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Defining Moments: Hood Position

Defining Moments: Hood Position

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If I spent half a summer riding with one hand on the tops and one on the hoods, I spent the other half riding with each hand deliberately gripping the hoods differently. As any young Cyclist growing up in the United States in the late 80s, I had a major thing for Greg LeMond.

I imagined Greg to be the perfect Cyclist, as youth often does of their heroes. I modelled my position on his; when Scott Drop-Ins became available, I hastened to save up for a set and mounted them on my bike. In the interim, I mounted some mountain bike bar-ends on the drops of my regular Cinelli bars. (If I could ask Greg one question, it would be whether he ever actually used his Drop-Ins in any race situation. I’ve never seen a picture of him riding in them, and after having owned a set, I can tell you those babies were the flexiest bars I’ve ever had on a bike.)

But I digress. Back to me and my BFF, Greg LeMond. However much I idolized him, one personality trait I knew we didn’t share was an obsessive/compulsive need to have things be symmetrical. I am all about symmetry; my hoods have to be mounted at exactly the same height, the cables have to emerge from the bar tape at exactly opposite the other side, the gap between the tape and the stem has to be exactly the same on both sides of the bars. LeMond did not share this compulsion, a fact most readily demonstrated by how he gripped his hoods with each hand usually sharing a different number of fingers in front and behind the brake levers.

I could understand that people might differ on precisely how many fingers should be in front of the levers and how many behind, but the idea that one could grip their bars with an uneven distribution across hands completely blew my adolescent mind. If I was going to win the Tour some day, this was obviously a skill I needed to have.

So I set about practicing holding the hoods the way he did; one hand with no fingers in front of the brake lever, the other with all but the littlest hand-piggie in front of the brakes or two fingers in front, two in back on one hand, one finger in front on the other – the quantities were irrelevant so long as they were not the same on both sides.

But I couldn’t do it. It drove me crazy – it twisted my guts up inside. And that was when I realized I would never become a Pro Cyclist, if I lacked such a basic skill.

But every cloud has a silver lining, and with my failure came an interest in the various ways one could grip the bars. The first obvious point to make is that the classic “three-position bar” actually offers about a trillion positions, although I admit I lack both the skill and the fortitude to count them all, and am therefore unable to confirm that figure.

I find the hoods offer the most interesting position variations; depending on how you grip them, you can stretch your back or shoulders, settle in for a relaxing spin, or go low and aero for some Passista hammering. Most importantly, if you add a scowl or a grimace and a little bend to the elbow, you can instantly look the Flandrian Hardman.

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// Defining Moments // Etiquette // Reverence // Technique

  1. @scaler911 I have a Giant TCR Advanced and I love it but the propel is a thing of beauty.  However, no matter the bike, the hardest thing I suffer from every ride is trying to decide which had position is best at the time.  Hands on the hoods? on the tops? in the drops? Forearms on the top? impossible

  2. @scaler911

    @Anjin-san

    @Chris … oh, the SuperSix Hi-Mod EVO. Now THAT is a bike! Quite possibly the best all-around bike in the peloton this season.

    I’ve not been a huge fan of Giant (no good reason, just never like the ‘looks’ of them). This changed my mind:

    All I see is one ugly crank.

    And I’m a huge fan of Shimano. Other than that crank.

  3. @G’rilla Agreed, that four arm set up looks wrong. I’ve always been a fan of the Cannondale Hollowgram cranks. I’m biased though. (The ability to swap spiders is great for old gits like me whose knees explode at the merest hint of an incline)

  4. Back to hood position:

  5. @Chris

    (The ability to swap spiders is great for old gits like me whose knees explode at the merest hint of an incline)

    Honest to god. When I got back into cycling I said, “WTF do you mean I can’t assemble a different freewheel for every damn ride?” That was part of the fun, in addition to being practical as hell.

  6. @G’rilla

    Totally agree. I can’t stand the design of the upper end shimano cranksets. Yuck.

  7. I feel that it should be an international law that all decent-to-high end road handlebars be sold with measurement marks at the stem clamp & at the transition where the shifters are set in order to make symmetry easier to achieve.

    Nice article, love the assorted photos. It’s very cool that some of you have made this a lifetime passion. For someone relatively knew to the sport it allows me to wonder about what I might have been like as a teen Velominatus.

  8. @Spun Up

    On average, have the hoods moved higher on the bars in the pro peloton in recent years? Seems like fewer riders these days have them as far forward as Merckx did. The photo of the Schlecks shows hoods that appear to be as high on the bars as mine, and I’m a 44-year-old lardass with three fractured vertebrae. I’ve managed to work my way down to one 5mm spacer below the stem, but if I pushed my hoods as far forward as Merckx’s, or even Frank’s, I would look like Marty Feldman after a few weeks. How high constitutes a Rules violation?

    For sure. We’re changing our position a lot, and I don’t know if its better or worse. We’re riding smaller frames, lower bars, higher hoods.

    I’ve moved my hoods up (or, more accurately rotated my bars) to find a neutral position. I think riders in the past used to use the hoods to create tension which the theory is provided more power to the guns – think Fignon with his low hoods.

  9. @pink

    I am keen on the phantom tt bars.

    Also, the tops while climbing may not be the most stylish, but with a loose grip and a big smile it is really un-nerving to those hunkered down on the hoods grimasing and nodding away.

    One of my signature moves is that if I happen to be passing someone, I’ll give it a little gas right before I pass and then go full straight arms on the tops and chat a bit as I blow by.

    Riding the tops is ultra-pro, but I really only can sustain a speed – if I’m accelerating quickly, its hard to gain enough leverage.

    @scaler911

    Your avatar made me watch American Flyers while building up the VMH’s bike last weekend.

    @all

    I’ll still grip the hoods and number of ways, but always symmetrically.

    The Knuckle Ball: Two fingers on either side of the lever body.

    The Pinkie Swear: a pinky curled over the nob on the hoods and all other fingers pointed inwards and forearms resting on the tops.

    The Pinkie Swear Alternate: pinkie under the brake lever, all other fingers above.

    The Strangle Hold: Two fingers in front, two in back or one in front three in back – and using it for maximum leverage.

  10. @Marcus

    I always appreciated Cipo’s super high hood position – apparently set up that way so he could maintain a very high level of comfort whilst lazing away in the bunch. The only time he would strike a pedal in anger, he would be in the drops, so why adopt anything but the most upright leisurely grip possible at all other times?

    Almost like he considered lower hoods to be only required by those peasant domestiques who had to labor on the front for hours.

    I remember he won a Giro sprint in 2002 on the tops. He even surprised himself, that time.

  11. @frank

    The Knuckle Ball: Two fingers on either side of the lever body.

    I don’t ride the hoods that often unless I’m in a group where I really need fine control and braking ability. Since I ride solo so much, the tops are where I am like 80% of the time, and I use the drops when I really want speed or when I want to sprint up a short hill quickly.

    But there is one way I grip the hoods which I call “the lazy superman”, which is to cup your palm over the top of the brifter (god I hate that word), sort of like how you’d hold the stick shift in a car. It gives you a nice, stretched out position without going as deep as you are in the drops.

  12. @freddy

    Back to hood position:

    I was actually going to issue a point penalty to anyone who picked him on account of the leg-warmers over the bibs, but decided not to in the end. Riding like that at the start is one thing, to finish…well, I quite frankly don’t care HOW cold it is – there is no excuse for that!!

  13. @Spun Up

    On average, have the hoods moved higher on the bars in the pro peloton in recent years? Seems like fewer riders these days have them as far forward as Merckx did. The photo of the Schlecks shows hoods that appear to be as high on the bars as mine, and I’m a 44-year-old lardass with three fractured vertebrae. I’ve managed to work my way down to one 5mm spacer below the stem, but if I pushed my hoods as far forward as Merckx’s, or even Frank’s, I would look like Marty Feldman after a few weeks. How high constitutes a Rules violation?

    Is it maybe because it wasn’t possible to slam the stem like you can nowadays?

  14. @mcsqueak

    @frank

    The Knuckle Ball: Two fingers on either side of the lever body.

    I don’t ride the hoods that often unless I’m in a group where I really need fine control and braking ability. Since I ride solo so much, the tops are where I am like 80% of the time, and I use the drops when I really want speed or when I want to sprint up a short hill quickly.

    But there is one way I grip the hoods which I call “the lazy superman”, which is to cup your palm over the top of the brifter (god I hate that word), sort of like how you’d hold the stick shift in a car. It gives you a nice, stretched out position without going as deep as you are in the drops.

    You should practice riding on the hoods more; the tops are way too neutral. You’ll go mo fasta and get mo betta.

  15. hand on tops for warming up & descending. hands on hoods/drops for climbing/hammering.  opens up the chest more for more air, but i try to move them closer to regulate breathing & slow the heart rate a little.  but that’s just me, quite a bit off from peaking.

  16. *hands* on tops…

  17. @frank Why does Sastre have a binky in those pics?

  18. @frank

    @mcsqueak

    @frank

    The Knuckle Ball: Two fingers on either side of the lever body.

    I don’t ride the hoods that often unless I’m in a group where I really need fine control and braking ability. Since I ride solo so much, the tops are where I am like 80% of the time, and I use the drops when I really want speed or when I want to sprint up a short hill quickly.

    But there is one way I grip the hoods which I call “the lazy superman”, which is to cup your palm over the top of the brifter (god I hate that word), sort of like how you’d hold the stick shift in a car. It gives you a nice, stretched out position without going as deep as you are in the drops.

    You should practice riding on the hoods more; the tops are way too neutral. You’ll go mo fasta and get mo betta.

    Riding on the tops is the only way I can contain the beast within. Don’t want to go accidentally ripping off crankarms and such…

  19. Am I the only one who changes hand positions a lot? Sometimes I try to kind of meditate on the bike & just roll along in one position for as long as possible, letting my mind go. But, I usually find myself moving my hands frequently, often without thinking about it.

  20. @Ron

    Am I the only one who changes hand positions a lot? Sometimes I try to kind of meditate on the bike & just roll along in one position for as long as possible, letting my mind go. But, I usually find myself moving my hands frequently, often without thinking about it.

    You are far from alone, Ron. I do the same thing. If I’m feeling good on the bike and emotionally relaxed I can sort of just go into a zen like trance and hold one position for miles without really thinking about it. If I am fatigued or agitated I am all over the place. In the drops, own the hoods, flat on the bar. I guess my riding position is just as moody as I am….

    -Dinan

  21. @Dinan

    Sorry that is supposed to be ON the hoods. Apparently my spellcheck doesn’t work when I am on the shitter.

    -Dinan

  22. @unversio

    I’m not debating that he’s in perfect control of his danger.  Most hitmen are.  It’s the entirely hypothetical possibility of him being in control of my danger I was worried about.

  23. @Spun Up

    On average, have the hoods moved higher on the bars in the pro peloton in recent years? Seems like fewer riders these days have them as far forward as Merckx did. The photo of the Schlecks shows hoods that appear to be as high on the bars as mine, and I’m a 44-year-old lardass with three fractured vertebrae. I’ve managed to work my way down to one 5mm spacer below the stem, but if I pushed my hoods as far forward as Merckx’s, or even Frank’s, I would look like Marty Feldman after a few weeks. How high constitutes a Rules violation?

    I’ve been concerned about this in the recent past.  I came to my own private conclusion that placing the hoods so that a spirit level reads level when placed to the highest point – the titty bit – and the flat of the bar before it begins to drop was just about right fit-wise and as high as I’d want to go aesthetically.

  24. @frank

    @Spun Up

    On average, have the hoods moved higher on the bars in the pro peloton in recent years? Seems like fewer riders these days have them as far forward as Merckx did. The photo of the Schlecks shows hoods that appear to be as high on the bars as mine, and I’m a 44-year-old lardass with three fractured vertebrae. I’ve managed to work my way down to one 5mm spacer below the stem, but if I pushed my hoods as far forward as Merckx’s, or even Frank’s, I would look like Marty Feldman after a few weeks. How high constitutes a Rules violation?

    For sure. We’re changing our position a lot, and I don’t know if its better or worse. We’re riding smaller frames, lower bars, higher hoods.

    I’ve moved my hoods up (or, more accurately rotated my bars) to find a neutral position. I think riders in the past used to use the hoods to create tension which the theory is provided more power to the guns – think Fignon with his low hoods.

    Prior to the late unpleasantness with Germany the brake levers had no hoods that I can discern.

    Looking at pictures riders seem to use the bends and drops and have the brakes set much further round the radius of the bars – certainly until the late 1930’s. It’s only with the Anquetil/Poulidor era that everyone’s hoods start to move up the radius of the bar, gain bar tape and be used for traction as far as I can see.

    My dad’s 1950’s era brakes had bare metal distinctly non-anatomical surfaces.

    Maybe the rotation of bars and larger hoods has been a slow evolutionary thing that we can only see clearly now looking back over a decent chunk of time.

  25. @lordmoos3

    @frank Why does Sastre have a binky in those pics?

    If I am not mistaken, his wife had just delivered a baby a few days before the race.

    But, I agree with Frahnk, he’s still a tosser.  Almost can make out the bruising from his last transfusion in the photo a la Roid Landis.

  26. @frank

    @freddy

    Back to hood position:

    I was actually going to issue a point penalty to anyone who picked him on account of the leg-warmers over the bibs, but decided not to in the end. Riding like that at the start is one thing, to finish…well, I quite frankly don’t care HOW cold it is – there is no excuse for that!!

    Yeah, what is going on right now? Between MSR & Dwars today I’m seeing

    -leg warmers over bibs

    – more & more of the awful aero helmets (Specialized just released an extra-ugly one)

    – black jackets & jerseys? These really confuse me. Do they sponsors not get annoyed the racers are covering up their names? Do teams not have enough sponsor money for a decorated rain jacket? I’m seeing more & more of these plain black deals, which makes an already monotone peloton very hard to follow. What is up with the black rain jackets & what seems to be black thermal jerseys.

  27. @frank

    @Marcus

    I always appreciated Cipo’s super high hood position – apparently set up that way so he could maintain a very high level of comfort whilst lazing away in the bunch. The only time he would strike a pedal in anger, he would be in the drops, so why adopt anything but the most upright leisurely grip possible at all other times?

    Almost like he considered lower hoods to be only required by those peasant domestiques who had to labor on the front for hours.

    I remember he won a Giro sprint in 2002 on the tops. He even surprised himself, that time.

    I’m sure I read that the Lion King had his stem so long and slammed that he could barely reach the drops. Cipo was of course Italian so having his bike look pro and awesome was much more important than comfort.

  28. @Ron

    Am I the only one who changes hand positions a lot? Sometimes I try to kind of meditate on the bike & just roll along in one position for as long as possible, letting my mind go. But, I usually find myself moving my hands frequently, often without thinking about it.

    I change hand position constantly; its a great way to keep hands from getting hot spots, and to keep the shoulders nice and loose.

  29. @Ron – black jackets & jerseys? These really confuse me. Do they sponsors not get annoyed the racers are covering up their names? Do teams not have enough sponsor money for a decorated rain jacket? I’m seeing more & more of these plain black deals, which makes an already monotone peloton very hard to follow. What is up with the black rain jackets & what seems to be black thermal jerseys.

    I was just wondering the same thing. Apart from rain jackets, I thought the UCI were pretty strict on non-regulation gear – especially jerseys.

  30. I find myself assuming all manner of positions (that’s what she said), but the drops with an index finger on the shift is where I land most of the time.

  31. @frank

    @Spun Up

    On average, have the hoods moved higher on the bars in the pro peloton in recent years? Seems like fewer riders these days have them as far forward as Merckx did. The photo of the Schlecks shows hoods that appear to be as high on the bars as mine, and I’m a 44-year-old lardass with three fractured vertebrae. I’ve managed to work my way down to one 5mm spacer below the stem, but if I pushed my hoods as far forward as Merckx’s, or even Frank’s, I would look like Marty Feldman after a few weeks. How high constitutes a Rules violation?

    For sure. We’re changing our position a lot, and I don’t know if its better or worse. We’re riding smaller frames, lower bars, higher hoods.

    I’ve moved my hoods up (or, more accurately rotated my bars) to find a neutral position. I think riders in the past used to use the hoods to create tension which the theory is provided more power to the guns – think Fignon with his low hoods.

    Super V Fignon!

    @Chris @G’rilla Here is a set of cranks…


    110mm to suit all your chainring needs!

  32. @Dinan

    When I ride on the hoods I almost always have to be symmetrical as well. The only exception in as ever so brief moment when I might bring one hand on the bar for an adjustment of some sort. Otherwise it’s the ocd symmetrical two-finger split on my bikes.

    -Dinan

    I wanted to follow up on this. I had my wife watch the last couple road rides I’ve been on and have her pay attention to hand position if they were on the hoods. What she found was that I was only half right with my original statement.

    Apparently I split the hood positions between a two-finger split and a one-finger on the brake (three finger behind) setup. Either way, stays symmetrical in either position.

    -Dinan

  33. @Dan_R

    @Chris @G’rilla Here is a set of cranks…


    110mm to suit all your chainring needs!

    seems to be missing something’s !!

  34. From a photoset at the start line today. LOTS of violations.

    Third last go around & all he gets is a club racer black jacket?

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/photos/on-the-startline-of-dwars-door-vlaanderen/257242

    JAF looks to have a baseball cap beneath his helmet, plus what appears to be a LS plain black jersey.

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/photos/on-the-startline-of-dwars-door-vlaanderen/257231

    Is that a split prostate-friendly saddle in the foreground?!

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/photos/on-the-startline-of-dwars-door-vlaanderen/257224

  35. @Ron

    black jackets & jerseys? These really confuse me.

    I think this is because the materials that are really water-resistant and breathable can’t be painted and printed like the regular fabrics can without affecting how they perform. I have a rain coat and a rain jersey that are both like that.

  36. @frank It makes sense – but it’s I’m guessing it’s possible to do better than that. Most pro-level clothing is sublimated, which, if I understand correctly, means material breathability isn’t compromised. At the same time, Gore’s Windstopper comes in many colours and it’s a fabric used by many high-end clothing companies (Castelli, for example). Assos managed to produce their previously all-black rain jacket (the hyper-expensive Sturmprinz) in reflective red, reportedly without compromising performance (though I’m not rich enough to test that). Surely it must be possible to at least colour-match the main panels?

  37. @Dan_R


    110mm to suit all your chainring needs!

    Why can’t those jerks make a 177.5?

  38. @eenies

    @frank

    @Marcus

    I always appreciated Cipo’s super high hood position – apparently set up that way so he could maintain a very high level of comfort whilst lazing away in the bunch. The only time he would strike a pedal in anger, he would be in the drops, so why adopt anything but the most upright leisurely grip possible at all other times?

    Almost like he considered lower hoods to be only required by those peasant domestiques who had to labor on the front for hours.

    I remember he won a Giro sprint in 2002 on the tops. He even surprised himself, that time.

    I’m sure I read that the Lion King had his stem so long and slammed that he could barely reach the drops. Cipo was of course Italian so having his bike look pro and awesome was much more important than comfort.

    This one’s for the ladies; Cipo proving he can reach the drops.

    I pity whomever was standing behind him, though.

    He did mostly ride on the hoods, though. What a classy motherfucker, though. I don’t care about the dope or the brothels! He was entertainment!

  39. Spartacus comes to mind as another who doesn’t use the drops, maybe if he did he could win something these days?  His old tricks aren’t working so well anymore.

  40. Well, now you mention it @frank, there are quite alot of “positions” one can take – on the bike that is.

    The personal favourite is the ” hand V”   i.e.  thumb on back of hoods and 4 fingers casually and deliberately caressing the levers but applying no pressure.

    Then when the Fuji starts heading skyward we progress back along the top of the bars till either its a comfortable climb with the grip about a hands width away from stem, or the hands keep going along and eventually find their way to my throat as I choke on the climb.

  41. @frank agreed – 177.5

    @frank agreed – Cipo

    its all Italian!

  42. @actor1

    hand on tops for warming up & descending

    Yikes! Descending without brakes and without full control of steering? Don’t your mountain roads have any bends?

  43. Timely article for me. I’ve been going in this local road race monthly since last september. C grade. Its a great course through one of Sydney’s coolest National Parks on silky roads. Last week I rode it just right – kept in touch, saved my matches, didn’t sprint too early…sort of. Third place.
    But I was a bit devastated to see this pic of the fnish – me not in the drops – could have been the difference!

  44. @Ron

    @frank

    @freddy

    Back to hood position:

    I was actually going to issue a point penalty to anyone who picked him on account of the leg-warmers over the bibs, but decided not to in the end. Riding like that at the start is one thing, to finish…well, I quite frankly don’t care HOW cold it is – there is no excuse for that!!

    Yeah, what is going on right now? Between MSR & Dwars today I’m seeing

    -leg warmers over bibs

    – more & more of the awful aero helmets (Specialized just released an extra-ugly one)

    – black jackets & jerseys? These really confuse me. Do they sponsors not get annoyed the racers are covering up their names? Do teams not have enough sponsor money for a decorated rain jacket? I’m seeing more & more of these plain black deals, which makes an already monotone peloton very hard to follow. What is up with the black rain jackets & what seems to be black thermal jerseys.

    Black jackets, http://blog.castelli-cycling.com/2013/03/06/gabba-jersey-strikes-again/

    And leg warmers are easier to get off in a race if they’re over the top of the shorts. For training, no thanks but if you’re taking them off without stopping, it’s easier to hook them off and down over your shoes with them that way.

  45. Soon be an alternative to the Gabba, when the Sky rain cape goes on sale -£220, also available in black.

  46. This is very nice, shame it has a Sky logo on the back

  47. @Ron

    From a photoset at the start line today. LOTS of violations.

    Is that a split prostate-friendly saddle in the foreground?!

    http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/photos/on-the-startline-of-dwars-door-vlaanderen/257224

    What IS the deal with that saddle? It looks bizarre….

    -Dinan

  48. @Dinan ISM Adamo, in this case one of the more “sedate” versions. The idea is that you rest your sit-bones directly on these prongs, and the rest of your junk remains pressure-free. Time-trialists and triathletes are swearing by these, since the  flat TT position puts enormous pressure on that area. I myself use a Cobb saddle on the TT bike that’s slightly more regular-looking, but similar in function.

    I guess a pro who spends 6-7 hours a day on the bike might be picky regarding saddle-choices.

  49. @tessar

    @Dinan ISM Adamo, in this case one of the more “sedate” versions. The idea is that you rest your sit-bones directly on these prongs, and the rest of your junk remains pressure-free. Time-trialists and triathletes are swearing by these, since the flat TT position puts enormous pressure on that area. I myself use a Cobb saddle on the TT bike that’s slightly more regular-looking, but similar in function.

    I guess a pro who spends 6-7 hours a day on the bike might be picky regarding saddle-choices.

    I honestly hadnt seen these saddles before. Interesting stuff, tessar. Thanks for explaining it. Are there down sides to these seats as well?

    So I assume that these saddles are starting to make their way to road / pro-road saddle use?

    -Dinan

  50. @Dinan Downsides:

    First of all, weight. This complex construction almost inevitably means weight in the 300g area unless you splurge (but it’s worth it – I tried the TT9 and boy oh boy, is it comfy!)

    Second – while great for time-trial positions, it’s not a universal solution. Since you’re resting on those prongs, they have to be exactly the right width for you – which is why I ride a slightly narrower saddle than the Adamo, for example.

    Third, road positions are problematic. There’s only one real place to sit on – the very front – moving back (say, on a climb) means chafing your thighs. Some found bliss with these saddles, but I much prefer a regular saddle for road cycling.

    Last and most important, it is decidedly not pro. Looked down upon (and probably rightfully so) by the roadies. These designs are immensely popular with triathletes, but few roadies are willing to adopt it.

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