The tops, hoods, and drops … 🤔

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I have never appreciated the design of road bike handlebars as much as I have in recent years. I have ridden with them for years, but never fully understood how to use them properly. Never understood when to be on the tops, hoods, and drops. Never understood I needed to be equally comfortable in all positions.

A lot has to do with the type of cycling you do. If you are always riding at a relaxed pace on flat terrain, and without wind, you can position your hands however you like. Ride where you are the most comfortable. However, if you do a lot of climbing, battle a headwind frequently, or enjoy a faster pace, you had better become comfortable on the tops, hoods, and drops.

My weekly rides are usually 2 hours in length. During that time, I use all three positions. Some more than others depending wind, terrain, and pace. When battling a hurting wind, maintaining a fast pace, or descending, I am on the drops. This is the most aerodynamic, stable, and powerful position where you catch less wind, and deliver maximum power to the pedals. When climbing, I am on the top of the bars. This position opens the chest making it easier to breath deeply, fuelling the straining muscles more easily. And, this position also engages the gluts, the largest, most powerful muscles in the body. And finally, I am on the hoods when I am pedalling at a more relaxed pace, or benefiting for a draft or tailwind.

I am comfortable in all three positions. And, on long rides, I change positions regularly to help relax the hand, shoulder, and back muscles. However, there was a time when I wasn’t comfortable on the drops. Perhaps I wasn’t flexible enough, or maybe my stomach was to big. You can’t get down there if you have a bulging waistline. But the more I rode there, and the lighter I became, the more I liked it. It lowers the centre of gravity so the bike hugs the road, particularly when cornering. So, if you are not comfortable on the drops, lose some weight (if need be), and practice in that position. Similarly, if you don’t climb with your hands on the tops of the bar, try it. You’ll be surprised. You’ll be more efficient, and climb more easily.

One last thing, make certain your bars fit you. They come in a variety of widths, and depths. You want bars that position your hands shoulder width apart. By that I mean the width between your arm pits. And, the depth will depend on your arm length, and reach setup. Ideally, you want your elbows slightly bent when on the drops, and to have a straight, neutral back. You may need a bike fit to get it right.

And who thought handlebars were simple.

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Do you ride on the drops … 🤔

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I ride on the drops a lot when I’m at the cottage.

At first, I thought it was because I am battling headwinds all the time, and it is certainly a more aerodynamic position. But on todays ride, I was on the drops mostly, even when there was no hurting wind.

I began thinking about this.

It’s true. Riding on the drops is more aerodynamic. It is also the most powerful position you can be in on a bike. It is an athletic position. Think of a baseball shortstop getting ready for a ball hit his way. He is leaning forward, knees bent, and arms at his side. He is ready to move quickly, and powerfully to his left, right, forward, or up. Think of an NHL hockey player racing to for a pass along the boards. He too is bent forward, his knees are bent as he pushes hard with one leg, then the other, with his arms at his side. And, think of a sprinter in the blocks ready to start his race. Again, he is bent at the waist, knees bent, and arms at his side ready to propel himself quickly, and powerfully forward.

This is the athletic position.

And, this is the position the cyclist is in when riding on the drops. Imagine if you can, freezing a cyclist on his bike while positioned on the drops, and you could put him at shortstop ready for the next ball, a professional hockey player racing for a breakaway pass, or a track star ready in the blocks.

So, why am I positioned on the drops most of the time while cycling here and not at home?

I think there are several reasons. First, at home on the west coast, I am climbing a lot more. There are no flat rides where I live. Instead on being on the drops, I’m frequently on the bar flats climbing a 6-8% grade. So when it flattens out a little, I’m happy to relax on the hoods for awhile before approaching the next hill. Second, when I’m at the cottage, I have more wind to contend with. Sure it gets windy on the west coast but there is an incessant north westerly in these parts, and the bast way to combat them is to get into the most aerodynamic position you can. Lastly, and I had overlooked this initially, I’m in training mode here at Camp PedalWORKS. The weather is favourable here, the roads are quiet, nicely surfaced, and scenic. I’m here by myself mostly, and I’m usually preparing for a cycling event in the fall, at the end of the cycling season.

I notice too that I travel faster when on the drops. At first, I thought is was because it is a more aerodynamic position. And it is. But I also realized that I can maintain a faster cadence more easily when on the drops. I have more power. It is the power position.

When I first arrived at the cottage, I wasn’t comfortable on the drops for long periods of time, even though I have cycled for years. I simply wasn’t used to it. I could only hold the position for 10-15 minutes at a time. Not now. I was out for 2 1/2 hours this morning, and most of that time I was on the drops. So, don’t despair if you are not comfortable at first. You’ll like it. It’s safer too. You have a lower centre of gravity, and thus better control of the bike with your weight more evenly distributed over the wheels. That’s a good thing for fast descents. And, you have greater leverage when applying the brakes which means you can stop more quickly if need be.

Do you ride on the drops?

Standing while on the drops …

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Yesterday I took The New Road to the hill for some repeat climbs. There was a 25 kph wind from the north-west. Since the road jig-jags north, then east, north again, east, and finally south to the hill, I was treated to a hurting wind both on the way out, and on the return ride. Not all of the time. Just when I was heading north or west.

I ride on the drops a lot here. I am either battling a headwind or pedalling fast on the smooth, rolling roads. Yesterday, I noticed how comfortable I have become standing on the pedals when on the drops. I can remember a time when this was not the case. When I felt I might lose my balance, and fall. That’s not the case any longer. I stand to pick up the pace. I stand when climbing small hills. And, I stand just because it feels goods. I feel in harmony with the bike. Every muscle in my body is focused on delivering power to the pedals.

I rode for over 2 hours yesterday at a pace ranging from 15-45 kph. Most of that time, I was on the drops. I would only switch to the hoods or tops to give myself a break. Relax the back. Or, when I would slow to admire a view, take in water, chew on a Cliff Bar.

The drops are my preferred position, and I began questioning why.

I think it boils down to conditioning. In some ways. First, you need to be flexible enough to reach the drops comfortably. Flexible not only in the lower back but hamstrings as well. And secondly, you have to be strong enough to stay in this powerful position for extended periods. Strong in the legs. Strong in the butt. Strong in the back. And, strong in the arms and shoulders. Otherwise, the position is uncomfortable, even dangerous. And this strength isn’t the result of time in the gym. It’s the result of hours in the saddle, pushing yourself to higher speeds, and taking on longer, steeper climbs.

When standing while on the drops, I am acutely aware of how much my core is engaged. It’s as if the core is the power source, radiating strength to the legs, butt, shoulders and arms. It’s the “Powerhouse”. When all of these muscles are working in unison, I am powerful, balanced, and confident.

I’m dancing on the pedals.