BluesCat is a 60-year-old Phoenix, Arizona resident who originally returned to bicycling in 2002 in order to help his son get the Boy Scout Cycling merit badge. His bikes sat idle until the summer of 2008 when gas prices spiked at over $4.00 per gallon. Since then, he has become active cycling, day-touring, commuting by bike, blogging (azbluescat.blogspot.com) and giving grief to the forum editors in the on-line cycling community.
I like bikes. I love comfortable bikes. So it should surprise no one that my favorite bike is a recumbent.
It also should be no surprise that I try to make my diamond frame bikes as comfortable as possible.
The bike saddles and handlebars on my Specialized Hardrock and Giant Yukon mountain bikes are the make or break components for making me a happy cyclist.
The original saddles on these two bikes were horrible, so I have replaced the Hardrock saddle with a Specialized Expedition Pro and the Yukon sports a Brooks Flyer.
The Expedition Pro (I believe it is now called the Expedition Plus in the Specialized catalog) has the classic twin rear springs, and the seating surface is supported by a web of several tension coil springs strung between the tongue and rear of the saddle frame.
Riding on this saddle is like riding on a pillow-top mattress. Broken-in Brooks saddles are legendary for their comfort. The Flyer adds a pair of rear springs for additional cushioning. The leather tops of Brooks saddles mold themselves to the contours of your sit bones as you ride. After a few hundred miles on a Brooks, pressure points disappear and the saddle fits your butt like a custom orthotic.
The stock handlebars on the Hardrock and Yukon aren’t much better than the saddles. They are both riser handlebars. The Hardrock bars are made of aluminum and the Yukon bars are steel.
Weight, however, isn’t the problem. My problem with riser handlebars, or flat bars, is that they do not offer many different, comfortable hand positions.
You either have your hands spread way apart on the grips (which leads to the feeling of being on an Inquisitor’s rack after about ten miles), or you bring them in towards the stem and grip the cold, hard, naked metal of the bar.
Drop handlebars offer a much better variety of hand positions, and winding bike tape all over them means I would never have to contend with subjecting my sensitive, artist’s hands to the brutality of cold metal.
However, I am not a fan of drop bars for a different reason.
Whenever you are down in the drops, you are supporting your entire upper body with the muscles of your arms and your shoulders. After a few miles, this is no better than the torture position of a riser bar. And never, ever lock your elbows, when you are in the drops or you may find yourself in additional pain when you hit that next pothole.
Trekking handlebars are best. These butterfly-shaped handlebars are hands-down (pun intended) the best design to date.
Although they look huge, they are actually slightly narrower than the typical riser bar.
Trekking bars weigh only slightly more than aluminum riser bars, and weigh far less than steel bars.
Because of a curve in the bars, they can be put on the bike in a “riser” position–so the outside loops come up above the stem–or used in the “drop” position so the loops swoop down from the stem.
Experimentation has led me to put the bars in the riser position on the larger frame Hardrock and in the drop position on the Yukon.
You can put regular grips on the straight portions of the bar, or you can go through the trouble of winding on bar tape.
I don’t have the patience for bar tape, so I have found the perfect solution in the Sunlite Cruiser Foam Grip Set.
The kit comes with two lengths of foam tubing, two sculpted foam grips and two end plugs.
Once you get the old handlebar off and the Trekking bars on, you run some water through the inside of the foam tubing and slip it on all the way to within a few inches of the stem.
You then run some water through the inside of a foam grip and slip it on; leaving enough of the bar sticking out beyond the grip that you can slip the brake/shift lever on, lever first, and cinch it down.
I’ve got the whole process down to about twenty minutes from start to being on the road. The Trekking bar size is the standard 25.4mm mountain bike/hybrid stem.
If you want to put a set on your road bike, you may have to find a shim set for the stem clamp.
The only other problem you may have with Trekking bars is finding them!
Very few local bike shops stock them. Nashbar has their black Trekking bars on their site at various times during the year; right now they are there and available for $17.99 plus shipping.
Velo-Orange has a set of silver aluminum Trekking bars for $25.00. If you live across the Pond in Europe, I understand that Raleigh and BBB also make Trekking bars.
The upscale Italian manufacturer, Modolo, also makes a variey of Trekking bars. In addition to the standard type, which they call the Yuma Traveller, they make a slightly altered model called the Yuma Mohican, which looks like a flat bar with a pair of integral, curvy bar ends. They also make a totally adjustable set called the Dumbo. You can adjust the direction of the loops and the angle of the bar to any position you wish. I would love to try a set Dumbos, but they are quite expensive.
When you start riding with Trekking bars, you discover you have five distinctive hand positions: (1) on the “flats” (where I have the sculpted grips on mine), (2) on the side-rear curves, (3) on the front-outside curves (sort of a ten and two o’clock position), (4) on the front loops, and (5) in drop position.
The drop position is especially good for riding into a headwind; you hook your thumbs under the front loops and rest your forearms down on the flats; you are in a drop position almost as low as you get with a set of drop bars, and you are expending about as much energy as you are when you are leaning on a rail fence.