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I'm looking into buying a commuter bike. Observing other bikers I see some are hunched over their bikes and some are almost vertical. What is considered the best position for commuting?
[I will be commuting about six miles in NYC (mostly flat save for the bridges); I will not be carrying a lot of luggage]

Also a dumb question what attributes of the bike contribute to the rider's position? Is it just the ratio of the height of the seat to that of the handlebars?

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broadly, seat and handlebar height, but also the horizontal distance between them. Give us some more information - how long is your commute? how fast do you ride? how much luggage do you need to carry? I suspect comfort will be your main concern. –  PeteH Jul 26 '14 at 15:32
6 miles in NYC (mostly flat save for the bridges), currently ride on a Citibike so I'm slow but would like to go faster, don't carry much luggage –  Marcus Jul 26 '14 at 15:36
For 6 miles -- whatever's most comfortable for you, and suits your "style". For longer distances you'd be more concerned about posture. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 27 '14 at 12:15

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I'm speaking very generally here, but sitting straight up can be comfortable for quite short periods. Probably the most upright are sit-up-and-beg bikes, and if you go over to Holland you'll see 70- and 80-year-olds riding them. The downside is that they're not the fastest bikes around.

At the other end of the scale, take a look at professional road racers. These guys are as close as possible flat down to the bike. Efficient, but mightily uncomfortable.

The reality for the rest of us is that something in between is the most comfortable, but our geometries all tend to be different so different styles suit different people.

I think the good thing is that, based on what you say about distance, speed, terrain, climbing, load etc., your requirements aren't very demanding, so you'll have plenty of choice of styles so you should really be able to find a bike that is comfortable for you. (This also opens up the second-hand market, if you wish.)

I've ridden in London and I assume NYC is similar - be prepared to get a couple of decent locks, and make sure the bike you get will be able to carry them around somehow.

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It depends on the bike. If you're commuting on a race bike, you'll be more hunched over than if you were commuting on a cruiser. A lot of people use road bikes in NYC, which force you to be more hunched over than on something like a citibike.

The parts of the bike which contribute to the hunched over ness is primarily the top tube length (the top bar on a standard diamond frame), the stem reach, the handlebars, saddle height and saddle position.

The best position is something that works for you - you can do your commute comfortably and arrive in reasonable shape (not drenched in sweat for example). As a former NYC'er, old road bikes are relatively cheap to get in the area but I'd feel more alert on a flat bar hybrid (provided I could take it into my office, since the likelihood of something getting stolen in NYC is pretty high). Rack mounts are generally useful, and since NYC gets rain, fenders are too.

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First choice is flat or drop bars

Flat bars
Mountain bike style bars. A more upright position. Comfortable and agile but not very aerodynamic.
The single position is fatiguing on long rides.

Drop bars
Road style bars. A variety of positions to spread fatigue and deal with head winds.

The distance between the seat and the bars and the height of the bars affects riding position. The factors there are top tube length, seat position, and bar position.

I prefer drop bars for commuting (anything on the street).

For commuting you don't want an extreme inclined position. Like a touring or cyclocross bike. My favorite commuter and riding position is my Salsa Vaya. They added a new hand position with a nub on the hoods.

How To Hold Your Handlebars Like A Pro

You can change handle bar position by moving the spacers, flipping stem up or down, or changing out the stem. And you can rotate the handle bars. Go to a good bike shop that is willing to take the time to help you select a bike and fit (adjust) the bike for you. And don't be afraid to tweak the set up yourself as you get more time on the bike. And air the tires at least once a week. DropBars

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Plenty more types of bars than these! Nobody better try to take away my trekking bars. :) –  dsalo Jul 26 '14 at 18:20
thanks. my concern (a newbie one I'm sure) is that with the drops you have to have your hands in the lower part of the bars to access the breaks quickly. If you're holding the top or the nubs then you can't get to the breaks quickly. isn't that a risk for city traffic? –  Marcus Jul 26 '14 at 18:42
Did you watch the video? On the hoods you have immediate access to the brakes. That is two positions with immediate access to the brakes. –  Blam Jul 26 '14 at 19:47
Yep, with most drop bars it's actually easiest to operate the brakes when you're "on the hoods", and that's where you'd have your hands most of the time anyway. –  Daniel R Hicks Jul 27 '14 at 12:17

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