Tag Archives: fit

How to evaluate a road bike on a test ride

Road bikes have never offered so much versatility as they do today. The Trek Checkpoint AL3 shown here is an amazing all-weather machine capable of touring, gravel, centuries & commuting. $1149 never bought a bike this nice before.

Test-riding Road Bikes

So you’ve decided you want a new road bike, and plan to test-ride a couple.  Here’s a few things that will help you get a fair comparison and make the right choice! Note that this article is entirely brand & material neutral, but altruism aside, we’d still like you to buy your next bike from Chain Reaction in Redwood City California. 🙂

What the shop will require

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There are entirely different styles of road bikes; Trek, for example, offers the pure-performance Emonda series, the new ultra-comfortable Domane bikes, the ultra-aero Madone and now the Checkpoint do-anything utility bike. Your shop will help you decide which bests fits your needs, but a test ride is essential.

First, a couple things to keep in mind.  You’re going to be taking a spin on something that’s reasonably expensive, so assume the shop’s going to require you to leave something valuable that ensures your return.  In our case, it’s a valid current California driver’s license and a credit card.  This works because it verifies who you are and it’s something we can be reasonably sure you’ll return to get (even though some of us have some rather dreadful photos that we’d rather not see again!). We will also create a record in our computer of the bike being ridden. We used to be a bit more liberal and skip the credit card part, but we’ve had to tighten up a bit due to a string of test-ride bike thefts in the area.

Also, please note that most shops (including Chain Reaction) will not allow test rides if the pavement is damp or it’s even getting close to dark (assume you need to arrive at least one hour prior to closing or one hour prior to sundown, whichever is earlier). Your safety is more important to us than selling a bike.

What you should bring

Many shops, including ours, require helmets on test rides.  We just think it’s a good idea to try and keep you alive, at least until we sell you the bike!  And no, it has nothing to do with insurance.  If you’ve already got a helmet, bring it with you…it’s probably already set up correctly for your head and will save some time.

If you’ve already got clipless pedals from another bike, bring your shoes with you!  It’s much better to test ride a bike the way you’re used to riding.  If the pedal system is something other than standard SPD (the typical mountain-style recessed-cleat pedal/shoe system), then bring along your pedals as well, and have them installed on whichever bike you ride.  And if you’ve got cycling shorts (which you should, since they make cycling much more comfortable), bring those too.  You want to be testing out the bike and not be distracted by uncomfortable clothing etc.

How the bikes should be set up

OK, you’ve figured out a couple bikes you’d like to ride. Remember, you want to test each bike under optimal conditions, so here are some things to make sure of-

Checking to make sure seat is level#1:  For the first bike, make sure the seat is adjusted properly…both for height and tilt.  The nose of the seat should be level with the back, and even small variations here can make tremendous differences in comfort.  Once you have the seat height figured out, have it measured (from center of crank to the top of the saddle) and set up each subsequent bike to exactly the same height.  This is very important, as even small changes in seat height can have a dramatic effect on how a bike feels…and you’re testing a bike, not a saddle position! (For more info about saddles and bike fit, we have an article on line)

#1b:  It may be possible for a skilled salesperson to take a quick look at your position on the bike, with your hands on the lever hoods (where you’ll be spending most of your time with STI levers) and notice that you’ll definitely need a shorter, or longer, stem (the part that holds the handlebars to the fork).  In some cases, this change can be made very quickly, due to new stem designs that allow you to change the stem without having to remove & reinstall the brake levers and handlebar tape.  It’s definitely in the best interest of the shop to make your ride as comfortable as possible, so don’t be surprised if this is done before you take your test ride.

Tires should be checked for proper inflation before each ride

#2: Have each bike’s tires inflated to appropriate  pressure, right in front of you.  This is as important, if not more so, than the saddle height.  If you ride the ultimate carbon-framed bike with its tires carrying only 70psi, vs a much-less-expensive machine with its tires running at “normal” pressure (100psi), can you guess which is going to have a faster ride???  I recognize that this is going to annoy a whole lot of salespeople, who will pinch a tire with their fingers and say it’s fine, but this is a really important point.  A tire even 10psi low is not giving you the ride you need.  Always test tire pressure before you ride, with a gauge.

#3:  Ask if the salesperson could run you through the gears on a stand, just to make sure you know how they’re supposed to work (which you probably do) and to ensure that they’re properly adjusted.  There are a lot of reasons why a new bike might not have perfectly-adjusted gears (including kids playing with the levers when the bikes are in the rack), but we don’t care about the “why” for now.  We just want to make sure things will work the way they’re supposed to on the test ride!

The actual test ride

Now you’re ready for your test ride.  Question is, where?  We have basically three types of test rides…the classic “parking lot” ride, the “around the block” ride, and the longer 4-mile “road” ride.  The parking lot cruise is useful for having the salesperson check out your position on the bike and, in some cases, is as much of a ride as a customer feels comfortable with (because they don’t want to deal with traffic etc.).  Usually, after graduating successfully from the parking-lot ride, you’ll want to take it on a bit longer spin around the block, getting up some speed on the straightaways, or maybe just feeling better because you don’t have a salesperson looking at you while you’re riding.  [By the way, for the parking lot ride, it might be OK to use normal street shoes on clipless pedals, but for anything more, make sure the pedals are compatible with your shoes!  We keep quite a few standard toe-clip pedals around for just this purpose.]

We have a four-mile test-ride loop that includes good pavement, bad pavement, hills, descents and maybe even a combination of head & tailwinds.  What more could you ask?  We even give you a map showing the course, and ask that you stay on it.  Why?  Because if something were to happen to you, we need to know where to go looking!  Remember, you’re on someone else’s expensive machine, and we have an interest in keeping both the bike, and you, safe.

At this point you may have fallen in love and confirmed your suspicions that this is the bike for you!  But if that’s not the case and you want to test ride another bike, make sure that the seat height is set up exactly the same as it was on that first bike, and have the tires aired up, and run through the gears again.  By the way, I should explain that tires in high-quality bikes have a normal tendency to lose a fair amount of air over a couple week’s time, so it should not be a surprise when they need air…it should be expected.

How to compare different bikes…what to look for

Afraid you won’t be able to tell much difference between two bikes?  Even if you’re inexperienced at cycling, my guess is that the differences will be more obvious than you think!

And what should you look for?  Check out for how each bikes accelerates while sitting and standing, comfort over big bumps, how it handles road buzz (vibration from “grainy” road surfaces) and any sort of emotional appeal it might have (how’s that for a vague quality?).  For longer rides, we strongly recommend that you find a small hill you can charge up.  Why?  Because there’s nothing that separates a great bike from an also-ran like a hill.  A really great bike just feels like it wants to go, even climb, even when you’re not in the right gear.  An also-ran will have you constantly searching for that right gear, that sweet spot where everything comes together (hopefully).  The really great bike just doesn’t care…it simply performs.  If you’re in Kansas or Florida and the closest hill is 100 miles away, maybe an overpass will work…

For more info on the differences between one bike and the next, you can check out our articles on such things as whether a bicycle has a soul, how durable is carbon fiber,  should you buy the cheapest bike with the best parts and many others in the menu section at the bottom of each page of this website.

You’ve found the right bike…now what?

You’ve found your bike…it’s got the right features, feels great while riding, etc.  Now you need to get measured for proper fit.  The frame size on what you rode might be correct… then again, it might not.  At Chain Reaction, we use the New England Cycling Academy’s FitKit system, which takes a series of measurements of the rider, to make sure we have not only the correct frame size, but top-tube plus stem distance (critically important and frequently ignored!), seat-to-handlebar drop, seat height, handlebar width and more.  It’s not a matter of how much clearance you have standing over the frame!  That might help get you in the ballpark, but since the front-to-back distance of a frame changes with size, your arm & torso measurements might dictate a frame size different than standover height might indicate.

Please note that, in the majority of cases, the stem length on the bike will need to be changed.  This isn’t a big deal if the shop sells a lot of road bikes…they’ll have the various stems in stock and ready to go.  I would suggest that any shop not willing to swap the stem for proper fit on a road bike may not be a good place to buy one!  In many cases there will be no charge for a stem swap, but there will be times where you have to go to a stem that might cost a bit more, or perhaps because it’s a lot higher they might need to replace several cables & housings, which definitely takes a lot of time. Or it might be a closeout bike that came with a ridiculously-long & low stem that has no value to the shop. In those cases, you could expect to pay a small amount of money to cover the difference and/or the labor involved.

Fortunately, at Chain Reaction we have such a tremendous number of road bikes in stock that there’s rarely an issue getting someone set up with exactly the right size bike, right then and there.  But Chain Reaction, with over 300 road bikes in stock at any one time, is not exactly typical, so don’t be surprised if getting the proper fit involves waiting for one to come in.  It will be worth the wait, especially if the alternative is a bike that doesn’t feel quite right because the fit’s wrong.  If your local shop doesn’t have a zillion road bikes in stock, that’s not necessarily an indication that they’re not serious about road bikes…could be they just don’t have such a highly-developed road bike market like we do in the SF Bay Area, and can’t afford to have a huge number of bikes sitting around, waiting for you.  Not a problem for us…the number of road bikes we sell would make most shops heads spin.

After you find your new dream machine, you might check out our Taking Care of your Road Bike article.

Interested in our sale-priced bikes? Check here! And don’t forget to join our email-list so you’re up-to-date on our latest specials.


Subject: RE: Article on bicycle seats from NY Times

The easy thing would be to ignore the various fear-mongering publicity-hounding press-release-and-book-writing crowd that wants to create waves by claiming that riding a bike is bad for guys. But of course, I can’t. This is a subject that gets me pretty annoyed, because is almost-always mistakes the bicycle seat as the problem (which in some cases it might be) and ignores the issue of proper fit to the bicycle, of which the saddle is, in fact, a subset… but more the location of the saddle, as well as handlebars and pedals. So below is my response when a very good customer sent me a link to the latest such story. –Mike–

> Hey, was curious if you’ve seen this, and what you think:
> http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/28/science/28tier.html?_r=3&pag

—–Original Message—–
From: Mike Jacoubowsky [mailto:MikeJ@ChainReaction.com]
Sent: Friday, August 26, 2011 10:32 PM
Subject: RE: Article on bicycle seats from NY Times

Before getting into this, the full text of the study may be found here-

“When I tried a no-nose model for my 16-mile daily commute, it was so much more comfortable that I promptly threw away the old saddle. But over the years I’ve had zero success persuading any other cyclists to switch, even when I quote the painfully succinct warning from Steven Schrader, the reproductive physiologist at Niosh who did the experiment with police officers.”

I have serious doubts that many, if any of the people with “problems” in the article had been properly fit to a bike or, worse, wonder how many were riding super-soft saddles that pass the “thumb test” but create serious problems because they are so soft that your weight pushes down on the front and back, causing the center of the saddle to push up, exactly where you don’t want it to. That’s the reason that softer isn’t usually better; you require a certain amount of support to keep the saddle from contacting areas that shouldn’t be stressed.

If someone wants to prove that bike saddles of a particular type are better than others, they should first make sure that the “inferior” saddles are properly set up and the rider properly fit to their bike, and perhaps do a before & after test of that, before trumpeting the marketing claims of someone wanting to sell a new type of saddle that, on the face of it, looks like maybe it would address the problem (and has a marketing campaign based upon fear).

The author says himself “Even if you didn’t feel any symptoms, even if you didn’t believe the researchers’ warnings, even if you thought it was perfectly healthy to feel numb during a ride – why not switch just for comfort’s sake? Why go on crushing your crotch?” The “comfort” reference is key here. Why isn’t someone comfortable, while someone else is? It’s a lot more than just saddle design. And it’s going to be different for different people.

And mountain bikes are, by far, going to be the worst offenders for landing sensitive parts of the anatomy where they shouldn’t land, or pressured where they shouldn’t be pressured, because of the more-upright riding position (putting nearly all the weight on the rider’s tail end rather than distributing some of the weight forward). And yes, the issues are going to be worse for people who are out of shape and jumping curbs and plowing through potholes in urban environments. Not that I’d put any officers I’ve seen in that category.

“Before the study, nearly three-quarters of the officers complained of numbness while riding. After six months, fewer than one-fifth complained.”
Let’s see here. 75% complained of numbness while riding. 75%???!!! And they kept riding? I would be interested in knowing what percentage of them filed for disability of some sort. Not that I’m cynical or anything. And for the truly-cynical, we are talking guys here, and given the opportunity, is a guy going to want to brag that his sex life has improved or that it’s in the toilet?

So no, I don’t have an opinion at all. 🙂

This is not to say that there aren’t people who would benefit from different saddle designs than the norm. But let’s see some studies that are more-intelligently done, and include the following-

#1: Study people with issues and improvement, or lack thereof, that occurs from nothing more than attention paid to their fit on the bike
#2: Take those who still had issues after being fit and see what happens with the miracle saddle change. Does that subset benefit as much as group 1?

There are definitely people with real issues that need to be addressed, but the lack of adequate controls for these studies is alarming and causes one to wonder if the tests were designed to support a belief rather than to test it. –Mike–