Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Road Bike Posture

Take a close look at these two riders' positions. I like the posture of the rider on the left. His position on the bike has been fit quite well. But what I like the most is his hip position. He sits on the saddle with his hips rolled forward as if spilling water out of the front of a bowl made of his pelvis. In contrast, the rider on the right is sitting on his saddle as if it's a bar stool and he's leaning on the bar. His hips are not rolled forward. No water is being spilled from his 'bowl.' This results in a rounded back and unnatural neck and head position. The only way to see where he is going is to lift his head high and curve the neck thus making it more difficult to breathe. It also puts his legs in a position that reduces his potential for power and he has to reach more for the bars.

For most riders, the difficulty in assuming the more efficient and effective hip position of the rider on the left is crotch discomfort. This may be due to a saddle that is incorrect for the rider's anatomy, or just a poor set up to begin with. If you can't ride comfortably in this 'spilled-bowl' position, the place to start is with a bike fit from a specialist who knows what he or she is doing. I have each of my clients go through a bike fit every winter just to see if anything needs changing even if it's the same bike as for the last fit. Riders are always in the process of getting stronger, weaker, tighter, more flexible, heavier, lighter, more fit, less fit, or whatever. They also tweak their positions throughout the year without telling me. I've yet to have a rider not have some bike-fit changes made every year we have done this for them even though the bike hasn't changed.


At September 25, 2007 9:56 PM , Blogger Matthew said...

This is a very informative post--it helps to see a picture of the difference. I have been working on assuming this position when I ride, but I find that the difficulty arises from tight hamstrings and glutes. Inflexibility seems to be really limiting my ability to find an efficient riding position, moreso than crotch discomfort.

At September 25, 2007 11:39 PM , Blogger Mike Hardy said...

Couldn't agree more - but you didn't highlight the #1 competitive reason to do whatever it takes to get the "spilled bowl" position - namely that if you want superior aerodynamics, you must roll the hips forward or your back will never be flat, and there's no chance at cheating the wind.

The difference in drag between hitting the drops with a spilled-bowl pelvis rotation and a flat back versus semi-upright with a big hump in the back is eye-popping.

The hamstrings are a barrier a lot too - it's worth taking the time to stretch them out, even if it takes months, to achieve the flexibility necessary.

All my humble opinion of course, but stretching is sure easier than intervals ;-)

At September 28, 2007 6:26 AM , Anonymous andrew said...

I agree with this post 1000%, and I have an interesting sport-specific side note.

I raced bikes for 12 years, and over time arrived at a pretty nice pelvis-rotated forward-flat back position on the bike.. (like the rider on the left)

then I switched sports to elite-level speedskating... and because of the technical demands of the sport & the position you need to hold your body in while traveling 40mph on the ice, I went to the "cat back" pelvis rotated in position, & with a very low saddle height, because that is HOW one skates, and it makes cycling more specific to skating

(we skaters ride a lot, mainly for recovery & staying skinny)

but the facinating thing is, the "inneficient" lower position can sometimes "feel" like you are working harder, as you can create more internal pressure in the quads (think a track cyclist/sprinter, very low saddle position) but really, it's slower for anything other than a sprint, the legs don't "breathe" as effectively (more cramped at the top of the pedal stroke), and it's hard to really roll a big gear for very long..

When I go out for rides with my friends who still race, I always seem to have to make that choice of how I set my saddle, the "right" way where I can ride really fast, or the "skate" way.. to reach my own goals....

excellent post!!!

At September 28, 2007 1:50 PM , Blogger Eric Johnson said...


Do you mean that the point of contact between the saddle and the athletes are different in the two photos?

I just watched Steve Hogg's "Sitting Pretty" dvd and he talks about keeping your "sit bones" on the seat at all times.

That is, he never sets cyclist or triathletes up so that they are resting weight on soft tissue.

When I've been "tri-fitted" in the past, a significant amount of my weight was on soft tissue and I could not put out nearly as many watts (even though I was more aerodynamic).

Thanks! Eric

At September 28, 2007 9:07 PM , Blogger Todd said...

Good examples. I used to look like the rider on the right before I hurt my back. After healing up and doing a ton of core strength work and stretching, my hamstrings are like rubber bands and I can now get into the position on the left with no discomfort.

I'm a big fan of stretching and can't emphasize it enough.

At September 30, 2007 8:19 AM , Anonymous Karl On Sea said...

Is this also part of the reason that tri-bikes have a steeper seat tube angle? With your pelvis more on top of the crank, it makes the flat-backed position seem more natural.

Oh, and have y'all noticed that the guy on the right has gone for deeper rims to try & compensate for his bidy's aerodynamics?

At October 2, 2007 5:25 AM , Blogger andy_waterman@hotmail.com said...

Andrew — Sprinters it lower? Nonsense! Not good ones at least. Track sprinters certainly look to have the highest effective saddle height of any style of rider. Take a look at this http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/cycling-biomechanics.html

At November 24, 2007 11:40 AM , Blogger Brian Sather said...

While I agree with the pelvic tilt and aerodynamics, and I love Jens' position, I seems tha maybe more power can be produced with a more normalized pelvic tilt. The examples I serve up are (were) some of the fastest riders in the world:

Lance Armstrong http://www.richardpettinger.com/cycling/lance_armstrong/lancepic/

Danilo Diluca

Nathan Oniel

It seems that all these riders have a "natural" position that doesn't roll the hips forward.

At June 9, 2008 8:01 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that many of the Euros are riding with the hips rotated back position (rider #2, aka the upright bowl position). Also heard from Mike Creed one time (grew up with the kid) that the arched back is actually more efficient wind-wise. Maybe I remember wrong, maybe he was wrong back then, I couldn't tell you.

Having a flat back sure does help me extend over my front wheel more, but it puts immensely more weight on my arms and shoulders, and I don't think I am any more efficient in pedal stroke. In fact, I prefer climbing with the arched back position better, as I feel that I am more behind my pedal spindles for optimal push.

At September 18, 2008 5:54 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The picture posted of Lance is in a hump back position because its a time trial position. Time Trial position vs. riding position is much different.

In a ROAD BIKE riding position Joe's point is very correct. If your BIKE FIT is correct you can accomplish this position easily with a little bit of practice. I had the humped backed before a bike fit. After a properly fitted bike you to will find its not hard to accomplish. In a TIME TRIAL position you want to hunch your back so that you can get AERO. Also the Time Trial bike has a much more aggressive angle.

At December 18, 2008 12:01 PM , Anonymous Dick Kelly said...

Great post full of great info. Keep up the work!

At December 26, 2008 12:11 AM , Blogger Russell@Upper Echelon Fitness said...

Good post. This is an interesting topic and one I go over often with clients. I agree with you about the positions. The rider with the anterior pelvic tilt is in a better position. Why? This is a more stable and powerful position with regards to biomechanics. This position places the muscles of the hips at an optimal posture to generate power. This also places your spin in a more neutral position. If we look at other sporting positions used for generating power and stability you will see athletes in similar positions; a basketball player in an aggressive defensive position, an NFL lineman, or a powerlifter in the gym. This position is about power generation and efficiency. It may or may not help with aerodynamics. This isn't as straight forward and isn't the same for all riders. The goal is to get the wind "off" your back so it doesn't drag the entire length. This is rider dependent and depends on their clothing and helmet choice, the width of their shoulders, etc. You want to be low for aerodynamics but not necessarily with a flat back.

Saddle choice is extremely important in obtaining this position. Without the right saddle, this can be very uncomfortable. Yes, the weight of your body should be placed on the ischial tuberocities/rami. But there will be soft tissue in contact with the front of the saddle. This is why saddles with cut-out or soft areas are so useful. And this becomes a greater challenge with TT positions. The ISM saddle has addressed this to some extent. A triathlon position (especially long course) is a bit easier to achieve because we can bring the saddles forward past the BB so the hip angles stay the same, the whole body simply rotates about the BB. The reason you see the TT positions different is because of bike rules that regulate the saddle fore/aft limit to 5mm behind BB. Therefor, the saddle is further back, but to still get low/aero they need to come down in the front. This creates much more flexion through the lumbar or thoracic spine. So it's hard to compare the two positions.

Good post. I know it's been up for a long time but its good information.


At March 18, 2009 2:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a lot of informative information on this post. W/R to riding posture, is there anyone indicate me soem reference for the optimal bicycle riding posture ( road Vs Mountian bike). I try to identify Angle of each joints. Upper trunk,arm, hip, knee and ankle thanks

At June 14, 2009 5:36 PM , Blogger Doug Foltz said...

I'm just starting out. I bought a Trek 7.3 FX. I love the bike and am enjoying rides, but afterwards my lower back is killing me. I rode 50 miles in the past week and am hurting. How can I learn the correct posture? Are there exercises I need to do? Should I stop riding until the back pain is gone? Any help would be appreciated.

At June 15, 2009 5:04 AM , Blogger Joe Friel said...

Hi Doug--It's not normal to be sore after a ride. It could be posture. Can't say for sure. But the starting point if I was coaching you would be a bike fit by a professional fitter. Before that is done working on posture is of little help. Good luck.

At November 17, 2009 6:28 AM , Anonymous Macdougal said...

thanks for this very helpful post! looking forward for more.. =)

thanks again! BTW check out this bike link Apres Velo my friend gave me =) enjoy

At November 27, 2009 11:11 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could not find a suitable section so I written here, how to become a moderator for your forum, that need for this?

At February 27, 2010 9:08 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this is an old article and pictures, but I though I'd comment anyway. I must be the only one to not see a difference in the hip/pelvis rotation of the two riders. All is see is that the riders are at a slightly difference position in stroke location. This, to me, gives the appearance that the rider on the left has his pelvis rolled forward more. Can someone explain in more detail?

At February 28, 2010 9:01 AM , Blogger cocheese said...

I have no problems with flexibility or soreness and I have a strong-enough core. The ONLY issue I have is with "taint" pain when in the drops and with my hips rotated forward. I have tried a lot of saddles and the ones with cutouts have been the best at relieving this pressure. Still looking for the best one though!

At March 21, 2010 9:33 AM , Anonymous central park bike rental said...

I agree that flexibility is not a problem.

At March 27, 2010 8:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about some information (other than "see a professional bike fitter") on how to achieve the proper pelvic tilt! I have hip problems due to excessive anterior tilt on the bike and would like to have some information of things to look at changing with my bike fit(stem length,seat extension etc.) I've been riding for 20+ years and always thought I had a technically acceptable position, but as I get older problems are cropping up!


Post a Comment

<< Home