Our tale begins, finding a suitable base and bending it to her will like an alloy horse.
I have been a cyclist for a decade now and a professional mechanic for half as long. I use my bicycle for transport and I cannot think of a faster, cheaper or more enjoyable way to get from A to B. This was my selling point to my Wife, although she didn’t need much convincing to get pedalling. Her biggest concern was that the bicycle was right for her.
The Test Ride
The shop had recently taken a trade in on a Van Nicholas Amazon with a 10x2 Campagnolo groupset, narrow tyres and drop bars. After showing it to Meg (my wife) we decided it was the perfect base. The next step in our process was probably the most important in buying a bicycle - the Test Ride. The largest deciding factor is the frame size. Bicycles are extremely adaptable and customizable but if the frame size is wrong it is an uphill, (and sometimes impossible), battle to get the bicycle comfortable, rideable and ultimately safe.
On the test ride Megan, my wife, identified that the bike was infact the correct size. However she also identified all of the things that she didn’t like about the bike. Her main notes were; the drop bars and shifters, the narrow tyres and the saddle.
The Changes We Made
The Handlebars and Shifters
Changing out the handlebar type and subsequently the shifters was one of the larger undertakings, due to the nature of the shifters. Drop handlebar shifters combine the brake and gear controls into one unit with a place to grip as well. They are very practical for having everything right there in your hand but Meg expressed some valid concerns.
The nature of the bars and shifters extends the length between you on the saddle and your hands on the handlebars. This has its benefits in other styles of riding, but for Meg it just didn’t work. She didn’t feel comfortable on the bars and she wasn’t confident that she had the hand strength to effectively pull the brakes. Adding the operation of the gears in to this mix, Meg felt she would be much more comfortable with a flat handlebar configuration.
To fulfill Meg's request of flat handlebars, new shifters and new derailleurs were also needed because not all brands work with each other but that was a problem for the mechanic. In the end I fitted; Flat Handlebars Shimano brake levers and a pair of SRAM thumb shifters which I was able source from our store and our myriad suppliers.
The Narrow Tyres
The tyres on the Van Nicholas were 23c road tyres with a narrow footprint. The 23c refers to the width of the tyre. The footprint is how much tyre actually contacts the road. Narrow high-pressure tyres have their place in cycling and are the go-to for speed and performance. For Meg however they felt insubstantial and they did not inspire confidence when riding. The frame was well positioned to accept some wider options as almost all bikes are, and in my opinion there was only one option – the Schwalbe Marathon Plus.
The Schwalbe Marathon Plus is one of the best tyres you can get for general on road/path cycling. I say one of the best but I struggle to think of a tyre I would recommend above it for this purpose. They come in a wide range of sizes, they have a large footprint and great channels in the tread for water dispersion, they are high pressure tyres which reduces rolling resistance but most impressively they are almost puncture proof due to a very thick casing and an extra layer of material below the tread. We went for the widest tyres we could fit in the frame. This is limited by the tyre contacting the sides of the fork at the front of the bike and the inside of the frame at the rear of the bike. After the alloy horse had its shoes on, we went on to sort out the saddle.
Finding the right saddle is a journey. We have many instances at Billy Bilsland Cycles where a customer is getting their new bike built but the old saddle from the old bike is getting moved across to the new build. Once you find the right saddle for your body, buy 100 of them and keep a cache so you never run out. This is mainly down to how individual all of our bodies are and because of this, saddles come in all manner of variations.
The solution to the problem of which saddle is right for you is the test saddle. Most of the major brands will offer a test saddle. They are supplied to the shop, we fit them to your bike and you can ride them for some time to see if they suit your body. If you love it come in and we will fit a brand new one in the exact same model, if you hate it, we fit another test saddle changing what didn’t work and keep the discovery process going.
At Billy Bilsland Cycles we offer all levels of bike fit with our fully trained staff, Barry and Ellie. One option is a saddle fit and it is invaluable for getting the saddle right for your individual needs.
On this build we went with a Selle Italia Diva saddle. I chose this as it is one of the more popular women’s specific saddles but Meg didn’t think it is the one for her. The next step to finish this build off properly is getting Megan in for a bike and saddle fit with Ellie at the shop. This is where we nail down things that seem small but add up to the whole bicycle being not just another bike but your bike. It fits your body and leads to a better riding experience. A bike fit is like tailoring a garment, making the small adjustments so everything fits perfectly.
The ( Almost) Finished Product
At this point the bike is pretty much spot on for Meg but it will be complete after a bike fit and locking in the right saddle. We have flat bars for a more upright riding position, (great for keeping your eyes up when riding), and DMR DeathGrips for the handlebar grips, the name is aggressive but the grips are comfortable and non-slip and they lock on to the bars meaning they won’t move around unexpectedly. They also come in a range of awesome colours so you can add your personal flair.
The brakes are Shimano brake levers hooked up to cantilever brakes. Cantilevers were used because the frame was made for them. The brakes have good leverage for stopping power and the flat bar position makes it easier for Meg’s smaller hands to get a good handful of brakes if need be.The shifters are SRAM as are the derailleurs, these are operated with the thumb and fore finger and can be used while still maintaining good contact with the bars and brake levers.
The tyres are Schwalbe Marathon Plus offering puncture protection and lots of traction. Meg preferred some flat pedals which are a good choice for the beginner cyclist, although there are many clip in pedal platforms that provide brilliant power transfer and connectivity to the bicycle, however locking your feet in to the pedals may not be the best idea when you are first starting out.
Some other small things are the bell (brass for the lovely sound) and bottle cages (blue because it has to match!). You have to stay hydrated and being able to alert pedestrians to your presence is a must.
A bicycle is a very personal thing and luckily very customisable.
If you are thinking about getting on two wheels the first step is a conversation about how you want to use the bicycle and the next step is testing out some options to find the right product. We have a lot of different options at Billy Bilsland Cycles so you may not need to go to this level of customisation, but it is good to know that nothing is set in stone, or steel.
The most important thing to us is getting the right bike for you. All of our staff are skilled and knowledgeable and if the bike suits the rider it will foster confidence and make you want to ride your bike.