RAGBRAI Training: What's the Best Bike for RAGBRAI
- 10 March, 2023
- Andrea Parrott
One of the more common questions I see asked about RAGBRAI, especially by newer riders, is what is the best bike for RAGBRAI. That’s a bit like asking what is the best dog to have as a pet. You will get a lot of different responses based on personal preference and it really comes down to that – what you prefer. So what should you look for in a bike for a ride like RAGBRAI?
By far the number one thing to look for in a bike is comfort and fit. Forget all the newfangled gadgets like electronic shifting. If a bike isn’t comfortable to ride, it won’t be enjoyable and will make you miserable on RAGBRAI. You will be spending many hours on RAGBRAI this year. 500 miles divided by 15 mph equals sitting on the bike for 33 hours in one week. Some of you will spend more time than this. That’s a long time to be sitting on that bike so it had better be comfortable.
There are three touch points with the bike – the handlebars, saddle and pedals. A major component of comfort is bike fit. Make sure you get the right sized bike for you. You don’t want to be reaching too far to the handlebars, nor be crunched up because it’s too small. You want it just right. This is determined both by the frame size and length of the stem holding the handlebars. You need to have your saddle the right height and the right fore-aft position so your hips and knees are at the correct angles. Bike shops can help you get the fit close to what you need. If you feel you need more help, there are bike fitters out there who can really dial in all of these adjustments.
The number one complaint is that bike riding is a pain in the rear, literally. A lot of folks have problems with getting comfortable on their saddle. This can be a combination of saddle height and position, type of saddle, and type of cycling shorts (you are using cycling shorts aren’t you? Don’t come complaining to me if you are riding in blue jean cutoffs!). Saddles come in many shapes and sizes. There are saddles now designed for women. Some have lot of gel to make them squishy. Some are wider but watch out for getting them too wide. Many shops will let you try out saddles to find one that works for you. Your saddle should be fairly level. If it slopes down to the front it will put pressure on your hands, if it slopes to the back it could put pressure on sensitive parts.
Then there are the shorts. Bike shorts have a chamois. Chamois is a piece of leather from deer or sheep. It is thin and soft. If you are as old as I am, you will recall that our cycling shorts used to use actual pieces of chamois as padding. Now they’ve been replaced with synthetic padding. Shorts vary widely in the amount of padding they provide. You may be tempted to get the most padding you can find but beware that too much can be a problem as well, as it can bunch up. Not cool.
People will also complain about their hands going numb while riding. This can be a combination of the type and position of the handlebar, gloves and riding position. The lower the handlebars, the more weight you will bear on your hands as you ride. I don’t know that upright or riser bars vs the drop bars (those with the downward curves) makes that much difference. It’s more about hand position. If you have the heel of your hand resting on the bars you can create some numbness in the hand, called Handlebar Palsy, caused by putting pressure on the ulnar nerve. To avoid this, rest other parts on the hand on the bars and move them around to different positions frequently. This can also be helped by using cushioned handlebar tape and well-padded cycling gloves.
Beyond fit and comfort though, there aren’t a lot of rules about the best bike. Certainly a heavier bike will be harder to pedal up hills. A stiff racing bike with skinny tires will create a harder ride and may be more fatiguing than a more forgiving touring frame and wider tires. Tire pressure will also affect the ride – avoid going rock hard. If you have a bike, such as a hybrid type, where you sit very upright, this can create more wind resistance, the main enemy of cyclists, not to mention it puts more pressure on your behind.
The thing to remember, though, is that the motor is the most important part, and the stronger, more fit you are, the less the bike matters, as long as it is comfortable and fits you well. You will see everything out on RAGBRAI: racing bikes, hybrids, trikes, cruisers, mountain bikes, tandems, e-bikes, maybe even a unicycle.
One other very important thing is to make sure that whatever bike you ride on RAGBRAI, that it is in good working condition. A good working cheap bike is better than a poorly functioning expensive bike. Now is the time to get whatever bike your tuned up. Spring is around the corner and bike shops will be getting busy. So do it now.
For more information on training for RAGBRAI, check out my last 14 years’ worth of training blogs here.
Also, if you have questions about training that you would like me to address in future blogs, please send them to me at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading.
Coach David Ertl
David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team and individual cyclists through the Peaks Coaching Group. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com. He can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.
News Flash: David is the proud recipient of the 2023 Newbies Award.
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