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Anatomy of a Racing Bicycle and the Reasons they DON’T Hurt: The Drop

If I had a dollar for every time I heard (or read) that riding a bicycle upright as one does on a mountain bike, hybrid or leisure cruiser is “more comfortable” that the position on a road bike, I’d… well, I wouldn’t quite be taking it to Donald Trump on the campaign trail, but I’d build a nice temperature controlled shed to store my bikes in.  The notion that the upright posture on a bicycle is more comfortable is pervasive – and is absolutely opposite my experience.

Now, I have no doubt that for some, maybe even a majority of the population, riding more upright actually is more comfortable but the notion is absolutely not universal.

There are obviously going to be limits to the amount of drop from the saddle to the handlebar that one can reasonably take, but the idea that this is only an inch or two can often be too conservative.

Currently my Venge is at four and a half inches, from the nose of the saddle to the top of the handlebar:

While my Trek is three and a half (I can’t get anymore with the current setup and it looks too awesome to change it):

The crazy thing is the Venge is more comfortable over a long ride, and I have a fair hypothesis as to why this is.  For someone who doesn’t have extra belly weight or a medical problem with their back, when one rides lower, as I do, the entire back and core work with the arms to act as a giant shock absorber.  On the other hand, when one sits more upright on their bike, the less bend there is to absorb a bump, the more that shock will travel right up the spine.  In context, three hours on my mountain bike hurts more than six on my road bike.

I can throw an even bigger monkey wrench in the works of the “upright is more comfortable” SOP too. Before running I had some major back issues.  Running, and a bunch of sit ups/crunches helped but I’d still had a couple of days a week where I’d need to take an Aleve or two to unknot my back… When I got into cycling my back improved exponentially after I started riding road bikes. I’m not quite pain free yet but I’m down to maybe one or two rough days a month, down from two or three a week.

Why is this so?  Folks, I’m no doctor or physical therapist… I don’t care about the why.  I’m just grateful it is.

Finally, to simplify this, we do not need to have a drop like the pros to ride well, comfortable, fast and low.  I’m not anywhere near flexible enough to ride like that, and I’ve tried.  When I’m by myself and riding into the wind (where aerodynamics matter a little bit more) or in a group and I’m up front, all I have to do is bend my arms a little bit:

Ladies and gentlemen, fellow cyclists and friends, don’t accept the idea that we all have to ride our road bikes sitting up like one would on a mountain bike.  My experience suggests otherwise.  Taking my word for it is not necessary either.  Any road bike that comes with the handlebar just an inch or two lower than the saddle comes with a bunch of spacers below the stem.  If you simply switch those spacers from below the stem to above, the handlebar drops.  One can try this all at once, kind of a shock to the system, or like I did – one spacer at a time and get used to the new position before doing another.  Just know, there is a point of diminishing returns, where you’re simply too low to ride comfortably and with power.  Once you find that point, I assume you’ll know – it was fairly obvious to me.  Also, if you want to know how to do this, I have a photographical how to, here.

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