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Old 05-12-06, 09:40 PM   #1
SemperFi
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Comfort Position?

I've had my new road bike for five days now and I'm just enjoying the heck out of it. Not having been on a road bike for about 20 years (and pre back injury) I was concerned whether or not this was the right bike for me. I got a great fit from the LBS and the riding position is very comfortable...no apparent strain on my back. Not being an experienced road biker...not that I ever was...is there a right and wrong way to position your arms to relieve the stress on the elbow joint? I do take advantage of the different hand positions available on a road bike but should there be some flex in the elbow when positioned on the flat of the bar or the hoods? I've noticed some minor elbow discomfort after riding and don't know if I'm doing something wrong or should just chalk this up to some startup aches and pains.
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Old 05-12-06, 10:13 PM   #2
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Don't lock your elbows out. I always scold my wife about that one...when we go riding together, she often locks out her elbows, and also splays her hands out to the side, and essentially uses her arms like immobile "stands" or "props" for her upper body. Of course, doing so transmits every last bump, shock etc. through the joints. It also numbs her hands.

You do have to use your musculature somewhat to support yourself. If not, it can be hard on the arms. If you don't engage your triceps and lats as well, you may find yourself "scrunching" your shoulders up as you lean into your locked out arms over longer distances. This could then produce neck pain, as you're fighting your own shoulders and stance to get your head up and eyes level to view the road.

Just a couple of theories. I don't know if you're actually doing any of these things.

If you've been letting your bones do all the supporting, you may find that supporting yourself with your muscles is a bit tiring at first...trust me, that goes away. And not that you're a wimp, it's just muscle groups that you're not used to using this often, or in this way.

My first bike commute I thought would be a piece of cake. Hell, I went on at least three three mile runs a week, minimum. Oh lord, that first morning kicked my butt.

Just some thougts. Glad you're enjoying the new bike. I was actually just about to PM you to see if you got it yet, and how the riding was going!
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Old 05-12-06, 10:31 PM   #3
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The riding is just great! I find myself daydreaming at work about that nights ride. After dinner I look at my wife and she says, "I know, you're going for a ride". Then I get a "be careful" and a pat on the butt and off I go.
I think I have been locking my elbows for the most part and will have to make a conscious effort not to do that, at least for any length of time. I do find the multiple hand positions very helpful and couldn't be more pleased that I took your advice (and the advice of other BF members...don't want to slight anyone) and bought a road bike.
Many of the concerns I had...and you know there were many...have, so far, been put to rest. I've even spent some time in the drops without feeling any discomfort in my back.

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Old 05-12-06, 11:02 PM   #4
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Uh oh . . . could be normal after about 15-20 miles out and if so, I don't believe it can cause any harm to you if the shoulders are Ok and you don't feel too stretched out.
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Old 05-13-06, 07:04 AM   #5
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Especially if you have not been riding a lot in the past year, a good position on the bike is critical. The most comfortable position on a road bike (NOT the "fastest"...the most comfortable) puts your hands at the same height as the top of the saddle. If the bike is set up correctly, with your hands at the height of the saddle, and your elbows relaxed and bent, your back will be at about a 45 degree angle to a horizontal top bar. Further, your saddle is positioned so that when the pedal is at its lowest point, there is still a distinct and visible bend in your knee.

This position enables you to easily raise up an inch as you go over rough pavement. Having your hands at the same height as the top of the saddle balances your weight between the saddle, pedals, and bars. Keep your hands and elbows as relaxed as possible. Pedal smoothly, at a high cadence, in easy gears, and avoid gears that require "pushing" hard or stressing your knees.

Even with a perfect setup and using easy gears, you will have some aches and pains. Try to ride everyday, even if only for thirty minutes or so. Riding everyday helps your muscles get used to your riding position and after a month of so, your aches and pains will be only a memory.

The typical bike shop employs guys from around age 16 to age 25. They ride with their bars three or four inches lower than the saddle, because it "looks cool". They like to brag about how much pain they can endure on their long Sunday rides. I doubt you are 25, want to "look cool", or want to brag about how much pain you can handle. So, NEVER listen to kids who work at bike shops on issues related to bike setup.
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Old 05-13-06, 07:30 AM   #6
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Five days...it takes a lot more than that for your body to adjust to riding. Your body will send you all kinds of messages in the process. That is normal. Just listen to it and take it easy while your body is getting dialed in to your new passion.
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Old 05-13-06, 08:18 AM   #7
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Actually it was the owner of the LBS who set me up on the bike and he spent a considerable amount of time doing so. I'm comfortable with the fit and just have to learn to be more relaxed in the arms. More importantly, I just have to make sure that I'm on the bike every day.
I just turned 55 so I guess the minor aches are to be expected for awhile.
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Old 05-13-06, 04:17 PM   #8
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This link my help, especially the part on setting handlebar height.

http://americanbike.com/page.cfm?PageID=77

Enjoy the ride.
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Old 05-14-06, 12:15 PM   #9
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Just got back from a ride where I made a conscious effort to keep some flex in my elbows. It put a little more strain on the lower back but hopefully over time those particular back muscles will stregthen to the point where that little problem will no longer be a concern. I've only been taking the road for about 5-6 miles at a clip as I ease my body into the routine. Longer rides are ahead.
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Old 05-14-06, 12:37 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SemperFi
Just got back from a ride where I made a conscious effort to keep some flex in my elbows. It put a little more strain on the lower back but hopefully over time those particular back muscles will stregthen to the point where that little problem will no longer be a concern. I've only been taking the road for about 5-6 miles at a clip as I ease my body into the routine. Longer rides are ahead.
Since you are now older you may find a road bike and drop bars hard to adapt to. If you are
unsuccessful in avoiding aches & pains then read this thread for a type of bike (and what you
can do to yours) that fits a very large cross section of any human population. The"Dutch"type
bikes.

Best of luck.

Darn!! Forgot the link........

commuting bikes....will they ever be like the Dutch?

Last edited by Nightshade; 05-15-06 at 08:04 PM.
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Old 05-14-06, 05:35 PM   #11
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Don't so much "flex" the elbows. Remember standing at attention, and they told you not to lock your knees, on account of you might pass out? So, you didn't lock them...but you didn't BEND them either, otherwise you would look silly.

It's kinda like that. Just make sure you're not completely locking out at the joint. A full on flex is for if you're really tucking into the drops to race into the wind, and while I'm certain you'll find use for the drops, you probably won't use them so aggresively.

If the elbows are flexed too much, you could find yourself using your back to hold yourself up, especially as the lats and tris tire.

So give em a wiggle, and let your hands rove about. That's the other thing about drops...it's not about finding the perfect single riding position...if that were the case, you wouldn't need the other 3 or so. (Give or take, depending on the bar.)

And, some of the elbow stuff could be a bit of "growing pains", since you're new to the bike...and not to be insulting (but I am a young snot nosed punk!), a little bit older. Give it time.

I hope that helps. Take it a bit at a time, and don't bend your arms to strain your back.
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Old 05-14-06, 08:17 PM   #12
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When I got off of the bike today I did notice that the seat height is slightly higher than the handlebar height, which is obviously going to cause a a more forward lean, so I would probably like to make an adjustment there. I am certainly not a competitive cyclist and do not want an agressive stance. Question is...do I lower the seat, raise the bar, or a little of both? And should I do it myself or let the LBS handle it?
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Old 05-14-06, 08:52 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SemperFi
When I got off of the bike today I did notice that the seat height is slightly higher than the handlebar height, which is obviously going to cause a a more forward lean, so I would probably like to make an adjustment there. I am certainly not a competitive cyclist and do not want an agressive stance. Question is...do I lower the seat, raise the bar, or a little of both? And should I do it myself or let the LBS handle it?
Trial and error is involved in dialing in comfort. So, you need to do it yourself. First, get the saddle height right. With your riding shoes on, with the ball of your foot on the pedal in its lowest position, there should still be a noticeable bend in your knee. Slight, but noticeable. With your heel on the pedal in its lowest position, your leg should be about straight, with no bend in the knee. If you find your hips rocking from side to side as you pedal, your seat may be too high.

Make small changes, and then ride with those changes a few days to evaluate the change in comfort. About 1/4th inch is all the change you should make in saddle height at one time, IF your current height appears to be very close to ideal. Use a marking pen to keep track so you can return to a previous height if the new height is too high or too low.

After you get saddle height perfect, then work on bar height. Thirty years ago, raising the bars was a one minute job. Today, it often requires replacing the stem. So, after you are sure your saddle height is right, have your bike shop raise the bars up so that the highest part of the bars is level with the top of the saddle.

Your torso length and arm length control how long a stem should be. If your back is at about a 45 degree angle with your hands on the highest part of the bar and close to the stem, the length of the stem is about right. If the stem is too long for your body, you will be forced forward into a lower position, with your nose down by the stem. That means you need a shorter stem.

Don't make any big changes without lots of riding time. Your body will become more flexible and more tolerant of your bike with every mile that you ride. If your basic setup is correct, it will not take long for you to become more comfortable on your bike.

Last edited by alanbikehouston; 05-15-06 at 12:12 PM.
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Old 05-14-06, 09:41 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SemperFi
When I got off of the bike today I did notice that the seat height is slightly higher than the handlebar height, which is obviously going to cause a a more forward lean, so I would probably like to make an adjustment there. I am certainly not a competitive cyclist and do not want an agressive stance. Question is...do I lower the seat, raise the bar, or a little of both? And should I do it myself or let the LBS handle it?
Only you can get it right. But you need some knowledge before you start trying different things. A road bike can be set-up to give you a comfortable ride without having to try to learn to deal with pain. Most people will try to tell you how to set-up a bike as it pertains to racing. The perfect racing posture is not the most comfortable position.Nor is the most comfortable position the best racing posture. You have to decide which is best for you. It sounds like you want comfort. The seat needs to be adjusted first for proper leg extension then the bars can be adjusted to the seat position. You need to have knowledge of how one adjustment effects the other before you start trying differrent things. Read this article on bike fitment before you make any adjustments. Good Luck and have fun. http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/fitting.htm
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Old 05-15-06, 07:47 AM   #15
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If the bike has an adjustable stem (don't remember, I'm going to look), then you're in the money there. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the saddle was probably placed to the correct height in the store. (reference alanbikehouston's comments.)

An adjustable stem will make it easy...just raise 10 degrees or so.

Otherwise, the store may need to put a spacer in to raise it.

Remember, just a "break" in the elbow. Your arms can be straight, just not completely locked out.
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Old 05-15-06, 08:12 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by banzai_f16
Don't lock your elbows out. I always scold my wife about that one...when we go riding together, she often locks out her elbows, and also splays her hands out to the side
Locked elbows often result from bars that are too wide. This is very common with women riders.
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Old 05-15-06, 10:39 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SemperFi
Actually it was the owner of the LBS who set me up on the bike and he spent a considerable amount of time doing so. I'm comfortable with the fit and just have to learn to be more relaxed in the arms. More importantly, I just have to make sure that I'm on the bike every day.
I just turned 55 so I guess the minor aches are to be expected for awhile.
Don't be afraid to make minor tweaks to the set up of the bike as you get used to it. There is no definitive 'formula' for a good fit, they get you in the ballpark, the rest is trial and error. The key is to make tiny little changes (mm instead of cm) and get plenty of riding in after the change to determine the effect before making other changes.
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Old 05-15-06, 06:15 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MichaelW
Locked elbows often result from bars that are too wide. This is very common with women riders.
Yup. Swapped that a little over a week ago. She's getting much better now.

Semper Fi,

I feel a little bad about not being more specific with the "don't lock your elbows" advice. After your subsequent posting, I could picture you riding around with your elbows bent 30 or so degrees, almost in a racing tuck, wondering why now everything else sucked.

If you hold your arm out straight in front of you and lock your elbow out, and then release that tension while still making your arm straight, you'll notice that your arm is still basically straight...perceptually, the difference is minimal. However, when supporting your weight, that's the difference between bone and muscle holding you up, and can really be the difference in whether your elbows are soaking up all the shocks in the road.

Just a slight "break" in that "locked out tension" is all you need.

As far as adjustments...the website says that your stem is 4 position adjustable. If you wanted to make a simple adjustment, does raising it one ten degree increment bring the height about where you want it? Keep in mind; if you do that, you'll also have to give the handlebars a little bit of a rotation.
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Old 05-15-06, 06:43 PM   #19
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I believe that any adjustment the bike needs would be minor. Raising the bar one increment might do the trick but I just don't feel comfortable doing it myself at this point.

I'm scheduled for the first service (checkup?) at the LBS in a another three weeks. I'll leave things as they are for now, keep riding every day, and see how I feel at the end of the first 30 days. I'm enjoying my time on the bike and look forward to my ride each evening so I guess the comfort factor is there to a large degree. But if it can be fine tuned and I feel even better on the bike...well, who wouldn't go for that?

And I'm doing my best to keep some "play" in the elbows. Problem is it doesn't come naturally yet...I have to remember to do it.
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Old 05-16-06, 10:26 AM   #20
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Where do you put your hands? If on the flat bar, your hands will be twisted inwards. That's ok for short periods of time, but not good for long times as it puts strain on the wrists, like carpal tunnel. The most neutral position is with hands on the hoods. Make sure your LBS knows to set up your bike fitting for this position. If set up wrong, too much weight will be on hands and may have numbing problems. Ideal is hands on hoods like a hand shake, arms and wrists are in neutral position. As others have mentioned, first get the right length for the saddle. You may have to make adjustments 1/8 or 1/16" at a time and then ride 5 miles and listen to your body. After you have saddle, then adjust steering wheel height so weight is balanced between pedals/saddle/handlebars. If you have these set up right, your arms will never be straight and elbow play will be natural. If locked you have no shock absorbing, with slightly bent elbows you get shock absorbing.
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Old 05-16-06, 06:30 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by rule
Five days...it takes a lot more than that for your body to adjust to riding ...
x2 ... the final position once you spend a lot of hours on the bike will be really different from the one you are using now.

More or less ... It may take you the whole summer to figure out all your riding positions and to form the muscle memory for them.
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Old 05-16-06, 10:19 PM   #22
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I change hand positions frequently, mostly on the flat part of the bar and the hoods, but occassionally I'm also at the end of the bar where it begins to curve outward. In that position the bar is pretty much in my palms with the thumbs at the 10 and 2 o'clock positions. Only rarely am I in the drops and then only for a short period of time. I'm not as comfortable yet in that lower stance.
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Old 05-17-06, 06:44 AM   #23
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Also don't discount some upper body training. In addition to riding I go to the gym and lift. Not for bulk but for generall strenght/stamina. Strengthing your arms and back, and upper body in general is a big help. They have a back machine I use and since I have gotten my back stronger the bike is amazingly comfortable.

Obviously be careful if you have had back injury. But I am sure there are still exercises you can do to help it along.

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Old 05-17-06, 09:11 PM   #24
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I'm lucky to find time to ride...actually I make the time for that. There aren't enough hours in the day to go to the gym but good advice nevertheless. Maybe I can do something at home instead.

My BG Gel gloves were delivered today and were used for the first time on my ride this evening. They really make a difference as far as hand comfort goes. I'm still working on the elbow thing.

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Old 05-18-06, 07:12 PM   #25
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One of the nifty things about drop bars is that as you move your hands around, you also vary the angle of your upper body.
Basically, you should never be able to really find that "one" position. With any comfortable stance, the longer you are in it, the less comfortable you will be. So, you vary grip not only for your hands and forearms, but also for your back, shoulders, etc.
With a flat bar, the only way to vary your "riding geometry" is to flex at the elbow to raise up or down. Obviously something that cannot be comfortably maintained.
Another thought about the elbows is this; While most of the time you won't lock them, sometimes you will, to give your shoulders or triceps a bit of a rest. And, though you may be "breaking a rule", there's nothing wrong with that.
I guess the real answer is that there's no single answer. Your bike offers you many solutions, which you can utilize as one becomes tiring/uncomfortable. Think of it as avoiding repetitive stress strains or cramps.

Happy riding!
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