As a group, riders can definitely be a bit nit-picky when it comes to equipment. Sure there are snobs out there who will scoff at anyone not running the latest and greatest (and lightest and fastest) full-carbon, electronic, super-newness, and there are tongue-in-cheek "rules" to fitting in with the bike crowd but, for the most part, all anyone really cares about is having a good time and making sure that everyone else is geared up for the best possible time too.
We've always been in the camp that believes "the best bike is the one that you ride", so whatever gets you pumped to push the pedals is aces in our book. That said, there are some things you'll see on the road that will make even the most welcoming riders do a double-take (and ideally say something to help people get on the right track). In today's post, we'll walk through the sins of sloppy assembly, so you can avoid derision and enjoy the ride!
These are issues that affect your safety and the bike's longevity, and they can be avoided by having your bike assembled by the pros. But, if you're the DIY-type, read on to arm yourself against the most common amateur-errors.
Flip through the general bike tags on instagram or, even better, visit your local big box/toy store and you're likely to see a lot of rides suffering from reversed-fork syndrome. It's a fairly easy mistake to make if you aren't used to looking at bikes, but once you know what a ride should look like, reversed forks stick out like a sore thumb. Besides affecting your handling and stability, a flipped-fork can also hurt your bike's durability as you put unexpected stress on it every time you hit a pothole or ride down a curb.
For the most part, forks will push the wheel further out front, lengthening your wheelbase, and improving stability. Or, for another quick check, if your front brake is sitting behind the fork (and you're not on an Olympic-level TT bike), your fork is likely backwards.
Many bikes will ship with the fork reversed to save space in the box, but if you don't flip it when you're doing the assembly, you'll wind up with a funny-looking ride (and probably earn yourself some funny looks too).
When in doubt, just double-check official photos of what your bike is supposed to look like and you should have no trouble getting everything pointed the right way.
This is one we've covered before, but you'll generally see it any time there's a big enough group ride or you're with folks who're just "getting that old bike out of the garage for the first time in forever".
A tilted saddle is generally a symptom of a bad bike fit (or just a lack of flexibility from taking a while between rides). For the most part a level saddle will give you the best support, relieve pressure points, and help you maximize your performance, so do your best to flatten out those seats right out of the box.
You can make minor adjustments as needed after you've gotten a few rides in, but the answer is almost never "tilt the saddle more". Usually your best bet for fit is to raise/lower your bars, shorten/lengthen your stem, or slide the saddle forward or back.
Flipped up drops, upside down risers, steeply-inclined bullhorns - people get "creative" with their bars in an attempt to improve their fit, but that's rarely the right choice. The thing is, it's easy (and free) - a few screws, tilt, and tighten. But most riders you'll see with their handlebars out of whack are actually in need of some stem adjustments.
For example, if your fit requires raising the bars, the solution isn't just to tilt them up - it's raising the stem. That'll bring the bars up, but leave your hands level and your contact points happy. If you're too stretched out, don't flip the bars back to shorten your reach, grab a shorter stem to tighten up the cockpit. Your bars should generally be level - for your hands' sake and your own.
Note: This set-up is waaaay more common than you'd think and never, ever correct (unless you're doing gymnastic cycling).
Sometimes it's as easy as flipping the stem, or shifting it up or down by a spacer on the steerer tube. Sometimes you may need to spend the money for a new stem (or an adjustable one) or bars with a shorter reach, but having your fit dialed in will save you money (and comfort) in the long run, help prevent injury, and keep you riding longer, so it's worth the little upfront investment.
That should be enough to help you avoid the most obvious assembly mishaps. Of course there are unseen errors you can make (not using grease, not knowing which components are reverse-threaded, etc...) so getting your bike built by the pros is your best stress-free solution, but if you can avoid the above issues, you're off to a great start.
Be sure to read any assembly instructions when putting your bike together and, when in doubt, look around online for some visual backup of what your completed bike should look like. Just don't judge others too harshly if you spot them slipping up - maybe give them a hand setting it right, so you can both enjoy your bikes to the fullest.
We'll see you out there.