Today was a happy day, I got to ride my new bike for the first time. I am over the moon to have found a bike to meet my niche requirements. I am 5’0″. I am female. I have small shoulders and small hands to match. I want a fast bike I can race on and not feel compromised. I want a bike that fits.
These are requirements the booming bike industry does not cater for. Off the peg bikes start for people sized 5’3″ (or 5’1″ if you’re lucky). They come with handlebars that are 4 cms too wide, with cranks that ensure your knees hit your chin, and a top tube length that condemns you to a 80 mm stem and shocking handling. Oh yes, need to take a corner? Best watch out for your foot hitting the front wheel.
To put it in context for you if you are of an average size. Imagine the only bikes available to you are 2 cms too long, have extra-long cranks that make your legs hit your belly (and not because you ate too many pies), and make you spread your arms like you’re driving a HGV. Imagine you hit your crotch every time you stand over the crossbar. Imagine you can’t reach the brakes too well when you’re in the drops. Then try not to get upset when you’re the worst bike handler on a group ride. Then try not to get angry when you get diagnosed with an artery condition that’s been aggravated (or even caused?) by riding a bike that’s all wrong.
I looked into a custom steel build as a solution to this problem, but even with a seriously good value quote the cost was prohibitive.
Enter Worx. Worx are a UK bike manufacturer specializing in youth and junior racing bikes. Their mantra is to ‘build bikes that win races’. Good. Their marketing schpeel talks about engineering bikes that help riders to develop good handling skills as they grow and develop. I’m sold.
Enter my lovely new RA.SL Force. A full size bike for a pint sized person. It has 36 cm handlebars, 160 mm cranks and an earth-shatteringly short 495 mm top tube. The reach is 355 mm, exactly what I was looking for. The stack is a little too low for me to get a full ‘slammed’ effect like the cool kids, but I’m not too fussed to compromise over a couple of spacers.
For the first time ever I don’t look like a midget on a bike as my new bike is in proportion to my body. The huge difference is in the space between my leg and my body at the top of the pedal stroke. I feel open, I can breathe and my damaged artery has an open hip angle to navigate. It’s a revelation. Instead of pushing my saddle as far forwards as it will go, it’s right where it should be, meaning my weight is better distributed over the bike, instead of front-heavy (try descending like that you average sized people you!) The handling feels bang on. I am in love.
Blood, Sweat & Tears
My bike came in different boxes. One box for the frame, fork & cranks, another for the groupset, another for the wheels. Time to learn how to build a bike then.
I made a coffee, popped the frame in the workstand and loaded up You Tube (I say popped… it was a bit more clumsy than that). I started with the basics: cranks into bottom bracket, chainrings onto cranks (this involved taking the cranks back off the bike to fit the large chainring on), cranks back into bottom bracket. Fork into headtube (with associated bearings), gather large pile of spacers, fix headset & stem. Attach handlebars. Attach shifters to handlebars. Bolt on front and rear brakes. Bolt on rear derailleur, bolt on front mech. Cables. Establish what is brake cable and what is gear cable. Establish what is inner and outer. Work out how long cables should be to look cool and still be able to steer. Cut outer cables, fit cables for rear mech, front mech, rear brake & front brake. Wrap bars with bar tape. Realise you put the handlebars on at the wrong angle. Unwrap bar tape, move shifters, move cables, re-wrap bar tape. Gears. Extensive You Tube consultation. Route rear mech cable, tighten cable, set up mech. Route front mech cable, tighten cable, try and set up mech but nothing changes. Re-consult You Tube. Realise you need wheels, cassette & chain to make this process easier. Fit tyres to wheels, fit cassette to wheel, fit wheel to bike. Realise tiny frame wont accept a wheel that’s slightly out of true. Take wheel off. Find new wheel. Take cassette off old wheel, fit cassette to new wheel. Fit new wheel. Good. Re-attempt rear mech set up. Re-attempt front-mech set up. Fit saddle, fit pedals, fit bottle cage.
Persuade Lee that he needs to take a look at it and make sure it’s safe. Lee re-sets up rear mech, re-sets up front mech, aligns brake pads, secures brakes (ooops) & re-fits headset. Better.
Ride bike to bike fit. Handlebars are in the wrong position. Unwrap bar tape, move shifters, move cables, rewrap bar tape. Move everything. Better.
Problem: steerer tube tower. Go to Bike Break’s workshop. Take off front brake, undo headset, take of spacers & stem, remove front wheel. Put fork in vice. Can’t reach the saw. Text Lee. Lee arrives. Lee can just reach the saw. Start sawing. Can’t saw past halfway. Lee starts sawing. I get nervous and tell him to be more careful. Both consider divorce. Fork cut. Reassemble fork & headset, attach front brake. Headset has way too much play. Find Lee. Lee fixes it. BIKE IS READY TO RIDE!!!
Except it’s not. Rear mech cable damaged in the faffing. Unwrap bar tape, fit new outer cable, pray inner cable can be re-threaded. It works. Re-set up rear-mech. Re-wrap bar tape. BIKE IS ACTUALLY READY TO RIDE!!!
Getting out on the bike was emotional, I welled up as we hit the country lanes and took the roller-coaster road to Brunyola. I dived around corners, tucked in on the descents and sprung out the saddle to climb. It was a happy, happy ride and I can’t wait for the next one.
A huge thank you to John Wylie & SJ for the generous long-term loan of a Worx bike to tide me over, and for sourcing my awesome new steed. Thank you to Bike Breaks for the saw & vice, and a huge thank you to Emi at Velolovefit for the perfect set up. And thank you Lee for being a super supportive hubby!