My Blog of July 21st on stem length has been shot down, debunked, dismissed as “Utter Rubbish.”
I failed to take into account the Competitive Fit, the Eddy Fit, the French Fit, and also the little known and yet to be accepted, Hissy Fit. I also realized that rude people may have a longer middle finger than most throwing the whole formula out of whack.
If you rushed out and bought a new handlebar stem on the strength of my Blog, I apologize. But look at it this way; your local bike store needs the business.
Let’s face it; every time a bike store closes its doors people become homeless. Forced to get out and actually ride their bikes instead of being able to stand around at the weekends in a friendly, climate controlled atmosphere, and BS about bikes.
This elbow against the tip of the saddle trick is just an “Old wife’s tale” and should be totally ignored. I was simply pointing out that there is often a grain of truth to most folk lore and that the length of forearm is relevant to foot length and therefore to the rest of the body.
Most old wives will also verify that length of the foot is relevant to penis size; which makes perfect sense when you consider that long feet prevent well endowed men from falling on their face.
Tantrums: That was the nick name I gave to tandems; building them was for me a love/hate thing. The problem building a tandem is in the fact that it is more than twice the work of building two single frames, but they do not command the price of two singles. So I knew I was screwed financially every time someone talked me into building one. I would cuss and swear all through the building of it (Hence tantrums.) and would promise myself I would never build another.
I will say that once the tandem frame was built I did get double the satisfaction in seeing the finished product. Time would pass and someone else would come along and ask me to build them a tandem frame; I would say “No” they would whine and beg and eventually I would give in, and the whole process would start over.
Working on a single frame whether it be brazing it or filing the lug work after; you simply hold the frame in one hand, place a wooden block around a tube and clamp it in the vise with the other hand.
With a tandem frame it is so big, heavy and unwieldy that it takes two hands to hold it; you rest one end of it on something while you let go with one hand to put the wooden block in place. Next you carry it to the vise and try to tighten it using your knee. Invariably the wooden block falls off during the process and the result is more tantrums.
There is one tandem frame that I am particularly proud of and may have actually enjoyed building it. It is the track tandem pictured here and at the top of the page and it was ridden in the 1978 World Championships by Roy Swinnerton and Trevor Gadd representing Great Brittain. Seeing two very powerful young riders get up to speeds of 55 mph. on a banked oval track is both satisfying and at the same time very frightening.
I built a few tandems when I first moved to the US in 1979 and I worked for Paris Sport; here is one of them.
Later I went to work for Masi in Southern California and in 1982 started my own business there. On doing so I promised myself I would never build another tandem.
I was asked several times but I always said “You can’t offer me enough money to get me to build one.” And no one ever offered enough that I was even close to being tempted.
This method of determining handlebar stem length has been around for ever. My cycling experience dates back over 55 years and it was practiced then; actually it is not a bad guide and works for most people. Place your elbow against the nose of your saddle and if your finger tips do not fit behind the handle bars as shown above, then your stem is probably too short. If the bars are more than 2cm. away from the finger tips your stem maybe too long.
When I was racing I used a stem that placed my finger tips one centimeter from the bars; now as a mild concession to my aging body I’m using a stem a centimeter shorter. If you are wondering as I did for many years what the length of a persons forearm has to do with stem length? I will explain.
When I am determining frame size I take into account three body measurements:
1. Inside leg length (Often referred to as inseam.) measured crotch to floor without shoes.
2. Overall height.
3. Shoe size. (Length of foot.)
I do not require body length because I have overall height minus inseam. I do not require arm length because this is relevant to leg length and foot length combined.
Human bodies although all different do generally follow certain rules of nature. We have the same basic design and structure as most other animals on this planet except we walk on our hind legs while most others walk on all four. So it follows a person with long legs will also have long arms; short legs, short arms.
Four legged animals generally walk on their toes (and finger tips) whereas we stand and walk on our heels. So some people have a long body, but short legs and it is not unusual for a person with this build to have longer feet, and also longer arms. The long arms are not out of proportion if you consider the leg length is a combination of inseam plus the length of foot.
When pedaling a bicycle the toe is pointing downward at the bottom of the pedal stroke so the foot becomes an extension of the leg; which is why it has to be taken into consideration when determining frame size. The person with short legs, long feet needs a larger frame than their inseam alone would suggest. The larger frame with its proportionally longer top tube will also accommodate this rider’s longer body and arms
The length of the forearm is proportionate in length to the length of the foot; take one of your shoes and hold it against your forearm and you will see it is the same length as the distance from your elbow to your wrist. In other words the big bones in your forearm are the same length as your foot.
So assuming you are on the right size frame and your seat is set at the correct height; then chances are if you have very long feet then you will have a short inseam and a long body.
Because you have long feet you also have a long forearm and if you do this little elbow against the saddle trick it will show you need a long handlebar stem which will be right for your long body and arms.
A person with very long legs for their height will also have long arms but will have a short body and small feet relative to their height. Small feet mean short forearm and a shorter stem which will be right for their short body. Because this rider has long legs his saddle will be set high making a greater distance from the seat to the bars; this will accommodate his long arms.
There is another method for determining stem length which states: “A rider seated with their hands on the drops of the bars, will have the front hub obscured from view by the handlebars.”
This works in the same way; longer body calls for a longer stem and vice-versa. The only thing is that this method could be affected by the head angle of the frame and the length of fork rake. I prefer the length of forearm method because it is simpler. It works for most people but there is a small percentage that it will not. I always say if you are comfortable and happy with your current position, don’t change it. Go by the old “If it ain’t broke” adage.
And what does this all have to do with the price of fish? Nothing at all, but it got your attention.
I finally got my bike put together at took my first ride in at least fifteen years; I rode for exactly an hour at a pretty brisk pace and it felt good. I could have gone further but decided not to do too much on the first day.
I have had the frame for about six weeks now; a 52 cm. Fuso that I built in 1986. It had a brand new paint job in the 1990s and the previous owner never built it up after that. Very tastefully finished in a royal blue with understated black decals; I bought some Vittoria Corsa tubulars with blue sidewalls and found some blue and black handlebar tape. Black brake cable housing finished the job.
The components are all Campagnolo SR from the 1980s; the hold up in getting it finished was in finding a bottom bracket spindle the right length. It finally arrived on Friday and I put the whole thing together over the weekend. Also arriving on Friday was pretty rare NOS Super Record 48 tooth chainring that I had found on eBay. This gives me a much more usable range of gears with a six speed 13 – 18 freewheel.
Old bikes are like old cars; you can work on them yourself. I love the simplicity of down tube mounted friction gear levers. I read a statement by someone who said “Indexed shifting is like frets on a fiddle.” I’m inclined to agree. I adjusted the gears in the house expecting to have to do some final adjustments as I rode it, but it all worked perfectly.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking the new stuff and if you are racing the bar mounted shifters are probably a huge advantage. But for someone like me who’s just riding for pleasure and exercise; why get complicated?
I love the beautiful lines of the older bikes; they look so flimsy with the thin tubes and rims and yet are so very strong. It is what started the whole love affair in the first place.
I will admit that I do like the new clothing; the padded shorts instead of chamois leather insert that was a pain to wash and dry. (Of course you could clean your windows with it.) I haven’t gone clipless yet but probably will in a few weeks when I have got used to riding again.
And the helmets; they finally got that right. Do you remember back in the late 1970s early 1980s when the Bell helmets were the thing? Looked like a fucking great white mushroom stuck on your head. These new helmets actually look cool so I am wearing one for the first time.
Alright so I’m a poser; what can I tell you? But you probably figured that out when I said I’d bought blue tires to match my blue frame.
Mark Rosenberg emailed me pictures of a 50 cm. Fuso he recently picked up on eBay. The previous owner had peeled the decals off for whatever reason so it was ugly, but this did mean he got it for a pretty low price. (See below.)
Mark opted to go for a $100 red powder coat paint job which only took a week to do; he built it up with parts he already had, and he was on the road. He reported to me that the bike was a nice ride, great handling, and quick, very stable. He added, great shock absorption, can't figure that one out. A good steel frame is like a very stiff spring, so it will absorb road shocks. At the same time when the rider makes a sudden effort it will give a little but then immediately transfer that energy to the back wheel.
It pleases me when I see one of my frames with the original paint and has been cared for. It pleases me when someone spends a good deal of money to restore a frame to its original glory. But I think what gives me the most satisfaction is when someone like Mark just rides it. It is what the frames were built for; the beauty is in the way the bike rides and handles, not just in aesthetics.
See more pictures of the bike here: