approach in distance riding is to sacrifice a little power for comfort. Riding further than you're used to quickly uncovers even small errors in fit.

Either get someone who knows something about distance riding (ask them - many shops know nothing about it, being run by cafe-racer or off-road types) to asses your position, or if you want to have a go at self-help, read this.
posted by normy at 12:29 PM on May 26, 2007

You should consider customising your current bike. If you don't like drop bars, fit another type -- there are so many to choose from.

(Of course, depending on what bars you go for, you may have to get new levers and shifters too.)

Also, for long casual rides, you may find it better to have the bars up at seat height or higher.

I'm sure Sheldon Brown has all the info you'll need.
posted by popcassady at 12:37 PM on May 26, 2007

Fit is crucial to getting comfortable on a road bike, and unfortunately it's not just a question of knowing the right size for the frame since some manufacturers bikes are proportioned differently to others. Lemonds, for example, have comparatively long top-tubes for their size so if you're short in the upper body they may not be a good choice.

A good bike shop should be able to help you in the choice of bike, and should then be willing to swap components such as the stem to get you in a position that's comfortable.

And while road bikes do tend to look very similar there can be some huge differences in how they ride and handle which can make or break the experience for you. My first road bike, a Trek 5200, put me off them as a breed for about five years: the carbon frame was so stiff that every last bump went straight through the seat tube into my spine, the handling was way too nervous for my liking - one sneeze and I'd be on the wrong side of the road, the short head-tube resulted in a riding position where I just couldn't get comfortable... I kept it four about four months then traded it for an MTB. By contrast my current Lemond Victoire - bought from a shop where the staff know me, know how to fit a customer to a bike and were willing to spend the necessary time to ensure that everything was set up appropriately - is an absolute joy to ride: smooth and comfortable, with responsive handling that never feels nervous.

But while it'd almost certainly be worth your trying some other road bikes to see if there's anything out there you could get on with, there's nothing to say you have to have a road bike. If you really don't like drop bars (and they do take a bit of getting used to) then you could take a look at flat bar road bikes such as the Marin ALP series or the equivalents from other manufacturers. You certainly wouldn't be at any sort of disadvantage on one of those - they're light and fast!
posted by arc at 1:58 PM on May 26, 2007

The Roubaix is designed(marketed) for long, comfortable rides. Its a terrific bike - I nth the suggestion of getting your fit checked out.
posted by neilkod at 2:55 PM on May 26, 2007

How about a recumbent?
posted by turbojav at 5:07 PM on May 26, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments and links. It will take me some time to digest them all, but already I think my current bike shop (where I've already been fitted twice) doesn't have the right expertise for my needs.

Main areas of discomfort are shoulders/neck, butt and feet. I recently bought a new saddle with additional padding but it doesn't help. I also switched to clipless with the Roubaix, but experience numbness in my feet after 15-20 miles.
posted by queue_strategy at 6:00 PM on May 26, 2007

Most bike shops will do an OK job of fitting you -- once you're an experienced roadie you might want to go to a high-end shop for a really precise fitting. But that isn't actually your problem. Even if you've been fitted correctly, you will still have problems in the areas you've mentioned (upper back, butt, feet) while you're still a newbie roadie. The fact is that the road riding places strain on those parts of your body, and your body simply has to adapt over time. It's not so much a problem with the bike or the position as the fact that roadies spend a lot more time with CONSTANT pedalling, without varying their position. Just ride lots and lots of miles - shorter rides at first and gradually longer ones until you can knock off centuries without any problems.

In the meantime:

- you can work on strengthening your neck, upper back and your triceps in the gym. If you're inflexible in the hams or the IT band, make sure you stretch with correct technique to reduce lower back pain. You could also get an adjustable stem and set it at the highest position, then gradually lower it to the "ideal" position as your body strengthens.

- You also need to try out lots of different cycling shoes to find the ones that fit your foot best. Experiment with your cleat position to minimize your knee and foot problems. And if you have flat or assymetric feet, look into orthotic insoles.

- as for the butt, get a HARDER saddle, not a softer one. And get the most suitable shape for you where it makes firm contact with the "sit" bones in your butt, yet makes with minimal contact with any other part of your butt or your thighs. This is to minimize chafing and to improve blood circulation. Your butt will hurt during / after the first several rides until your sit bones toughen up -- there is no way around this.
posted by randomstriker at 6:30 PM on May 26, 2007

As another vote for the fit issue, my Roubaix made my butt hurt incredibly when I first got it. A week of tweaking the fit made it very comfortable (at least up to 40 miles, the longest I've done).
posted by pombe at 7:12 PM on May 26, 2007

nthing everyone else to find a professional bike fitter in your area, one that will do the whole shebang for an hour or so and charge you a couple hundred bucks. Those guys know what they're doing and your bike will feel ten times better afterwards.

experience numbness in my feet after 15-20 miles.

Weird, the only time I got numb feet with clipless pedals was when my shoes were 1/2 size too small. Try keeping the laces more loose on your next ride.
posted by mathowie at 8:54 PM on May 26, 2007

I'm going to assume that you'll take the excellent advice above and get a bike that fits. That is the most important thing.

The main consideration for doing a century, or any long distance ride, is having a choice of multiple hand positions. This is mostly the reason you don't want a hybrid---they typically only offer a single option. Multiple positions means the ability to raise an lower your back too, it's not just about moving your hands around.

Multiple positions offer you the ability to slightly change the muscles you use as you get tired. Sit up, stretch out or crouch down and it's as good as a break.

Drop bars are used on racing bikes because they offer at least three major positions, all with different back angles (hands together sitting up, hands on the brake hoods stretched out, hands on the drops crouched down). Straight bars offer a single position, two (or so) if you add bar-ends. there are other options for bars (mustache, bullhorns, and the elaborate Scott bars). A lot of people may want to talk you into using aerobars but resist. Aerobars are great for distance, but only on closed tracks. Your hands are too far away from the brakes to be safe on open roads, IMO.

Finally, practice riding with as little weight as possible on your hands. your weight should only pass to the frame in three places: the soles of both feet and your butt. As you get stronger, this will mostly be your feet. Weight on your hands can cause finger and wrist problems, especially with multi-hour rides. A century is at least a half-day ride, with a full day being very common for us duffers.
posted by bonehead at 9:40 PM on May 26, 2007

Oh, one final thing: many bikes, including the Roubaix from the Specialized product page, are sold with the handlebars below the seat level. This is absolutely what you want if you're trying to be a competitive cyclist (or race triathalons).

If, on the other hand, speed is not your prime consideration, one of the best things you can do for comfort is raise the handlebar height. Most cycletourists have the bars at or even above seat hight. While not as aerodynamic as the lower bars, for comfort over long distances and multi-hour rides, the higher bars make a lot of sense. I speak as a distance tourist here, not as a racer, so make of that what you will.
posted by bonehead at 9:52 PM on May 26, 2007

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