In a previous article we have already written about the characteristics needed in order to approach endurance preparation, listing in 10 key points the things to remember and above all to avoid. It is now imperative to discuss the most suitable means to approach long distances which require considerable physical effort.
First of all let’s try to understand the main features that we must keep in mind.
Phil Burt, author of Bike Fit, recommends comfort rather than an extremely aerodynamic position or a position devised solely for best performance. The reason being that better comfort will lead to better performance over distance thanks to the energy saved.
Clearly this piece of advice is not valid for everyone; as a matter of fact, the cyclist who plans to ride across flat plains for a short or medium distance, perhaps in windy areas, will have to pay more attention to the aerodynamics. But, in general, focusing on comfort is never a mistake.
What generates comfort in the mechanical means
Many beginners ignore the fact that the first, most important, technical characteristic that improves comfort is the frame’s geometry. The position of the saddle can be adapted and modified, but the basis of everything is the geometrically perfect frame, built according to the cyclist’s anthropometric measurements. For example, few people look at the angle of inclination of the seat tube, which is instead a fundamental factor for finding the correct equilibrium between comfort and performance.
Let’s unmask a commonplace: carbon isn’t always rigid
Asian industrial production has got us used to types of carbon that do not excel in quality. Even top brand names have claimed that carbon is very rigid and therefore mainly suitable to a certain type of cyclist, one who desires pure performance. In reality there are about a hundred different types of carbon fiber, that are used in various sectors and for various purposes. Italian manufacturers who still produce in Italy generally use very high quality carbon fibers, and the manufacturing process keeps an eye on elasticity during the construction phase of the frame. The addition of kevlar between the fibers, furthermore, helps this process, sometimes obtaining carbon frames with excellent comfort qualities.
The return of steel
More and more endurance cycling enthusiasts choose a steel frame. It may seem like a contradiction, a step backwards in terms of technology, but this is not the case: over the years steel has proven to be not only a durable material, but also one that possesses unique vibration absorption qualities. This makes it an even more precious material considering that the quality of road surfaces are getting worse all across Europe.
The fundamental supporting point: the saddle
This is a difficult topic. It is hard to recommend a suitable saddle: it is an extremely personal object and only after different attempts is it possible to decide on the right saddle. Remember the controversial American champion Lance Armstrong? He took great care in preparing his bike, and during the winters preceding the Tour de France he would use several different saddles so as to “make them take shape”. This says a lot about the importance of this particular aspect of the bicycle, especially when it comes to Endurance.
Tires: new trends
Recent studies have revealed that the width of the tire does not penalize fluidity, as was once believed in previous years. A wider tire does weigh slightly more, but just think about how many more vibrations it can absorb. Currently, professional athletes tend to use the 25mm size, but some manufacturers, such as Michelin, recommend 28mm for endurance cycling.
By contacting a manufacturer who can provide a customized product, you can request some small technical construction features designed for endurance cycling. For example, it is possible to request a frame which can hold luggage racks, hub dynamo lights and mudguards: if one day you decide to participate in a Paris – Brest or similar races, these things will come in handy.
More technically, one could request a longer rear triangle, so that the rear wheel is further away from the centre of the bicycle with relative reactivity loss but with extra comfort gained. Our studies and tests have established, furthermore, that the “monostay” system – a single rear tube connecting the seat tube to the rear wheel – is to be discarded, even if it is widely used today in the production of carbon frames. We favour the traditional 4 stays. An accentuated sloping geometry generally leads to more rigidity and therefore less comfort.
We could go on for quite a while, there are many technical details, and we are sure that the most passionate amongst you already know them, but in order to approach the splendid discipline of long-distance cycling in the best possible way, we advise you to contact a real frame maker, it is in endurance that one can really appreciate the manufacturer’s experience.