View Full Version : Riding for comfort

02-28-2007, 07:08 PM
I have a question about the right height of the handlebars in relation to the saddle. I have been told that the handlebar should be a inch or two below the saddle because it's most efficient. On the other hand I have been told that for comfort, the handlebar needs to level or slightly higher than the saddle. I was wondering what configuration other cyclist were using and if they had any opinion. I'm mostly a commuter cyclist and right now my handlebar is 2" below my saddle.

02-28-2007, 08:55 PM
there is no stock way to fit you, especially over the internet.
if you are uncomfortable riding in the drops (ie back pain, loss of power) try raising the bars. if your bars are so low that you can only ride on the hoods, you could probably raise them up and use the drops as well.
for optimum performance, a flat back is nice, but that gets old fast when riding in traffic. most people's hamstrings arent flexible enough to ride in an aggressive position with low handlebars. a good rule of thumb is to ride in the drops for 10 minutes. if thats uncomfortable, do some hard core stretching or raise the bars, but both would be better.
if you have a threadless stem, try flipping it up (as most stems are 5-12 degrees) you could raise the bar a little without spending any money.

03-01-2007, 10:54 AM
Stretching will take somewhere in the neighborhood of a year to show a noticeable change in your flexibility. You can't simply sit down and do "hard core" stretching to suddenly have lenghtened muscles. Sorry, it is one of those things that require time and patience to reap a reward.

Your back should be flat no matter where the handlebars are positioned. Picture a straight board running along your spine. It should be dead straight.

The more flexible your hamstrings are, the further down your back angle can be. You should gain this forward tilting position by rolling your pelvis forward, not by bending your back in the thoracic area of the spine.

For there to be any need to be much lower than 45 degrees, you should be riding pretty darned fast. True aerodynamic advantage will not be needed at speeds much below 20 mph. Unless of course you are going straight into a head wind. If you are rolling your back and closing off your lung capacity to be lower, the aerodynamic advantage will be a wash compared to the inefficiency in your respiratory system.

Be wary of anyone talking formulas or set distance relationships of parts on the bike. Every person is unique, both in skeletal structure as well as flexibility. There is no measure to fit standard on bikes, regardless of what many think. Bar to seat relationship can be a function of the riders anatomy and body useage history, as well as the bikes particular geometry.

The most important question, is are you comfortable now? Discomfort is a cause of inefficiency. There is no reason to be uncomfortable on the bike. If you can't figure it out, there are many shops in town that can fit you to your bike properly.

Disregarding all of that, most people prefer a more upright position for commuting. It provides more visibility on the bike.

03-01-2007, 03:21 PM
Absolutely; if you have any serious questions about or issues with your fit and/or comfort, you need to find a shop that you trust to help you. Achieving the ideal position for your purposes requires observation and experimentation, neither of which can be done here. One useful tool for this process could be an adjustable stem. Not that such a thing will solve your problems, but it will allow a greater range of experimentation without switching components - you can even make changes in your posture during a ride, just to see what works. Some people dislike these stems because of their weight, so you may want to switch back to a single position stem once you have found a position that you like. It is also important to be aware that any change in the overall angle of the upper body may require a change in the angle of the saddle, or even a different saddle. In general, a more upright position works better with a wider saddle, and narrow saddles are more appropriate to "tucked" positions. Again, experiment. Good luck!

03-01-2007, 04:29 PM
"Stretching will take somewhere in the neighborhood of a year to show a noticeable change in your flexibility. You can't simply sit down and do "hard core" stretching to suddenly have lenghtened muscles. Sorry, it is one of those things that require time and patience to reap a reward."

if you have tight hamstrings, as the majority of cyclists have, a concentrated stretching program could reap results quickly. although i agree with much of what steels reel said, you can benefit from daily stretching sessions (hardcore stretching) in as little as a few weeks. my previously ungodly tight hams are proof to that.
This could greatly improve your comfort on the bike.

Jeff Wills
03-01-2007, 07:20 PM
I have a question about the right height of the handlebars in relation to the saddle. I have been told that the handlebar should be a inch or two below the saddle because it's most efficient. On the other hand I have been told that for comfort, the handlebar needs to level or slightly higher than the saddle. I was wondering what configuration other cyclist were using and if they had any opinion. I'm mostly a commuter cyclist and right now my handlebar is 2" below my saddle.

My handlebars are about 18" above my seat... and that's my "aero" position:
http://home.pacifier.com/~jwills/jeff-big.jpg (note the fairing). I commute and tour this way, and I'm really comfortable. Some of my friends race in this position, too:


03-02-2007, 01:49 AM
jeff wills brings up a good idea...

i'm hardly a recumbent guy myself but i worked in a recumbent only shop for a good while, and recumbents are hard to beat comfort wise. i'd ride them all the time, after a tune or a build, new model came in, etc. really fun. not cheap though. the entry level 'bent at the shop i was at was 900 bucks. components wise it sat on the low end of the spectrum, easy to ride due to the seat/bars/bottom bracket relationship, not too sporty however.

i see used 'bents on craigslist often, that's a cheaper route.

Greg Raisman
03-02-2007, 06:42 AM
I've been riding a recumbent for recreational rides for a year and a half. Before I got one, I never wanted to ride far. The recumbent's comfort and speed have made me into a bike tourer. We did our first Seattle to Portland last year. Heck, I just rode 150 miles in February.

I started with a Bike-E that I bought used for $200 from a guy who was riding in Bridge Pedal. After about 8 months of that, I bought a used Tour Easy from Coventry. It's much more stable, fast, and efficient. It's also more comfortable. You'll hear a lot about Tour Easy bikes in the recumbent scene because they are the gold standard. They haven't really changed the design in 20 years and they were the fastest bike in the world for a long time.

Anyhow, recumbents have a rap for being bad on hills. I knew it was wrong the first time I climbed a hill and it was easier than any bike I had ever riden. I really knew it was wrong when my friend bought a Tour Easy and started passing most upright bikes on his trip up Terwilliger. There became no doubt that they can climb hills when a team of recumbents won Race Across Oregon a couple of years ago with its 45,000 vertical feet of climbing.

Recumbents hold every speed record they're eligible for. Their lowness does require a different riding style on them... espcially at intersections. However, everything in life seems to have pros and cons. In my personal opinion, recumbents have some safety advantages in that there is a lot of mass to a recumbent. If you have fairing on the front, you have a big shiny thing for people to look at. From the side they are quite large. There's lots of real estate for lights and reflectors. Also, a flag helps a lot with visibility. They attract a lot of attention and everyone tends to notice you rolling down the street - motorist, pedestrian, or bicyclist. I feel equally safe on my recumbent as I do on my upright bike.

I know people also say that they are "old people's bikes" or that they're "not cool." I have never had a bike (or really anything) where so many people said "cool bike." Kids will actually stop in the middle of playing in their yard to say how neat the bike looks. I can't go for a ride without getting complemented. It's almost good for my ego ;).

If comfort is really an issue. A recumbent is incredible. You can ride it 100 miles in a day and not feel any strains or aches anywhere in your body (except from being tired). There are two major resources for recumbents in town. Coventry Cycles, where you should plan to spend some time because their service is awesome and they'll want you to try every bike they think you may like. They also do not know how to answer a question in any other way but THOROUGH. Resource two is Craigslist which has a constant stream of used recumbents (just search for recumbent on portland.craigslist.org/bik and you'll see what I mean).

Buying from Coventry comes with awesome service, lots of knowledge, and is a great local business to support. Craigslist is less expensive and will take more time to find the right bike.

If you don't like the recumbent idea, I'm becoming a bigger fan of Breezer bikes for commuting. They don't do so good on big hills (like the west ones). I've taken a 20 mile ride on one on the east side and it was fine. They're comfy and very practical. Kind of like an Americanized version of a European city bike. Bicycling Magazine has a nice write-up on the Uptown 8 in the most recent issue.

Wow! I guess I have a lot to say about comfort bikes.

03-02-2007, 12:37 PM
I am honestly not trying to start another debate with you fetish! I agree that in 3-6 weeks, muscles will have relaxed and lost some tension. For a profound change in muscle and tendon length, a change great enough to radically alter riding position, the time frame is going to be in months to years.

I am not advocating not stretching! The trouble is, many people embark on a mad stretching campaign, or intensive yoga, then become burned out, disenchanted and quit. It is a phenomenon similar to dieting. I work with these folks for a living and my experience has moved well beyond anecdotal at this point.

Seeing riders who are following an exercise and yoga regimine at regular intervals, I can assure you that it is in the neighborhood of a year before any discernable change is present. A change that would allow for decreased bar position relative to the saddle.

Of course after a few minutes, or weeks of stretching, the muscles will be more relaxed than they were initially. This is not a change in flexibility overall, just a slight relaxation of the current state. Basically getting your current physiology to it's happiest position. The following months (and years!) are working on actually altering the individuals body.

The best example of this are people who are practicing yoga with intensity. Months or years are sometimes spent on finding and maintaining certain positions. It is not a quick process, though it is exponential!

The more you practice, the greater the reward. I do disagree with diving into "hard core" stretching, whatever that is... Most people will become discouraged and abandon the activity as the rewards are too slow and the time commitment to large. Better to start slowly and integrate stretching into your daily life.

Another concern is that recent studies have shown prolonged static stretching before exercise decreases muscle twitch and response. Essentially, your freshly torn open muscles are sluggish and provide less output for hours after intense static stretching.

Ideally a brief warm-up would be followed by a short amount of gentle stretching. Then do your activity du jour. After a brief cool down, time for some stretching.

For anyone reading this who hasn't tried it, take a Yoga class! Just a few classes will give you months of positions to work on at home.

Hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors are the muscles that get all shrunken and bulky on the bike. If you have the wrong genetics, are not stretching these groups regularly and are an avid cyclist, you are setting yourself up for big problems later in life.

Stretching is your friend! Not an enemy to be conquered..

norse rider
03-02-2007, 05:27 PM
I have noticed that streching before and after my rides helps with the burn and general pain that can happen from pushing the legs farther then I should.
YMMV but in this cold wet season my legs tend to cramp more; could be the cold but during the summer I don't work the hamstrings out as much as I should. Oh, and yoga is a good idea. I have found that the yoga classes that I have taken have really been a positive. Ride safe everyone and lets hope the sun comes out soon! My rain gear is taking a beating....

03-02-2007, 06:26 PM
i do not ride with a straight back for several reasons... one being that i am not comfortable riding that way... it makes me feel like a gorilla and i probably look like one too as i have a long torso... or short legs, take your pick.

another reason being that i would fear compression of the spine if i hit an unexpected bump with a straight back like that... and i hope no one would take this as fact as i really am ill informed on the subject.

this pic of Jan is similiar to how i imagine my spine.. just erase some hair then add a little fudge to him and there i am.

03-02-2007, 06:54 PM
Yup, Jan is not known for the best posture! He is also a freak of nature and pushes a crazy steep gear all day. His is a race of brute force and grinding determination. And I love it!

The Tour is fraught with horrible positions on the bike. Important to note that many of these guys will have very short careers...

Also note the excessive bend in his arms. He is leaning way into that position. If his arms were at the same angle as the rider behind him, his back would be very close to straight. Also see that in this verrry forward position his upper back is still quite straight. The curve is below mid back, his chest and lungs are open, though his diaphragm is probably constrained.

The position I described in the previous post is an idealized one. That is the relaxed positon on the hoods. Obviously the rider will move around on the bike and shift to maximize comfort, to use different muscle groups and to increase circulation. That is why we have multi-position drop bars, so we can move around!

The straight back, open and leading chest position is the bodies most efficient one. That does not mean that you should be riding a fixed posture without moving for hours at a time. Whenever you are running near redline and relying on your cardio-respiratory system, an open chest is the way to be!

Jan is a masher, he lives in the big ring(not in that pic though!),rides at a slow cadence and though it is not right, he is the bomb yo!

03-03-2007, 07:34 PM
From all the posts I can see there is no easy answer to this question. I have not noticed any pain with my current set up. I was just wondering if there was a better riding posture. I think my back is pretty straight but I will have someone at the bike shop check it out and see if they recommend any changes. I haven't given recumbunts much thought because they sit so low to the ground but from what I have just read here I might look into this form of transportation as well.

03-10-2007, 09:58 PM
cycle go to coventry and try some bents; most folks think bents are low till you ride one and relize its nice to be able to see drivers faces.