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Saddle To Bar Height Effects

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Saddle To Bar Height Effects

Old 05-29-19, 11:00 PM
  #1  
Witterings
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Saddle To Bar Height Effects

How much difference does saddle to bar height really make in the real world as opposed to cutting edge racing.

If you're any everyday cyclist does it actually make a lot of difference between a more touring sit up and beg geometry vs a more aggressive racing position and is the only real efficiency in being more aero or does the more forward / lower position make any difference to power delivered to the pedals.

I ask as you often see what seems to be a magical 20mph figure banded around ... especially in discussions of what effect tyre width has on speed and it's often inferred that unless you're consistently above that number it has a virtually nominal effect.

Interested to hear people's opinions as if you find gravel bikes with a more relaxed geometry or hybrids more comfortable, if they're of a similar spec with comparable tyres what else is left that might make a road bike faster at the expense of comfort and how much difference does it actually make.
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Old 05-30-19, 02:22 AM
  #2  
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probably depends on what is comfortable to you is where you can put more power down, i know if im not comfortable im not putting much power down

"smooth is fast"
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Old 05-30-19, 03:02 AM
  #3  
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Originally Posted by Witterings View Post
that might make a road bike faster at the expense of comfort
You're asking the wrong questions. People try to ride as aggressively as they want to ride.

If you're trying to ride in a really aggressive posture, and your bars are too high to where you're scrunching up your arms trying to do that, you're going to be less comfortable and using more effort to maintain that aggressive posture. In which case, a more aggressive handlebar position is likely to be more comfortable.

Similarly, slamming your bars when you don't want to ride aggressively might not actually make you more aerodynamic. There's a fair chance that you'll just spend more time with your hands in "higher" positions on the bars.

Stick your bars where your body wants them for the riding you're doing.
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Old 05-30-19, 07:13 AM
  #4  
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Originally Posted by mattleegee View Post

"smooth is fast"
Funny you mention that, I've literally just discovered this and concentrating on keep your pedal strokes smooth and even makes quite a bit of difference, did a 40 mile ride on Sunday and really noticed it.


Originally Posted by HTupolev View Post
You're asking the wrong questions.
Probably not asking the wrong question .... but probably not asking it very well / concisely.

In essence if you find it more comfortable to use a riser bar to put you more upright, what cost is there in efficiency as opposed to be in a more aggressive position.
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Old 05-30-19, 08:48 AM
  #5  
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Originally Posted by Witterings View Post
Funny you mention that, I've literally just discovered this and concentrating on keep your pedal strokes smooth and even makes quite a bit of difference, did a 40 mile ride on Sunday and really noticed it.




Probably not asking the wrong question .... but probably not asking it very well / concisely.

In essence if you find it more comfortable to use a riser bar to put you more upright, what cost is there in efficiency as opposed to be in a more aggressive position.
Having lower bars allows you to ride in a lower position with straighter arms, something that works better for going fast over long distances. It allows you to have straighter arms while descending - this reduces stress on your elbows. It allows you to sprint in a more aerodynamic position.

So essentially - a lower bar position facilitates a low torso angle better than a higher bar position. What you need to ask is “how often am I riding with a low torso?”. If you are frequently bending your elbows like crazy or climbing in the drops, chances are that you’d be more comfortable with a lower bar position.

If your question is “why should I ride with a lower torso angle?”, there are 3 reasons. First one, obviously, is aerodynamics. Lower torso angle usually means you’re catching less wind. The second reason is cornering. The flatter your back is, the more weight on the front wheel, and the less risk you face of your front wheel washing out in a corner. The last reason is counterweight. The more you lean forward and take weight off your butt, the more weight you can theoretically put on the pedals. This helps push down on the pedals.
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Old 05-30-19, 09:01 AM
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Originally Posted by smashndash View Post
Having lower bars allows you to ride in a lower position with straighter arms, something that works better for going fast over long distances. It allows you to have straighter arms while descending - this reduces stress on your elbows. It allows you to sprint in a more aerodynamic position.

So essentially - a lower bar position facilitates a low torso angle better than a higher bar position. What you need to ask is “how often am I riding with a low torso?”. If you are frequently bending your elbows like crazy or climbing in the drops, chances are that you’d be more comfortable with a lower bar position.
Some useful info .... especially as I've been having some quite bad elbow issues recently!!
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Old 05-30-19, 09:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Witterings View Post
Some useful info .... especially as I've been having some quite bad elbow issues recently!!
Remember that, as with any position change, there will be some time required to adapt. If you have neck, lower back, or power delivery issues, don’t immediately revert. Also, try to make very incremental changes (2.5 to 5mm at a time).
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Old 05-30-19, 09:20 AM
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I've been obsessing over this issue this entire Spring. I had a fit last year, didn't change anything, but this year I am having neck issues. I'm 6'4" and ride a 61 cm frame with a 130 stem. I've tried a 120 stem, tried a 140 stem, back to 130 stem and I finally did something I didn't think I would have to do. DUM, DUM, DA, DUmmmmmm, I went nuclear and flipped my stem up.

I know, I won't win any Hot or Not contest and my bike doesn't look as cool as it did. However, my neck pain is gone and I am much more comfortable. I haven't had neck issues before and I tried to concentrate on my form and my saddle is the correct height. I'm not a racer, I'm an endurance rider and I have a 140-mile charity ride coming up in June. I guess my advice is comfort is the most important thing when it comes to cycling and find what works best for you.
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Old 05-30-19, 09:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Sojodave View Post
I've been obsessing over this issue this entire Spring. I had a fit last year, didn't change anything, but this year I am having neck issues. I'm 6'4" and ride a 61 cm frame with a 130 stem. I've tried a 120 stem, tried a 140 stem, back to 130 stem and I finally did something I didn't think I would have to do. DUM, DUM, DA, DUmmmmmm, I went nuclear and flipped my stem up.

I know, I won't win any Hot or Not contest and my bike doesn't look as cool as it did. However, my neck pain is gone and I am much more comfortable. I haven't had neck issues before and I tried to concentrate on my form and my saddle is the correct height. I'm not a racer, I'm an endurance rider and I have a 140-mile charity ride coming up in June. I guess my advice is comfort is the most important thing when it comes to cycling and find what works best for you.
Do you ride with a visor or cap? It could be that you’re craning your neck more than you need to. If you follow trends with eyewear, you’ll notice how high lenses have gotten. This is because people riding in a lower position are looking through their eyebrows. It could also be that you have a very short neck, which make sure it harder to sustain a certain neck angle.

Also, depending on your body and bike geometry, flipping the stem may not be as “nuclear” as you may think. Compared to some “racers” of your height and proportion (look at saddle height), what is your drop, and what is your reach?

For reference, most people I ride (race) with have somewhere between 2 and 5 inches of drop. Reach is harder to estimate but if you can get into your drops and keep your elbows bent for a significant period of time, then I think the reach is good.
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Old 05-30-19, 09:58 AM
  #10  
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Don't remember the exact source, but one study put 3/4" lower head/torso position at saving 10 watts.

This was at a given, moderate speed.

A very aggressive position will compromise power output for most folks, but there's likely to be a range before getting to that point.

If you want to go faster, there is a natural tendency to get lower.

It depends on the goal- if you want to go fast or far, then efficiency is important. If JRA, sitting up is better to watch the scenery.
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Old 05-30-19, 10:16 AM
  #11  
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I don't think it's such a simple matter as whether lower delivers more power to the pedals or "lower is faster" - casting variables aside then yes, there's truth to it.

Look at track racing or time trialists - a low, aero position for a short race over manicured conditions is going to produce a better result because we've stripped away as many variables as possible.

Over the course of longer events, fatigue starts to play the greater role in power delivery. As events get longer or surfaces more varied (stage racing, triathlon, classics, etc.), you'll see the drop go from 5-6 inches to 2-3 inches or less. You'll see pro teams use endurance bikes for spring classics because they can sustain a higher power output for longer in a more comfortable position.
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Old 05-30-19, 10:20 AM
  #12  
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My take on handlebar position - what I want is the handlebars located so my shoulders are supported the proper distance ahead and above the seat with comfortable bend in my arms. So 1) this is dependent on where the seat is located. For me, this varies by bike and purpose. For fix gears, my seat is not far behind the BB and I have a near horizontal back with close to straight arms when in the drops. Ie, as comfortable as I can get if I have to spend the next 20 miles upwind in too big a gear. For pure road bikes, I rotate my whole position back a touch. Seat back say another 1/4". Bars a little higher and back. For gravel, seat comes back maybe another inch and bars a bunch further back and higher. All this while keeping seat to BB to handlebar triangle the same except for the rotation about the BB.

Having established 1) above, I go on to 2) the handlebar" line". I find that once I have the handlebars in the perfect place, I can pass an imaginary line through the tops, then move the handlebars anywhere on that line (within reason) and hae equally comfortable although slightly different hand positions.

That "line" is: viewing the bike from the side, a line that slopes up and forward. For me, the "slope" is 2 cm horizontally forward by 1 cm of steerer spacer or quill raise "up". (Quotation marks because this is not horizontal-vertical X-Y but oriented to the traditional bike parameters of quill stem length and steerer height along the head tube angle.)

So, once I have the bars at the proper location to orient my shoulders with comfortable arms, I can move it anywhere on that line (which is an approximation to the arc my hands would follow if I swung my arms). So I can go low and close or higher and further forward at equal comforts and power. The high/forward position gets my forearms more horizontal and is more aero. Low and close is more direct pulling power for uphill power out of the saddle (though the further forward bars are more comfortable for very long out-of-the-saddle climbs). Too low and close and I hit the tops with my thighs out of the saddle. I commuted for a while fix gear with often strong headwinds using a Zzipper fairing. The high and far forward position worked really well!)

Cool thing about this approach - I can measure up a frame I am looking at, sketch it up that night, locate my shoulders and the "line" on the drawing and quickly see what stem would be needed to make that bike work. And since raising or lowering the stem moves the bars at close to right angles to the "line", I can almost always make a frame "work" and be comfortable. The next question is do I want this frame (which is say- pure racing) with the bars that far out there? "Nah, I'll pass". Or the small Raleigh Competition - "hmm. low and close with the 13 Pearl in the box would work well. Fun!" I bought it with no regrets.

And lastly, off the same drawing I can now calculate my weight balance between the wheels. Do I like it? I've passed on frames that flunked that part.

Ben
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Old 05-30-19, 10:52 AM
  #13  
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3 1/2" drop is my zone
Any less and it feels like the bars are in my chest when climbing out of the saddle
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Old 05-30-19, 11:04 AM
  #14  
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Don't forget, less stack on the front end could mean more weight on the front end. This is important if you're going to bomb around corners like in a crit.

A really upright setup wouldn't be good for a technical crit as you couldn't carry speed around the corners.

If you don't race, or don't fancy chasing KOMs or do really aggressive group rides...I wouldn't slam/reach out a bike.

You also have to get your training miles in on said bike, in said positions......otherwise you won't be able to hold it when you need to.
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Old 05-30-19, 11:51 AM
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Originally Posted by smashndash View Post
Do you ride with a visor or cap? It could be that you’re craning your neck more than you need to. If you follow trends with eyewear, you’ll notice how high lenses have gotten. This is because people riding in a lower position are looking through their eyebrows. It could also be that you have a very short neck, which make sure it harder to sustain a certain neck angle.

Also, depending on your body and bike geometry, flipping the stem may not be as “nuclear” as you may think. Compared to some “racers” of your height and proportion (look at saddle height), what is your drop, and what is your reach?

For reference, most people I ride (race) with have somewhere between 2 and 5 inches of drop. Reach is harder to estimate but if you can get into your drops and keep your elbows bent for a significant period of time, then I think the reach is good.
I don't ride with a visor or a cap. My drop was 80mm which is about 3.15". My saddle height is 805mm using the .883 with an inseam of 36" or 914.4mm.
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Old 05-30-19, 01:03 PM
  #16  
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Originally Posted by Witterings View Post
...does it actually make a lot of difference...
Yes. It makes a lot of difference.
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Old 05-30-19, 05:44 PM
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Sure, getting more aero on the bike matters. But you can improve aerodynamics without sacrificing comfort. Instead of dropping the bar into ergonomic hazard territory, wear a more snug fitting jersey, zip it up, and work on the core to maintain a more aero position. (When I'm tired my elbows flail around like Froome's, but unlike him I'm not a human-pterodactyl hybrid with freakish power and endurance to compensate for looking like something that flew out of mythology, stole a bike and went racing instead of flaming villages to the ground.)

I split my rides about equally between a hybrid, an old school steel road bike (Ironman) and a now-old-school carbon road bike (1993 Trek 5900). The aero differences matter more than bike weight. I set up each bike so I can ride 20-30 miles without a break at a spirited pace (for me). That's just my personal loosely defined benchmark. With a bum neck, back and shoulder from multiple injuries, that's a reasonable guide for me and happens to fit the group rides I occasionally join.

I average about 12-14 mph on the hybrid, depending on how much effort I feel like putting in, and how much crap is on the bike. It probably weighs 30 lbs without U-lock, handlebar bag, etc. Definitely slower with the lock and bag, but those are for casual rides. It's an early '90s Univega, the frame slightly too large for me and a bit stretched out, but I've compensated with albatross bars set upright at saddle height. Very comfy for long rides, reasonably aero. I've tried flipping the bar, path racer style, but prefer the upright hand grip position. I usually wear casual clothes on that bike so the flappy baggy shorts and shirts add some drag.

Platform pedals and casual shoes on the hybrid; clipless on both road bikes. Not a huge difference, really. But my pedaling technique is kinda sloppy.

I average 16 mph on both road bikes. On a good day, closer to 18-20 mph including yesterday, but those are exceptions -- depends on wind, terrain and whether my personal trainer-shaman's incantations and potions are working.

The Trek is 5 lbs lighter but I only notice the difference on climbs. Our climbs aren't long enough for the weight advantage to matter much. It'd matter more on a 50-100 mile or longer ride, especially with lots of short, punchy climbs or long continuous climbs. On flats and downhills, nah, I don't notice any difference.

Both road bikes are from that era with less radical drop between handlebar and saddle, and a more stretched out riding position. I'd guesstimate about 2.5" drop from saddle to handlebar.

The 58cm Ironman now wears a shorter stem (80 or 90mm vs the original 120-130mm), which offsets the longish top tube. The 56cm Trek has the original long Ibis stem, probably 130mm. Riding position is approximately the same with both, although there are some differences between the Ironman's old school aero brake hoods (and downtube shifters), and the Trek's brifters (I replaced the original Dura Ace downtube shifters). The longer brifter hoods add a bit to the stretched out feel. Rather than swapping to a shorter stem I'm doing physical therapy now to improve my core (and for the shoulder/neck injuries from being hit by a car).

I work on using the drops but it's less aero than riding the hoods, bending the elbows to get the forearms as close as possible to parallel with the ground. Mostly I use the drops for a change of position when the neck cramps, for maybe 1-3 minutes at a time before riding the hoods or tops again. Also depends on whether my thigh adductor muscles are cooperating. That's the main difference I notice between bar positions. I tend to spin so it matters more how efficiently I can lift my legs for the next downstroke.
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Old 05-30-19, 06:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Sojodave View Post
I don't ride with a visor or a cap. My drop was 80mm which is about 3.15". My saddle height is 805mm using the .883 with an inseam of 36" or 914.4mm.
Sorry, I don’t know enough about fits and proportions to be able to tell you whether you’re fit correctly using numbers. But those numbers all seem reasonable. I assume you’re in good health, decently mobile/flexible and fairly strong? If so, my opinion is that you shouldn’t need to run too little drop (though 1.5 to 2 inches doesn’t seem like too little to me) as long as you make an effort to keep your head fairly low. My neck hurts quite a bit too if I’m descending in a very aggressive position (negative torso angle) and trying to look forward by craning my neck (which is only necessary due to my poor eye protection).
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Old 05-30-19, 06:19 PM
  #19  
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Originally Posted by mattleegee View Post
"smooth is fast"
Originally Posted by Witterings View Post
Funny you mention that, I've literally just discovered this and concentrating on keep your pedal strokes smooth and even makes quite a bit of difference, did a 40 mile ride on Sunday and really noticed it.
Fixed gear riding is good training for this. You either learn to pedal smoothly or your butt gets pummeled into hamburger on the downhills.
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Old 05-30-19, 10:51 PM
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Another thing to consider is visibility; your ability to see obstacles and possible dangers ahead.
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Old 05-31-19, 12:00 AM
  #21  
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Ditto, visibility. Little things conspire to thwart bike fit and ergonomics. If we tweak our bike fit indoors, we're probably doing so without helmet, sunglasses or safety glasses, caps with visors, etc. Then we get outdoors in full kit and wonder why we can't stay in the drops for long.

I bought my safety clear and sunglasses when I only rode hybrids and just needed the bifocal setup for reading my phone, etc., without needing to carry reading glasses. But on my road bikes the clear overhead frame support slightly obscures my vision from the drops, so I crane my neck up more and get tired more quickly.

I have another set of frameless sunglasses, but the upper part of the lenses mashes against my forehead and quickly fogs with perspiration and skin oil. Same problem as the other glasses.

Occasionally I'll cheat and omit the glasses for some routes, but only if there's no traffic and it's not bug weather. I've been struck by pebbles and larger debris too often in traffic so I don't go bare-eyed unless the road is pretty much all mine. There are a couple of training routes where I can ride 5 mile loops and see maybe one or two cars, so occasionally I'll cheat on those roads.

And I have one cycling cap, but don't wear it on the bike. There's no visor position that's comfortable to me. I use bandanas for sweat control. No interference with my helmet fit or peripheral vision.
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Old 05-31-19, 08:04 AM
  #22  
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Originally Posted by smashndash View Post
Having lower bars allows you to ride in a lower position with straighter arms, something that works better for going fast over long distances. It allows you to have straighter arms while descending - this reduces stress on your elbows. It allows you to sprint in a more aerodynamic position.

So essentially - a lower bar position facilitates a low torso angle better than a higher bar position. What you need to ask is “how often am I riding with a low torso?”. If you are frequently bending your elbows like crazy or climbing in the drops, chances are that you’d be more comfortable with a lower bar position.

If your question is “why should I ride with a lower torso angle?”, there are 3 reasons. First one, obviously, is aerodynamics. Lower torso angle usually means you’re catching less wind. The second reason is cornering. The flatter your back is, the more weight on the front wheel, and the less risk you face of your front wheel washing out in a corner. The last reason is counterweight. The more you lean forward and take weight off your butt, the more weight you can theoretically put on the pedals. This helps push down on the pedals.
Think most folks would say it's best not to ride with straight arms. I'd never suggest lowering the bars so I can lock my elbows in a straight position. Maybe I'm misunderstanding your comment, but don't want to get folks thinking they should set up the bike to ride with straight arms.
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Old 05-31-19, 08:33 AM
  #23  
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I'm baffled, I have a 104 mile ride on Saturday and I'm not 100% confident in having my stem flipped up is the best strategy to solve my neck pain.

I've been on two rides with my stem flipped up and I've been more comfortable, but they were only 20 mile rides. Over 104 miles, I may regret having a more upright position with more saddle pain and I will fight the wind more. I know you shouldn't play around with your fit just before a long ride, but I've got a 140 mile ride on June 15th and I've got to get dialed in before that.

Any suggestions on stem flat or stem up? (Yes, I'm asking strangers on the internet...desperate man) I'm using a 130mm stem with a -6/+6 degree angle.
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Old 05-31-19, 09:07 AM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by Sojodave View Post
I'm baffled, I have a 104 mile ride on Saturday and I'm not 100% confident in having my stem flipped up is the best strategy to solve my neck pain.

I've been on two rides with my stem flipped up and I've been more comfortable, but they were only 20 mile rides. Over 104 miles, I may regret having a more upright position with more saddle pain and I will fight the wind more. I know you shouldn't play around with your fit just before a long ride, but I've got a 140 mile ride on June 15th and I've got to get dialed in before that.

Any suggestions on stem flat or stem up? (Yes, I'm asking strangers on the internet...desperate man) I'm using a 130mm stem with a -6/+6 degree angle.
I've never really struggled with neck pain but in researching other areas have found numerous threads saying it's often caused by your head being too low, one of my regular cycling buddies was having bad neck pain and told him what I'd seen and he bought a riser stem and it cured him overnight.

I guess it depends what you think may give you the most discomfort but I wouldn't have thought it'd cause much saddle pain if you're used to riding long distances anyway, make sure you've got the right size hex keys with you for your stem an if you think it's causing a problem it's only really 5/10 mins to flip it back again (unless of course it's a race you may not want to) but don't leave it too late that you've gone beyond a point of no return.

Just my thoughts.
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Old 05-31-19, 09:24 AM
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daoswald
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Don't forget that handlebar height also impacts saddle and lower back pressure.

In my case I tend to remove a spacer from the stack later each season, and put it back early the next season. As I accumulate the miles I become more acclimated to holding the posture for hours, and I feel more comfortable with a slightly lower placement. Earlier in the season I'm not quite as bike-fit, and I prefer a little more relaxed geometry. This also coincides with number of miles ridden; if my early season rides are shorter, I don't mind a little more saddle pressure from a more relaxed handlebar position. Later as my rides increase in length I prefer less saddle pressure.
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