7

As a teenager a friend found some antique swept back motorcycle handlebars that had the same expansion nut type fitting as my bike and we had to try them out; the handles just touched the front of the saddle when turning very sharply - with any kind of speed, not at all. The point is the amount of force that could be applied to the pedals was greater, because pulling up on the handles was close to being in line with the force down. As analogy, it was like lifting a weight in a straight line from standing above position instead of having it out at arms length and trying to lift. My father immediately ordered their removal as unsafe - it certainly made it (too) easy to wheelstand both from centre of mass being further back (upright position) and that greater force. However, if a bike were designed to achieve that in line pull on handlebar/push on pedals, would performance, especially uphill/against the wind be improved? I think recumbent designs may use this effect.

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  • As far as I can tell, most pros even use the drops (i.e. an even lower hand position) during sprint finishes. example I think you underestimate the strength of the back muscle.
    – Michael
    Feb 18 at 10:16
  • Thanks for the answers. The aerodynamics seems an obvious drawback - that a recumbent would fix, with other drawbacks instead. Total cardio capacity (Adam) makes sense, although I expected the work spread across more muscle groups would aid stamina as well as max force. I expected more use of back muscles - not arms - in a posture better suited for them. My recreational riding never really used toe clips - but I see how that puts more muscles to work for more pedal force; it always felt awkward, never did it enough to develop the needed strength and endurance.
    – Ken Fabian
    Feb 18 at 20:56
  • Too old now for anything BUT a "granny bike" posture I find... with electric boost for hilly local terrain; I could use more swept back handlebars just to ease bad shoulder joints.
    – Ken Fabian
    Feb 18 at 20:59
  • 1
    I don’t like age as an excuse. Core strength helps a lot. Bad shoulder joints are often just muscle imbalance or bad posture (leading to impingement etc.). “Aggressive” positions require training but completely relaxed, upright positions are not great either.
    – Michael
    Feb 18 at 21:26
  • 1
    You get even more pedal force improvement on a recumbent bike/trike. But I can tell you that I'm slower on my recumbent trike than on my road bike. The occasions when I need to push against the seat and muscle up a hill are relatively rare.
    – Kyralessa
    Feb 19 at 8:31
14

For one thing, the aerodynamics are terrible. For another, most cycling is not dependent on peak power, but on sustainable power, for which leg strength (or body strength) isn’t as important as cardiovascular capacity.

Some recumbents do use bars like the ones you mention, but the geometry is so different that muscle recruitment is also very different.

2
6

Many cruisers have swept-back bars, as do some bikes designed for more athletic riding (notably Jones Bikes).

I have two bikes set up with Jones bars (one an aggressive hardtail mountain bike, and one a cargo bike). In line with your experience, I’ve found that muscle recruitment and force alignment are affected by having a vertical line through the grip and the handle bar, and I can apply significant downward pedal force. In conjunction with wide tires, I've found that this allows for an interesting ``hiking" motion over roots and rocks.

In places where wind resistance is a factor, the upright position does amplify this. (Jones' design compensates for this by offering alternative grips in a more forward position).

2
  • I'd say the Jones bar's aren't so much swept back as arrowed forwards. Feb 18 at 23:19
  • @leftaroundabout The Jones bars are very much swept back -- the ends of my grips are significantly further back than they were with the original "slightly swept" straight bars. (The Surly Moloko bar, by contrast, is arrowed forward, with the ends of the bar pretty much lining up with the ends of the straight bar.)
    – RLH
    Feb 18 at 23:32
5

In addition to aerodynamics, there are two more things:

  • It is more efficient use of your muscles to pedal faster in lower gear, except maybe for very short bursts
  • Clipless pedals or toe clips and straps also allow one to push pedals harder than one's weight, but don't have the problem with aerodynamics or require arm strength.
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  • 2
    The first point is key here: Whenever you feel the need to pull on the handlebar, your gear is not low enough. Feb 18 at 9:43
  • Don't explain it to me, explain it to these guys: youtube.com/watch?v=Qj6SPmQLrLE&t=2m0s
    – ojs
    Feb 18 at 10:13
  • Yes, one of the most absurd types of cycle sports... And still I claim that they are riding in a way too high gear, even though they are doing it precisely for the challenge of accelerating in a way too high gear. Feb 18 at 10:40
  • 2
    I'm not quite sure what you mean by "more efficient to pedal faster in lower gear." At the same power, gross metabolic efficiency for most individuals is higher at moderate to low cadence than at high cadence. However, metabolic efficiency often isn't the goal of performance.
    – R. Chung
    Feb 18 at 16:23
  • @R.Chung okay, poor choice of words. The idea I was after was that if you're pedaling with force that requires pulling up from handlebars or the other pedal, you're probably not going to be able to maintain the effort for a longer time.
    – ojs
    Feb 18 at 17:14
3

What you've done there is reinvented what's called a "sit up and beg" bike. Upright position with swept back bars. It's an old school upright bike of the sort your grandparents might have ridden, along with anyone Dutch.

Why they're not so common any more is primarily a matter of fashion, replaced initially by mountain bikes (cooler) and then by hybrids (mountain bikes with road gears and tyres), though I've noticed the hybrids of recent years increasingly moving back towards those swept back bars.

Don't get the idea they're in any competition with drop bars and road bikes. For getting around town at low speeds the upright position gives you much better all round visibility and easy pedaling.

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  • Recently published video about Dutch granny bikes, might be fun for you to see: youtube.com/watch?v=aESqrP3hfi8 Not Just Bikes.
    – Willeke
    Feb 18 at 17:50
  • @Separatrix, Willeke - my riding tends to be leisurely and I like the more comfortable upright riding posture.
    – Ken Fabian
    Feb 19 at 0:26
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    @KenFabian, perhaps a granny bike is the best option for you then :) The older I get the more I prefer an upright posture, to the point where I'm going to have to replace my bike as the bars won't go high enough for what I now want.
    – Separatrix
    Feb 19 at 9:42
  • 2
    A truly uprigth position is a back killer if you ride more than occasionally. Feb 19 at 9:56
  • 1
    @Peter-ReinstateMonica, perhaps if you're trying to ride long distances or at high speeds, but it's not the right style of bike for that. Granny bikes are for going to the shops, they're for getting about the place, they're a tool not a hobby.
    – Separatrix
    Feb 19 at 10:24

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