The first point on arm position I got from Henk Lubberding, a famous Dutch rider from the Ti-Raleigh/Panasonic period. I was a guest together with him once in “De Avondetappe”, a Dutch daily talkshow about the Tour de France. Great guy, great thinker on cycling (he has this clever technique he calls “Breaking with ABS on a bike”) and the topic of arm position also came up.
What he observes a lot (and so do I since he pointed it out) is that people ride with their arms stretched out. Especially in the drops, this happens a lot. The main reason is that people (including pros) put their handlebars too low because they think it looks pro and it will give them a lower position.
Of course, this is not how it works, your body knows darn well how low it wants to sit, and the only thing you change when you lower your bars is that your arms stretch more, your back stays in more or less the same position. I’ll expand on that more in a later blog. The main problem Henk sees is that when your arms are fully stretched, the elbows are locked. This prevents you from making subtle steering movements, and as a results you’re more jerky and less precise, simply put you’re handling will start to look like a dump truck rather than a sports car.
Bend the elbows (which often means “raise your bars”) and you’ll have better control over your bike. One note, another “advantage” of locking your elbows is that it allows you to support your body weight without any real muscular effort. When you bend your arms, some effort is required to prevent you from slamming your nose onto your bike’s stem (which is unpleasant, or so I’m told). This can be solved by either getting stronger arm muscles or by riding faster – the harder you push on the pedals, the less weight is supported by your arms.
If you want to learn more, Henk gives cycling clinics.