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For context, I’ve been cycling on a cheap as chips second hand, effectively, “Walmart” type of bike for a couple of years. Not only was it my bike for general usage, I also used it for courier work. I’d say courier work, in London on a bike can be described as pretty much the ultimate city riding.

The bike is big, somewhat in the style of a “cruiser” bike. Very upright position. Swept back handlebars, rack, mudguards, kick stand. heavy. Everytime you went over a pothole or rocky roads, the bike would literally rattle like it was about to explode. Changing a gear would make the whole bike wobble. It was loud. The brakes were non existent during wet weather.

These are things you could do without, of course. But actually - I loved that bike. Like really loved it, I could ride 12 hours on it and happily go for another 12. If you’ve ever seen the Top Gear challenges where they bought cars for cheap and took them on a road trip, it was a bit like that. It just seemed to take everything I threw at it and carried on going.

Recently, the drive train went out on its ass. Was completely worn into the ground. The LBS said that the cost to replace it would well exceed just getting another bike. I’ve started doing some repairs myself, so this is something I could’ve potentially done. But I took it as an opportunity to get a new bike.

I got a Boardman Hyb 8.6. Not the best bike in the world, but on paper at least, a significant upgrade in components. Much lighter, zooms up hills, far quicker off the line at traffic lights. And the hype around hydraulic brakes is real - they are simply fantastic - by far the biggest upgrade of them all.

The bike is also quite a bit smaller. Boardman’s sizing is a bit of an anomaly, where every size in the range, tends to be a bit bigger than it’s competitor brands. I’m 6ft. For most others (giant, trek, marin etc.) I was firmly placed in the Large bracket. Whereas with Boardman, I was in between a medium and large (not just by a size guide, the geometry is genuinely bigger across every size). Not only does the size of the frame lend to a more aggressive geometry, the general shape of it does. The handlebars are v low and this is definitely a hybrid leaning more towards a road bike.

Here’s the thing. I’ve set saddle height with the 83% method (didn’t do this with my old bike, I literally just rode the thing). I’ve yet to seriously play with fore/aft but I intend to. I was concerned the more hunched over position would be problematic for my back, but it’s been fine. The issue is though, in a nutshell, the bike is knackering my legs alot more than my old one, which is very surprising and I’m not sure what the reason for that is. It just feels like I’m less able to cruise on this bike. It’s not simply a case of me just riding it faster cos that’s what it’s designed to do. It feels like I have to really go for it, just to maintain a good speed for the roads.

Anyone have a clue as to what’s going on and why this is? On paper, this bike should be far easier to ride. In some aspects it is, of course. But can it simply be that it’s more difficult to ride bikes that are more aggressive? Do I simply need to fine tune the fit/setup more? Any advice would be massively appreciated. I’d rather not have to sell it, because it’s a lovely bike but something isn’t quite right at the moment.

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    It may be educational to stand each bike in the same place, and in turn take a clear photo from the right hand side, with the camera/phone in exactly the same place. Then overlay the photos so that the bottom bracket axle is in the same place. That will show you functionally how the geometries differ.
    – Criggie
    Dec 18, 2023 at 0:31
  • @Criggie ok. But I can see that they’re quite different bikes already. Im asking what it is about these differences is creating a higher load on my upper legs/quads
    – Ms21
    Dec 18, 2023 at 0:56
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    well, we're not as familiar with your bikes as you are. Comparing them visually helps say things like "new bike has longer/shorter reach" Another thing to consider is your actual speed on the two bikes - could be the new one allows you to use more muscles which is tiring but faster. And the new muscles are complaining.
    – Criggie
    Dec 18, 2023 at 2:22
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    If the distance parallel to the seat tube from the saddle to the pedal (with the crank down) has changed, different muscles will be engaged. I suspect you might have a different crank length too.
    – Chris H
    Dec 18, 2023 at 9:40

3 Answers 3

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Likely the geometry has changed, and your body has yet to adapt to the change.

The obvious answer is the new bike is not as efficient as the old bike, but I do not believe this will have as significant effect as you are experiencing without something blindly obvious at play. Likely culprits are tire rolling resistance (a factor of tire pressure and the tire itself) and aerodynamics (which comes down to bike fit - see later). Other causes could be inefficiency in the drive train - dragging brakes, hub bearings to tight etc. Weight - particularly wheel weight, could be a factor as when accelerating this has a big impact on effort required.

Most likely culprit is bike fit. Along with bike fit is your specific adaptation after riding your old bike for so long. Your muscles have adapted to the geometry of the old bike. The new bike, with different geometry, requires suitably different muscle angles and activations. Your body has yet to adapt to this new way of doing things. The trick is to find a spot where you are adapting, but not feeling it too much. Clearly this is not the case right now.

It sounds like you probably never gave much thought to bike fit on the old bike, and either got lucky and stumbled on a good fit for you, or you adapted to the fit you had without really noticing. Saddle height would be the first thing I would really look at, set the saddle to exactly the same BB-Seat height as your old bike. Check the cranks - are they the same length? I would hesitate to suggest replacing them to match, due cost, but could be worthy of consideration. Look also at the seat setback, and see if you can get the seat-BB setback as close as possible to the old bike.

I am not a bike fitter - a good bike fitter will ask to see your old bike and new one and adjust accordingly. Some bike fitters might only look at your new bike and fit you to it. This would (IMHO) be a mistake given the question.

When riding, be mindful about what you are doing. Are you carrying tension that you were not on the old bike? Are you as relaxed as you were? Where can you relax more? The idea I am getting at is to produce more output for less effort, if you have tension, your muscles are fighting each other. Play with adjusting things and see if they make the bike feel better or worse. I suspect you will be able to get the bike feeling much better than you currently have it with a couple of tweaks. Once you have got it pretty close, you will adapt to the new fit and can (should) continue to fine tune it.

A good (emphasis on good) bike fitter could be great help.

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  • "carrying tension that you were not on the old bike" -> I guess this deserves special attention. OP speaking of being "less able to cruise" on the "more aggressive" new bike may correspond to exactly this. E.g. the new bike's more "hunched over" position may allow OP to put more power on the pedals, but it also means that cruising requires more (static) tension on both legs and back and/or the arms to support the forward position. (And the more aggressive bike may not allow cruising hands-off). Not being able to relax while cruising may be quite fatiguing (until OP adapts). Dec 19, 2023 at 15:22
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Are you going faster, but ending up with tired legs? I ask because my old carbon fibre Trek road bike tires my legs (and lungs) more than my touring and mountain bikes. But I go faster while it does so. Part of this is because the race gears are higher, although the overlap is substantial. Most of it is because the bike is more lively, responds so well to pushing harder on the pedals. It's like the bike constantly whispers in my ear: "Is that the best you can do?", "Go hard up this rise, you don't need to gear down".

I don't know how much is the geometry of the bike working better if I ride harder, how much is just in my head. But I do know that some bikes are easier to cruise on than others, for me. If you are going faster, it might be worth sticking with it and seeing if your body adapts to riding the bike at the speed it, and you, want to go? Or deliberately ride a gear lower and go a bit slower, if you're tending towards flat out all the time.

On the other hand, if you're going the same distance at the same speed (and thus for the same time) and your legs hurt more then you probably have a fit or adaptation issue.

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A low and backwards saddle position (as is common with a cruiser) will put more load on your glutes and hamstrings. A higher, more forward position will put more load on your quadriceps (especially with the pedals under the balls of your feet).

So – assuming nothing major is wrong with the bike or your position – it’s just that you are not accustomed to the position and need time to adapt. It’s not only the strength and size of the muscles which have to change but also (re)-learning the movement itself can take time (pedaling is a surprisingly complex movement).

It could still be a good idea to have someone with bike fitting experience look at your position on the bike. All those rules of thumb can easily be off by a few centimeters which can make quite a difference. Bike fit is made even harder because going by “feel” isn’t necessarily the best way because you (and your muscles) are used to the old position, so anything different can easily feel wrong.

It’s also likely you are riding at a higher intensity and outputting more power.

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