Introduction: Saddle and Handlebar Choice
Above photo: Tae Likes Bikes (http://taeblog.tumblr.com/post/11719710502)
You’ve pored over the brochures, read the reviews, and finally bought your frameset. While it does look good hanging on your wall as an art piece, it’s not the reason you spent all that moolah. With a little more reading, we will help you select the best components to fully build up your prized frameset, and finally have a real bike in your hands.
The most time consuming area of selecting parts for your bike will be saddle choice. A saddle may seem like a very minor part of the bike. However, selecting the wrong saddle can lead to such a huge amount of discomfort and possibly result in an unenjoyable ride, or worse, injury. Quite frankly, the best and only way to select a saddle is by trial and error. Try as many saddles as possible, and select the one that puts no pressure on your perineal area, and does not result in discomfort and pain during a long ride. Saddles are meant to be platforms for the rider, so be wary of gimmicks like cut-outs or gel padding. A saddle with zero padding, provided it is the right shape for you, will be better than one with gel support and cut-outs. As a new rider, select a saddle that you feel will be good for you by trying it out in the shop first. A good rule of thumb is to choose a saddle that gives no pressure in your perineal area because it provides ample support for your sit bones. Great brands of saddles to choose from are Selle Italia, Prologo, and Fizik.
Handlebar selection is also a very personal choice, though choosing the wrong one won’t really ruin your ride. The best handlebar will be the one that has a drop that is not too deep that you will not be able to use it, and not too shallow that it results in an un-aero position. There are several types of handlebars available using anatomic, classic, or special shallow drops. Each type from each brand will give you a different feel when it comes to contact with your brake levers. Like saddles, the best way to select a handlebar is through trying out as many as you can. Once you’ve chosen a brand and type, try to choose a stem and seatpost from the same line (i.e. 3T Arx Pro handlebar, stem, and seatpost) to keep you bike looking neat, clean, and “pro”. Some people may deny it, but making the bike look “pro” is actually cool.
Pedal and Wheel Choice
Pedals are also a personal choice, and you will never go wrong with Shimano SPD-SL, Look, or the slightly more expensive Speedplay. We’d recommend Shimano or Look simply because they are more “low maintenance” than Speedplay which requires a weekly dose of lubrication. Shimano cleats are also much easier to walk on for those coffee shop stops, while Speedplays are the most difficult. On the other hand, Looks are a good balance between both, as they are also a bit lighter than Shimanos.
Above: The Shimano Dura-Ace Road Pedal
When choosing wheels, try as much as possible to select ones that suit your area’s terrain best. If you don’t have any mountains around, then a set of deep rims will be just fine. Assuming you will only have one set of wheels, a good balance between light and aero will offer the best bang for the buck. A wheel in this category is the American Classic 420. It’s bombproof, a bit aero, and light at around 1400g. These will serve as a good set for training and racing until you save up for high-end hoops such as the Shimano C50 (aero), Fulcrum Racing Zeroes (climbing), or Enve 6.7 (both aero and light!).
Above: The Shimano Dura-Ace C50 Wheel
Finally, we go select the groupset. Groupset selection has been a providing all cycling forums with an endless source of debate material. From “Campy vs. Shimano” in the 90’s, we’ve moved to “Campy vs. Shimano vs. SRAM vs. Di2 vs. EPS”. There are so many brands and types to choose from, building up a bike nowadays is a much more complicated process than it was 10 years ago. That said, the choice of groupset is quite simple. The three major brands of groupsets, Campagnolo, Shimano, and SRAM, use very different shifting systems. Simply choose the system you prefer the most, and variant choice will be a matter of budget. So how do they differ?
CAMPAGNOLO: Shifters are called Ergopower, and shifting up and down us done by using a lever behind the brake lever, and a thumb shifter.
Above: The Campagnolo Record Shift/Brake Lever
SHIMANO: Shimano shifters are called STI. With the exception of the Sora group, Tiagra all the way to Dura-Ace would use shifters where you have a paddle shifter behind the brake lever, and the brake lever itself pivoting to the side to actuate a shift.
Above: The Dura-Ace 9000 series STI lever
SRAM: Is the newest entrant to this market. Its shifters use a technology called Double Tap. There is only one shifter used to actuate both up and downshifts. The difference is in how deep you pull the paddle. Like Campagnolo, the brake lever itself, does not pivot to the side.
Above: The SRAM Red shifter/brake lever, note that there’s only one lever to perform both up & down shifts.
You can’t really go wrong with any of these three brands. Most of the time, riders move over to a new set when they want to try a new shifting style, upgrade to a lighter set, or make the jump to electronic. Should you choose to go electronic, the shifting style doesn’t change, but only Campagnolo and Shimano are the major brands with any electronic offerings at the moment. SRAM fans will just have to wait longer.
When selecting a variant, try to purchase mid-range at the very least. For example, Shimano 105s are known to be bombproof, while providing performance almost as well as Dura-Ace. As you move up the ladder, the law of diminishing returns rears its ugly head, and you start paying more for weight loss than performance.
The new Shimano 9000 series Dura -Ace groupset is a thing of beauty
The bottomline is to get a groupset which suits your needs (though this maybe subjective). If you are the weekend warrior and occasional racer, something mid-end like the Shimano Ultegra or SRAM Force or Campagnolo Chorus will be great. However, if you insist on pro-level performance and weight then be prepared to have a lighter wallet at the end of the day.
How are your experiences in getting road bike components? Any tips to share?