Over the years I’ve gone through what seems like an endless array of different bike set-ups, from fully laid-back recumbent “high racers”, to compact drop bar racing bikes, bolt upright British roadsters, and flat bar city bikes. Despite the extreme differences in how they were set-up, during the periods when I rode those bikes I always had at least a brief time when they felt perfectly comfortable.
Humans are amazingly adaptable, and I chalk up the ability to be comfortable on such as wide variety of bikes more to that than anything. Some of the more aggressive bikes from the collection were ridden when I was in my 20’s and 30’s, which may also have a lot to do with it. There’s no doubt that youth—and the flexibility and resistance to injury that come with it—play a major role in which bikes we can and can’t ride.
As I’ve gotten older (I’ll be 50 this year), my tolerance for extreme bike set-ups has diminished. Racing bikes with deep drops wreak havoc on my neck, while roadsters that place me in a bolt-upright position cause problems in, ahem, “other” areas (at least on long rides). I suspect this intolerance to riding positions on the edges of the spectrum will only increase in the future. This may have something to do with the fact that a high percentage of recumbent riders are middle-aged or beyond (recumbents are known for being remarkably comfortable).
What works best for me now is a handlebar set at roughly the same height as the saddle, a medium width saddle, and a handlebar that provides multiple hand positions. For me, at this particular time, this set-up offers the best compromise and overall comfort for the variety of conditions in which I ride. It’ll be interesting to see if this changes over the coming years, and if so, in what way. The fact that I’ve gone through so many changes up to this point leads me to believe there’s likely to be many more on the horizon.