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I'm looking for some evidence on bike posture and overall best positioning for healthiest rides that might be "long" (say around 30km) but also where speed is not a concern - think of bikepacking or bike touring.

It seems like the default is drop-bars because if speed is your concern that's obviously the most efficient. But looking also at upright bikes like Dutch bikes I wonder whether touring in such position can be better for your back/shoulders/ass on long distance.

Does anybody have any data that compares a few of these variables like "Upright + 30km + 15km/h" vs "Drop-bars-30-degrees-bent + 30km + 20km/h" -> "more bum sores in first one but less back strains" etc.

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  • it is an interesting question, however I think it will be difficult to have a non-opinionated answer. Similar to the question "what kind of office chair works best?" and then see the figure here: news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6187080.stm ( I just mention this because it is from a reliable source, BBC, referring to a scientific report from a scientific institution) – EarlGrey May 3 at 11:34
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    Without any intention of offense, we can hardly call 30 km "long" even if we assume a slower rider at 15 km/h it will be just 2 hours. Perhaps it is better to speak about time rather than about distance. Do you assume just a couple of hours or a long day in the saddle (no matter how fast)? I do not write it to show off but to war you that if you search for data about long rides, it will be always about much longer rides, at least twice as much, but likely even 3 to 5 times. I very much doubt you would be less sore from a Dutch bike BTW. – Vladimir F May 3 at 11:35
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    Your previous ride habits play a huge role. I've been an MTB rider and all road and commuting I've done was on modified MTB bikes. When I got a dutch bike, I loved the comfort and relaxed feel of the upright position.However, for longer than 10km trips or to run fast errands, my instinct just reverted me to MTB riding position. And for days riding more than 3 hours on that bike, I felt more tired than with the MTB, although not sore. – Jahaziel May 3 at 14:57
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    On the other hand, slow riding for longer time on my modified MTB commuting bike only produced me a mild soreness on the part of the palm right before the wrist. That's for the times when I was "in shape" and used to ride frequently. For the times when I'm out of shape, riding slow for long time produced more acute soreness in hands and "saddle area", no matter what type of bike or type of saddle i use. – Jahaziel May 3 at 15:04
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    I'd remark that even if you're not much concerned with speed, it pays off to avoid aerodynamically bad positions. Even at low speeds, good aero saves energy. – leftaroundabout May 4 at 7:20
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If you are looking for the most ergonomic riding position, you should give some kind of recumbent bicycle a serious consideration.

I don't have any references to data, and soreness is subjective. But in my personal experience, the recumbent and velomobile riders on longer rides (Paris-Brest-Paris 1200 km, London-Edinburgh-London 1400 km and such) are the riders reporting the least amount of posture-related problems.

You can still get sore on a recumbent if you overload your knees and leg muscles. But a reasonably fitted recumbent bicycle is probably the most ergonomic ride you can get: Your weight is spread out over a proper seat, your hands and arms are neutrally positioned and don't carry any load, and your back is supported. Also, almost every recumbent seat has a slight turn at the top to support your neck, and many have an ergonomic headrest (preventing problems like Shermer's neck).

I ride recumbents myself for longer brevets and touring, as well as "regular" bikes. The different in comfort on longer distances is noticeable, and the most interesting part personally is that you can increase your distance remarkably fast without soreness penalties. I have finished both 300 km sportives and longer brevets (up to 2100 km), and while the legs muscles feel quite worn, and I may look forward to some sleep and rest, my back, wrists, and seat does not hurt.

If you give recumbents a try, you should check the angle between your shoulders, hips and the bottom bracket. A large angle, with the three above almost in a straight line, is similar to an upright "city bike" - and may limit your power output, as well as put a bit too much weight on your seat. This could be the case for some older recumbents like the Tour Easy.

A sharper angle between shoulders, hips and bottom bracket is more similar to a typical road bike position, just rotated backwards and supported by a seat. This is typically found on short-wheelbase higher bottom bracket recumbents, like the Bacchetta highracers or the HPVelotechnik Speedmachine.

(a Schlitter Encore high bottom bracket road recumbent pictured below)

Schlitter Encore, with tailbox for luggage storage

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I haven't been able to find any scientific papers that focus on distance riding that don't also focus on performance (I also haven't been able to find any where the full text is available for free, but that's another story).

There are more than just upright and drop-bar positions on bikes. One paper I saw (by a company that makes parts for "comfort bikes," so not a disinterested party) evaluated four positions, all of which used either flat bars or pullback bars. Similarly if you look only at drop-bar bikes, you'll see that 1. different bike geometries can put you in different positions, although even the most upright is relatively forward compared to Dutch bikes; 2. drop bars themselves give several different positions.

The benefits of drop bars are not limited to speed: because they give more positions, they can improve comfort, especially on longer rides, when being locked into one position would be tiring; also, when your body is pulled forward, with some weight on your hands (as you find with drop-bar bikes and mountain bikes), you are able to use your muscles more efficiently, which is important at longer distances whether or not you are interested in going fast. I haven't seen any data on this, but I suspect that a very upright position on the bike would get to be uncomfortable over distance because of the shocks transmitted straight up your spine.

As Jahaziel commented, a lot of "comfort" is a matter of what you're accustomed to. If you're not accustomed to a forward position, it will be uncomfortable.

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Flat bar tourers are a thing (overlapping to some extent with trekking hybrids). These are built for multi-day rides, so single-day rides of a few hours would be perfectly reasonable. The posture for the spine tends to be more upright on flat bars that on the hoods of drop bars (the position most riders use most of the time, but neither the highest nor the lowest).

If you're riding for several hours with one hand position, numbness in the hands and pain in the wrists can be an issue. Some variety is good to have. This could be bar-ends. Being able to get really low is good if you find yourself battling into a headwind, but even most touring riders will find it uncomfortable after a few hours. The swept-back bars common on some upright bikes suit some people, but can really stress others' wrists after a while; straight flat bars should allow a more neutral angle.

I've seen flat bars on 200km rides (say 10-12 hours), though rarely, but I don't think I've seen them on a 300km. I've done 160km on them myself but for a 200km I'm planning I've fitted mini bar ends and may put my aero bars on there (for hand position variety).

As for comfort on the parts that bear your weight, in practice your arms will take little enough that they make no difference. Your posture, on the other hand, will affect the distribution of weight around your sit bones, but the saddle-human interface is very variable between individuals, and develops over riding time. There may be some room to match posture to saddle type; certainly I wouldn't want the typical saddle of a Dutch-style upright on my tourer, though I'll happily ride one round town for an hour or so. I doubt I'm unique in that preference.

Apart from the sit bones, how happy your spine is at different angles will also develop over time. If you're flexible and have a reasonably strong core, drop bars will be no trouble even if unfamiliar, though you're likely to want them set higher than racing-style. If you're very stiff, you may get on better with a more upright position.

Overall it's about the person as much as the bike. If you've already got (access to) a bike, the best thing to do is use it and see what problems you find. If not, for the sort of thing you're talking about, a trekking hybrid would be a good place to start - they're easily available, easy to ride, and versatile. It was only when I got over about 80km days and wanted to do that a bit quicker that I went for drop bars.

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    +1 for mentioning core strength and for mentioning that drop bar bikes do not require you to be in a road racer's position. – Weiwen Ng May 4 at 13:06
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I have never had a sore back nor sore arms on a Dutch upright bicycles but have had sore 'sit upon's' if I did not find the right seat/saddle for the bike.
As a Dutch person I rode standard Dutch (fixed gear and 5 gear) bicycles for about 30 years before switching to recumbents.

Most people I know ride upright bikes for at least a part of the time, many for most of the time. And many tell me that they get on the bike with a sore back and get off it with less pain.

I have used a 'lean on the handlebars' bike for a short time, it gave me sore arms in the same spots as RSI from work bothered me. So that bike was out very soon.
It will be very much up to the person whether leaning some on the arms works or not, but it is not the traditional Dutch sitting position.

Since I have moved to recumbents I have not done long distances on a sit up bike anymore. Friends do, as they overtaxed their knees. So be careful in your selection of bike(s) and have them adjusted to your body and ride in the gears best for you.

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To reduce resistance to air currents, the person on the sports bike sits almost horizontally, bending over to the handlebars. The saddle is raised well above the handlebars and the handlebars are pushed forward. This position cannot be called physiological. The load on the arms, back, and neck increases. The center of gravity shifts forward. Athletes are accustomed people, but ordinary mortals get tired quickly. To somehow fix this, they lower the saddle and ride on bent legs. If you do not know what it is, then try to walk squatting or half-sitting for a hundred meters. A small digression for beginners. The foot on the pedal in the lowest position should be completely straight. If you, while sitting on a bike, confidently reach the ground with your toes, then you need to raise the saddle and do not need to be afraid to get off the ground. This is a very important point!

It is more comfortable to sit when the handlebars are higher than the saddle. In this case, you will not lose much in speed. Unfortunately, on sports bikes, the handlebar height is not or only slightly adjustable. Therefore, it is difficult to adjust the bike to your height.

enter image description here

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    Athletes are accustomed people, but ordinary mortals get tired quickly. You're from the same gene pool as those "athletes". This reads like an excuse for never even trying. – Andrew Henle May 3 at 20:45
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    See bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/57840/… and especially the links mentioned there janheine.wordpress.com/2018/02/12/… People do not just use drop bar bikes because they are more aero. They use them for long distance touring because they are comfortable. – Vladimir F May 3 at 21:10
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    I fully agree with @AndrewHenle that anyone can be an athlete, and moreover that I suspect most people with normal physical function can adapt to be comfortable on drop bar bikes, and that the bike position can be adapted to them. I would slightly caution that people with limited flexibility, joint range of motion, or stabilizer muscle strength may be less comfortable on drop bar bikes. However, to the extent that those limitations stem from injuries, you can often rehabilitate that. Congenital limitations or permanent injuries might be a separate consideration. – Weiwen Ng May 4 at 12:58

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