Body Posture and Position
The reason good cyclists adhere to well-founded principles of body position and form is to maximize their cycling efficiency. They do this by getting the most power and leverage possible in pedaling, while minimizing wind resistance. And of course, they want to be as comfortable as possible to avoid injury and to enjoy more intense cycling. Because it's so easy to get by with only the basic skills you learned as a child, it may surprise you to find how much better you can ride—and with less effort—when you follow correct cycling form.
That said, it's also important to note that there's no such thing as a universally perfect form. Riders need to find what's right for their own specific body dimensions, strength, and comfort, within the general guidelines of proper cycling.
Bicycles with drop handlebars allow riders three main riding positions. When pedaling for long periods, cyclists need to periodically switch positions to avoid soreness or numbness in the hands, arms, and upper body. And because each riding position offers its own advantages (and disadvantages), the best all-around bike form involves a combination of all three positions.
Top Bar Position
The most common (and not coincidentally the most comfortable) bike posture is the top bar position (see Figure 6-1). For riders of straight-handlebar bikes (mountain bikes, hybrids), the top bar position is the only choice. Its upright orientation enables riders to keep their backs straight and neck muscles relaxed. This is the ideal position for casual riding and riding in traffic. Also, the top bar position enables cyclists to ride back in the saddle for more power uphill.
However, the top bar position puts hands far from the brakes on road bikes and therefore creates a slow braking reaction. Some road bikes have brake extenders that can be easily reached from the top bar, though these offer much less braking power than the main levers. And because riders in the top bar position trap the most wind, it's the least efficient aerodynamically.
Figure 6.1 TOP BAR POSITION
Figure 6-2 DROP POSITION
While riding in the drop position, with hands on the bottom handlebar extensions (called drops), riders experience the least amount of wind resistance and the greatest pedaling and braking power (see Figure 6-2). Also, riders distribute their weight more evenly across the bike, which eases the load directed on the saddle. But because the position requires riders to hunch over to reach the drops, maintaining the posture for an extended time can cause back, shoulder, neck, and arm strain. Drop position is best for sprinting and for riding against the wind, but the body fatigue and numbness it can cause makes it difficult to sustain for long periods. While drop position typically involves sliding hands into the curves of the handlebar, riders can achieve better leverage for climbing by sliding their hands back toward the ends of the handlebars.
Brake Lever Position
For some, the brake lever position offers a happy medium between the top bar and drop positions (see Figure 6-3). By resting hands on the tops of the brake levers, riders will have less wind resistance than in the top bar position and more comfort than in the drop position. This posture provides easy access to the brakes for safety, particularly on descents, and good leverage for hill climbing and riding out of the saddle. Its all-around appeal makes the brake lever position the standard long-distance racing posture.
Correct cycling posture ensures that you stay as safe and as comfortable as possible while best utilizing your body for optimum pedaling efficiency. Good posture, though, goes hand in hand with proper bike fit. Make sure your bike has been properly sized and adjusted before you even attempt to ride with a healthy posture (see Finding the Right Fit in Chapter 4 for complete information on bike fit). No matter in what position you ride, the following main points for proper bicycle posture stay the same.
Figure 6-3 BRAKE LEVER POSITION
Maintain a firm but easy hold on the handlebars that will keep arms relaxed and provide better control of the bicycle. Keep your wrists straight and grip the bars tighter when riding on rougher surfaces.
Keep your arms in line with your body; keep your elbows comfortably bent to absorb road bumps and to maintain steering flexibility.
Keep your back flat for better comfort, strength, flexibility, and aerodynamics. Lean forward from the hips at an angle of at least forty-five degrees in the top bar position, more for the drop position.
Keep your upper body relaxed, particularly your back and shoulder muscles.
Always keep your head facing straight ahead, while varying your neck position to ease muscle strain.
Rest your rear on the saddle cushions, but shift your weight and seating position slightly whenever necessary to maintain comfort and to get better leverage while climbing.