Everything You Need to Know About Road Cycling Positions

Marc Lindsay
by Marc Lindsay
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Everything You Need to Know About Road Cycling Positions

One of the great things about riding a road bike is you don’t have to stay in the same position for the entirety of your workout. By altering your position in the saddle and on the bars, you can make it easier, safer and more comfortable to climb, sprint and descend.

Knowing which position is best for each scenario isn’t always common sense. Let’s take a look at each of the basic road cycling positions, and which you should use to ride faster, more efficiently and safer.

The drop handlebar design of road bikes was created to give you a variety of hand positions to improve comfort and speed. However, some positions are better utilized in certain situations than others.

Here’s the basic breakdown:

THE HOODS

This do-it-all position is the one you’ll use most frequently. It’s not as aggressive as riding in the drops, and it reduces pressure on the lower back and neck. You also have access to the brakes and shifters, making it ideal when riding in a group or high-traffic areas. The hoods can also be used when standing during a climb or when attempting to be more aerodynamic by bending the elbows and flattening the back.

When to use: Standing climbs, group riding and anytime braking and shifting may need to be changed frequently.

THE TOPS

This part of the handlebar lies between the hoods and the stem. This hand position is used most often to relieve pressure on the lower back when riding at slower speeds and when climbing in the seated position. This hand position allows the rider to slide further back on the seat to utilize the glutes and can help open up the lungs to make breathing easier. On the downside, this position doesn’t give access to the brakes or shifters and can be dangerous when used in group rides and descents.

When to use: Seated climbs, relieving pressure on the lower back at slower speeds on flat roads.

THE DROPS

This aerodynamic hand position is used by placing the hands on the lowest, curved part of the handlebar. Cyclists most commonly use this position to lower their body for a more aggressive position to achieve the greatest speed possible. Lowering the body also helps to achieve greater control of the bike, making it a top option for descending because you still have access to the brake levers. But, because it can be hard on the neck and back, it isn’t often used for long periods of time and is instead used for short bursts of effort during a breakaway or a sprint.

When to use: Sprinting, straight-line speed for short periods of time and fast descents.

Like the handlebars, positioning your body in the saddle to coincide with the situation can help to improve your comfort and efficiency on the bike. Below are the three basic saddle positions and when you should use them.

NEUTRAL

The neutral position is directly in the middle of the saddle and generally the most comfortable. The majority of your weight should fall onto your sit bones instead of soft tissue to avoid numbness.

When to use: Most of your time should be spent in this position, particularly when you’re riding with your hands on the hoods and during moderate efforts.

FORWARD

A forward position isn’t used as frequently but can help to generate more power for short periods of time. When your hands are in the time trial position or in the drops, sliding forward slightly on the saddle can change the angle of your body and put your center of gravity directly over the pedals for more vertical force and speed. But, because sitting on the nose of the saddle is generally uncomfortable, it should only be used when short, maximum efforts are needed.

When to use: Solo breakaway race efforts and time trials.

BACK

While a neutral saddle position can still be used for climbing, sliding back on the saddle is a position that can be utilized for especially long or steep climbs. This allows you to extend the leg more and drop the heel at the bottom of the pedal stroke, which will help you to utilize additional muscle groups like the glutes to prevent fatigue. Your hips should rotate anteriorly when using this position and your hands should be on the bar tops.

When to use: Long, seated climbs


READ MORE > 5 ADJUSTMENTS TO MAKE YOUR BIKE MORE COMFORTABLE


OUT OF THE SADDLE

Sometimes not being in the saddle at all is the best position for your body. During long climbs, you may want to stand occasionally to relieve pressure from your lower back and utilize different muscle groups. When you do stand, make sure you don’t place your weight too far forward directly over the handlebars. Instead, move your body just forward of the saddle so that the nose just brushes the backs of your legs. Ideally your hands will be on the hoods.

Another instance when you may not want to be on the saddle is during fast descents. By raising off the seat just slightly you’ll be able to absorb any bumps in the road and allow your arms to bend and absorb the shock on rough surfaces instead of your backside. When you come to a corner or hit stretches that aren’t particularly rough, you can move back into the saddle.

When to use: Standing during climbs, rough road surfaces on descents.

About the Author

Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.

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