My last post I described how I swapped handlebars on Little Nellie in an attempt to make the bike useable again. When I bought the bike in 2007, I ordered tit with drop bars. because that’s what I had on my other bike, The Mule. Despite having ridden Little Nellie well over 22,000 miles with drop bars, the bike never felt right, even after buying a shorter stem and changing brake levers. Worse, in recent years the impact shock from the bike’s little wheels and single beam frame made it increasingly painful to ride. I figured that maybe the problem with the drop bars was that they were causing me to reach too far, extending my lower back, and leaving it vulnerable to road and trail imperfections.
I had H-bars installed. H-bars are essentially straight, horizontal handlebars with a short vertical bar welded to either end. They allow me to have two hand positions – either on the horizontal bar or on the risers on the vertical part of the bar – and keep me from overextending my lower back while riding.
I really thought this new handlebar idea was a long shot. If it didn’t work, I’d sell or donate the bike. I felt pretty foolish spending over $400 on the conversion (plus some while-were-at-it other work including a new front wheel). I expected the H-bar to be a minor improvement at best, allowing me, if successful, to use the bike for running short errands.
When I picked the bike up on Saturday, I did a 15-mile test ride. It went well, but the real proof of the pudding would come in longer, repeated riding. I woke up Sunday with no lower back problems. In fact, to my surprise my lower back actually felt better than the day before.
This week I rode the bike three days in a row, for 30, 31, and 32 miles. The last time I rode this bike more than 100 miles in a week’s time was in November 2019. In fact, I rode it less in all of 2022 than I did the last five days.
The only time I’ve felt discomfort while riding was when I hit a bump awkwardly during today’s ride. Otherwise, the riding has been fun and pain free. When I got off the bike, Monday and yesterday, my back was a bit stiff. This may have more to do with lifting a heavy box on Monday and doing maintenance on my ungainly gas-powered lawn mower yesterday. The stiffness went away once I sat down for a few minutes, which suggests that it was just my spinal stenosis acting up.
As before, I found that riding my Bike Friday is a bit more tiring than a conventional bike like The Mule. That said, I feel like I could peel off a 40- or 50-mile ride in reasonable comfort. That’s easily enough to do errands.
I think part of the difference in comfort is the width of the H-bar. Having my hands out a bit more to the side allows the bar to flex a tiny bit when I hit bumps. My butt is also a little further back on my saddle where it can benefit from the saddle’s suspension springs.
I plan to experiment a bit with fine tuning my saddle position, moving the saddle up and/or back a couple of millimeters (it makes a surprising difference.)
I am declaring the transformation a success.
While out tooling around today, Little Nellie decided to celebrate by turning 23.
If you are considering buying a Bike Friday, I highly recommend getting H-bars.