Searching the desire to go fast? Improve your road cycling performance? Cyclists come to see us for a bike fit often look at us with disbelief when we raise their handlebars. Too often, our clients are set up in a very aggressive position with the bars slammed low. This position looks fast but often leads to discomfort. Their justification for the low bar position is for aerodynamic benefits.
How does raising your handlebars help you ride faster? This can promote better stability for the rider, and potentially better cycling economy. The rider can get even lower in a stable position resting wrists and forearms on the handlebars while holding onto the hoods. By using skeletal support, the rider can relax the torso even with bent elbows (this is another benefit, ease of breathing under athletic duress). This position offers a lower profile than having their hands on the drops. Sure this position sounds faster, but where is the proof you ask?
A study by Professor Nathan Barry, et al (2015), provides a detailed analysis of how much drag you can reduce if you bend your arms and torso in addition to where you put your hands.
Barry began his study by reviewing previous studies that report “the drops posture reduces drag by up to 12% compared with the hoods posture.”
A series of wind tunnel tests were conducted of common road cycling positions with the cyclist’s hands on the hoods and drops position. He reports significant power and drag data to sustain an established speed in these varied positions. Reference the photos and table shown from this study.
By placing your hands from the hoods to the drops (Posture 1 to Posture 2) without changing or bending the arms or torso has little benefit with only a 3% reduction in drag and power required or 13 watts at 45kph/28mph. A rider in this position can see up to a 10-second benefit on a 40K/25m course.
If the cyclist remains on the hoods but bends their forearms in a horizontal manner (Posture 5 in the image), a reduction in drag and power requirements is significant to 14% less drag or 58 watts savings than not bending the forearms.
This makes sense from an aerodynamic perspective, however, achieving this and improving road cycling performance is best made with objectivity and experience. Check out how we can help you with our performance bike fit services.