The iPad has a really good app for writing Mandala Charts. William Reed has an article on it as well as some others in his flexible focus series.

The Mandala Chart is also called the Lotus Blossom technique. It was developed by Matsumura Yasuo.

From the Wikipedia Page on Mandala:

In common use, mandala has become a generic term for any plan, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically, a microcosm of the universe from the human perspective.

The Mandala is great for forcing character generation in a structured way. If the GM wants to force players to align themselves with the world’s metaphysic, then the Mandala can be the tool to marry cosmic metaphysics with a character’s daily life, skills, beliefs and goals. (I have one rpg project waiting in the ideas bucket that uses this kind of system).

However, it doesn’t have to represent the world on a cosmic scale. What the Mandala Chart does is force questions on the areas that are important to the GM, and to the world.

Reed’s approach is to use the 8 frames of life to achieve work life balance. A central 3×3 grid is used with headings in each of the eight squares surrounding the central question (in this case it’s Health, Business, Home, Finance, Society, Personal, Study and Leisure). For each of these squares there is a second 3×3 grid that looks at each area in detail – he suggests headings appropriate to each area, so Health uses Food, Movement, Breathing, Sleep, Skinship, Resilience, Humour and Love

Flexible Focus #67 shows you the central (type A) and expanded (type B) mandalas.

Mandala Chart for Directed Character Generation

Reed says “proverbial wisdom comes in opposite pairs”. The implication is that the chart may be expressed as four pairs of balancing concepts.

The way I’m going to use the chart is kind of a directed mind map, with eight nodes each with (up to) eight sub-nodes. But unlike a mind map, the Mandala chart forces total focus on the nodes when working with the expanded map. When you’re working on a mind map the eye is inevitably drawn to the central premise – but since the expanded maps can be treated as eight cells in isolation, they refocus attention on each node and let the creative mind concentrate on that aspect.

This is our central mandala chart, with eight headings: Family, Profession, Friends, Ambition, Enemies, Faith, Childhood, Magic. Hopefully the headings are self-explanatory.

I’ve considered my character Kakhta from the Mind Mapping example.

F.

Faith

C.

Friends

G.

Childhood

Complete belief in the Doctrine of the Autarch

 

 

New allies in a foreign country

Raised in the holy city of the Autarch, in the centre of a massive jungle.

B.

Profession

0.

Character

D.

Ambition

Bodyguard, elite warrior and nobleman

 

  

Kakhta, Monarchorn warrior of the Grand Autocracy, Traitor to his people

To do what is right, and to return home to an honourable welcome

E.

Enemies

A.

Family

H.

Magic

His former squad-mates, and other Legions of the Autarch

 

A wife and two daughters, back in the homeland

Immune – divorced from cosmic and magical forces

Now for the expanded map, I need a template. Each of the secondary charts should be based on the same eight sub-headings. I chose the following:

6.

People

3.

Benefits

7.

Hobbies

Simple – the characters they have met in this part of their life 

  

How this part of their life benefits them (other than providing skills)

Non-critical abilities gained through this experience

2.

Obligations

X.

[Node]

4.

Intentions

Duties that arise as a result of this part of the character’s life

  

Write the name of the node here.

Actions they intend to take as a consequence of this part of their life

5.

Skills

1.

Images

8.

Crisis

Useful abilities they have been taught as a consequence of this experience 

 

Visual cues that relate to this portion of the character’s life

Things that may happen as part of the plot (the GM may leave this part blank, and write it later)

These are headings I have chosen. Other GMs might pick a completely different set of headings depending on their campaign and preference. If Magic is important, a subheading of Magic could appear in every secondary chart (meaning Family, Enemies, Ambition etc. all have magical significance). But crucially all of the players receive the same chart.

The player isn’t obliged to fill in every square for every node, but they’re encouraged to think about them. Depending on the different types of node the context of the secondary charts changes. For example Intentions based on Enemies or Family may be straightforward, but based on Ambition or Faith may take on a completely different meaning.

Of course there may well be items that span more than one box. In Amber Family spills into Friends and Enemies, for example.

For an example I filled in –

Kakhta’s Childhood

6.

People

3.

Benefits

7.

Hobbies

A cruel mentor figure who beat him and his pack-mates. A fortune teller who told him that he would one day betray his allies.

The finest equipment, well nourished, excellent physical conditioning.

Hunting giant lizards outside the city (technically forbidden for his caste).

2.

Obligations

G.

Childhood

4.

Intentions

Raised to fight for the Autarch as one of his elite warriors.

 

Raised in the holy city of the Autarch, in the centre of a massive jungle.

Do his duty, and not question orders.

5.

Skills

1.

Images

8.

Crisis

Amazing martial prowess, familiarity with a wide range of weapons.

A massive ziggurat in the centre of a Mayan-style city, surrounded by lush jungle full of deadly hazards.

His childhood allegiances may be tested when he is forced to betray his comrades.

 

Kakhta’s Magic

6.

People

3.

Benefits

7.

Hobbies

A temple priest, (forbidden to speak with him because of his status) who helps him with philosophical questions. 

Magic resistance (same as skills).

Chewing coca leaves to stimulate dreams which he doesn’t have naturally. Developed into a habit.

2.

Obligations

H.

Magic

4.

Intentions

His magical status sets him apart and above the other religious castes. He is an Angel Incarnate. As a result, he is expected to lead. 

Immune – divorced from cosmic and magical forces

Understand why he was born different one day.

5.

Skills

1.

Images

8.

Crisis

Magic resistance. 

 

 

 

Born with gold-flecked eyes indicating genetic heritage. A trial by holy fire that threatened to kill him.

[ideas?]

 

Beyond the Chart

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p>The traditional Buddhist or Indian Mandala sacred art has specific connotations and proportions, but in a wider context Mandala Art could be used to create any pictorial representation of a character. This may particularly suit Everway. But, that’s not really the scope of this article.

There’s nothing stopping you inserting images into the mandala chart, of course. 

Finally the Black Armada site is live, so I can link to Admiral Rabalias’ Johari’s Window article.

I’m keen on using tools like the Johari Window to express character traits. They require less interpretation than Everway‘s pseudo-tarot spread and allow players to express their character more or less in a way that they prefer to communicate and read information.

Everway’s Fate/Fault/Fortune spread serves an in-game (narrative) purpose. Tools like the Johari Window, or Mind Mapping, or a Mandala Chart should be useful within the game, rather than just mental masturbation character creation aids.

There are a couple of ways to achieve this. You could take Burning Wheel’s approach: let the players create all of the cool character background in isolation using the BIT system and then have the GM link all of the bits and pieces of character’s lives together. This provides the “story engine” to generate the overall plot. While this approach is fairly progressive in terms of generating story, it’s also quite “traditional” in that it doesn’t restrict player choice of character much – players get a list of character classes and will generally pick the weirdest thing on the menu, and it’s up to the GM to then bring an unlikely group of characters together.

I prefer a restrictive framework to link the characters together – as part of a family, organisation, or throwing them together into a situation. You can do this with the BIT system of course, making it a bit less of a blank canvas. Let’s call this a “closed” vs “open” creation method.

Now on to the tools.

Mind Mapping

Map by Prog Drummer Michael Petiford. Also, look at the fantastic Mind Map Art site.

My map isn’t nearly as pretty, because I knocked it up in XMind.

Kakhta

Kakhta was a real character I played many years ago. He was part of an invasion force in another continent, and was part of the nobility or ruling elite in his homeland. He was immune to magic. He chose to leave his comrades and join the resistance (the other PCs), resulting in deep personal conflicts. He integrated with the rest of the party and discussed cultural and culinary differences between their peoples.

I picked five major features about the character, and then used the map to expand on each. I didn’t worry much about order or depth of information – the intent with the mind map is to dump information onto the page as swiftly as possible.

The problem with mind maps is this “brain dump” makes for a slightly chaotic mess that doesn’t read well for play. Some sorting of the nodes was needed. I chose three categories:

  • Abilities (Red) – descriptors that actually indicate something the character is good at
  • Behaviours (Blue) – these could be instincts (in the BW sense), habits, or quirks; they could also be negative
  • Plots (Green) – these are things the GM can potentially use

Everything else I left black. Some of the items in black could be behaviours or other talents, but their overall impact on play is low.

Once I marked up the mind map it looked like this:

Kakhta2

Not a great deal of depth but enough to hang a plot on. Add another colour for physical appearance and you could have a reasonably rounded character.

Of course I haven’t actually said which system I would use. For the Ability nodes I could add percentages (BRP), levels of competence (FATE) or any other descriptor that fitted with the system. In fact FATE might work quite well with this technique since it expects people to be average in skills that aren’t explicitly named – that takes away any need to have stats outside the mind map.

The other thing you could do with the map is to enable characters to grow in areas they hadn’t previously thought of. Let’s say the characters travel to Kakhta’s homeland on a mission to infiltrate the Autarch’s palace. Suddenly we ask questions about what other skills Kakhta can bring to the game. His background as a bodyguard could give him skills his player hasn’t considered yet – but the map enables him to keep some character points back and spend them later in a fairly credible fashion.

Kakhta4

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p>That’s enough for now. Next time, Mandala Charts.

Last October I posted about two different versions of the Time Curve Preludes.

Because I blogged about it, I got a message from Irritable Hedgehog telling me about Andy Lee’s recording. As it happened I’d already bought the “Andy Lee Triptych” that includes the Time Curve PreludesAn Hour for Piano and Soundings for A New Piano. If you like minimalist piano it’s definitely worth getting. Time Curve is somewhere between the other two in terms of pace. It feels slightly “sparse”, maybe more intimate compared to the other recordings. Maybe that’s just me.

Also I applaud Irritable Hedgehog for offering a choice of download (including lossless files) as well as the CDs. I like it when RPG publishers do that with their products too.

Lee Duckworth

I was reminded because the label’s newsletter arrived in my inbox a day ago. Andy Lee is touring this and next year and is including some UK appearances in his “Minimalism in 12 Parts” tour. Those aren’t until 2013, unfortunately – hopefully that pesky Mayan Apocalypse won’t get in the way.

I just read a rather good passage from the Amber RPG:

Wounds are clues. Clues that point to the superior combatant in a contest of skill. Clues telling a character that things are not going well. If a character gets a scrape, that tells them the next blow might be a cut or a slash. A stab will likely be followed by something more serious.

The trouble is, we don’t do this very often. We don’t signpost the trials a hero goes through because mechanically we’re not really equipped to. Hit points are not a measure of pain, they’re a countdown to one side losing; wound levels that penalise action make it harder for a PC to do something, but don’t necessarily change the appreciation of risk.

It’s the incremental pains that make the players feel what their PCs are going through. What you really want is for players to feel the hurt and know that it will get worse unless they do something to protect themselves, but not necessarily penalise them for how they’re feeling right now – because that affects the more important decision of personal risk vs the goal. At all times PCs need to be free to act, but be far-sighted enough to forsee the consequences of their choice.

A few weeks ago we saw the Magnetic Fields in concert, and jolly fine they were too. Immediately afterwards I punished the credit card and got as much of Stephin Merritt’s non-MF back catalogue as I could find. As well as solo work such as Showtunes, he’s appeared with the Future Bible Heroes, the Gothic Archies and the 6ths (with a staggering array of guest vocalists).

During the encore Claudia Gonson said that The Gothic Archies was possibly one of Stephin’s finest achievements. I give you Smile! No-one Cares How You Feel:

The song is part of A Tragic Treasury, a collection of songs to go with the audiobooks for Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events. I own those as well – unremarkable at first they became oddly addictive on the commute. A Gothic Archies track gives a theme to each of the 13 books. 

The Magnetic Fields have already set the bar extremely high with 69 Love Songs, but A Tragic Treasury comes very close, maybe even second. Possibly Stephin is at his best when writing concept albums – and focuses just as well on misery as love. I recommend the album even if you can’t stand Lemony Snicket.

I’ve used music in games since running Vampire at university (that’s first edition VtM, sonny). Around that time I got a CD player and got into electronic music and film soundtracks, both sort of by accident.

One of the first CDs I bought was Blood Music by Chapterhouse.

Blood Music

Blood Music is at best an unremarkable three star album. But it came with a free disc by Global Communication:

Pentamerous

Pentamerous Metamorphosis is a sublime piece of electronic ambient music. It’s also very rare and hard to find despite a separate release. Luckily 76:14 is every bit as good and available on Amazon.

I was also keen on Pink Floyd at the time. I used the soundtrack to More during the Vampire game.

More

More is a combination of vocal and instrumental tracks (the latter similar to the psychedelic pieces in Saucerful of Secrets and Atom Heart Mother). The film is by Barbet Schroeder, who also directed La Vallee which the band also scored as Obscured By Clouds

The other soundtrack that really turned me on to film and TV scores was Howard Shore’s soundtrack to the Naked Lunch.

Naked

Essential soundtrack to an Over The Edge game, naturally. Heavily orchestrated (characteristic of Howard Shore) but broken up nicely with freeform jazz.

What makes a good game soundtrack? Certainly nothing that’s too distracting during the game – amping up the drama with any kind of rock or repetitive beats for an action scene is usually counter-productive. It’s better to use orchestral pieces, but these can transition suddenly (if long pieces) or can be too short and abrupt to make into a loop. Finding a piece of music for a fight is surprisingly hard – which is why we keep going back to Battles on the Robin of Sherwood soundtrack.

Legend

On a slightly different note, I got a copy of a new soundtrack for The Cabinet of Dr Caligari by goth neo-classical band In The Nursery.

Cabinet

I found the band by chance because they’ve done a number of soundtracks for different project, including a multimedia project called Engel that appears to be related to the White Wolf published German RPG of the same name.

Apparently Engel in the original German version used a tarot-like system to resolve gameplay, but they switched to d20 for the English release. What a disappointment.

This blog is mainly my stream of conscious, albeit edited (yes, I do actually have an internal censor) and that’s a convenient method of breaking up ideas – such as how to run Everway – into bite-sized chunks. At some point I’ll compile all of my Everway notes into a digest. I had intended this to be the last instalment but I kind of got side-tracked with the ideas below.

In part 1 I talked about player preference in receiving information, and in part 2 I talked (at great length) about different scenarios and how the elemental strengths of characters and antagonists will fit to them.

The topic I’d like to cover is why a GM would want to run a fight, or indeed any conflict (“social combat” systems have been around since before Vampire started serving its delicious buttery angst).

Planned vs Unplanned

Planned events are the mainstay of D&D, which is a game about killing monsters and nicking their treasure. Planned conflicts provide the best kind of Climax to a game – and these don’t need to be physical combats, of course, but they should be a showdown with the sentient force behind the character’s trials (otherwise, what’s the point?). Up until that point you might get away with just trials and inanimate obstacles, though conflicts (with henchmen, etc) provide important Milestones.

What then are unplanned events?  You could argue that no event is truly unplanned, since the GM controls the environment. On the other hand there are a couple of reasons to run unscripted combat – either because the player action has a penalty (alert the guards!) or because of player inaction that must be challenged. Let’s call them Penalties and Motivators respectively.

The nice thing about Everway is how you can short-cut the decision process when it’s needed: unplanned events can be single-card draws whereas the big climactic battle will be a blow-by-blow narration.

Penalty Spectrum: Kill, Punish or Let Them Win

In our enlightened post-TPK gaming utopia there are still reasons to kill the PCs, but ideally you want to be challenging players rather than taking their PCs away permanently.

But there are also times you want to let them win – usually when they outclass their opponents. At that stage winning is secondary to decisions such as whether to grant clemency. Becky proposes allowing the players narrative control at this stage.

Crucially these are consequences rather than the conflict itself. You may encourage narrative description by the players during the fight, but until they have been told that they’ve actually won, they shouldn’t be narrating the outcome. But assuming your players “get” your GM style, that shouldn’t be a problem.

K/P/LtW consequences are intrinsically tied to “what’s at stake?” If KPL (hey, an acronym) is a straight line, then arguably the planned events should fall towards the K end and unplanned towards the L end. There are exceptions of course – having Unplanned events with Kill consequences can make for surprise twists. One GM told me how he killed a PC in an unplanned encounter in a sewer – providing a direct contrast with the high-fantasy heroic theme of the campaign and the PC. (But since they were resurrected later they were only nearly dead, not really dead).

By the same token, planned events should not fall at the L end of the spectrum, since that would be anticlimactic. It sounds obvious, but I’ve run and played in games where the boss fight just ends with the GM narrating victory.

Comment

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p>This is kind of an aide memoir to myself to say don’t get bogged down with unscripted fights. I’ve tied this to Everway because that system allows the GM to put as much or as little time into each conflict as necessary. Of course any GM can bring a fight to a quick conclusion based on relative strengths of participants – but D&D and other OSR games were never intended to be fudged that way.

The games’ Climax is a Planned event, and it should be heavily weighted towards the Kill end of the KPL spectrum. In other words, there is a risk that some PCs will be taken out or otherwise rendered unplayable, at least in the short term. Climax events should tend to be Blow by Blow. If a Climax event appears to be weighted towards Let Them Win then it could be a false climax. (“This is too easy!”)

The Milestones are Planned much like the Climax, but not so far biased towards Kill. In fact through investigation, planning and resource gathering on the PCs part, a Milestone could become Let Them Win. (“You’re finished, Lord Crane. The hostages are safe and we have all the evidence we need to prove your allegiance to the Dark One! You’re going to tell us what we need to storm his castle and end his reign of terror!”). Let Them Win consequences should be short to narrate – and could even be an opportunity to let the players take narrative control. Otherwise a Blow by Blow account is appropriate for a Milestone.

Of the Unplanned events, Penalties are the results of plans being derailed. You don’t want to Kill the party but it’s meaningless to just Let Them Win. It’s going to be quite tough to balance an appropriate Punishment with the party progress. Those are the kind of events that threaten to change the direction of (or worse, stall) the whole campaign. Thinking up front on what would make a setback vs what would completely kill the campaign is useful here. Since these events are actual Penalties they should be dealt with quickly, e.g. with a one-card narration (unless you want to drag them out to give the PCs a chance of recovering the situation).

The other Unplanned event is the Motivator. This should not be a killer; it could be a Let Them Win because its purpose is not to punish but provide a plot lead. Short Fight or Blow by Blow depends on the circumstance. If the action is flagging then the latter may be a good diversion; on the other hand if you really want to signpost the PCs towards the plot, a short fight may be what you want.

So…

  • A Climax should have K/P consequences and be a blow by blow
  • A Milestone can be K/P and blow by blow, or LtW and be short fight
  • A Penalty should be neither K not LtW, and is probably better short fight
  • A Motivator should not be K but may be better as LtW, and could be either blow by blow or short fight depending on the needs of the plot.

Is women-specific geometry on bikes an exercise in patronising female customers? As Lovely Bicycle points out, the market for “ladies’ bikes” tends towards the step-through frame – because the crinoline is such a mainstay of modern womens’ fashion. On the other hand, the woman’s bike features a longer head tube and other tweaks for a more upright position that’s better suited to female anatomy.

Taking the Lane refutes this idea of different body shape, saying that men and women’s proportions are the same, and the women-specific bike is a marketing tool.

I take all of this with a pinch of salt. I think generally bike geometry is poorly understood by customers and bike shops alike. Bike buyers are at the mercy of fashion, such as drop-barred bikes with very low bars, steep seat tubes and tiny clearances between tyre and brakes.

Recently we went shopping for a new bike for T (somewhat wary after the last experience). We looked at a number of bikes and frames. Some bike shops knew what they were talking about, others were full of shit. When I asked one chap if he had experience of bike fitting, he replied “I do it by eye”.

Well OK, he knows his business. But I question any mechanic who claims to work by “feel” instead of measurement (especially when a torque wrench is needed). No doubt the fellow has an idea of what a person on a bike should look like, but what’s important is how the cyclist feels.

I used the bike fitting tool on Competitive Cyclist, and with the absence of a proper bike fitter (really good website – especially the section on saddle fore-aft) I got three options for fitting a bike to my body that improved my comfort immensely. The position of the saddle and the length of the stem made a massive difference – changing those effectively brought my centre of gravity back, taking stress off my hands and wrists and relaxing my back.

BQGeometryTerms800 1

(rather lovely picture nicked from Bicycle Quarterly Press)

I’m not qualified to tell someone else what bike is right for them, but I can talk about what I have learned and what works for me. I currently have two more or less functional bikes (and a load of bits in the shed).  One is a Ridley Triton:

Ridley

(Not my photo – nicked from the CycleChat site. Mine doesn’t have a rack and uses Campag gear)

The other is a Surly Cross Check:

Crosscheck

The shop was fresh out of Beef Gravy Brown, so I got the Robin’s Egg Blue you can see on Lovely Bicycle (I fancy some of those Fat Franks too). Sometimes I look at that brown, though, and wonder what might have been. Sigh.

If I were to pick one it would be the Surly because that’s a more versatile bike, but I like them both a lot. But I bought both for specific uses. The Ridley is (more or less) an Audax bike, so it’s lovely and sporty but still not uncomfortable like a proper race bike, and it can do all-year duty thanks to mudguard clearance. The Surly is technically a Cyclocross bike, but actually it does a bit of everything – fast riding, touring, even off-road. These are my fifth and sixth frames I’ve owned since getting an interest in cycling as an adult.

So here’s what I considered when buying a new frame to fit me.

1. Effective Top Tube

Most bikes are sold on seat tube length, but it’s the effective top tube I go by (and it’s ETT because if the actual TT slopes, it will be longer than the ETT). ST length is measured differently by different manufacturers so it’s not reliable, and some manufacturers just use small/med/large. Get the ETT right for your body and the bike will generally fit, unless it or you are very weird. Mine is about 58 cm, which is the figure I took out of my bike fitting calculations.

2. Seat Tube Angle 

For my size the seat tube angle is 73 deg for something sporty. I bought the Surly because the ST angle is 72.5 deg – trust me, it makes a difference. The bike is a bit more relaxed as a result. You can compensate up to a point for a steep angle with a layback seat post, but generally seat posts with a lot of layback are hard to find (and can put stress on the frame, causing it to crack – especially if you’re heavy like me).

3. Head Tube Length

This will determine how high or low your bars go. With the Surly the fork is steel, so it’s not a problem having a lot of steerer tube sticking out of the top, but it’s a different story with alloy or (shudder) a carbon steerer. You do not want to sheer off your steerer tube while riding.

Headtube

(Image from Bikeradar)

The fashion for road bikes is for short head tubes with very few spacers. This puts the bars stupidly low. I chose the Ridley partly because it’s got a long head tube that raises the bars. The majority of consumers will want a long head tube. Of course if you’re getting a custom frame then you can go with a threaded headset and quill stem that lets you raise and lower bar height as you wish – and looks prettier.

4. Clearance for mudguards, rack, fat tyres

Mudguards will affect your comfort on the bike, because they’ll stop you getting a wet bottom/feet from standing water.

Mudguard fitting will depend on whether the guards interfere with brakes. I have dual pivot caliper brakes on the Ridley which can take mudguards, but they’re a pain. If you really need mudguards, cantilever brakes may be a better choice because no part of the brake comes into contact with the guard – whereas dual pivots will end up touching and moving the guard every time you brake.

Canti

Cantilever – loads of clearance

Dual pivot

 Dual Pivot – will hit the mudguard as the brakes are applied

(Pics from Sheldon Brown and Ecovelo)

My first experience with cantilever brakes (Empella Frogglegs) was really bad and nearly put me off them for life – but with the Cross Check I’m running Shimano BR-550 cantis and they’re just as good as any other brakes. However I wouldn’t recommend cantis unless you are prepared to maintain them, because they’re harder to set up and sensitive to pad wear and cable stretch in ways that other brakes are more forgiving. Modern cantis are a lot easier though, and Sheldon Brown’s site is the place to go for learning about anything bike related.

Choosing cantilever brakes will give you clearance for fatter tyres which will improve comfort – although be wary here too, because some makes still make their clearances fairly tight even though they fit cantilever bosses (the Planet X Kaffenback and On-One Pompino, for example). Stay away from actual cyclocross sport frames.

If you don’t want the hassle of cantis you can use v-brakes, but these need special levers.

5. Headtube Angle, Wheel Size and Chainstay Length

These are less of a concern for me, but they could be very important for a smaller rider or a tall rider carrying luggage.

The headtube angle will be appropriate to the frame geometry – trust the manufacturer to get this right, because it affects bike handling. If you pick a bike with a reasonable seat tube angle the head tube should be OK. However if the HT angle is steep, your wheels are big and you are small, you could end up with toe overlap – the front wheel hits your toe when you turn sharply. This is a pain. The answer is going to smaller wheels and avoiding sport-geometry bikes.

Chainstay length is a problem at the back of the bike – if you want to carry luggage and have big feet, if the chainstays are too short you may hit the panniers with your heels every time your foot comes round. This is also a pain. Generally not a problem for shorter riders since while the other dimensions of the bike change with size, the chainstays tend to stay the same length (since the rear wheel stays the same length!).

6. Bottom Bracket Height

This basically determines how far you can lean your bike without hitting a pedal on the ground. I’ve never had this problem yet. The cross-check has a high BBH for off-roading and because it can be ridden as a fixed gear (you really don’t want to hit a pedal on the road on a fixie). For most people this is a non-issue, although lower BBH may help stability.

7. Material

Steel is springy. Carbon Fibre is laterally stiff and vertically compliant. Titanium deadens road buzz. Aluminium is harsh. There’s a tremendous amount of bollocks talked about frame materials.

All I can say is I chose a steel frame because it can take abuse and isn’t too expensive. The Ridley is (I think) 7075 aluminium and it’s stiff, but it’s not uncomfortable. Both are fine. The comfort on the bike has a lot more to do with saddle choice and geometry than what it’s made of. But I am a convert to steel from now on.

Other Things

Those are all things you cannot change about your bike frame – they need to be right first time. But there are a few other things that you can change after you buy your frame or bike that can improve your comfort.

  • Change the stem for a different reach
  • Adjust the setback of your saddle
  • Find a nice comfy saddle – the hipsters go mad for leather Brooks saddles, although allegedly the quality has gone down as the price has gone up. Brooks have short saddle rails that makes them hard to move forward and back, so I don’t recommend them (I needed a special seatpost to fit a Brooks to the cross check). There are alternatives.
  • Fit fat tyres
  • Try different handlebars. Not all drop bars are the same! My favourite are Nitto Noodle bars and Velo Orange Randonneur bars, because they give a very comfy area for the hand when riding on the tops. Also consider butterfly bars, porteur style bars and others as an alternative to the usual (and uncomfortable) flat bars.

Final Words

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p>Trying to find T a bike that’s functional and pretty has been an exercise in frustration. Really she’d like a thin-tubed, lugged mixte (blame me for introducing her to Lovely Bicycle) but since Reynolds no longer make suitable tubing even for custom frames I don’t hold out much hope. Mixte frames are coming back into fashion, although the mass-market manufacturers have made theirs with ugly, thick tubing. And it’s not the salesperson’s fault that none of their stock is to her taste, although assuming that female cyclist = basket is obnoxious.

But back to the first paragraph – if “women-specific” geometry simply means longer head tubes and slacker seat tubes, that says more about how women value comfort than anything else. Then you’ve got to ask, why don’t men value comfort? Why do we persist with impractical, uncomfortable bikes with garish colour schemes? Why is the mass market convinced we all want to be Lance Armstrong?