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When biking I find it natural to maintain my posture by keeping my arms straight and loading my weight on the handles. This has worked okay for me, until I need to get a hand off the handles to (e.g.) signal a change in direction. I find I have to sit upstraight relieving my weight on the saddle instead before I can safely do that, or I risk losing balance to the simple fact I'm pushing against the handlebar with one hand but not with the other.

This suggests me I'm not doing it right, and I should try to sit straight instead, even if it does feel "wrong" to me.

Here's a horrible, misleading drawing.

enter image description here

What's the correct posture while biking? Where should I relieve my weight? How can I improve it?

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This post contains trace amounts of Google Translate. I hope it still is clear enough. –  badp Aug 11 '11 at 9:15
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the drawing is actually quite good in conveying your question. –  Ryan Miller Aug 11 '11 at 13:10
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2 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

No, don't support your weight on your arms

Your hands simply aren't really made for supporting all that weight. If you ride for long like that, you'll see white or red areas on your hands where pressure has affected blood flow. It's also likely to exacerbate repetitive injuries from keyboarding. Gloves can only help a little.

It's ok to be sitting very upright with your weight on your saddle, at least for short distances. This is common on "cruiser" or "comfort" type bikes. A posture with a straight vertical back is bad for your spine when dealing with any kind of bumps, so you probably don't want that kind of positioning on long rides or rough rides.

There's circumstances where you briefly support a good portion of your weight on your hands, but it shouldn't be your default posture on the bike.

The ideal is to bend at the pelvis, keeping your back straight (or arched forward). Elbows slightly bent. Weight on the saddle and/or pedals. Almost no weight on the handlebars. Keeping your back straight makes it easier for your core muscles to engage and keep your torso straight. This is also much easier on your neck.

Meh (comfort bike):

enter image description here

Bad (owie):

enter image description here Note that with the curved spine it's hard to keep weight off your hands, and since the top of your back is fairly level you have to crane your neck up to see forward comfortably. This is bad for your lower back, bad for your neck, and bad for your hands. Riding like this for long hurts.

Good:

enter image description here With a straight back, your neck isn't bending back awkwardly, and it's easier to keep weight off of your hands. With your elbows bent it's also easier to keep control of the bars and to deal with rough patches. Your hamstring (and other) flexibility limits how low you can ride with a good posture, and so do the strength of the muscles in your core. You should be able to easily take either hand off the bars without it affecting your steering. You want to be able to push or pull on the bars with either hand.

Awesome (pedaling hard):

enter image description here If you take the good posture and pedal harder, you actually take your weight almost entirely off of the seat and use your hands to pull yourself down (by pulling up on the handlebars) to provide greater force against the pedals. If your butt starts to get a little tired, shifting your weight to your feet for a little while can help.

Very brief sprint:

If you were racing competitively, you might bend your spine for a brief while to get extra low and aerodynamic, but you'd be likely to still be pulling up on the handlebars instead of leaning down on them. It's ok to do the curved spine thing now and then, just not for long.

Rough ground:

If there's rough ground ahead, with the pedals horizontal, you get off the saddle entirely, crouch on the pedals and bend your arms. This position does put a lot of your weight on your hands, but you only do it for a few seconds at a time.

Braking:

If you need to stop quickly, push your butt backwards off the back of the saddle while keeping your butt low, push yourself back with your hands and push forward extra hard while you pull the brake levers. The combination of bracing against the handlebars and shifting your weight back a little will keep you from going over the handlebars.

Practice:

You might try keeping your fingers around the bars, pushing your spine forward and taking all of your weight off your hands. Unless you're a really experienced rider I wouldn't suggest taking your hands entirely off of the bars. Practicing like this a little every time you ride can help you get more into the right posture on a regular basis.

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You definitely do NOT want to be supporting your weight with your arms on the bike for normal riding. One exception would be while on a time trial or triathlon bike, where it is best to support your weight with your upper body/arm skeleton structure to save your legs for running off the bike.

During non-TT riding, your weight should be primarily on the saddle with your core doing a lot of the supporting work. Otherwise, your upper back and arms can become extremely fatigued over longer distances. Not to mention, as you've found the safety issues with supporting your weight primarily with your arms.

One drill/exercise you can practice to get the correct balance of weight is to keep your hands one inch off the handle bars. You should be able to maintain this position for a period of time; say 60 seconds to start. Of course, I only recommend attempting this while in a bike trainer or for the more advance cyclist.

It sounds like you may have an ill-fitting bike or a bike that needs to be adjusted more to you. Check with a local bike shop (LBS). Many offer various bike-fit analysis options. Some options may be quite expensive (up to $300 USD), but most are much more affordable. And, if you are going to be riding your bike frequently and/or for long periods of time, you'll greatly benefit from a proper fitting bike.

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Note that usually on those triathlon bikes there's pads on the "aero" bars and the rider is typically resting their weight on their forearm, not at all on their hands. And that's a position optimized for low air resistance, not good bike handling. –  freiheit Aug 16 '11 at 17:12
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