Ask Nick: Why you shouldn't take cues from the pros on position (2024)

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Editor’s Note: VeloNews tech editor Nick Legan is a former ProTour mechanic who most recently wrenched for Team RadioShack at the 2010 Tour de France and elsewhere. His column appears here every Thursday. You can submit questions to Nick at, and be sure to check out Nick’s previous columns.

Q.Hi Nick,
Reading your recent answers got me thinking about tubulars and their overall “place” in riding and racing. I started riding a little over two years ago and immediately fell into it completely. At almost 45, I feel like I wasted so many years on other athletic pursuits that were so lacking compared to cycling. However, I digress. While I feel like the ride of my Zipp 303 tubulars is akin to skimming along on a cushion of air (which it is literally, but I meant figuratively), one of the real joys I find with tubulars is the process. People think I’m crazy, but I find the whole effort to carefully apply glue over several days and then get the tire to seat just right before going out to race it a very zen-like experience. I really do feel a connection to the tires and road knowing that the contact I’m making with the road is something I had a part in creating. I also love knowing that the tires I ride from FMB werepainstakinglymade by someone who has a vested interest in the experience rather than a clincher spit out by a machine. The last part may be Pollyanna, and I do ride clinchers for most of my training, but to me tubulars provide a connection to my bike that is extremely gratifying and dare I say, spiritual.

— Ted Culotta

I hear you. Tubulars have played such a wonderfully, storied part of cycling’s history and culture. Mounting and riding them shows just how much someone appreciates the finer things in life, even if there is a bit more work involved. Keep calm and carry on, my friend.

I was intrigued by your recent response on tubular roadside flats. You mentioned you bring along a pre-glued tubular. My question is this, and probably shows my ignorance on tubulars: if it’s pre-glued, does the glue dry, or does the tire stick together when you fold it up, or does the glue simply always stay tacky and you can unfold it without it sticking together?

– David Ward

When gluing tubulars, you let the glue dry between layers of application. Only the last layer on the rim is left wet, then the tire is mounted. So a pre-glued tire is dry to the touch. The base tape surfaces will stick together a little bit when they come in contact, but not enough to be a problem. In fact, when I carry my spare, I roll the tire so that the base tape is protected. You don’t want road grime hitting your base tape. Here’s a great series of photos on the way I was taught to fold a tubular.

I use Arundel’s Tubi bag, as I mentioned last week, to keep the tire protected. Jandd also makes a nice bag (my dad used one for decades). Some riders pack their spare tubulars in an old orphaned sock and then use a toe strap to keep it in place behind the saddle. I just read that some wrap their spares in an old race number (the Tyvek material is waterproof) and I love the idea.

Toe straps, by the way, are worth their weight in gold! Leather ones are best, but I also like Surly’s extra long Junk Strap. They come in handy as extra roof rack insurance, pairing wheels for criterium pits, holding water bottles in loose bottle cages over bumpy roads, and keeping front wheels from turning when your bike is in the repair stand. There are plenty of other reasons to keep them around. These are just a few. For more ideas on the usefulness of toe straps check out this video.

Somewhere in your answer from last week you make the following remark: “Stretch the tire, then apply a thin layer of glue. Let that dry and then stretch the tire again. The second stretching is really helpful when you’re struggling roadside.”

What is new to me here is stretching the tire again after applying a layer of glue. Could you tell me why this second stretching is necessary? Does a tire’s diameter shrink after the glue has dried? Or is it especially for tubies, which are a tight fit even after stretching like the apparently notorious Continental tubes?

What is your take on leaving a strip of ½-1 inch on the rim without glue on the opposite site of the valve in order to make it easier to remove a tubular, e.g. while stuck on the roadside?

— Reginald Haye

The second stretching of the tire isn’t necessary, but it can make mounting the tire a lot easier. It’s a case by case method. For Vittoria tires, I don’t bother stretching at all. Others are much tighter.

As you guessed, the tire’s inner diameter shrinks as the glue dries. This seems to happen more on tires with very porous basetapes, like Tufo and Continental.

It does add time to the process though. Sometimes I don’t have the luxury of an extra day or overnight.

I am NOT a fan of leaving a section of tire unglued and I never do it for racers or clients. Why risk it? It isn’t that hard to get a tire off, roadside. And it’s better to struggle with a puncture than to struggle with a broken collarbone after a tire rolls!

One tip to for getting tires off a bit easier is to start at a point on the rim where a spoke attaches. The hole for the spoke nipple means there is slightly less adhesion at that point, compared to the rest of the gluing surface. So really, those glue-free points are built into many rims. Rims without spoke holes are obviously an exception to that.

I have often been told by many “expert” fitters that if you need a 14cm stem (referring specifically to the photos of Ivan Basso’s bike) and lots of setback on your saddle, then you are riding a frame that is too small. However, almost every pro bike I look at shows very long stems, lots of setback, and huge drop from the saddle to the bars. I know that their bikes fit them, but why not ride a larger frame and have more “standard” length saddle setbacks and stem lengths?

— Dave B.

Great question. Most important is that if your fit is working for you, stick with it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, pointing to pro riders is an exercise in futility. For some reason, many riders think that because a pro rides a certain piece of equipment or uses it a certain way, that they should emulate the pros. That’s ridiculous.

The truth is that many pros ride terrible positions. That said, many of them get along just fine doing that for their entire careers, so what does my or anyone else’s assessment matter? Ever see a photo of Sean Kelly racing? He rode what most consider to be too small a frame. That didn’t keep him from dominating the classics and grand tours.

In more modern times, pros often use a smaller frame that a similarly sized recreational rider because they want to ride a big drop to the handlebars. As head tubes continue to grow for a given frame size, pros are forced onto smaller frames to maintain their positions. Drop is the big difference between the average pro and the average recreational rider. The rest is a function of that difference.

Pros don’t necessarily run more setback than you or me, it’s just that their saddles are farther back on the rails because seat tube angles tend to steepen as frame sizes go down. The longer stems are there to make up for shorter top tubes on smaller bikes.

The real lesson here though is to stop looking to pro riders for cues on what we should be riding. That thinking assumes too many things, the most obvious being that a given pro has a good position. It cracks me up when fans want to know the measurements of their favorite pro. Those numbers are only meaningful to two people: 1. The rider, and 2. The mechanics whose job it is to recreate the position on multiple bikes.

No matter what, trying to mimic a pro’s position is silly because it means that you’re likely denying what your body would actually benefit from. Doing so can actually be a performance inhibitor!

Ask Nick: Why you shouldn't take cues from the pros on position (2024)
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