Tech Mailbag #1: Similar geometry, very different handling. What’s going on?

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Welcome to the CyclingTips Mailbag column, where you send us your tech questions, and our team of Nerds gives you answers. Got a question about wheel and tire standards? Want to know how to diagnose that weird shifting issue? Wondering where that darn ticking sound is coming from?! Send your questions our way at tech@cyclingtips.com to be featured in an upcoming CT Mailbag column.

In this kickoff edition, we address some mysterious handling quirks, the best way to organize your tools, and how to figure out the best gearing for your fitness and terrain.


Hi James,

I was hoping you might be able to help with some advice. I rode a Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL4 for around six years. The bike runs Shimano Ultegra with alloy Fulcrum Racing Zeros. Recently, I switched to a 2018 Cannondale SuperSix (which was featured on CyclingTips here).

I’m certainly not the best at cornering and descending, but I’d become very comfortable on the Tarmac. I’ve not been able to achieve the same comfort or confidence on the SuperSix. The front end seems twitchy at higher speeds, to the point where I have had a speed wobble a few times and can regularly feel one developing.

Recently the rear derailleur on the SuperSix bricked itself. While I’m waiting for the shop to take a look I’ve been riding the Tarmac again.

I’m struck by how light the bike is and how eager it is to get moving when I jump on the pedals, how I feel like the bike is smaller and more manageable underneath me, and how I can whip through corners and descents far more comfortably. I miss the disc brakes and the carbon wheel “whoooosh”, but I’m now feeling quite conflicted about my time on the SuperSix.

So my questions are:

1: Is there anything in the geometry that would help to explain my experience between the two bikes?

2: Would there be anything I could consider changing on the SuperSix to make it feel more like the Tarmac?

3: I think the inevitable outcome may be to obtain a different bike altogether – do you have any advice on a frame that would provide a similar experience to the Tarmac but allow discs?

 — Jase

Hi Jase,

Looking at the two geometry charts, there’s almost nothing there that should make one of those bikes handle inherently differently from the other, nor should the change from rim brakes to disc brakes have an effect on how the bike goes around a corner. 

The first thing I would do is verify that you’ve copied the position from your Tarmac to the SuperSix exactly. This will not only have an impact on pedaling performance and comfort, but changes in weight distribution can have big effects on handling. Are you running the same stem length? What about the handlebar reach and lever position? Are you running the same amount of handlebar drop? 

Your mention of high-speed shimmy is particularly interesting. To me, that suggests one of a few things: either you have less weight on the front wheel than you had before (through either a shorter stem or a higher bar position), there’s a gross imbalance in your front wheel, or something in your frame is out of alignment (such as one or both wheels being out of dish).

Looking at your Instagram account (sorry, got a bit snoopy!), it looks like you were running your stem lower on your Tarmac than on the Cannondale, so I’d start there.

— James

[After writing this reply, Jase contacted me to say that the stem on his Cannondale was, indeed, about 1 cm higher than it was on the Tarmac, and changing that has dramatically improved the handling. Success!]


Hi Dave,

Love your tool articles!

I’ve always (for almost 50 years) built up and maintained my bikes. At last count, there are seven in the shed. They are predominantly Campagnolo, exposed cable, rim brake. (Except for my sole disc brake bike — a 3T Exploro — with Shimano. I get my bike mechanic son to do the hydraulics.)

I’ve collected a bunch of tools to do what I need, and built a few homemade (e.g. wheel truing jig, bearing presses). These live in four poorly organised and cluttered toolboxes. I’d like to reorganise, maybe using a 5- or 7-drawer tool cabinet and maybe wall storage.

What is the best practice for tool organisation? Grouping tools by function? What to store where (wall vs. drawer)? Do you have resources to help, like that foam to place in the bottom of drawers?

BTW, I love your Instagram feed.

Cheers,

Richard Watson

Hi Richard,

You’ve actually raised a topic I had planned to cover in a future edition of Cool Tool Tuesday. In the meantime, here are a few quick things that I’ve found to work well. 

While it’s not always possible, I find that wall storage near to where you’ll be working is the most efficient option. I like to only hang the tools that are used most often and I group them based on purpose. For example, the chain whip goes next to the cassette lockring tool. And the cable cutters sit near the awl/cable poker. The tools used most (such as pliers and hex keys) sit central for quick access. 

It’s also common to hang the truly big stuff (like a wheel dishing gauge) on the wall as it’s unlikely to fit in the tool cabinet; just find a leftover spot at the top or a far corner. Pegboard is the most common option, but you’ll want to figure out a method for securing the pegs so that they don’t constantly fall out as you grab tools. Personally, I use sheets of plywood and carefully positioned wood screws to hold the tools. 

I then use tool cabinets (drawers) for the lesser-used tools or those that I like to keep a little more protected. Here I group the tools by type, which typically correlates to function. For example, the pliers sit in one drawer (a cut-up dish drying rack keeps them upright and saves space). My threaded bottom bracket sockets, crank pullers, and random cassette lockring tools sit together in another drawer (small plastic containers keep the little tools organised). 

Foam inserts for drawers are pretty trendy these days and I use them when I want to keep tools safe or carefully organised. For example, my precision measuring tools sit in a drawer for protection purposes, while my bearing removal tools are cut into foam to stop them from rolling around and getting mixed up. 

The foam I’ve long used is FastCap’s Kaizen foam, which is the original “tool box foam.” It’s a high-density layered foam that lets you easily trace around the tool and then pull out layers of foam in 3 mm segments. The big limitation with foam-lined boxes is space; you’re effectively spreading out your tools and so you’ll need a larger box to fit the same number of tools versus not using foam.

 — Dave


I’ve got a minor question for Dave Everett. 

I became a member this year and I am grateful for all of your passion and expertise!

I put close to 5,000 miles on my bikes in 2021, mostly on vintage 853 LeMonds and over half of that on commuting miles. I manage a location of REI, a North American outdoor retailer, in New Jersey. Our team is 70-people strong, and I began riding more as COVID hit in 2020 because our staff were being affected in myriad ways and I had no way to help them other than by maintaining a supportive workplace.

I live less than five miles from my store, but I frequently turn my 9pm commute home into a 30-50 mile ride home on dirt and pavement: canal trails, parks, unpaved farm roads. The miles have let me breathe and release the pervasive tension of the COVID era.

My 2021 cycling highlight was riding from southern Maine to Battery Park in NYC on a 2001 LeMond Poprad in three days. It was one of those trips on which nothing goes wrong and the smiles abound!

After 15 years at my company, we receive a month paid off — a sabbatical — in addition to our regular time off. I hopefully will spend my four weeks riding in the Alps and surrounding terrain.

I was going to use a 50/32T White Industries chainring combination with a 32-tooth Ultegra rear cassette on account of the climbing, however I noticed you specced your Ritchey Logic with a 44/33T. I am a fraction of the rider you are, so I must be wildly off on the big ring. Can you explain why you chose that combo and possibly give me a few guidelines to make my decision? Open to any guidance from someone who lives in the terrain!

Thank you, all, for your work and efforts on the site!!!!

Sincerely,

Colin Manning

Hi Colin,

Basically, I chose it as, at the time (and still, if I’m honest) I wasn’t at my fittest. Christ, I’m a dad of a three-year-old and a 7-month-old! I don’t ride half as much as I used to. It’s actually a 46/33T, not a 44/33T. The range the 46/33T chainrings and 10-30T cassette gives is slightly more overall than a 50/34T with an 11-28T. Though oddly, jumping on a 50/34T with an 11-28T recently, I found it a little more natural in cadence than my SRAM Force setup. Maybe I was just on a good day. 

In the Alps, I hardly used the 33T chainring with the 30 or 28T sprocket. There just aren’t enough steep places for it to come into much use. I’ve actually used it more in the past month living in the Basque region; the climbs are shorter and steeper, and if I’ve got tired legs, I’ve reached for it. The setup has been great for venturing onto a bit of gravel (with 30 mm tires). It definitely works well there over other road setups. It fits nicely into that road/gravel N+1 groupset killer, I think, but not for any extreme gravel. A dabble of gravel!

Overall, I’m happy with the choice for how I ride (not too fast and for the enjoyment) and where I ride.

 — Shoddy

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