Just how much weight on the arms is optimal?

Just got back into training and I was kinda startled how much my arms have had to adapt. If you asked me after the first couple training sessions, I’d say the back of my arms is what was having to adapt a lot more than my legs or any other part of the body. When during the workout the suggestion is to “relax your arms”, well, I can curve my lower back more so the upper body kinda gets a bit more back on the bike and then I can more or less relax my arms, but either way it takes quite a bit of energy, either to keep pushing with my arms or keeping the back in a fairly unnatural position. Or, well, I can use traction of my perineum against the seat and my legs to kinda keep the upper body from falling forward, but again that’s energy that isn’t going towards producing power.

I messed around with bike geometry quite a bit already, changed out the seat post to one with a lot of offset, moved the seat back, got a short 80mm stem, played with spacers… Bike is an endurance geometry frame, Diamondback Century 6C, 56cm. I’m 5’ 11" 155lbs, long-ish inseam.

So I get it, to stay aero and to be able to put good power down, one has to accept the compromise of having some weight forward. But the question is, how does one find the sweet spot?

  • See a bike fitter.

Seriously, you are messing with LOTS of dimensions and locations with what sounds like minimal guidance.

You don’t mention if you are also planning to use this bike outside, or just for indoors. I point this out because the changes you mention, bike frame and your physical size set off alarm bells for what might be a “typical” bike setup. In particular, an 80mm stem on a 56cm size bike for your height is not typical, especially when looking at an already “endurance” focused with with a shorter Reach and Top Tube Length, coupled with taller Stack.

Much of fitting relies on two things:

  1. The current state of the rider, their fitness, flexibility, injury history and anything else that affects their ability to hold a range of positions on the bike.

  2. Your goals and/or preferences as a rider. Do you want to focus on aerodynamics, power, comfort, handling or some specific combination of those?

A fitter will look at those two areas and attempt to setup the bike to meet your needs. I started a bike fit thread for looking at these types of issues, but it is an admittedly limited resource considering the remote nature and potential for missing key details.

Thanks for your reply @mcneese.chad. I had my previous bike fitted. Did a double century on it and the only real issue is I messed up my ulnar nerves and my pinkies went numb for a couple weeks after that, probably just needed a somewhat different hanldebar shape or a change of how I grip. It did feel like I’m using too much upper body energy just to stay on the bike. This bike I tried to match the old setup and then started making changes for less weight on the arms. There was an article by some famous fitter that suggested to test this by taking hands off the handlebars and if you end up moving forward on the seat to compensate, you have too much. So I implemented what they were suggesting as remedies, seat offset further back, shorter stem. It got better but I’m not sure where should I stop and stop messing with this. I definitely still can’t just take my hands off the handlebars and still be balanced on the bike, but I’m also not sure it’s a goal worth pursuing.

1 Like

That bar test is a decent one to try. But it’s also important to consider a couple of factors.

  1. Make sure you are pedaling with a decent resistance when doing the “lift”. High cadence and low force don’t place enough strain on the lower body and you will “fall forward” much easier in that setup vs lower cadence and high force. So, make pedal with some notable resistance, likely at least Sweet Spot effort or even Threshold when doing that evaluation.

  2. Doing this inside, on a fixed trainer is “different” when compared to being outside. The dynamic nature, wind resistance and such all “help” with the “lift test” compared to inside without those factors. So, keep in mind that you may have to “work” more inside with an equal setup that is functional outside.

All this tiptoes into a suggestion I commonly make. Lift the front axle of the bike about 1" [25mm] higher than the rear axle. This acts as a proxy for the lack of dynamic motion and wind resistance when we are stationary inside. Real simple to test and can help get a slight weight shift that you are aiming to get.

I just caution against making the inside setup “better” and leading to a poor setup outside that has too little weight on the front wheel and compromised steering along with that.

1 Like

Oh yea if I pedal close to FTP without crazy cadence (say, 85-90), I can relax my arms a lot more. Except that I’m more of a spinner and long distance rider so in real world riding that won’t happen much. Maybe where my issue is, if I’m just cruising along for 10 hours at 140W and 95RPM, it seems that the percentage of energy spent on supporting the upper body can be quite non-trivial. If it’s a 1.5 hour at 200+W and 85RPM, different story.

I’ll try raising the front and report back, thank you!

1 Like

Copy that. Good info on your cadence preference and distance needs. As long as you like the real world ride and handling, pulling your body and bars up and back can work. I’ve helped some people put some “extreme” upright positions on a road bike. Not ideal in some ways, but it met their needs and made them happy, which is my overall goal with fitting.

Another option (if you have maxed out your current setup) that takes a bit more work, is something like the Specialized Hover bar, to get more upright and higher bar with the existing stem setup.

Happy to hear how it all goes and kick in some more thoughts if they are helpful. Good luck :smiley:

1 Like

Yeah the thing is, I’m quite flexible and actually being more “aero” feels better to me as far as pedaling goes, and I have good power in the drops. Just that the energy use for upper body support is what’s bugging me, also makes the rest of the body to tense up unnecessarily.

1 Like

So I know this is an older thread but I just had a super relevant thing happen to me.

Basically despite cycling for years I never used to be able to ride no hands. I thought it was something about fit as you describe here and I always just thought, eh I’ll figure it out later.

Separately During late pandemic I started trying to become healthier and stronger overall. In some ways I have terrible mobility so I thought I’d try to fix it. Part of this included yoga and it revealed stability weaknesses in the core. I started doing things like high planks or planks with an arm raise, side planks with a leg lift, and it was all REALLY hard for me. I thought I had good core strength because I do sit-ups, but this new stuff was very challenging.

About four or five weeks into it I go out riding and guess what: I can ride with no hands now, all of a sudden, without having practiced doing it!

So along with fit, think about if anything wise might also be holding you back.

1 Like