Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Can a Bicycle be Too Upright to be Comfortable?

It's not a new discussion, but I'm always interested in the way individuals ride, the reasons they ride, and the individual style of the rider (both clothing and bike choice). Here in Colorado (well, specifically in let's say the north-eastern area of the state) it's so common to see kit-laden folks in padded shorts and super skinny tire race bikes that one almost feels out of place when riding in every day clothes or on any kind of upright style bike. There are certainly those in the take-it-easy category of cycling, but I have found that not too often do these two types collide in a single rider (I wouldn't say never, but just not as often). Usually, the cruiser, slower pace riders aren't interested in being super speedy speedersons, and the opposite is often also true. I sometimes wonder why that seems to be the case.
I have read in several places and heard from bike shop employees/managers/etc that there is a natural transition of a cyclist. If a rider starts out on an upright bicycle, it is because they are unsure of him/herself and s/he will slowly make a transition in time to a lighter, faster bike. The people who believe this have also stated that basically the rider has to become a cyclist. Personally, I take some offense to this statement as I don't see the correlation. Just because a person rides an upright bike, I don't believe that makes him/her less of a cyclist or any more or less "into" riding. There are plenty of examples of people who ride upright bikes every day, in many different situations. Some of them also ride road, mountain or cyclocross bikes as well, but many do not. Does that make them a non-cyclist?
I'm off on this little tangent today because I'm trying to figure out what has happened with my own ride style. Not so much fashion-wise, but more the actual bicycle that I ride. When I started riding a bike again in adulthood (at least with any kind of regularity) about six years ago, I was riding a mountain bike (that wasn't even mine, actually) as though it were a road bike. I traipsed back and forth to work on it, and went for long leisure rides, but never once took it on a "mountain" ride. It wasn't a good use for that bike, nor was it good for my hands, and after a lot of research I decided that a cruiser bike was more my speed and to my liking. The upright/cruiser style bicycle suited me well, and I was happy not to have pressure on my hands and be able to travel where I wanted to go. While the specific cruiser/upright bike has changed, it's remained a staple in the fold of bikes.
Lately, I've begun to wonder if there's such a thing as being too upright on a bike. When I ride my city bike (the upright bike), I find myself in more and more pain. Sitting directly, bolt upright kills my tailbone after half a mile, and in general, I feel uncomfortable. I'm completely confused by this newer sensation that seems to have started over the summer months this year. In the past, when I wanted to be completely comfortable I went straight to the upright ride, knowing that I wouldn't be in pain... now, the opposite seems to be true. The thought of getting on the upright bicycle is a daunting one, and I find that I'll choose another less upright bike when given the opportunity.
What's happening? For a time, I thought it was just temporary and that maybe my body was adjusting to going back and forth among bicycles, but it doesn't seem to be going away. After a few months of this, I find that it is causing me not to ride the upright city bicycle at all. I'm wondering if this particular bike is just too upright in posture and that one that was slightly more leaned over would be more appropriate for me, or have I "outgrown" this style of bike and there's no going back? I'm more than a little saddened by this discovery because I love to take the city bike on little cruiser rides, into town for visits, or to get groceries.

Has anyone else experienced this, or have any thoughts on what might be going on? If you've had a similar experience, was anything able to resolve the situation? I'm not ready to give up on this type of bicycle, but if it's not rideable, then it's not serving its purpose either.


  1. Hi. A massage therapist told me that a severely upright riding position is simply harder on your back; at least a slightly forward angle alleviates stress from the back. That said, I sometimes see folks riding road bikes in extremely uncomfortable-looking positions!! FWIW.

  2. Interesting, Iris. It makes sense, if I really think about it. I suppose I've always been so focused on not hurting my hands, that other areas often get disregarded.

    BTW, I completely agree about some road cyclists looking like they can be in some seriously uncomfortable positions as well.

  3. Your previous upright bikes, with the exception of the beach cruiser, all had slightly sportier positionings than the Dutch-ish bike you have now, so it could be that (which would be very unfortunate).
    Another thing it might be is the particular tubing of this bike that might be sending more road vibration up your spine? I know that Public recently started using hi-ten tubing for their dutchie models (but not others, from what I can tell). Don't know if this is likely or not, but I know hi-ten tubing isn't the best stuff in the world.

  4. Lauren, you are very correct in stating that my past bicycles have been a little sportier in their seating position(s). I think it's why I wonder if perhaps the newer version is just too upright for me. My particular Public is actually made of 4130 chromoly, and I have noticed that they seem to be switching that out recently for more of the hi-ten steel. I've had hi-tensile in the past and it hasn't bothered me, but perhaps it was more of the position rather than the actual steel make up? I'm really not quite sure.

  5. What kind of saddle do you ride on your city bikes? I got a Brooks B67S for my PUBLIC J7 a while back, and I love it! That model is wider and shorter than the B17, and I have it tipped nose-up just enough to get the butt part of the seat horizontal. The wider seat works better for my hips; the angle keeps me from sliding forward while keeping my weight pitched forward just enough to stay over my sit bones (and off my tailbone!). If you haven't tried these tweaks, it might be worth the experiment- personally, I can't imagine going back to commuting with a mountain bike! Hope you find a fix...

  6. As someone with serious low-back problems if I have to bend either forward or backward I will end up paralyzed hours later. Straight up for me thanks !


Word verification is on, but I've turned off the moderation portion in an attempt to make it easier for you to know that your comment has indeed made it through. We'll see how this goes, but I'm hopeful that this will help out and I'll try my best to weed through and remove spammers comments. Additionally, I recommend copying comments before hitting publish as the "blogger comment eater" seems to continue his snacking.