Friday, June 19, 2015

Long distance riding on upright bars/ WSJ reports on the upright trend

I posted this recently in response to an inquiry on the Rivendell list about the appropriateness of handlebars like the Nitto Albatross and Albastache for long distance riding:

"I've had very good experiences over the past couple of years riding long distances (up to about 90 miles/day, and a week long, ~500 mile tour with plenty of climbing) with upright bars, mostly 58cm Boscos. I totally agree with Ron and Clayton: just like with drop bars, set up matters, and every body is different with regards to things like core strength, flexibility, limb and torso dimensions, etc.  Definitely, for me, long top tubes and stems seem to help me get upright bars feeling nice and "roomy."

While I love my Boscos dearly, I've also had a pair of the current standard 55cm CrMo albatrosses that have moved between a couple of different bikes and umpteen different setups and the truth is, they haven't worked as well for me.  I think a lot of this is down to width; the bit of extra width on the Boscos really helps me be in a relaxed yet-secure position.  I was at Riv HQ this past weekend and riding one of their Hunqapillars with Alba's that felt better, and talking to Keven I discovered that in fact had one of the older, slightly wider (56cm) bars on it. I was surprised at the difference it made.  I think the bend was subtly different was well, such that it maintained more if its width closer to the forward curve.

In terms of climbing, I actually feel like I climb better with Boscos, especially long climbs, since the position doesn't put as much strain on my lower back and hip areas.  My whole body is more relaxed, so more of my energy can be sent to power my legs.  If i do need more leverage or to shift my weight forward for a steep bit, I can grab the boscos on the forward curves. Furthermore, sitting up and looking around while climbing is an awesome way to pass the time while climbing. I've done many rides on upright bars that I had only previously done on drops and have been amazed by how many new things I've noticed: cool trees, interesting houses, little vistas that only emerge momentarily in passing.  I think that's especially nice when you're on tour and passing through new areas.

The headwind thing I think is fair.  Prior to the beginning of this year, I was living in a place where most rides involved a lot of climbing (Berkeley), but now I've moved to a flatter locale (Sacramento) where headwinds are more of a challenge, and I think about it a lot. If you're comparing my position to that of a racy drop bar bike I'm definitely presenting a larger surface area.  However, if you are comparing my real-world Bosco position to a drop bar position I might actually ride, I'm not so sure.  Over the weekend I was riding with a friend of similar height, whose bike was setup very similarly to my last drop bar position, before I sold my 'road' bike: contemporary short-and-shallow drop bars setup roughly seat height and with a short stem.  At one point I was riding behind him when he was in the drops and noticed that with my hands on the forward part of the bosco grip area and my elbows only slightly bent, that my head was basically level with his, so overall our cross sectional area couldn't have been that different.  Even if there is a disadvantage to upright bars in terms of wind resistance, it's only a disadvantage in a headwind.  The second you have a tailwind, you're flying!  In general I don't really care about speed that much, although I appreciate being efficient.  I feel like upright bars give me more confidence to ride longer distances with more comfort, so even if there is a speed penalty I think it's worth it overall.

I do totally get how swept back bars can be bit tricky in tight, low speed turns.  I've developed an instinct to deal with that: when I do have to go around a tight corner and rotate the bars a bunch, I kick out my inside knee, kind of like a moto GP rider, although I'm sure it looks funny since it's only at low speeds."

In other news, my wife recently sent me this article from the Wall Street Journal, discussing the trend in the bike market towards simpler and more comfortable (read: upright) bikes.  The growing availability of these bikes was posed as a reaction against the increasing complexity of bikes found in "traditional" bikes shops, as well as how most consumers felt intimidated by the environment of these shops, thus explaining why some brands like Public eschew the normal bike retail models in order to sell their products.  I think that it's a bit more complicated than the dichotomy that the WSJ sets up--there are plenty of people in bike shops, including yours truly, who also prefer simpler and more comfortable bicycles, as well as of brands available in bike shops that are designed in this way--but it is certainly interesting that people's desire for more upright bicycles is making it into the WSJ.  I must be onto something here...

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