How to avoid the forward pitched feeling on my bike?
June 1, 2007 5:14 PM   Subscribe

Yet another BikeFilter question, but the high concentration of cyclists here compels me to ask. Should I keep using my current bike for commuting, modify it, or get something else, to avoid that pitched-forward, numb-hands feeling?

I have already gotten some good info from the many previous questions and posts. In fact, it's due to the high number of cycle-related posts I finally decided to start commuting to work by bike. My bike is an el-cheapo road bike. What we used to call a 10-speed or an English Racer. Despite its less than stellar pedigree, and after adjusting and tightening everything the bigbox store didn't do properly, it actually rides great, except for one thing: I feel pitched forward, with too much weight on my hands. I grip the upper part of the handlebar, not the curved lover part. I don't care about speed, but going home is slightly uphill. The pitch is not enough to prevent me from riding, or make it miserable, but it's enough that I waste energy adjusting myself and whining about it. My theory is that the gut I am trying to lose is a big part of the reason for the forward pitch. The seat angle/height is not the culprit, as I have already adjusted it. I have also raised the handlebar as much as possible, which isn't much.

I eventually want to get a different bike, (Trek Lime maybe, or some other bike with upright handlebars, but not a mountain bike) but for now I am wondering: As I lose weight, will the smaller gut reduce the hand-pressure enough that I won't worry about it? Should I put my mountain-bike handlebars on my road bike? (Yes, they will fit, but then I have to modify the brake levers.) Do I flip the handlebars over so they curve UP, allowing me to sit up straighter? (I don't care about the dork factor. I am already an old fat guy on a bike. OK, middle aged, and chubby.) How bout an extender for the neck of the handlebar? Do I just bite the bullet now and buy, if not the bike I really WANT, a different kind of bike? (For now it has to be cheap, like boxstore cheap.) Or, am I just being too picky, and not allowing myself enough time to acclimate?

Any input appreciated, as well as input for what bike I might ultimately want. Data: I am male, 45, 5'10" 220lbs. (trying to lose 40), and in good health otherwise. I ride about 4 miles one way to work in 15 minutes at a pretty leisurely pace. My "ultimate" bike probably can't be more than $600. A "stopgap" bike would have to be $200 or less. NOT interested in racing, competing, showing off my speed. AM interested in commuting, cruising, having fun, getting in shape. Thanks all!
posted by The Deej to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total)
Best answer: It's hard to say without seeing your fit on the bike. If I had a reputable shop in the area, I'd take it there and see what they recommended for getting you more upright based on how you currently fit the bike. This may include something like a new stem, or flipping your existing stem, or as you say different handlebars, which will really screw with your brake/shift levers in a lot of cases.

What I wouldn't do is to buy a cheap new bike. You won't like riding it and .. you won't ride it. You might hang out on craigslist or similar looking for a used bike, but that's fraught with other perils.

Take it to a shop, explain your situation, see what they recommend. Yes, the parts will be more expensive there, but for a good shop it's worth it for the advice. I recommend doing this in the middle of the day if possible, so that they aren't ignoring big ticket customers for you, since this will irritate them. :)
posted by kcm at 5:27 PM on June 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also, take a read of Sheldon Brown's notes on the subject.
posted by kcm at 5:37 PM on June 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would keep on trying to raise the handlebars. If you have a threaded stem, look for a replacement stem with a different angle (pointing upwards) or with a really long quill, something like the stems at Rivendell Bicycle Works. Flat bars or riser bars would help out, but you'll lose the multiple hand positions of the drop bar, and finding road-compatible mountain bike brake levers may be difficult (newer mountain bikes use linear-pull levers which don't work with road bike brakes such as caliper, centerpull, or cantilever). Don't flip your bars upside down, it makes it more difficult to brake and is possibly dangerous.
posted by meowzilla at 5:50 PM on June 1, 2007

You can get cyclocross and other types of road levers that are compatible with canti-/* brakes. The Cane Creek Cross Top, e.g. Regardless, yeah, it's a PITA. :)
posted by kcm at 5:54 PM on June 1, 2007

Best answer: +1 kcm. People new to cycling always complain about being hunched over, but eventually get used to it. Your complaint may be the same as everyone else's, or it may be something else.

If it's something else, and you need a more upright position than your bike currently affords, you can get a tall stem (assuming it has a traditional headset) or height extender (assuming it has one of those newfangled headsets) to give you more stem height. That will set you back $20-30. This would be the best solution with your current bike.

You can buy a pretty sweet used bike for $600. If, for whatever reason, you give up on this one, you should have a lot of good options.
posted by adamrice at 6:20 PM on June 1, 2007

Best answer: Your bike does not currently fit you.

You might not need a new bike. You might just need to raise your bars a bit, or bring them in a little. Tiny adjustments can make huge differences in comfort.

Get ye to a bike fitter (find a reputable bike shop and ask them for a recommendation).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 6:34 PM on June 1, 2007

Best answer: Definitely try raising the bars. An extender or different stem is fine if that's what you need. Also try sliding the seat forward a bit if the rails let you do that. Slide it back if that doesn't help. Your comfort trumps looking like a dork, but flipping the bars is usually a pretty bad idea.

No sin in not being in the drops but try to get to where you can ride closer to the brakes if you want to, just to make quick stops in traffic easier. On climbs you'll probably still be on top of the bars but so are the pros.

As you ride more you will probably grow more comfortable leaning forward. I don't think it's the size of your gut that's responsible as much as how strong your lower back muscles are. Riding a lot builds them up.
posted by Opposite George at 7:06 PM on June 1, 2007

For now, flip those bar up as you suggested. I think you have to flip the brake levers around or something. But I know what you're talking about. Back in the '70s EVERYBODY used to turn the bars up on their "10 speeds". (at least where I lived) Yea it was much more comfortable. So get your little wrench out and fiddle with it. It won't be perfect but you're getting another bike in while anyway. While your at it check out my Askme regarding picking a bike.
posted by snsranch at 8:06 PM on June 1, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, great answers everyone. I will for sure get an extension and raise the handlebar.

Also, Opposite George did a great thing by ignoring my ignorant claim that "it's not the seat." I never thought of moving it forward, I was just angling it. So, I immediately moved the seat forward, and in its new position, I realized after a test ride I would have to angle it up a notch. (Photo. I replaced th stock seat with a comfy Schwinn seat, which was a HUGE improvement.)

Changing the seat angle helped immediately, even though it was only an inch or so. After testing the new seat position, I angled the handlebars up like this. Although the drops and front levers are a bit awkward, I just never ride there. This angle lets me grip the top bar at the middle or the side, and the extension lever is right at my fingers either way.

Those 2 changes seemed to help a lot already. Of course the real test is after riding a few miles. I think if I raise the bar, that will bring me darn close to pretty good position.

I will do as suggested and go to a bike shop as well.

All great answers! Thanks MeFi bikegeeks! :) I'll wait to mark best answers so as not to scare off any other responses; maybe I'll get more input on the Trek Lime or other bike (Swobo Otis?) for later on.
posted by The Deej at 8:17 PM on June 1, 2007

Best answer: Sheldon Brown also has an article on raising your bars.
posted by advicepig at 8:18 PM on June 1, 2007

Be careful angling the seat up. Bike seats compress arteries and reduce blood flow to key regions in the male anatomy, which some studies have linked with sexual dysfunction and reduced sperm counts. Angling the nose upward can potentially make the pressure much worse.

As far as bar height, you can get an adjustable mountain bike stem that you can fiddle with it until you find the angle that works best for you. Might be worth a shot as this is a cheap and easy replacement if your bars are standard size (which they appear to be).
posted by jtfowl0 at 9:34 PM on June 1, 2007

Best answer: well there's been plenty of good info in this thread already but i'll chime in with a link to a post on a similar topic i made awhile back on

now, please understand, that above-linked post was made in their women's cycling forum, and as such, naturally there's some women's gender specific lean to it.

HOWEVER, i urge you to read the whole thing, particularly my comments about 'beginner break-in'. also, the information on fit, particularly the last 2 paragraphs (its a long post, sorry, i'm wordy) is non-gender-specific, and it's mainly what you need to focus on.

to wit: if you have your bike setup so that you have to tip your saddle down, your hands will hurt, because that's throwing your weight onto your bars. not only that, it will throw the rest of your body out of balance (fore/aft) on the bike. in general, having your weight / centre of gravity too far forward will make your handling / steering both sketchy and craptastic. the challenge is that if you then raise your bars too much on a road frame, then you throw your weight / COG back onto your butt, which creates butt pain.

most of the glaring fit problems i've seen with people i coach are length issues; a good 80% are people that got sold bikes that are too large (long) for them.

proper fit means that you have proper balance on the bike, and proper balance doesn't just mean not falling over side to side; you need to be balanced fore/aft as well. this is crucial for being able to handle the bike safely and not incur overuse injuries. and i can tell you from experience, trying to handle an improperly-fit bike, particularly one that's too large, is like trying to ride a 4x8' sheet of plywood. a properly-fit bike, by comparison, feels like a natural extension of your body.

proper fit and comfort on a typical road bike geometry frame is dependent on creating a triangle of relatively even weight distribution between the saddle, bars and pedals, with the rider's COG being pretty much dead over top of the cranks / bottom bracket. throw any of the vertices (?) out of wack too far, and you'll suffer.

there's reasons for this, mainly that for a fit and well-conditioned road rider, this is the optimally efficient position for maximum power AND comfort on long distance rides, where you're going to be in the saddle for several hours.

the catch-22 of road cycling is that in order to BE comfortable in this position, you need to be pretty strong through the core and generally fit and well adapted to riding in this position. it doesn't happen overnight.

cruisers and citybikes like the Trek Lime compensate with different, very 'laid back' geometry that's comfortable for a lower saddle position, and correspondingly cushier saddles. word: the wider your saddle, the lower it needs to be so that you can gain clearance for the extra width and not chafe. the lower-slung frame and further back seat position of a cruiser allows you to drop the saddle and cant your knees out to cope with the big tractor seats. don't try that on an upright road geometry style frame tho... dropping the saddle too far when you're straight up over the cranks will merely make you lose power in the pedalstroke, as well as give you knee pain.
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:08 PM on June 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Maybe too obvious to mention, but you could also try wearing cycling gloves if you don't already.
posted by mcguirk at 10:41 PM on June 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Awesome info, everyone.

Be careful angling the seat up. Bike seats compress arteries and reduce blood flow to key regions in the male anatomy, which some studies have linked with sexual dysfunction and reduced sperm counts. Angling the nose upward can potentially make the pressure much worse.

Good info. In my case, I the nose is not really up. Maybe a tiny bit. My saddle has a gap to relieve pressure. And I have known my exact sperm count for over 10 years. :)

lonefrontranger, thanks for your thoughtful comments. The "natural extension of your body" comment nails it; that's the feel I am trying to get. I'll take your comments and your linked info very seriously.

mcguirk (Coach? Is that you?), gloves are on my list if needed. I am hoping to not need, since I am trying to make my biking as seemless as possible to my life. Something I don't have to suit up for, but just DO. If I can get the balance right, maybe I won't need them.
posted by The Deej at 11:16 PM on June 1, 2007

I don't get the hesitance with gloves. I mean, you wear a helmet, right? Gloves take all of 10 seconds to put on and if you are doing any sort of distance they are WAY more comfortable, believe me.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:40 PM on June 1, 2007

Not to mention - if you crash, and eventually you likely will - gloves keep your hands from getting torn up. I had my first crash not long ago, and when it was over, I kissed my gloves. Had I not been wearing them, my palms would have been hamburger.
posted by seancake at 12:52 AM on June 2, 2007

I had this problem for a long time. I felt pitched forward and my hands and neck would get sore. Every so often I'd adjust my saddle, moving it forwards towards the front of the bike, because I thought that if my body's natural tendency was to slide forward, then I could just move the saddle forward and relieve some of the strain on my arms.

Turns out this was the absolute wrong thing to do. I moved the saddle backwards one day and found I could actually put most of my weight on the saddle in that position without effort from my arms; I no longer needed to use my arms to keep myself in place on the saddle.

Point is, bike adjustments for fit can sometimes be counterintuitive. Sometimes it helps just to have a pro look at how you're sitting on the bike.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:01 AM on June 2, 2007

I am trying to make my biking as seemless as possible to my life. Something I don't have to suit up for, but just DO.

dude. i have been riding, racing, coaching, couriering, commuting and just plain riding for the hell of it for the last two decades. i don't even HAVE a car anymore, but i do own five bicycles.

a small, but not inconsiderable chunk of the time that i spend on 2 wheels, i don't bother to wear a helmet (don't even start in on me, busybodies... or before you do, please read this post). but no matter what, i always wear gloves. long-fingered gloves at that. here's why.

i've crashed on pretty much every surface known to cycling; dirt, mud, water, gravel, concrete, granite, sand, grass, wood, asphalt, you name it, i've left skin on it. i've crashed into cars, buildings, bikes, fences, trees, dogs, scooters, pedestrians, teammates, competitors, clients... you get the idea.

in a vast majority of those cockups, my head never even hit the ground. but my hands? every single damn time. you try going to work on monday with both palms torn up and full of gravel. you'll wear gloves too. long finger ones at that.

gloves aren't just a pretty accessory or a way to stop hands going numb. which, if your position isn't right, they won't do anyhow.
posted by lonefrontranger at 6:32 AM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK OK, Mom, I'll reconsider the gloves. But not to cure the numbness. That would not be addressing the root of the problem.

I'll ride a few miles today with my new adjustments and see if my first impression holds true. I will get me to a bike shop and see if they carry extenders. If not, I'll order online. I think that will solve the immediate concern. I'll likely replace this bike with a better one, hopefully before summer is out.

Oh, and look who likes the Trek Lime.
posted by The Deej at 7:30 AM on June 2, 2007

Oh goodness, you don't wear gloves. No wonder your hands are numb. I never get on my bike without my Specialized bike gloves with the gel pad over the ulnar eminence. That is because I do not like having numb, tingly hands the next day. They're fingerless, pretty much takes like 2 seconds to put them on, it's not having to put the gloves (or the helmet for that matter) on that keeps me off the bike.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:44 PM on June 2, 2007

>have linked with sexual dysfunction and reduced sperm counts

>And I have known my exact sperm count for over 10 years. :)

Those who have gone through the procedure do know. But the real risk is not low sperm counts. It is arterial pressure causing decreased blood flow causing, er, a limp noodle.
posted by megatherium at 3:12 PM on June 2, 2007

and to Deej, you might want to look at sites like:

Google "comfort bikes" for more like it.
posted by megatherium at 3:18 PM on June 2, 2007

Response by poster: Ya ya I know I know...

Thanks. There's no pressure there.
posted by The Deej at 3:18 PM on June 2, 2007

Mr. Nag here. What everybody said. Wear those gloves. Road-chewed hands suck.

I will get me to a bike shop and see if they carry extenders.

Uh, this might be a dumb question but I've kind of lost track here -- have you tried raising the the stem itself (the part shaped like a "7" that clamps to the handlebar and goes into the head tube?)

Sheldon Brown's article
mentioned previously by advicepig covers this but here's the gist: Looking at your pictures you have a threaded headset. This means there's either a hex socket or bolt head at the top of the stem which you should be able to loosen so you can pull the stem up (not past the minimum insertion mark!) and then retighten. If you've already done this then sorry for the advice overkill.

If you need adjustment outside that range, you need to get a new stem (no extenders necessary for this setup.) On line one should set you back about 10 bucks before shipping. There are two standard steering tube diameters so be sure you measure carefully before ordering.

Depending on your current stem you might have to partially disassemble the handlebars to get the new one on. If that makes you uncomfortable, buy it at your LBS and have 'em install it. This'll cost you a bit more but I wouldn't pay more than about 25 bucks installed.
posted by Opposite George at 3:57 PM on June 2, 2007

Response by poster: Hey, OG... yep I pulled the stem up. I actually have it about an inch above the minimum insertion mark as a TEMPORARY test to see if the height really is an improvement. It is! I'm not going to keep it that way though. Thanks everyone... I guess I am basically trying to turn a road bike into a hybrid, and I now have the info I need. :)
posted by The Deej at 6:34 PM on June 2, 2007

Response by poster: Followup for posterity:
Hello Searchers from the Future! Here is how things are now:

Opposite George generously sent me a better, longer stem. Thanks OG! However, the US Postal Service decided to mishandle the package and lost the contents. If my mailman is riding a bike with a nifty adjustable stem, then I'll know what happened.

So, I salvaged a stem from an old mountain bike in my garage and swapped it out. Here is the "new" stem. It adjusts higher, and is angled up rather than down, like the old stem. It raised the handlebar about 2 inches.

This has made a huge difference. I still have a good forward lean when I want it, but I can sit straight up as well, and still have my fingers on the bar.

I'm still planning on getting a better bike as soon as I can, but these adjustments have made this bike very usable and taken away some of the urgency to upgrade, as well as the excuses to not ride due to comfort.

Thanks again everyone!
posted by The Deej at 12:48 PM on June 17, 2007

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