Spinal Tap cockpit adjustment: When going to 11 means getting shorter

Over the previous year, I’ve been riding my road/cross bike Hyro after successfully performing the “Spinal Tap” conversion. While most things have worked very well, the only real downside to his current form is the cockpit and its now longer reach, due to the Shimano ST-RS685 hydraulic STI lever bodies adding two centimeters of it.

I’ve had to move my saddle about as far forward as is practical to compensate for the added reach…which isn’t exactly ideal from a bike fit perspective.

With proper bike fit in mind, and my reluctance to swap out the 90 mm ShockStop stem, perhaps it was about time I studied my handlebar options. Prior to the 2×11 upgrade, I haven’t had reason to consider swapping mine out, but now, it might just be a viable way to fix my reach issues.

Hyro’s original equipment: Satori handlebars mounting Shimano 105 5700 STI levers.

For a bike sold in 2014, Hyro’s stock handlebars are rather off-trend. They are alloy drop bars made by Satori for Giant as an original equipment item. I don’t have any actual references from Giant or Satori, but by my own best measurements, they are 400 mm wide, have about 85 or 90 mm of reach, an “ergonomic” pistol-grip shape with two distinct bends, and around 140 mm worth of drop. They look anachronistic in an age where compact drop handlebars are the norm.

Measured as best as I could, Hyro’s stock drop handlebars have about 90 mm of reach, center to center.

Having heard the benefits of compact drop bars multiple times, since I needed to shorten Hyro’s reach, I figured I might as well try them out. I got the Specialized Comp short-reach aluminum handlebar in the same 400 mm width.

Photo credit: Specialized.
  • Width options: 360 mm, 380 mm, 400 mm
  • Constructed from premium butted 6061-T6 aluminum alloy
  • Reach: 65 mm
  • Drop: 125 mm
Hyro has seen more and more stuff Specialized used on him lately.
The critical dimensions. Interestingly, this particular handlebar model goes all the way down to a 360 mm width. Most other drop bars start at 400 mm.
I tightened mine to about 5 Nm. Very slightly over spec, but the bar had no problems.

Apart from the reduced drop and relatively short reach, there isn’t anything too special about these bars. If anything, they’re relatively cheap for a Specialized product at just US$30 (PhP1,500).

So how would Hyro’s cockpit change with the handlebar swap? I shot a few side-by-side comparison photos as best as I could before committing.

That reach difference is quite remarkable. Two centimeters may not seem like much, but it’s a pretty big deal, especially when you’re in the saddle for hours on end.

The light blue circles show where the ends of the drops are on each handlebar.

The other main difference is the shape and length of the drops. On Hyro’s stock Giant/Satori handlebar, the two ergonomic bends and pistol-grip shape are distributed along 140 mm worth of drop. The drops themselves are also rather short, terminating right underneath the main horizontal cross bar. By contrast, on the Specialized bar, the curve on the hooks is much more gradual and rounded, although not as totally circular as old-school deep drop bars, as the drop dimension is cut by 15 mm. In addition, the drops themselves extend about 20 mm behind the main horizontal cross bar. Not only is there less torso flex needed to ride in the drops, the drops themselves are easier to grasp and there is less chance of forearm hitting cross bar when doing so.

After switching handlebars and reinstalling my STI levers, I wrapped them with Ciclovation’s bar tape. This time around it was the “leather touch” variety I bought from La Course Velo‘s booth at the 2019 Philippine Bike Demo Day. This particular roll came in a orange-to-black dot fade pattern, which looks really good and feels even better in hand.

Testing the new setup on the turbo trainer for a few minutes, I moved my saddle back two centimeters to compensate for the shorter reach. It felt almost exactly like how Hyro originally fit me.

The next day, I had a proper slog on the saddle. Over the seven laps of my usual Sunday loop, I had to deal with lots of vibration from road acne and quite a bit of climbing – both of which conspired against my 100 km goal and eventually wore me down. Despite the fatigue and soreness, Hyro’s fit to my body was spot-on. Staying aero and riding in the drops was far more comfortable, too. The longer drops made them easier to grasp, and while I haven’t had any back pain while riding for years now, the shallower drop made it easier to use the drops more often and for longer.

Curiously, I find that with each passing year and the continuous optimizations I see fit to do on Hyro, there’s less and less of his stock componentry left over. But that’s a story for another time.