Upright, con’t.

10Jan11

In fairness to Todd, I feel I should clarify my earlier hyperbole.

Other riding positions undoubtedly have plenty of usefulness. Even cycling gear has great usefulness*. I own spandex shorts and clipless peals and shoes and a mirror that attaches to the visor on my road helmet. I have no desire to ride 90 miles in jeans to prove a point. I was using hyperbole to emphasize just how far we have to dig ourselves out from under the ruin in which racing and technology in cycling have buried practical usefulness. If you read widely about urban cycling, you’ll see that theme repeatedly. You don’t need a lot of stuff to ride a bike, just like when you were a kid. But you wouldn’t know that when you visit most shops. You certainly wouldn’t know that from most group rides.

When I write in this space, I’m writing exclusively about city riding: commuting, errands, shopping, kid transport. Very little I do in that context happens over 10mph; very little happens outside a 5-mile radius. With that in mind, then: Yes, I think fully upright is by far the best way to go. No, I don’t think whatever gain in power in positions other than upright is worth not being upright. I’ve found that in just about any moderately dense city, there are ways around hills. There are routes you can devise to limit unpleasant interactions with traffic. If all else fails: walk your bike. I do that occasionally here when I don’t feel like taking a 15-minute detour to get around a 10% incline. They even do it in the Netherlands, the weaklings! I saw more than one person walk their bike over a canal bridge, which is as steep as a very long speed bump.

You can also gain power by shifting your position in the saddle and/or moving your feet on the pedals. Try cycling with your heels. Move a few inches back on the saddle and feel how you use different muscles in your thighs and calves. Same with moving foward. This is stuff road cyclists use all the time to prevent fatigue and to get the most capacity out of their legs on long inclines. It works just as well for short inclines in the city on a bike not built for maximum power.

Finally, please know that the exception to “anyone” in “don’t let anyone convince you [that upright isn’t the best position for cycling]” are people like Todd and his shop. They are sadly the exception! They’ll know how to make the best recommendation, upright or not. Take a Brompton, for example. Great folding bike for city riding—not totally upright in the least. In all but literally a few dozen cities in this country, if that, you’ll find bike shop after bike shop either not stocking practical options or outright giving you the wrong bike to ride. Which is why the cause for the hyperbole.

Of course now I’ve killed that by going on about it.

* About the only thing I don’t understand are Coolmax jerseys.

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