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Optimal saddle-to-bar height differential ?(19 posts)

Optimal saddle-to-bar height differential ?Tahoe Gator
May 30, 2003 5:10 AM
Recently went through a bike fitting and was advised to change my stem to decrease the height difference between my saddle and bars. It was previously about a 7.5 cm difference. With the new stem, the saddle is only 3 cm higher than the top of the bars. Riding with the new stem, I feel like I'm riding a "comfort" bike. Maybe it takes getting used to. Sure, it is easier to get in the drops now (something I seldom did); but I have to wonder if now my bars are now too high?
you're kidding, right?Steve_0
May 30, 2003 5:26 AM
you seldom used the drops when the bars were 3 inches lower. Now you find the bike more comfortable, AND find the drops easier...and you question weather the bars are too high?

Sounds to me you spend too much time looking at magazine advertisements and pro-racers. I's say once the bars are ABOVE the saddle more than 2 inches than youre beginning to get too high.

'uncomfortable seats', genital numbness, numb hands, sore back, 'harsh' riding frames. 99.9 percent of this is caused by too-small frames (and, as a direct consequence, too low bars).
Without being so harsh...biknben
May 30, 2003 5:32 AM
I'd say the fitter offered some sound advice. You should be able to ride comfortably on both the tops, hoods, and in the drops. If the drops are uncomfortable it is a sign that your bars are too low.

I'd recommend you go with the new setup for a while. It may take time to get used to but it may improve your comfort dramatically.
May 30, 2003 5:48 AM
I hate the direction in which bike manufacturing and advertisement are heading. Even worse, the mags which endorse (actually, steer) such a course.

More people would start, and continue, to bike if they could find a comfortable bike. Few shops today even know how to set up a bike for the average rider. Most think a smaller frame creates LESS reach, and is therefore MORE comfortable. Dumb.

Such mentality is what makes us 'dress up' for every little ride, even to the coffee-shop or deli; further distinguishing 'us' from 'them'. Such mentality is what makes us think than anything less than ultegra is, in some way, inferior. Such mentality is what makes us think we need no less than 3 bicycles for rain, shine, and commute. Such mentality is what makes us spend our refund checks on a bike (since our current IS 3 years old) rather than our daughter's college tuition, or even to help out our parents who are graciously putting us through college.

sorry for the rant, I didnt intend to be harsh to the original poster, as its not his fault. He's merely falling victim to this whole non-sensical industry.
I agree with your rant nmContinental
May 30, 2003 6:56 AM
You are too harsh.elviento
May 30, 2003 8:57 AM
There is always a fashion element in sports. Look at tennis, golf, etc... It's not necessarily wrong and it doesn't have to take away the fun and fitness elements out of cycling.

Besides, if you are not nice to your kids or your parents, it's not bike shops that made you do it.
May 30, 2003 9:29 AM
thats why i apologized.

Anyhoo, I dont think 'high perfomance' clubs or racquets sacrifice user comfort for the sake of technology. Price, certainly. Comfort, NO.

As i've pointed out dozens of times on this board, the ubiquitious posts on 'comfortable seats', dampening bars and shocks, and numb hands attests that modern offerings can, in fact, take the fun and fitness elements out of cycling.

Certainly, I agree the bikeshops cannot be responsible for the misplaced priorities of others. But we certainly don't need to encourage behavior which is already rampant in this country:

"It must be nice that your wife doesnt work, my wife has to work to make ends meet".

"bummer. nice mercedes."
Saw something on this last night watching OLNjs5280
May 30, 2003 6:55 AM
They had a guy on from Carmichael Training Systems and they showed a chart for Saddle to bar drop based on height. From memory (which is a little shakey), they recommended 1.5"-2.75" for 5'10" to 6'. If shorter, than less (e.g. <5'3" 0-1.25") or if taller, more drop. First time I've seen it based on height although the 2" below is a common heuristic for most average height male riders which does fit their recommendation too. They did say though this was only a starting point and that you'd have to fine tune it. Also, lower bars requires more core strength and flexibility which is a common observation. First time I've seen it based on height though.

What a great stage yesterday, eh?
No such thing as optimalDropped
May 30, 2003 6:57 AM
With all due respect to the Rivendell retrogrouches content to ride bikes with zero drop and who can't help feeling smug about it, there is no optimal drop.

Depending on your felxibility, the type or riding you do, and other factors, zero drop may be fine. 3cm may be fine. 7.5 may be great.

I used to ride with 7.5cm of drop, but recently reduced it to about 5cm. Personally, I seem most comfortable with 5cm, and anything less doesn't work for me or the type of riding I like to do.

I'd give the 3cm a few rides and if you still think it's too high, gradually take it down to a level that works.
May 30, 2003 7:33 AM
I agree, and I believe the RRGs (Rivendell retro grouches) would agree also, that there is not 'optimal' drop.

I think that the RRGs are smug in that their 'optimal' drop is one of comfort; not one of vanity.
RetrogrouchSteve Bailey
May 30, 2003 7:35 AM
>With all due respect to the Rivendell retrogrouches >content to ride bikes with zero drop and who can't help >feeling smug about it, there is no optimal drop.

As a Rivendell Retrogrouch I can say that I agree 100

Bar height is whatever you want it to be and should be based on the type of riding you do and on your own experimentation as to what works.

Rivendell tends to sell the "bar at seat height" concept to folks who don't race or want to do much in the way of fast paced paceline/pack riding, which is fine as it fits with the types of bikes they sell and the components on them. I ride a Heron road, but find the positioning and frame are good up to about a 16 mph avg. pace and prefer my spanking new Lemond Ti for faster rides. The Heron has the Noodle bar on it's Technomic stem (how's that for being loyal) at seat height, with the Lemond more comfortable at 1.5 in. below seat. The lower bar gets me bit more stretched out, especially to the hoods, which is OK as that's where I spend time on faster group rides.

Steve B.
I'm w/both Steves--it's the best single change I've ever madeSilverback
May 30, 2003 7:58 AM
I've been riding for more than 30 years, and got swept along in the small-frame, butt-high/bars low craze for awhile, too. The single best change I've made in terms of comfort--and thus being able to ride longer and faster--is raising the bars about level with the saddle. I'd say you got good advice.
no ideal droptarwheel
May 30, 2003 6:58 AM
The amount of drop you feel comfortable with is purely a personal matter. That said, I agree that many bike shops (and magazines) are guilty these days of setting up bikes with too large a drop. I am convinced that this causes many new cyclists to drop the sport or ride a lot less.

When I first started cycling (30+ years ago), the standard way to set up a bike was with handlebars about level with the saddle or slightly lower. Now it virtually impossible to set up a bike that way without ordering a custom frame or using a riser stem with lots of spacers. I bought a new bike several years ago with a 3" drop and very quickly started developing bad numbness in my hands, neck pain, etc. Problems went away when I got a new frame and set it up with bars about 1" below the saddle.

The are several advantages to higher bars. It takes weight off your hands and shortens your reach. It allows more positions because you can comfortably ride in the drops, on the hoods or the tops. I ride in the drops a lot since I raised my handlebars. However, I seldom see many riders using their drops these days and I'm sure it's because their handlebars are so low. Riding in the drops is a great position, particularly for riding solo when you can't draft off another rider.

How much drop you can handle, however, depends on a lot of factors -- your height, length of arms and torso, flexibility, etc. Some cyclists are totally comfortable riding with low handlebars, even in the drops, because they are tall and very flexible. I'm neither, so higher handlebars work for me.
Amen, Brother Tarwheel! (from another 30+ year cyclist) nmDale Brigham
May 30, 2003 8:09 AM
More info ...Tahoe Gator
May 30, 2003 8:25 AM
Okay, so there is no "ideal" drop and it is "personal preference" to consider, so I will pose the question differently with some additional information since, afterall, I am interested in others' experiences.

I am 5' 9.5", fairly flexible (can put knuckles to the ground), ride about 100 or more miles per week, and race nearly every week (mostly 25 mile circuit road races and time trials) and would probably qualify as an A- rider in the riding club-sort of ranking. So, comfort is important, but only if it is part of going faster. I am not doing centuries every week.

So, for you A/B riders near my size range, since this bike is setup foremost to race (not to go get coffee), does anyone find 3 cm (only 1.2 inches) on the low side of saddle-to-bar height differential for 20-40 mile training rides and races?
i'll try againSteve_0
May 30, 2003 9:13 AM
I'm a 'b' rider. I race TTs and tris. For races or hard riding I drop my stem 3 inches (ahhhhh, the beauty of quills). All this is irrelevant, as is anyone elses experience.

What matters is, when you dropped your bars, did you get faster or slower? If you were faster with the bars dropped, was it significant enough to overlook any decreased comfort?

Personally, I doublt I'll ever win a race. Being in the more competitive age groups, I doubt I'll even be collecting my 50 bucks, either. For me, a 30 second, or even 1 minute loss in time on the bike does not warrant an hour of discomfort or an uncomfortable run.

My .02
Try the (quasi-) empirical methodTrent in WA
May 30, 2003 8:26 PM

Why not try the new setup for a while? Even on your racing bike, it can't but help to be able to move around on the bars, change position, chill out on the flats when you're on somebody's wheel and then go down on the drops when you want to lay rubber, etc. You can always lower the bars as you need or want to.

try bending your elbows moreFrith
May 30, 2003 10:35 AM
One thing about higher bars is that you can afford to have a rather large bend in your elbows. This will get you back into that aero position you like so much as well as transfer alot of road shock away from your neck and shoulders.
re: Optimal saddle-to-bar height differential ?kcd
May 30, 2003 3:59 PM
The 7.5cm is more in line w/the Pros who tend to ride smaller bikes that show a lot of seat post. To get the back flat/aero in the drops, you'll probably need more than 7.5cm. However, if you are not into racing and are limited physically, go for comfort.