Extreme pro positions?

I can see how it would be fine on a TT or tri bike with aerobars, but I don’t see how anyone can ride a road bike with the 1. saddle tilted down 2. the knees well forward of the BB 3. extreme bar drop/reach (see Adam Hansen’s current position for an example).

This would be a perfect storm of factors that make it impossible to hold yourself into the seat without using your arms. Regardless of how strong your core is, physics should dictate that you would be falling out if your seat without significant pressure on the hands.

If you had a seat that was level and had your knees above or behind the BB, I could see how you could hold yourself up in an extremely aero position just from core strength and very high watts/kg.

Do the pros simply deal with the potential hand and wrist pain for the aero benefits, or am I missing something? Is it really possible to will yourself into such a position on core strength and watts/kg alone?

Since Adam Hansen (and probably others too) is doing it the obvious answer is Yes :yum:
But to be honest, I was wondering the same thing. His position looks beyond uncomfortable to hold for 4-6 hours every day. But he is someone who seems to be putting 10x more time and thought into this stuff than any other pro… so I guess somehow it makes sense :man_shrugging:t2:

For Adam Hansen specifically, you have to keep in mind, that his cleats are far more back on his shoes than usual, so that shifts his entire body forward compared to the BB.

I can’t imagine getting along with the downward sloping saddle myself.

I think one thing to consider is that modern pros have shortened their total reach compared to Hinault and Lemond days. The modern pros ride bikes 2 sizes too small. Even with a long stem, it’s still an overall shorter reach. Some of them seem to have bikes set up for most of the riding on the hoods. You see guys on the front who never use the drops. They lower their elbows a little and that is it.

In the two pics below, notice how straight up and down Sagan’s arms are compared to Hinault who is very stretched out. Hinault has much less saddle to bar drop but he has more reach. And Hinault is riding what most of would call a normally size bike as opposed to 2 sizes too small.

hinault lemond

Those pics are a bit off when you consider one rider is on the hoods, and the other is back on the tops. It would change back angle and arms on the hoods of even the older “right sized” bike. I’d guess reach is similar, but clearly reach is higher on the old setups.

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If Hinault was on the hoods he’d be even more stretched out. You could even say that being that stretched out is not even a position available to Sagan. But Sagan can get his most aero in the drops because of the greater drop. Hinault also has deeper drop handlebars.

My only point is that modern positions may look extreme but they aren’t that extreme. They achieved much of the same in the old days with more reach and deeper drop bars.

Adam Hansen is an outlier - tall, lanky, long arms, midfoot cleats.


the positions have not changed that much – a little more forward for some, but the key contact points – saddle height and setback, and where the drops are – are still about in the same spot.

hoods are lower because of STI/Ergopower + shallow drop bars. the bikes are too small to get the hoods low enough to be aero without using the drops.

We have no way of knowing whether the positions aren’t giving them carpal tunnel, though…

Good point about the cleats, at least in his case.

Yeah, I get that the stems tend to be long because their bikes are too small. I also get that they tilt the saddle down to compensate for the pelvic rotation needed to ride a small bike with a slammed, long stem.

I just don’t get how they deal with all the extra hand pressure that would have to entail.

Maybe it’s because they’re simply so light and strong that it doesn’t really matter? Or the extra speed is simply worth it for them.

I would suspect that at least some of it comes down to power output. I notice that my bike gets noticeably less comfortable when I ride easy. The harder I ride, the less pressure on the arms and hands. So if we assume that, broadly speaking, pros are putting out more power, that suggests that they probably have to deal with less pressure through the arms and hands for the same position as you or I.

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Also, remember that some folk’s pelvic geometry and pedaling style means that a downward slope to the saddle is actually “functionally level.” Likewise, some need their saddle tilted up slightly.

There is a difference between level and “functionally level.” A pro wouldn’t ride for six hours with sore wrists. The position works for their morphology, weight distribution, core strength, and pedaling style.

Modern pros tend to ride frames a bit on the small side as they are fitting the relatively tall head tubes.


I’ve always had the mental model that the primary interfaces of one’s body with a racing bike (as opposed to a city cruiser) are the handlebars and the pedals, not the saddle.

But I’ve also been lucky to never have suffered from “hand/wrist/arm” discomfort or required padded gloves, double taping, etc.

More power usually means more comfort, but with a tilted saddle and knees in front of the pedal spindle I’d almost thing hard pedaling would tend to pull you off the saddle, requiring more hand pressure to stay in it.

With knees behind the pedal spindle extra power would help.

It does. This is the reason cruiser/commuter saddles are like sofa cushions and pro racer saddles are like they are. The butt of a high power pro puts much less pressure on the saddle than anyone with a basket hanging off their handlebars. That doesn’t necessarily translate to more hand pressure, likely just much more pedal pressure.

FWIW, years ago Hincape said the best way to ride the cobbles is to have a loose grip on the handlebars, and those cobbled Classics riders can really put out the power.

I know that pedaling hard unweights the saddle, but in the case of heavily tilted saddles + knees in front of the pedal spindle that pedaling hard would make you want to fall off the front the off the saddle, hence more hand pressure to hold you on the saddle.

If the saddle is level or tilted back (ignoring the issue of soft tissue pressure) and the knees are behind the spindles, pedaling hard only makes the bike MORE comfortable.

  • functionally level and check-it-with-a-bubble-level are two different things

  • these are professional athletes. their morphology and core strength allow some of them to ride in some positions that weekend warriors can’t.

  • no, they don’t have damaged wrists and numb nuts. see above.

What is “functionally level” and how can someone have a saddle pointed down significantly that doesn’t cause them to slide forward at least a little?
No abnormality of anatomy can change the fact that someone wearing lycra on a typical slick saddle that’s tilted down is going to tend to slide off of it. That’s just physics.

Well, unless they have a saddle with a gripper (e.g. certain Prologos). Which is a whole different can of discomfort-related worms.

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functionally level means the saddle nose is tiltled up or down slightly and the rider isn’t rolling forward onto their perenium in case 1, or getting upward pressure on it in case 2. And yes, that depends on the saddle, the rider’s pelvic geometry, and morphology (how the rider’s weight is distributed through shoulders, hips, lower body).

These guys are riding for 30 hours a week. if they were crushing their junk all the time, or were constantly having to do a press-up on the bars, they wouldn’t be able to maintain the position. It works for some very fit athletes whose body type enables them to ride with a fair amount of downward tilt (our local shop owner is a former pro marathon mtb guy – the saddle tilt on his road rig would have me sliding into the bottom racket, but he’s dead stable on a 4 hr ride, and his arms and hands are relaxed the whole time).

The answer to all this is that if it works for them, it works for them. If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t. Saddle fore aft and tilt depend on a slew of factors. You can’t just set up your bike like Adam Hansen and “adapt to it” unless you’re Adam Hansen.

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