Sit up straight and eat your vegetables!

When I was a kid my mother always told me to sit up straight and eat my vegetables. Moms always know best, and I think that was good advice, particularly the part about sitting up straight. See, I like sitting up straight when I ride. It’s the most relaxing and sure-footed way to ride. It’s how we all started riding when we were kids, and it’s how we all rode until we were infected with the go-fast bug. It’s how we sit when we drive our cars (God forbid), it’s how we sit when we work at the computer, and it’s how we sit when we enjoy a good meal. It’s still a good way to ride.

Bikes set-up for this kind of riding have bars that sweep up and back from the stem, placing the grip area within easy reach. This usually means the bars will be higher than the saddle, sometimes by as much as a few inches. This position, combined with a wide saddle that’s adjusted with the nose slightly uphill, places almost all of the weight back on the sit bones and very little on the other “parts”. The sit bones are a good place to sit (that’s why they’re called sit bones – duh..). Our sit bones are well-conditioned for sitting because we sit on them all of the time (double duh..).

See, I like sitting up straight when I ride. It’s the most relaxing and sure-footed way to ride. It’s how we all started riding when we were kids, and it’s how we all rode until we were infected with the go-fast bug.

Here in the U.S., somewhere along the way (I think it happened during the 1970s) somebody convinced us that we need to be hunched over on a drop-bar racing bike to be a “real” bike rider. Speed became king and the wind in your face became your enemy. But here’s a secret for you: they were lying to us and it was probably more about marketing than anything. Most people in the world (other than in the U.S.) still ride sitting bolt upright. There are an estimated 500 million (!) FP roadsters on the road today, all with their pilots sitting upright. These are serious bike riders that use their bikes for transportation (arguably the most serious way to use a bike). I mean, what could be more serious than a guy on a bike in a suit and tie, or a woman in pumps riding her bike to work?

I rode racing bikes for years and suffered through the sore neck and numb hands and other numb things where things should most definitely not be numb. It got so bad I quit riding for awhile, then eventually I went recumbent. I started out ‘bent on a laid-way-back high racer. It was pretty comfy and super fast and not a bad way to travel if you only ride on quiet country roads, but it was downright silly (and arguably dangerous) riding in city traffic with my feet at chin level. Uphill starts in the left-hand turn lane with a dozen or so cars behind me were a real comic treat for the drivers that were lucky enough to witness my Fred Flinstone starts. This got old pretty quick. Long story short, I eventually ended up on an upright recumbent with my feet near the ground and a straight spine. That was a cool bike; no numb parts and no neck pain. It was a good bike for riding around town and a great bike for tripping in the country, but with a 5′ wheelbase it was a pain for parking at the grocery store, or the post office, or the restaurant, or the… ad infinitum. And what about taking it on a train or bus? Forgetaboutit. No chance.

So now I ride mostly non-recumbent bikes that are set-up for sitting-up. These currently include an English roadster and a conventional touring bike modified to mimic the roadster riding position. They’re as different from drop-bar racing bikes as drop-bar racing bikes are from recumbents. They manage to side-step the physical issues associated with go-fast bikes while being comfortable, fun, and easy. Their no nonsense, sit-up-straight-and-eat-your-vegetables style would make Mom proud.

12 Responses to “Sit up straight and eat your vegetables!”

  • Joe3 says:

    Yep…………..my bike was an upright in the 60’s…might have been a Raleigh, then to Schwinns SuperSport with the drops in ’72, should have just driven to the factory for the Paramount( chrome and custom built back then for $350). Then there were a series of different Treks in the go fast/triathlon years of the 80s and mid 90s. Recumbents started in 2000, and am still riding the Haluzak that was my first purchase. And now that I’ve moved to the city…………I need to go back to the old reliable comfortable upright. I’ll be back to the bike store soon, hoping I can find one sitting-up bike also, and some sort of a trailer so it will perform multi task duty……….those good old days are returning……

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    Nice post.

    I generally find myself setting up my bikes with the stem ever so slightly higher than the seatpost, so I end up with an approximately 90 degree angle between my arms and back (maybe less?). Far less aggressive than your average road bike, but definitely more so than your average Dutch city bike. Too far in the racing position makes my neck hurt quite quickly, too far the other way has my legs feeling uncomfortable and my hands not quite knowing what to do with no weight on them. If only I could talk some sense into some of the local kids on fixies with their 12 inch bars down by their knees. The sooner that trend ends the better.

  • andy parmentier says:

    yes, upright/crank forward fits my body because i’ve got legs like horse’s back legs (wayyy swept back from the knees) which means i’ve got really weak hamstrings and really strong quads and glutes (an extreme muscle imbalance). so regular diamond frame bicycles not only are uncomfortable, but are a complete mismatch for my strengths. i went from racing bikes to 1 and 3 speed cruisers intuitively. then mom and i read an article about a local guy who owned a tour easy, and i ended up buying his bike.
    like alan, i am going full circle back to a semi upright eventually (a rans crank forward) because i WANT TO CLIMB! and my tour easy, loaded down for touring, has me pushing granny gears much too soon.
    i know about mechanical aids (ecospeed, and something called revopower), but i’ll wait a few years til i’m older and richer.

    andy

  • Dave Kee says:

    Alan: You have put your finger on why so many purchasers of RANS crank forward bikes are not getting the comfort they expected from their new bikes. In attempting to make people think they are getting a fast i.e. aero bike, RANS has promoted the idea of using a curved stem to pull the body forward (and thus lower) on their CF bikes. Think about the result, your feet are already forward and now you have to reach forward to grab the handlebar and your back becomes a “<“. It is the opposite of recumbent comfort. My RANS Citi has the stem curved back toward me and I sit up tall (and in the wind) and can ride slowly and comfortably all day.

    Dave Kee

  • Eric Vann says:

    I ride an Easy Racers bike. Not quite as fancy as yours but still a nice bike. I love the upright position. It does require a fairing in windy conditions but nevertheless is truly comfortable on longer rides. Also makes it quite easy to scan traffic in the city.

  • Astarok says:

    Great post. I agree 100% that the US emphasis on performance bikes for non-performance riders is insane. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the cheap bikes most people end up with have all the disadvantages of performance bikes without the good points. I haven’t come to quite the same conclusions as you with my own riding. I commute happily on my high-racer bent (volae expedition). I have the advantage of a decent route with little traffic on most of it and good bike lanes in the areas where I need to ride in traffic. My wife commutes and runs errands on a Giant Lite with an electric pedal assist. That is a class of vehicle I think more people should look at. (We are plotting to put a Bionx or similar on our Bacchetta Cafe one of these days) Between us, we can carry enough to make light to medium shopping trips more than feasible. We aren’t car-free (sigh) but we have significantly cut down on our usage. Keep up the good work. Your blog is an inspiration to me and I am sure to many others.

  • Alan says:

    @Eric

    I’m still a big fan of Gardner Martin’s TE, but my current riding habits make it impractical. It’s all the things around riding — parking, storing, commuting, etc — that are at issue, not the riding itself. If only that comfort and handling was available in a compact package..

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @Astarok

    If it wasn’t for the sometimes nasty traffic I contend with, combined with storage issues associated with my multi-modal commute, I’m pretty sure I’d still be riding my recumbents everyday. I think the Volae expedition is a fantastic bike.

    Don’t worry about the “car-free” label. You’re to be congratulated for doing what you can and taking steps in the right direction! Keep up the good work…

    Regards,
    Alan

  • Croupier says:

    @ Dolan Halbrook

    Fixies aren’t a fad, they’re a way of life, man.

    Just kidding, but seriously they’re a lot of fun. Don’t knock it ’til you try it, or if you don’t have it in you don’t have it in you to give it a go then just let us kids have our fun and you have yours. I love them because they’re getting a lot of young people acclimated to working on bikes and just riding all the time and loving it.
    It irks me when people bash a trend that’s part of a larger movement that they generally support. Now, more than ever, it’s important to embrace every type of emission-free vehicle (bicycle, tricycle, unicycle, your Keds, or otherwise) as a means to travel over any and all terrain on this planet. I could care less if you ride your track bike on the street, your trials bike over a cliff, or your BMX bike through the mall… JUST FU**ING RIDE!!!
    Got carried away, sorry.

  • SueW says:

    I’ve always been a comfort bicycle rider myself and never liked the bending over stuff. From what I can gather, there seem to be 2 reasons why the “official” bicycle community favors the so called – what we used to call – racing bikes.

    1. It takes less effort to pedal further and faster on these.
    2. These are the bicycles favored by the “professionals” who race etc so riding one of these is a sort of a status symbol. Comfort bikes have been typically associated with the elderly and kids. Perish the thought!

    There are a few “road bike” riders who ride to work etc. But most of them are weekend warriers.

    And that being said, there is a riding group which meets close to my house and they are ALL on comfort bike and they get out from 50 to 100 riders every week. So what the “official bicycle community” is saying and what the regular riders are saying, might be different things! :)

    I switched to recumbents in 1998. I like what they call the “compact long wheel base”. These feel the most like the recumbent cyclometer in the gym. With the proper setup, the seat lifts one has to do even on the comfort bikes, are history. You also see better on a recumbent. I don’t know if this is because it’s more comfy and/or you are not having to do seat lifts or what. I just remember that when I switched, places I’d ridden lots of times before, had a lot more detail…. On a compact long wheel base recumbent you are at eye level with auto drivers and I love that aspect because I can catch their eye when crossing streets etc. I got hit on an upright bike and I think part of that was because I was ABOVE eye level and couldn’t see what the idiot was doing (not looking in front of him). Also no “endos” on recumbents (I did a couple of these on an upright and the last one, knocked out my front teeth). When you are stopped you can easily sit in comfort and put both feet down. Anyway, that’s why I LOVE bents and have 2 of them and like to ride a lot. Pretty good for a 63 year old bag! :) Liked your blog…

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    @Croupier

    I’m all for more people out on bikes, and fixies are a cheap way in. I love them for their simplicity and light weight.

    What I don’t love is people riding bikes in which they’re not fully in control, in traffic, around me. Fixies are unforgiving in panic situations, and i’ve seen more than my share of near misses. Cut down handlebars and outrageous riding positions do nothing to help this.

    If you know how to handle your fixie in traffic, by all means, but I’ve found that’s the exception rather than the rule, and for all the others, I put them one notch above the person who can’t parallel park their Ford Expedition.

  • Greg says:

    Alan,

    Well said about bikes being enjoyable tools… although I’m not so certain that upright bikes with the drop bars are enjoyable for me anymore. I used to do mountain biking (living in Arizona helps) and it was so much fun. I still miss it. But speed isn’t the game there; it’s about not falling off and exploring. Moving to the East Coast, there are no more mountains, mostly paved and gravel trails. I became bored with my MTB on the rails-to-trails, especially because it was slow. But road bikes… I just couldn’t get into them, what with the skinny saddles, hunched riding position, and tight clothes – until I discovered recumbents. My involvement with the recumbent community has opened my eyes towards bikes as transportation, which has ironically brought me back to uprights – just not hard-core road bikes. I have an upright folder now, and I wouldn’t be opposed to a CF or a comfort bike in the future for ease of transport/compatibility. I think your exploration of bikes as utility vehicles on this blog is important, too. But… I draw the line beyond comfort/utility bikes. Why push the edge on upright performance bikes? If I want performance, I’ll start to lay back down again rather than bend forward with a wedge pushing on my perineum. I think this, for me at least, is the so-called “hard line.”

 
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