I'm still kicking around, but am not on ST as much as I used to be and only chime in (in this forum) when I feel I might be helpful - I don't really have anything useful to add to many of the threads here. But I do know bikes. :D
If you want to keep the cost down, try some bar phat with an alu bar - I haven't actually ever put "real mileage" into a carbon setup for back-to-back testing but I have with the bar phat on an alu bar and can tell you that it makes a BIG difference with/without. It's pretty inexpensive stuff, and not "needing" carbon may open up some more options fit-wise for you. Not that there's anything wrong with carbon, carbon is cool - but it's not the only
solution. Bontrager also makes bar end plugs with a little vibration damper inside them. It's pretty impressive the difference those things make. Also, don't forget gloves. Gloves can make a MASSIVE difference comfort-wise.
That's a bummer that you don't have a good shop nearby - sometimes I forget that I'm really spoiled here in Vancouver and have strong relationships with a few great shops. The good news is that if you have your measurements and know what you want, fitting a road bike is a lot easier than a tri bike. Your bar tops will be in about the same place as your base bar; though if you haven't cut off too much steerer tube it would probably benefit you to run it higher up - at least to start. The shape of the bar (depth of drop, reach, overall width, and hook shape) will likely play a bigger role in comfort than the material. Smaller hands mean that deep drops tend to be less comfortable and some "ergo" shapes might not work for you as well as others. Some of the house brand "WSD" components put out by the big guys (Giant, Trek, Specialized...) address this really nicely. WSD should never mean "shrink it and pink it
" - if approached well it can be really helpful for many aspects of component design and fitting. If there's a brand concept store near you it'd be worth taking a spin down there to see what they have to offer. Even little things like brake levers can have a significant impact on comfort, and since you're converting a tri bike you've probably got bar-end shifters anyway. Why not see if they have some short reach brake levers that might work well for you? Stems can be really cheap, so don't feel shy about playing around with a few different rise/length options to find what's comfortable. Of course it would be great if you could get help from your LBS but even if you mail ordered a few and tried them out, as long as you're careful with them you should be able to send back the ones that don't work.
It's possible that you may need to change your seatpost and possibly your saddle as well. Sitting up will change the way you sit on the saddle, and the more upright position will change your hip angle.
Depending on your back and how you feel on the bike, lots of different options may present themselves. Julian (justjulian) has a messed up back that goes South in a major way if he doesn't
ride for more than a few days in a row - and he's got a fairly aggressive roadie position. Others need some sort of suspension, and find that a Softride, Titanflex, or even just a thudbuster seatpost is the ticket as it isolates some of the road vibration (certain saddles can help with this a well). Tyres & tyre pressure can also really help - wider tyres with a little less air will be much more comfortable and if you aren't racing for the win, will have negligible impact of your overall enjoyment.
I really hope that you recover quickly and are able to get back out riding again. Don't hesitate to PM me if I miss a thread and you want to ask me something, and of course there are lots of womens here with tonnes of mileage under their belts as well.
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