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I'm switching from MTB full-suspension down-hill riding to something more flat - at the moment I'm looking at a CX for 80% road, 20% offroad usage.

Unfortunately, I've never, except for short test rides, used a road bike for any amount of time. So I know somewhat how to sit on it, but I don't have much experience with how it should "feel".

So I'm quite at the mercy of salesmen right now. Sure, I will assume that they have the best intentions, but the problem is that I find it hard to judge whether a specific bike geometry is as it should be. It could well be that there is the perfect bike out there for me, but as I'm not used to the lower riding position I may only notice that after a few weeks of riding, after my body adapts and all such.

Is this the case, in your experience, or should the "correct" position just feel great right off the bat? I am not talking Tour de France performance level here, just standard hobby riding (I am reasonably fit and agile). Are there particular "body signs" I should be looking for, which tell me that the bike is a good fit; in addition to the expert at the store measuring my limbs and all that good stuff?

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    Suggestion: Buy a low-price used bike that seems to be of a "road" configuration and which seems to fit. (Or find one that someone has in their cellar and will give or lend you for free.) Ride it a few days/weeks to learn what feels good and what doesn't. And for any new bike you buy, insist on a 15 minute or so test ride -- simply riding it around the parking lot is not sufficient. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 12 '17 at 11:45
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    @DanielRHicks Having just bought my first dropbar bike I'd say 15 minutes isn't enough to say "yes" to a bike, though it might be enough to say "no". I've got a good bike shop near here and took my new bike out for a fairly quick hour -- I specifically wanted a good few minutes in the drops continuously. – Chris H Jun 12 '17 at 13:00
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CX bikes are road bikes that are designed to hold a line well in rough terrain (i.e., front steering doesn't overly react to bumps) yet responsive to slow turn-ins (European CX courses have epic number of turns - many North American courses are like drag races). This is done by combining slower steering and a higher bottom bracket. Therefore you initiate sharp turn-ins with a quick hip flick (this differs from road bikes which respond less to hip flicks due to the lower BB). With this in mind the bikes feel best when you are in a balanced position without too much weight on your hands. This leaves the bike responsive to steering from the hips. Too much weight on your hands and the front end slows down further in its response to the weight change making the bike feel less responsive to hip movements. By balance you should be supporting most of your weight through your core, with little weight on your hands. The steering will feel lighter the more responsive when you start to get this right.

Setup steps:

  1. Start by setting up your saddle (i.e., saddle height and level)
  2. Next, set your cockpit reach and stack height so you feel in balance with little weight on your hands. The optimal reach/stack height really varies by how hard you ride. Full out race pace means the balance point is farther forward and down. More relaxed pacing means it shorter and higher. I often change the setup depending on what I plan to do.

In short the feeling should be aiming for one of balance when pedaling at tempo, with your hands lightly resting on the hoods. You may also need to look at how you position your hips and your hip flexibility, many adults have problems here as a result of long hours sitting down for work or schooling.

  • This sounds pretty plausible, and practical to test as well on a test ride. Thanks! – AnoE Jul 13 '17 at 18:40
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Most of your riding is on the hoods. I race CX, city ride CX, and road ride on a CX. I spend very little time in the drops. In the city pretty much no time unless into a head wind.

On the hoods out of the saddle it should feel a lot like a mountain bike but no shock. Come off a curb out of the saddle. If you feel like you could go out the top it is too small.

Since you are not used to it you should feel only slightly stretched out.

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When on a drop bar bike, just like any bike, it should feel good. More specifically, you shouldn't feel pain in your joints, including your back. You should be acme to comfortable ride in the drops, and you should consider the drops as your primary position. There should be no excessive movement, such as your hips, as you pedal.

There are a lot if scientific type measurements out there, but what it comes down to is being able to put down the power you need for as long as you need it while not causing pain to anything but your leg muscles. The kind of pain you grow to love as a cyclist. It takes time to tweak the fit. After three months I'm still tinkering with mine. Just yesterday I dropped the stem about an inch.

You may not feel a good fit right away, but you will feel a bad fit after some time.

Edit: to simplify, awkward feeling = ok Pain = bad

The awkwardness of switching to a drop bar will pass in time. I thought I could never get used to it and now I can't imagine living without drops. The fit takes tweaking and a lot of time in the saddle to get exactly right. Your knees may not hurt during a 15 minute test ride, but they can be in serious pain after a couple centuries.

  • Most people consider the hoods to be primary. I was surprised to find how much time I spend in the drops, but my bars are set up quite high. And recommending heart/lung pain is going too far. – Chris H Jun 12 '17 at 13:01
  • You are right about the heart and lung pain. They shouldn't hurt, but you should feel it there, not in your hips, knees, or back. I made the mistake of setting my bike up with the hoods as my primary only to realize that I only use them maybe 15% of the time. – CRoberts Jun 12 '17 at 13:04
  • No worries, I know the "good pain", a.k.a. exertion, not damage. The question is strictly about the time of when I am in the shop (+the test ride) though. I didn't quite get your meaning: You start out with "it should feel good" and end with "you may not feel a good fit right away". Is your answer then "one should not expect to find out a good fit in such a short time"? – AnoE Jun 12 '17 at 13:54
  • You know a good fit when you have one. It takes time to tweak it to work for you. If you get on and reach is wrong you will know right away. If the stack is way off, you will know. If your seat needs to be a few cm higher, it may not show up until you are spinning out in a high gear and you notice a wobble in your hips. – CRoberts Jun 12 '17 at 14:16

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