Body position vs bar height – part 2

August 2, 2011

Yesterday we looked at how the body will find its ideal angles almost “despite” your efforts to put it in a different position. Therefore moving the handlebars lower will result in a more vertical arm position (as the shoulders remain in the same place). More vertical arms have two disadvantages:

  1. Aerodynamics. More vertical arms means more frontal area and a worse shape for the arm cross sections (same width, less depth in the direction of the airflow).
  2. Handling. With the arms more vertical and the elbow more stretched, handling is less precise. The more your elbows are in an angle, the more you push and pull on the bars which is good. Stretching your elbows means you’re “flailing” your arms more which gives less precision, rather than pushing on one side and pulling on the other. In descents, etc, this doesn’t really come into play as people will lower their back for the corners and pedaling action is not at peak performance then anyway, so this issue plays mostly when riding on the rivet in groups, especially in high effort, high stress situations like the classics on narrow roads. See also the advice from Henk Lubberding.

Of course, riders intuitively know all of this, or at least their bodies do. Which is why in the past 30 years as the trend progressed to move handlebars down, the amount of time spent in the drops has decreased and most time is now spent on the hoods. Which in turn explains why the riders of today sit just as low as those 30 years ago, despite having dropped their bars by 4″/10cm.

14 Responses to “Body position vs bar height – part 2”

  1. Jason Thorpe Says:

    Tall guys have it the worst. Thankfully, I’m not embarrassed to have spacers stacked up beneath my stem. I have noticed however, that as my flexibility improves, my tendency is not to want to ride lower, but rather **longer**. I.e. after a year of hard riding and significant cycling fitness gains, instead of dropping my stem by 5mm, I’m thinking of swapping it out for one 10mm longer.

  2. Sergio Says:

    Those two points I am sure were carefully reviewed by you and the Team.

    This topic has gone from interesting to very important. What you say makes sense.

    It seems reasonable for the ‘low riders’ to give the higher stack a try.

  3. Euan Lindsay Says:

    I think another important aspect of bent elbows over straight arms is that it provides a degree of dampening when hitting rough surfaces. Your body dampens the shock rather than it transferring through your wrists, elbows and shoulders and causing fatigue. Maybe not so important on a 10 mile TT. But on a century, definitely.

  4. Scott Says:

    So you don’t think the trend towards spending more time on the hoods than in the drops and lowering the bars coincided with the invention of STI sifters. Back in the day, riding on the uncomfortable “aero” hoods meant you had to bend at the hips to reach the downtube shifters, while riding in the drops your hand naturally fell right on the shifter. Now, I find myself riding in the exact same position hip angle wise that I did 25 years ago, but my hands are on the hoods with the option of changing my hand position by going to the drops.

    • Hi Scott, there are definitely many factors WHY bar positions have changed, I am not really addressing those reasons in the blog. The point was that the bar position has changed much more than the actual common riding position has.

      • Scott Says:

        The point I was trying, albeit poorly, to make, was that I believe bar position has changed to keep us in the same relative position, but allow for the easier shifting from STI and ergo levers.

  5. As a builder (8 national championships), a rider(winner of senior races, state champ. medaled at a nat. RR) and more importantly having ridin’ bikes with seat angles between 69 (measured by eddy himself) to 74.5 (team issue CIOCC) the issue of drop (HB height relative to seat) is based on two issues. One is the relative upper body strength of the rider and two the cadences the rider uses.Powerful riders (slow cadence) with strong upper bodies stretch out and look graceful (w. low drop). Pedalers with weak triceps have big drop. As a tall rider w. minimal upper body strength to this day I ride w. 15cm of drop.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Can an casual rider’s position be lowered by improved flexibility?

    To maintain a riders Ideal hip/back angle do you think it is better (more comfortable) to achieve this with a longer top tube and small drop from seat to bars or a shorter top tube and greater drop from seat to bars?


    • For sure the position can be changed through stretching, yoga, etc. Not just for the casual rider, also for pros. I always have to laugh when people look at a pro position (especially in TT) and say “yeah, but he’s a pro”. These pros are not selected on flexibility, in fact they are probably less flexible than the average cyclist (of that age bracket at least) due to their muscle specificity. It’s only relatively recently that pros started to do anything about it.

      As for low vs long, I can’t say I have a general rule. There is so much adjustment possible thanks to that little joint called the elbow, that your bar position is essentially free. You can put them anywhere, the issue of where is best is then driven by comfort, aerodynamics, handling, etc.

      • Simon Says:

        Thanks for the response, time to roll out the yoga mat then to make riding home in to the head wind easier.

  7. anax Says:


    and what about the longer of the stem ? PRO used to ride with 130-140 mm… Frames to short ?


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