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EDITORIAL

Min-Maxing Cockpit Spec

Words Andrew Major
Photos Dave Smith & Noted
Date Sep 1, 2017

Expectations

Up to a certain price it's fairly difficult to screw up cockpit spec on a mountain bike.*

Choose a black 30mm - 60mm stem, bolt up a black aluminum handlebar at least 780mm wide with obvious chop markings and then grab basic lock-on grips you like. Top off the whole cockpit confection with a saddle that doesn't invoke the term 'ass-hatchet' and it's time to sell some bicycles!


Min-maxing In a role playing game is investing most of a player's status points in one or two attributes at the expense of all of the player's other stats. - Urban Dictionary
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The Kona Wozo comes equipped with house branded stem, bars and grips. It's all rideable kit and it allows them to invest in other areas of the bike. It also leaves every Gucci cockpit brand on the market in the running if a buyer decides to upgrade.

X-Fusion Manic NSMB AndrewM

I pedaled the Wozo with an 800mm Spank bar, 60mm North Shore Billet stem, Renthal lock-on grips, X-Fusion Manic dropper post and a Chromag Trailmaster saddle - a custom combo that would never come stock on a bike. Photo: Andrew Major

Somewhere on the graph between bread-and-butter hardtails and Eagle-equipped-ultra-Enduro-carbon-super-bikes expectations morph to require 'suitable' finishing kit: brand name carbon bars, machined stems, titanium or carbon rails on saddles. 

Product managers invest a fair sum of money equipping bikes with high end parts that are actually quite likely to be swapped out due to fit or preference. Could this investment be directed elsewhere where performance will benefit?

specialized swat star stem

The 2017 Specialized S-Works 29" Enduro came equipped with a 60mm Syntace MegaForce 2 stem clenching a Specialized 780mm carbon bar. The stem's light, stiff, exotic and sports a corresponding street price of around $90 (USD). An expensive piece of kit for a buyer or shop to have sitting around if a shorter stem is required. 

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Combined the 35mm Deity stem and 787mm carbon bar on the 2017 Marin Wolf Ridge sells for around $260 (USD). The DC31 bar's 9° back and 5° up sweep is comfy and the 35mm stem length is perfect. If this doesn't meet your needs it's a high stakes swap with either a buddy scoring a top end cockpit for pennies-on-the-dollar or the local Marin dealer sitting on expensive take-offs. 

Change

A good local shop wants to fit you to the bike you're buying. Mountain bikes have all kinds of performance factors to consider beyond the comfort-efficiency-preference bio-mechanic triangle of fitting road bikes.  

Beyond setting up suspension and making sure the tire spec is appropriate for local terrain the next step is configuring the cockpit. A lot of the experienced riders throwing down for expensive all mountain machines have make and model preferences for grips, bars, stems and saddles that work for them. 

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Primer number 1 was a full custom build where Pete chose his ideal stem and bar dimensions from Chromag. Working in shops on the North Shore it was very common for riders to swap out to their preferred Chromag or Race Face bar when purchasing a new rig.

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Primer #2 came with a Thomson Elite stem and Renthal Fatbar. Awesome spec choices - including one of my favourite bars - except that the Thomson stem was too long and 760mm Renthal bar too narrow for my preference on the bike and would have needed to be swapped at the time of purchase. 

It's an extreme example but a shop I worked in during the late 2000's had top end 110mm and 120mm Ritchey WCS stems with titanium hardware stacked like cordwood under the display counter. The best we could offer was trade them straight across for basic 50mm, 60mm or 70mm Truvativ stems and then strip them and sell the hardware to try and recoup the cost. It was a losing venture but the bikes were unsaleable otherwise. 

Many shops now are avoiding swaps and would rather customers left with the stock controls and heavily discounted replacements as desired in order to keep inventory clean. 

Marin Hawk Hill 2017 NSMB AndrewM

The basic stem and 780mm bar on Marin's Hawk Hill are heavy and boring but otherwise perfectly trail worthy. If it was my own bike the cockpit would consist of Renthal grips, a 40mm North Shore Billet stem and a 12° backsweep SQlab bar - a combination that no bike company would ever spec. Photo: Andrew Major

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Is it worth $50? Sure. Is it worth $150? Probably not. No matter how nice they are the take-off value of house branded carbon bars is limited by the potential purchasers. All things but graphics being equal a Santa Cruz, Bontrager or Specialized carbon bar simply lacks the resale value of an Easton, Race Face, Renthal or etc. handlebar. The Santa Cruz bar on our Tallboy 3 tester was an almost zero-rise iteration which also limits potential resale opportunities in some locales. 

The alternative is of course dropping thousands on a top end bike, taking it home, and then dropping hundreds of dollars more to get it optimized whilst entertaining low ball buy & sell offers for brand new cockpit parts that will eventually have to be shipped to Winnipeg for pennies on the dollar and a promise of future beer next time buddy's driving through North Vancouver on his way to Whistler. 

Zero winning. 

Choice

I don't know of a single case where a rider purchased a bike because the stock saddle had titanium or carbon fiber rails. Not one. But I've met a handful of men and women over the years who have been reluctant to part with their wunder-railed pears of anguish because, apparently, suffering on a $300 saddle is a different experience than suffering equally on a $50 model. 

Relative comfort aside, every time I see a bike stock with a carbon railed saddle I can't help but wonder how much money could have been pumped into a suspension, brake or hub upgrade - something that would actually make a performance difference to the bike. 

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Kona's $6000 (CAD) 2016 Process 134 came equipped with a basic, Kona branded, 40mm stem and a black-on-black aluminum Race Face bar. Good looking and great functioning products but probably not what most folks would expect to see on a 6k bike. On the other hand it had a set of Hope hubs - a significant performance upgrade compared to spending that money on a luxury bar and stem. Photo: Cam McRae

Intense Carbine 2018 AndrewM

Intense's 'Foundation' level 2018 Carbine build includes a perfectly appropriate - and good looking - Intense-branded 40mm stem and 780mm alloy bar. They're nice looking and functional parts that could be used throughout the Carbine lineup to cut costs and leave upgrade choices wide open. Photo: Andrew Major

Cockpits and contact points should be usable place holders; perfectly rideable product but chosen with recognition that grips, saddles, bars and stems are often going to need to be swapped out for optimum fit and personal preference. Spec dollars should be invested in the performance altering parts that a rider is unlikely to change. 

Even in a case where a rider doesn't have a clear preference for bar sweep, grip thickness or saddle profile, choosing to spec. lower value items makes it more realistic for shops to swap out parts to best support their customers in getting the optimum experience. 

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If a wider saddle is the preference then oiled leather is better! Check out Chromag's Trailmaster LTD. Better to be swapping it out for a basic cromoly railed saddle then trying to offload a carbon railed super saddle. Photo: Morgan Taylor 

SQlab Alt-Bars AndrewM

7°, 8°, 9°, 12° or 16° I think it's a great idea to try different backsweeps to determine what bar is optimum for you. Swapping out allow bars, like SQlab's 30X, is a lot less expensive than experimenting with carbon. Photo: Andrew Major

It doesn't have to look cheap. For example a Race Face Aeffect stem, black-on-black Atlas bar and a WTB Pure saddle with chromoly rails is a great looking, high quality, package that's easy to support with a hacksaw and a range of stem lengths and dirt cheap compared to top end carbon kit. Once a setup is dialed in there's always an opportunity to bling out on plastic fantastic, ti rails and to taste the rainbow of anodized stem colors. 

Min-maxing cockpit spec: everyone wins. 

*In this case I'm ignoring XC race bikes - some of which cling stubbornly to 90mm+ stems
**I originally wrote "house brand" but bike companies like Santa Cruz, Intense, Specialized and others are putting out some luxury cockpit parts with their own monikers. 

Comments

tallbeast
+5
tallbeast  - Sept. 1, 2017, 1:56 a.m.

How the hell are you supposed to read anything when the photos keep auto sliding !!!!! What a retarded set up.

Reply

Vikb
+4
Vik Banerjee  - Sept. 1, 2017, 6:36 a.m.

Yup. The transition speed is way too fast. I would prefer static photos. I don't need shit moving on me before my first cup of coffee. ;)

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 1, 2017, 7:22 a.m.

Hi gents,

Apologies for the hassle - can I ask what devices are you reading on? 

They're made manual by hold and drag on my iPhone and on my PC just just want to report the correct issue.

Thanks,

Reply

stinky_dan
0
stinky_dan  - Sept. 1, 2017, 7:59 a.m.

I get these issues on iPad and desktop Mac. I'd prefer it to be turned off if possible.

Reply

whatyouthink
0
whatyouthink  - Sept. 1, 2017, 9:20 a.m.

They are auto scrolling on my pc using google chrome. about 2 seconds before scrolling.

Reply

nortonwhis
0
AM  - Sept. 1, 2017, 10:19 a.m.

if you click on the image it stops the scrolling.

Reply

tallbeast
0
tallbeast  - Sept. 1, 2017, 1:20 p.m.

Hi there , iPad

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 1, 2017, 1:36 p.m.

Thanks guys - apologies for the delay in correcting the issue. I ditched the scrolling for now, unfortunately the images aren't identical sizes but hopefully it is more enjoyable to read now.

Thank you for your patience and thanks for reading!

Reply

Mungbeanz
+1
Mungbeanz  - Sept. 1, 2017, 10:58 a.m.

Yes. This. 

I want to read the whole thing, but the barrage of slideshows annoy me too much to bother.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 1, 2017, 1:36 p.m.

Hi, apologies for the frustration. Give it a shot now.

Thanks for reading,

AM

Reply

rsofich
0
rsofich  - Sept. 1, 2017, 5:58 a.m.

I know.  Annoying AF.

Reply

Vikb
+3
Vik Banerjee  - Sept. 1, 2017, 6:40 a.m.

On the cockpit front a solid set of mid-grade components would be fine. Gets you out the door and riding and you can replace with what you want. The cost would have to reflect that savings or other parts spec'd better. Those take offs can the be used on loaner/beater/winter/broke friend's bikes so they aren't wasted.

I avoid all this by buying frames and building from there. I get what I want and with online sales I have come out ahead on cost vs. complete bikes, but this does require time and patience....so not for everyone.

Reply

sralph
+1
sralph  - Sept. 1, 2017, 8:01 a.m.

I've always bought a frame and and built up from there.   My preferred brands are making that increasingly difficult lately, particularly when certain models aren't offered as frame only or when certain colorways are only available as completes.  In addition, my next upgrade will move me to boost spacing (thanks bike industry!) so I'll need to replace at least my rear hub to build on the cheap.  GRRRR!

Reply

extraspecialandbitter
0
ExtraSpecialandBitter  - Sept. 1, 2017, 9:07 a.m.

Why not use a boostinator?  

More even spoke tension and you probably just need to re-dish your wheel (depending on spoke length).

Reply

sralph
+2
sralph  - Sept. 1, 2017, 7:53 a.m.

Andrew:

Windows 10 PC with Google Chrome browser.   The pictures are auto scrolling very quickly, too quickly to be able to read the captions.  

Sean

Reply

FlipSide
+1
FlipSide  - Sept. 1, 2017, 7:56 a.m.

I just hope more bike companies would offer frame-only and/or frame+fork options at a reasonable price. Then we would be in the ideal position to min-max while avoiding thrashing lower end parts. Frame-only for 3500-4000$ is ridiculous and seems to be a tactic to discourage buyers to build a bike from the frame up. These days, it seems to be increasingly difficult to buy a complete bike with a top-of-the-line fork but without carbon everything and a 10 000$ price tag.

IMO, the ideal bike is a good frame + high-end suspensions + high-end hubs & aluminum rims + high end aluminum cockpit parts + good tires + whatever you can afford for the rest.

I agree min-maxing is part of the fun! :)

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1
Andrew Major  - Sept. 1, 2017, 8:17 a.m.

Agreed re. the ideal bike from a min-max perspective with the addition that for my bike I like great brakes as well.

Reply

FlipSide
0
FlipSide  - Sept. 1, 2017, 8:56 a.m.

Agreed! I forgot about the good brakes. :)

Reply

extraspecialandbitter
0
ExtraSpecialandBitter  - Sept. 1, 2017, 9:17 a.m.

"It's an extreme example but a shop I worked in during the late 2000's had top end 110mm and 120mm Ritchey WCS stems with titanium hardware stacked like cordwood under the display counter"

You could have taken all of those spare stems and handlebars and made "millions" in Picasso rip offs. 

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 1, 2017, 12:29 p.m.

Ha --- turns out they were worth more stripping the titanium hardware and selling it separately then as stems!

Reply

extraspecialandbitter
0
ExtraSpecialandBitter  - Sept. 1, 2017, 12:36 p.m.

Sell the Ti hardware and then use crappy hardware to make functional art

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 1, 2017, 12:39 p.m.

Upcycling... is there anything it can't do?!

Reply

MikeMc
0
Mike McArthur  - Sept. 1, 2017, 10:25 a.m.

AM - would you ride a 40mm stem irrespective of frame spec for reach dimension? My view is the last 10mm adjusted at the stem as frames will invariably have difference reach spec's so you'll never get the same cockpit length every time. I guess what I'm saying is, would you compromise fit for handling preference by holding firm on stem length? Sure you're still riding 40mm stem, but if you've shortened the cockpit 10mm from optimum, why is that better than the 50mm stem?

Holding firm on stem length preference severely limits the frame choices. If you've prioritized handling over fit, I'd acknowledge this concession. I know this isn't point of this article, but the trade-off's are often missed in these write-ups

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 1, 2017, 12:38 p.m.

At some level at either end of the stem length spectrum there is going to be a compromise but I think most humans are pretty adaptable and every bike I've ridden has had some usable range of stem lengths where performance doesn't seem to be compromised.

In my own case on quite a few bikes I've gone 1cm longer in the stems I'm running over the past year because I've dropped from running 800mm bars to 780mm bars. I'm currently riding bikes with stems from 35mm to 60mm with 780mm bars depending on the bike I'm riding. Most of those bikes get ridden on the same trails. 

Even with that taken into account the bikes all have fairly different saddle nose to bar clamp reach lengths. I play with stem length and bar height on any bike to find what works for me on that bike and often the numbers will be quite different from one bike to another.

For example depending on the BB height of a bike the handlebar height relative to the BB height will vary quite a bit which changes center of gravity to the point that I may end up raising the bar. Which then changes how I'm weighting the front tire - every bike is a system.

Anyways, I hope that is helpful in addressing your point. It's an aside from a piece on Min-Max but I appreciate your comment as it is not something I've seen tackled either - possible because it would be hard to tackle concisely especially in a way that could be universally appreciated with a number of bikes. One of those conversations-over-a-beer that may not translate well to an article.

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Holgerfromgermany
0
Holger Baer  - Sept. 1, 2017, 11 a.m.

iPhone and Firefox pc. Both sliding automatically ... it's a bit annoying 🙈

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 1, 2017, 1:37 p.m.

It should be much less annoying now - thanks for reading!

Reply

Dude_
0
Dude_  - Sept. 3, 2017, 4:56 p.m.

great article....I have ridden a lot new bikes over the past year, it is amazing how much time I spend dialing in the cockpit - mostly the stem, spacers, bar length, and bar rotation. I have learn to appreciate the impact that all of these have on controlling the bike and finding the position that optimizes its comfort. Bar roll has piqued my interest as of lately and how important it is in frontward or rearward weighting of the bike. I personally feel that as bikes get longer this takes a priority. 

My friends think I am crazy until they try it out and recognize the impact.

As much as I have tried to use <50mm stem, every time I come back to the 50mm. 

saddle is pretty easy to set-up...I use the same saddle and drop a weighted line off the nose to find the same spot relative to the BB.

Reply

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