Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Equipment - Bar Drop Delta

Yesterday I alluded to this idea I wanted to explore further, related to the two different levels of drop on two handlebars on my red bike.

As a reminder I'll show the two bars. First is the Wing bar, the shallow drop one:

FSA Wing bar, shallow drop.
Note the drops are above the tire.

FSA Energy bar, deeper drop.
Note that the drops are about even with the tire.

For the longest time, after seeing pictures of Michele Bartoli at his peak, I wanted to have a shallow drop bar that allowed me to have a very low position even when on the hoods or tops. My rationale went as follows - since glute recruitment correlated directly with how far over I was leaned over, I wanted to lean over more all the time. This way I'd be using my glutes more - I'd be more powerful.

Plus it's more aero so if I was alternating standing and sitting on a fast uphill I could go faster if I was lower.

Bartoli in action with his super low bars.
I understand this was "that era" but the position is what's important here.

I know that I can simply lean over more while using a shallow drop bar, but that stresses my back. It's already messed up so I want to try and keep pressure off of it, and that means having a certain amount of extension with my arms, allowing me to support my upper body without much effort.

When the compact bars first came out I didn't really think of them as a solution to any problem I might have because, frankly, I like more reach and more drop, stuff the compact bars reduce. Then I realized that, hey, this might be the way to get the drops and hoods closer in height, allowing me to realize that Bartoli type hood/top position.

If I used a longer, lower stem I'd be able to put my hand positions in a tighter cluster, less delta in drop from the tops to the drops. This meant I would be closer to my "drops" position the whole time I was on the bike. This in turn would mean I'd have more power due to the fact that my body could recruit those powerful glutes and other muscles all the time, not just when I was in the drops

So I went out and bought an FSA Wing bar, a compact bar with a flattened top bit. More aero, right? I couldn't go wrong.

I also had to buy a longer, lower stem, I returned to shorter 170mm cranks to push my saddle up 5 mm, and I even contemplated changing pedals which had more "stack height". I needed to get higher on the saddle so that my bars would be the appropriate drop down.

The problem was that even with all that the bars were simply too high. The tops were fine but the drops were 2 cm higher up. I felt better on the tops, the hoods were basically the same, but the drops weren't great. They felt worst when I was sprinting out of the saddle. Unfortunately that's the most important thing for me.

The drops had to drop.

This led me to buying some FSA Energy bars. They have the same reach as the Wings but they have more drop, 2 cm worth. This would put me right back where I wanted to be, back to the amount of drop my crit bars had (which, in the old days, wasn't considered much). The only thing was that I had gotten to like the bend of the FSA Wing drops and the Energy drops looked different.

Therefore I avoided making the change, trying to make the Wing bars work.

Finally, last week, I gave up. I tried the Energy bars with their deeper drop. I immediately felt the difference. Although the Wing bars had about the right reach the Energy bars felt just right, like slipping on a pair of well fit jeans.

After two rides on the trainer I decided that the levers were positioned okay on the Energy bars. This meant wrapping the bars and heading out on the road.

To my amazement I trucked along on the deeper drop bars. They felt good, much better than the shallow drop Wing bars. I wasn't sure exactly what it was but obviously it had to do with the extra drop.

When I got back home the Missus asked me what route I rode because I got back too early for my regular loop. I told her I'd done just that, the regular loop. After checking Strava I saw that I set a PR for one section and top three times (for myself) in every other public segment. I'd done my loop faster than I'd ridden it since early 2012 when I started using Strava religiously to track my rides.

The next day I felt unfamiliarly sore, aches in my shoulders, arms, even the backs of my legs. The lower drop position had me recruiting neglected muscles.

I realized that the deeper drops allowed me to recruit more muscles. That implied that I'd be using my "regular" hoods/tops muscles a little less. Spreading the power stresses across more of my body would allow me to use more muscles, allowing me to use different muscle groups as I fatigue.

I have yet to race with the Energy bars but with four races coming up in the next month or so I'll have plenty of chances to test them out. It'll be interesting to see how it goes.


Brian P said...

Aki -

I would love to see a post on when you decide to close gaps quickly or roll back more slowly in a crit. For example, is it better to do a 4 second effort at 400 watts or a 10 second effort at 300 watts in order to conserve energy and retain shelter. You seem to be a master of this.

Aki said...

That's a good suggestion and question. I do it by feel, I guess, and it's usually determined by how I feel. It's kind of bad but in most of my races I'm on the limit pretty much the whole time. Usually there's one tough effort for whatever reason and then after that I'm totally redlined. The easy answer is "go hard when you're fresh, a bit easier when you're not", but that's not really analyzing it properly. I'll think about it for a future post.

Ironically at yesterday's race I had to let gaps go a few times before I couldn't go any more, and I was thinking quite a bit on whether I kept the gap tight in a turn, let it open and snapped it shut, or if I had to sort of roll up to the next wheel.

Your thoughts came at a perfect time.

pitrebraunwedding said...

I have generally gone with the 300 watt choice if I'm fairly certain that semi-permanent gaps aren't going to be forming, but I have no idea if that uses more reserves or not.... I feel fresher the less >350-400 watt efforts I have to do. 300 watt efforts don't seem to impact the sprint that much. Absolutely no science behind that.